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So said Lorna Prendergast after being awarded her Masters of Ageing at the recent University of Melbourne’s graduation ceremony on July 29th 2019.

Acclaimed as one of the oldest students to complete a masters degree at the graduation ceremony, her teacher, Associate Professor Rosemary McKenzie, referred to Mrs Prendergast as an “inspiration” noting that she reflects the societal shift occurring as more and more older people in Australia’s aging population take up studies in Australia’s universities.

“She really is, I suppose, the vanguard of people who are becoming lifelong learners who take up university study at any age.”

Living in the country town of Bairnsdale, about 300 kilometers east of Melbourne, Mrs Prendergast enrolled in the online course in her late 80s and proved to others that age was no barrier to continued learning.  Taking the travails of distance education and the complexities of technology in her stride, Mrs Prendergast was keen to fill her days with meaning and gained inspiration to learn more about how music is being used to help the aged after watching an  ABC science program Catalyst.

In an interview after the graduation ceremony, Mrs Prendergast proclaimed that there is no such word as can’t in the dictionary!  “Nobody is too old to learn”, she said.  By speaking about her experience of returning to study, she hopes that others will realise they are never too old to learn.

As we age, it is easy to let the days drift by.  May this woman’s passion for lifelong learning be a continued inspiration for all of us to follow!

Congratulations Mrs Prendergast !!

It’s back in the news!

How to attract high achieving school graduates to teaching seems to have become a perennial question plaguing real reform in education.  The conversation has been going on for years.  During those years, I’ve published some passionate blogposts tackling the obvious:  entry ATARs for graduates taking up teaching degrees need to be lifted:  It’s disturbing: Entry ATAR score for teaching drops (February 24, 2013), Entry ATAR scores to the teaching profession drop further! (January 31, 2016) and Will minimum ATARs for teaching ever be introduced in Victoria? (August 28, 2016); salary and career incentives for teachers needs to be improved: How can we keep graduate teachers in our profession? (September 4, 2016); teachers are the most valuable asset in our schools: Teachers: A school’s greatest asset! (February 19, 2012); if changes are not implemented students lose out: Australian reading achievement sinks to an abysmal low on world ranking! (January 29, 2013).

Australia loses out and the value of education in the eyes of society will continue to be derided.

Clearly though, my voice is not very loud.  I, along with thousands of other teachers, are just the plebs in the system.  We can state the obvious until we are blue in the face and nothing will change.

Just two weeks ago, the question hit the airwaves once again when the Grattan Institute, an independent organization which is dedicated to developing high quality public policy for Australia’s future, released a proposal to attract high achievers to education.

The published report stated that:

Over the past decade, demand from high achievers for teaching fell by a third – more than for any other undergraduate field of study. Only 3 per cent of high achievers now choose teaching for their undergraduate studies, compared to 19 per cent for science, 14 per cent for health, and 9 per cent for engineering.

Australia needs more high achievers in teaching, because great teachers are the key to better student performance.”

Based on the responses of around 1,000 aged 18-25 who had achieved an ATAR of 80 or higher, it was found that if they were offered higher top-end salaries and greater career challenges, teaching would be a more appealing career preference.

Hence the first two recommendations outlined by Peter Gross, School Education Program Director, in the short video above, focus on increased salary and extended career opportunities for experienced teachers.

But is this all that’s relevant to ensure we train and keep the highest quality candidates in our schools.   If anyone says yes to this statement – they are clearly out of touch with what it means today to be a teacher!  So much more is involved.  I’m inspired by words I wrote just on three years ago: How can we keep graduate teachers in our profession?  Forgive me for copying and pasting my concluding suggestions here again.

  • support new teachers with experienced mentors who have been taught how to mentor
  • involve teacher training academics who have developed a rapport during the teacher training years in the employing schools to support new teachers in their first couple of years of teaching
  • ensure ongoing professional learning is relevant and inspirational so that engagement with lifelong learning becomes an integral part of the job
  • limit the number of additional duties a new teacher has to complete in a day/week for the first couple of years of their employment
  • re-think yard duty and before/after school duty so that new teachers can take this time to recharge their batteries prior to the next lesson
  • monitor workloads so that fewer teaching hours for first year graduates are gradually increased so as to guard against burnout
  • control the amount of paperwork required of first year graduates so that they are not overwhelmed by the enormity of the job from day one
  • welcome graduate teachers into our staff rooms to ensure feelings of loneliness and inadequacy do not set in
  • value the ideas, thoughts and knowledge of graduate teachers as they have much to offer, share and teach experienced teachers
  • praise of graduate teachers’ achievement and contribution to the class, year level, department and/or school should be liberal and sincere to help boost confidence and self worth
  • salary incentives with appealing incremental increases should be available to entice and encourage graduate teachers to stay in the job
  • job security in the form of permanent rather than casual teaching positions should be plentifully available to graduate teachers

Let’s get serious!!! Teachers really are a school’s greatest asset!

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about this issue.  Sadly, I doubt it will be the last.  How long, I wonder, will it take for the Grattan Institute’s recommendations to be considered, argued about and implemented?

I’m back …..

It has been a while …..  I’m not sure I know how to write any more.  I’m not even sure I know what to write.

I feel like I have been living in a vacuum – tucked far away from my usual life, floating somewhere in the universe.

Life is so unpredictable, full of twists and turns we can never anticipate.  Challenges crop up and hit us seemingly out of left field.  Unexpected and unplanned events, circumstances and situations can so quickly take over.  Value judgements can be upturned in an instant.  Days that quickly run into weeks and months take us in a different direction.  When it happens though, it’s easy to decide what is important.  It’s easy to decide where attention must be focused.

I hadn’t planned to have more than a year and a half away from my weekly blogging here on NovaNews and BevsBookBlog but it happened.

I’m back now though.

I hope I will be able to find the spark to reignite my love of learning, my thirst for knowledge, my desire to walk with others on the path of discovery.

My desk is weighed down with much to read.  My virtual desk is even heavier!  Getting back into it is made that little more enticing by knowing that many of you have continued to peek at my blogposts during my absence.

Thanks for your loyalty.  I truly appreciate it.

As they say:

STAY TUNED”

I hope to be up and running again real soon.

It’s hard to believe, but text messaging reached a milestone last week!

25 years ago – December 3rd 1992 to be exact – the first text message was sent by Engineer Neil Papworth when he wrote “Merry Christmas” on a computer and sent it to Richard Jarvis, the then director of Vodaphone.  It was an event which changed technology forever and along with it, set in motion a colossal shift in social norms.

While it’s debatable whether SMS today is being overtaken by social media platforms, the impact of texting on our lives has been profound.   Twenty five years is a very long time!  A generation of young people know no other way to communicate, a fact which raises a whole range of issues including whether or not the art of interacting face to face is being lost.  Have a listen to this discussion to gain a greater understanding:

I’ve been in teaching long enough to remember the days when fears for students’ ability to spell beyond texting shorthand was a serious concern.

Educational concerns however are constantly evolving.  As reflected in a presentation by New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman at a conference earlier this year and repeated regularly since, he advocates the need to teach all children how to talk to each other on the internet and how to understand fact from fiction:

Believing in the importance of starting to educate children from a young age, the DQ Institute has developed a 15 hour free online curriculum aiming to teach digital citizenship covering a range of key skills:

Underlining the importance of school students learning digital civics, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will, from next year, assess ‘global competencies’:

From next year PISA will test not only maths, science and reading skills, but “global competencies”, which its education head, Andreas Schleicher, described as young people’s attitudes to global issues and different cultures, analytical and critical skills and abilities to interact with others. The first results will report in 2019.  (“Don’t teach your kids coding, teach them how to live online” The Sydney Morning Herald, March 25 2017)

How appropriate it would be to see teacher librarians take the lead to ensure the introduction of digital civics lessons during library sessions!

Having worked in a few different schools over the years, I have often felt bemused when the school admin starts looking at the timetable, contemplating changes and refinements which most often involve running calculations on how many minutes per subject are given over to core subjects versus elective subjects.

Inevitably the focus switches to how much time is wasted: students and/or teachers arriving late to class; teachers dismissing students before the end of the period; or students straggling into class after changeover time.

Then the arguments start on the length of recess and lunch breaks.  If class time is at a premium, the thinking and eventual application is to reduce these precious break times.  Students, after all, are in school to be in class not to have endless break time.

So it was with a sigh of relief when I read that Harkaway Primary School, a South East Melbourne suburban school, had radically overhauled their school timetable to provide six breaks in the day – four 10 minute breaks and two 45 minute breaks – an initiative inspired by standard practice in Finland.

Giving children time to play during the school day, Pasi Sahlberg who addressed the recent 2017 Annual ACEL National Conference, highlighted the benefit seen in the Finnish school system.  A recent report by Henrietta Cook: ‘Ready to go’: School keeps kids switched on by ending each hour with Finnish break  (The Age, October 18, 2017) noted many of the benefits enjoyed by Harkaway Primary School students:

  • healthier and happier children
  • improved ability to focus and concentrate in class
  • improved behaviour: less fidgety on return to class from breaks
  • better grades in literacy and numeracy

As adults, we know this formula very well.  What do we do when our concentration starts wavering?  We get up and walk around.  We grab a cup of coffee.  We chat with another member of staff.  We go get some fresh air.

If this kind of boost to our concentration is essential, it seems quite obvious that it should be the same for the students in our schools.

Stuffing more into a day cannot possibly lead to increased achievement levels.  Increasing the number of teaching sessions in a day or increasing the length of each period to 60 minutes is, I feel, counter productive.

Let’s instead bring on a revolution!

Restructure timetables in our schools to incorporate more frequent break times to enable improve learning outcomes!

I’ve been desperately trying to get back into shape, so have decided to take the lead from this guy!

Phonics is “in” again?!

When I first heard about the push to reintroduce Phonics into Year 1 teaching programs, I thought I was hearing things!

Could it be possible that a tried and tested method of teaching kids to read was making a ‘come back’?!

You see ….. when I was a kid ….. learning phonics was a major path to unlocking the mysteries of letters on a page.  Warm memories of sitting on the mat staring at letter combinations and cue cards to help me remember the various letter combinations that made the same sound are as fresh in my memory today as they were when I was very little.

The result?  My ability to pronounce words – as distinct from knowing the meaning of words – is quite straightforward.  Even though I have trouble explaining ‘why it is so’ to those who come to English as a second language, I have clearly internalized a wide range of basic rules.

By the time my son started school though, ‘Whole Language’ was the ‘thing’.  After a couple of years observing that this approach didn’t necessarily suit all learners, I quietly dubbed this new approach as learning to read by osmosis!  Structured instructions had been thrown out the door, immersion in ‘whole language’ was the one and only way.

The sad fact though, ensuring that a generation of children struggled with learning to read, was that this approach just didn’t suit all children.

Building foundations by giving young children a scaffolding on which they can build makes so much more sense.

So it was with much pleasure I recently read an informative article by Kirstie Chlopicki: Why we need the phonics screening test  (Education Review, October 17, 2017; access by subscription to Education Review only unfortunately) which notes that a phonics screening test will soon to be introduced into Australian schools for all Year 1 students.  Acknowledging that children will not learn the complex relationships between sounds and letter symbols in English, a language recognized to be more complex than other languages, unless they are taught “early, explicitly, systematically and regularly” says much for the previous teaching methods.

Announcing the impending introduction of the phonics screening test, Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training has clearly signaled a change in the right direction.

Screening students however is only the first step.

Considering the current frightening literacy levels in a county such as Australia – a developed Western nation – taking action to not just develop but to implement a phonics teaching program is urgent!