This will probably be one of the biggest challenges I face this year – to not let the craziness of life get in the way of passionate, effective teaching.
As of today I’m five weeks into my prac as a pre-service teacher, and so far I think it’s safe to say that I’m loving what I’m doing. Amongst learning how to manage behaviours and teach content to a range of students with varying abilities, I’m learning about how a school is run, and what effect different decisions and practices that are made by the school have on both the students and the teachers.
This week, I observed many classes receiving their marked exams and assignments from last term, to choruses of anguished groans and squeals of delight. Once the assessments were reviewed as a class, the students placed them into their school portfolios to be revisited at parent-teacher-student interviews. This intrigued me, and upon further questioning of my supervising teacher, I discovered that this school utilises a method of interviewing that requires the students to lead the discussion (by going through their portfolios) withtheir homeroom teacher and their parent or carer. They interview generally takes 15-20 minutes, and the students are encouraged to reflect upon where they did well, where they may have slipped up, and what they can do in the future to improve. This style of parent-teacher conferencing is an entirely new concept to me, so it got me thinking about its implications for everybody involved.
The idea of a student-led conference (SLC) is not a new one. A study conducted in the USA in 2004 found that overall, the positive outcomes of this approach far outweighed the negatives (Tuinstra & Hiatt-Michael, 2004). The study found that teachers were less stressed in the lead-up to the interviews than they were with previous interviewing systems. Parents were far more likely to participate in the conferences, and the majority felt that their child’s academic success had improved as a result of the SLC. It was also found that students were revising more, taking more responsibility for their own learning, and that their overall academic success was improving as a result of participating in SLC (Tuinstra & Hiatt-Michael, 2004).
The biggest drawback of SLC reported in this study was a lack of time to prepare (Tuinstra & Hiatt-Michael, 2004). This same concern (amongst others) was voiced by the teachers I talked to while at school. All teachers have to prepare a concise, yet detailed summary about every child in each of their classes to give to the child’s homeroom teacher, and then collaborate all of the notes given to them for their own homeroom classes. Another problem pointed out to me was that the SLC’s were very time-consuming (often taking up an entire day or two), and that parents were often disgruntled by the fact that they could not meet with their child’s specific subject teachers.
As a pre-service teacher, the idea of having to meet with parents (disgruntled or not) is quite nerve-racking, especially when there is a chance that this could happen:
Realistically though, we as teachers have to participate in parent-teacher conferences. The BOSTES National Professional Standards for Teachers outlines a number of objectives around this topic, including providing effective feedback to students (5.2.1) and parents using a range of strategies (5.5.1), and engaging parents/carers in their child’s education (3.7.1) in order to work effectively, sensitively and confidently with them (7.3.1) (NSWIT, 2012). The parent-teacher relationship is an interesting one, as both parties are ‘assigned’ to each other without any hint of choice, and yet both parties will generally have the same overarching goal – to do their best by the student (Keyes, 2002).
I think that this is the main point I want to remember when I finally get to have my own parent-teacher interviews as a teacher. Student-directed or not, I feel that developing a good parent-teacher relationship at interview times can only benefit the students. Furthermore, knowing that the people at home are aware of your expectations of and interest in the success of their children is a comforting thought. At the end of the day, a parent-teacher interview is a great opportunity to discuss, give feedback, and listen to anything that the parent or student might have to say – and fingers crossed everything goes well!
Keyes, C. R. (2002). A Way of Thinking about Parent/Teacher Partnerships for Teachers. International Journal of Early Years Education, 10(3), 177.
NSWIT. (2012). National Professional Standards for Teachers. Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs.
Tuinstra, C., & Hiatt-Michael, D. (2004). Student-Led Parent Conferences in Middle Schools. School Community Journal, 14(1), 59-80.
This week at university, we delivered and witnessed some presentations reflecting on the experiences we’ve had on our first few weeks of prac teaching. As I sat down after my presentation, a peer of mine quoted me in a tweet she sent out.
And it’s true. I honestly believe that the best teachers are the ones who strive to forever be a student. When I say this, I’m not talking about that friend we all have who can always get a student discount at the cinemas because they’re constantly enrolling in a new course at university. I’m talking about the educator who is always learning, striving to become more informed, and who seeks to understand. Professional development courses are vital when it comes to staying informed and up-to-date as an educator in a constantly changing world, but this process of continual learning needs to start in the classroom itself.
Recently I sat in on a Year 9 5.2 Maths class. The students were learning about algebraic fractions. The teacher quickly ran through a couple of example questions on the board before setting some questions for the students to complete out of their O-Books (as found on their iPads). I noticed that it did’t take long for a couple of students to switch off and become disengaged from the lesson. When I approached one student who hadn’t even bothered to take out her iPad, I was met with the all-too-common phrase – “I can’t”, which I took to mean as “I don’t understand”. I counteracted her ‘argument’ with a simpler question (see below) that didn’t contain any pronumerals. When she got it right, I added the pronumerals back in and asked her to do the same thing. Lo and behold, she got the question right, and continued on with the rest of the work.
The issue here was that the teacher had not conducted a sufficient assessment for learning for the entire class. Sure, most of the class understood the new work. But what about the few who didn’t? If they get missed during the class and don’t ask for help, chances are that they’re going to fall behind. I recognise that what I’m alluding to is no easy feat – trying to ensure that 25 fourteen year-olds understand every little concept in every lesson is a big ask. However, it’s not just the student falling through the cracks who is missing out here. The teacher had unknowingly missed an opportunity to learn about how their teaching style and methods affect their students’ understanding, and it is this type of learning that ensures a teacher continues to grow and develop as an effective educator. In this situation, the teacher has not only missed the mark on Standard 1.5 (Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities) of the BOSTES National Professional Standards for Teachers, but also on Standard 5.1 (Assess student learning) (NSWIT, 2012).
Black and Wiliam (2010) discuss the importance of formative assessment in the classroom (Black & Wiliam, 2010), which involves gathering information about students learning, while they are learning, in order to better understand their progress in the classroom. With this information in mind, we as teachers can adapt and change our approaches in the classroom in order to address the needs of all of our students. Furthermore, Loughran (2010) emphasizes the point that as teachers, it is vitally important that we are able to reflect on our educational practices in order to respond to a given situation from an alternative perspective (Loughran, 2012) – a skill that will definitely come in handy the next time we are ever met with another student saying “I can’t”.
I want to be the teacher that is always the student. The only difference is, my students are the subjects I will always be studying and trying to understand.
As of this Wednesday, I have officially completed two days of professional placement as a pre-service high school science teacher. I’ve learnt a lot so far, but the very first real realisation I came to after my first class was that teenagers aren’t all that scary! My supervisor and all of the staff are lovely, the kids are great, the school’s resources are more than sufficient, and I don’t have to battle any horrendous Sydney morning traffic to get there. All in all, I’m feeling pretty happy.
One thing that has really struck a chord with me as a pre-service teacher is the heavy focus on the use of technology in and out of the classroom. Before I graduated from high school in 2008, we were lucky to have maybe one lesson a month in the IT Lab where we could tap away on the dinosaurs that the school tried to tell us were ‘computers’. Needless to say, when I learnt that every child at my school was required to own an iPad and bring it to school with them, I was more than a bit surprised.
The use of technology in the classroom is not a new idea, and as I’ve learnt at university, it is a national requirement for teachers under the Board of Studies, Teachers and Educational Standards (BOSTES). The standards state that teachers must “Implement teaching strategies for using ICT to expand curriculum learning opportunities for students” (NSWIT, 2012). For a pre-service teacher such as myself, who only ever used a computer at school to type up an assignment, this is a daunting requirement. My teachers never used a computer to teach a concept to me, and I understood it all just fine. So I asked myself the question – why do these kids need a computer to tell them how to do something? Aren’t I enough?
It wasn’t until I saw a few lessons that I started to understand and appreciate just how useful technology can be in education. The students use their iPads in most classes for many reasons – to access their ‘O Books’ (online versions of their textbooks), to type notes, to research a topic or a question, to take photos of experiments and the whiteboard, to upload assignments, to access homework worksheets – the list goes on and on. Teachers can ‘beam’ their computers or tablets onto the board to run a PowerPoint presentation, demonstrate a new skill or show how to find a website. There are online hubs (such as Moodle and Edmodo) where students can ask their peers and teachers questions, access links to helpful websites and download their homework worksheets. And most importantly, having access to these ICTs means that both teachers and students have a world’s worth of information at their fingertips.
Becker conducted a survey in 2000 to try to understand what factors play a part in making a teacher’s use of computer technology in the classroom ‘exemplary’, and which in turn creates a dynamic, exciting learning experience for students (Becker, 2000). This study found that it is not so much a teacher’s previous experience with using technology in the classroom that makes them ‘exemplary’, but rather their willingness to incorporate and make demands of the resources available to them. By simply allowing computers to play a greater role in how and what they teach, a teacher can make a learning environment more dynamic, more exciting and more enjoyable for the students.
It is with this in mind that I feel a bit more at ease with using ICTs in the classroom. It turns out that it doesn’t matter if I have no idea how to most effectively use an iPad in a classroom. If I can be willing to incorporate these new technologies and be open to a new learning experience myself, that will be enough to make my classroom a more dynamic, exciting environment. And at the end of the day, if I expect my students to be open to new ideas and concepts, it should go without saying that I need to expect the same thing from myself.
Becker, H. J. (2000). How Exemplary Computer-Using Teachers Differ From Other Teachers: Implications for Realizing the Potential of Computers in Schools. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 1(2), 274-293.