Category Archives: Review of the Reading List

Book: Diversity and Inclusion in Australian Schools

Diversity and Inclusion in Australian Schools

Necessary primer for teachers
396 pages, ★

This book is an introduction to the level of diversity we should expect in Australian schools. It covers:

  • Linguistic diversity (ESL and native speakers)
  • Cultural diversity (including indigenous cultures)
  • Gender diversity (i.e. girls and boys)
  • Learning difficulties
  • Challenging behaviour
  • Complex communication needs (e.g. inability to speak)
  • Intellectual disabilities (as different from, and more severe than, learning difficulties)
  • Sensory impairment
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • “Gifted and Talented” students

This book takes a highly theoretical, academic approach to the above topics. It describes what’s already being done in schools, and illustrates each topic with anecdotes from students’ perspectives but doesn’t directly teach teachers how to adapt their lessons to embrace this diversity. Even though this book was an excellent primer to the topic of diversity, I still need to read more about how to design lessons that cater to a range of learning styles in the classroom from books with a more practical focus. For my mini-project on ADHD, for example, the information in this textbook was far from adequate to make a 5-minute PowerPoint presentation. (Bizarrely, it covers deafness and gender in far more depth.)

That said, it’s one of those books that all teachers should refer to every time we meet a new form of diversity in our teaching career. It’s unlikely we’ll see all of these diversities in our first cohort of students—but it’s likely that we’ll see all of these diversities at some point in our careers. All teachers should have this book on their reference shelf.

At a hefty $79 exc. GST, this book is only worthwhile for teachers or teachers-in-training who will use this book professionally. Highly recommended for teachers. Not recommended for anyone else. 

 

Book: The Skilful Teacher

The Skilful Teacher: On technique, trust and responsiveness in the classroom

Expert, practical teaching advice.
279 pages, ★★★★

One of my lecturers at Monash University confessed to having an “academic crush” on this author when she started her teaching career. I can see why: Brookfield’s advice is useful, comprehensive and easy to read. It’s neither overly theoretical, nor weighed down by excessive branding (like the UbD and Whole Brain Teaching initiatives). I see this book by Stephen Brookfield as a one-man supplement to the PEEL teaching handbooks.

I’ve summarised some of the book’s highlights below.

First, bad classes are not your fault. Don’t take bad classes to heart.

Second, over-intervention and over-encouragement can cause negative effects: anxiety, patronisation, distrust and dependence. This begs the question: how should teachers occupy themselves when they’re at the sidelines in the classroom?

Third, I love this passage on page 90. Take a look at the images below.

photo 1 photo 2

Fourth, the book makes “critical incident questionnaire” (CIQ) a key selling point. The letters ‘CIQ’ are present on almost every double-page. CIQ forms train students to become reflective learners and provide teachers with up-to-date feedback about which ideas/concepts were taught clearly and which ideas/concepts were not. The author is a major supporter of quick CIQ forms in all classes.

Fifth, write helpful comments, whether they’re critical or supportive. Written comments should be clear, immediate, regular, accessible, individualised, affirming, future-oriented, justifiable and educative.

Sixth, don’t succumb to “conversional obsession” (the act of trying to convert impossibly stubborn students).

Seventh, manage your email trail. Which conversations might require a written record? Which conversations are best kept unwritten?

Finally, he ends with a joke. The last of 15 pieces of advice in the final chapter is written as follows: “Maxim 15: Don’t Trust What You’ve Just Read”.

Of course, everyone’s reading will be different. You’ll notice ideas in this book that I overlooked. I strongly recommend this book for any professional teacher. This book isn’t wholly relevant, but there’s a lot of relevance in this book. ★★★★

Book: Mindful Learning

Mindful Learning by David B. Strahan

Obvious, practical advice.
212 pages, ★★★★

Mindful Learning is exactly what you’d expect from looking at its title. It combines the results of four years’ collaborative research by teachers and students into how best to engage students in the learning process at school. Most of the book’s solutions are either well-established theories or are common sense. I’ve summarised four of my favourite snippets below.

First, most interesting was the “learning and face” section. Peer pressure and teacher pressure are often contradictory. Some students also feel pressured into “acting Black” or “acting Latino”, which often contradicts the wishes of their parents and teachers. Students hold the misconception that “being smart” is a “gift from birth”, and isn’t the result of tenacious practice. School students want success to be seen as effortless (“I didn’t practice for this test at all”), and failures to be seen either as inadvertent or someone else’s fault (“I forgot my homework/sports kit”).

Second, all our actions are efforts to fulfil five basic needs: security, belonging, power, freedom and fun. While this theory is by no means perfect, it’s a simple way for some students to develop more empathy. This theory comes from Glasser (1993).

Third, teaching and learning should be integrated with life; i.e. school curricula should be relevant! This is common sense, but is seldom carried out.

Finally, in a verbatim classroom transcript on page 29, a teacher asks a class how to calculate the volume of a fish. I tried it out with great success—it’s the best question I’ve ever set in a maths class. More on this later.

This book is more of a blend (like PEEL) than a brand (like UbD). It’s a collection of common sense teaching practices, and for that reason, I give it a positive review. I recommend this as a light, supplementary reading for existing professional teachers. ★★★★

Book: Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Tells incompetent teachers in dire classroom settings to “hang in there”.
160 pages, ★★

I’m so happy I’m not in a position where I need this book.

Paul Blum’s hard-hitting, “blunt, truthful account” of the UK’s most troubled schools delves into territory I didn’t know was allowed in the field of education. Contrary to the other books and articles I’ve been reading, he calls students “nutters” and “angels” on page 15. Even more extreme, on page 27, he says, “the really crazy ones will climb out of windows [to avoid detention]”.

He describes some atrocious situations: students who tell teachers to “fuck off”, parents who can’t afford phones, families who live in “poverty and squalor”, and classes with unexplained 20% absence rates. Gangs enter the school premises to attack a student towards the end of this book, and he advises his readers that “the police are probably required immediately”.

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms is more of a rant than a book. It alarms you to the most extreme scenarios that some teachers dig themselves into, and makes you wonder how they got there. Even though the book blames school chaos on poverty alone, I’m young and optimistic enough to believe that teachers can do something more than tolerate it, or just “hang in there”, as this book tells them to do. I think we can sabotage the fizzy drinks machine, make students more physically active during class, study pop music in English class and make everything active and relevant. We can give kids the respect they don’t get at home—even when they tell us to “fuck off”.

My favourite quote is on page 75, The Don’t’s:

10. Don’t waste too much time preparing copious written lesson plans.

There’s not much I agree with in this book, but on that line, I agree 100%.

The cover really doesn’t match the writing style. On the outside, this book is a $36.00 work of academic literature. On the inside, however, it’s a colloquial, 2-for-$5 self-help book that fails to motivate… and there are no references.

The author might like you to give this book to any teachers you know who are struggling in terrible schools. However, by offering no solutions to turn these schools around, the author’s effectively telling his readers to give up hope. If this book resonates with you, then it’s time to consider a career change. ★★

Book: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

Akin to a fad diet… proceed with caution!
279 pages, ★★

Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) is a happy, militaristic style of teaching that claims to grip all your students’ attention all the time. Here’s a really cute kindergarten class using WBT successfully.

This free book introduces the basics of WBT, which can be summarised in 7 “Big Rules” (all 7 of these were in the video).

  1. Class-Yes: when the teacher says, “Class”, the students respond, “Yes”;
  2. Teach-Okay: when the teacher says, “Teach”, the students respond, “Okay”, and proceed to teach each other in pairs;
  3. 5 Classroom Rules: my favourite rule is #5: “Keep your dear teacher happy”;
  4. Scoreboard: ‘Smilies’ (+1) and ‘Frownies’ (-1)  are awarded at the teacher’s discretion and recorded on the whiteboard. Net scores translate into minutes of recess, or minutes of music, at the end of each class. (I am highly reluctant to use this.)
  5. Hands & Eyes: students respond, “Hands & Eyes” and listen attentively to an important point;
  6. Switch: Used in combination with “Teach-Okay”, students will change their pair-partners upon this command;
  7. Mirror: mimic the teacher’s actions and words exactly.

Personally, I would only be comfortable using the first three of these rules in my classes.

Like me, you probably found the first video very cute. Secondary-school teachers will be thrilled to know that it’s possible to train older students in this way, too—although I don’t recommend it.

While I appreciate some of the basic ideas (such as “Class-Yes” and “Teach-Okay”), I found more and more “gimmicks” as I read on. By the middle of this book, WBT had become over-complicated and patronising. For example:

  • Students are given stars and colours, just like on eBay;
  • Students are given coloured cards with different meanings in class;
  • Scoreboards become increasingly complex to the point of absurdity.

WBT used to be called “Power Teaching” until a few years ago. The rebranding included questionable links to neuroscience. This book and its associated materials are littered with pictures of brains and tenuous talk of “mirror neurons”. This probably boosts the scheme’s popularity among laypeople, but repels the scientifically-literate with disgust.

I have three main problems with WBT. First, the references to neuroscience are almost all bunk. Second, the branding is too strong for my liking. If I were to teach like this, I’d no longer be Mr. Kennedy; I’d become a mass-produced WBT teacher. Teachers are not machines—they cannot be copied and replicated to the letter—and no teacher should try to adopt all the techniques of another person. (Any classroom successes would be accredited to the “miraculous” WBT program, while any failures would be attributed to myself.) Third, if I were to follow WBT to the letter, including all these ridiculous rules, I think my class of secondary students would grow weary and give up completely in my class. Coloured cards and eBay stars patronise adolescents, whose main objective is to appear as adult as possible. Students need to feel respected and cared for—and I think that telling secondary-level kids that “you’re a green star level 6 on the third scoreboard now—give me a ‘yaaaay!'”would turn them away.

I’m critical of WBT because I’m a secondary school teacher. It might work well in primary schools, but I’ll likely never get a chance to try it out. I will, however, steal one or two ideas from this book for secondary level if I need to—notably peer-teaching, micro-lecturing and ways of grabbing the class’ attention.

Even though I’ll probably never use WBT, this book was worth reading. It taught me three things:

  1. Classrooms are diverse.
  2. Steal good ideas from lots of people but never take too many ideas from one person (such as the inventor of WBT).
  3. Be your own brand. Don’t copy someone else’s techniques wholeheartedly—it won’t work because you have a different personality, and are teaching different students in a different social setting. What works for them might not work for you—innovate by finding your own way. Copy ideas but not whole personalities. Ultimately, be yourself.

★★

Book: The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

I just got married! I also just finished reading The Saber Tooth Curriculum

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum
The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

Classic satire full of good quotes. Subject of running jokes since 1939.
139 pages, ★★★★★

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum is a collection of seven short, satirical stories that illustrate some quirky aspects of our education system. The same Stone Age society is used as a metaphor for our modern world throughout.

Allusion to the modern world is thinly-veiled. This Stone Age society has middle schools, universities, education officials, investors, and even a national curriculum. Only humour—including humorous names of people and school subjects—separates this Stone Age society from reality.

The main messages in this book’s seven stories are:

  1. The scientific method has made absurd yet un-disprovable theories become accepted in education; (See this example.)
  2. Schools teach an outdated set of skills to students;
  3. School reform meets resistance from all angles;
  4. Universities dictate school curricula with lofty, academic content and overcomplicate education with ‘credits’, ‘units’ and rules on ‘pre-requisites’;
  5. Unions control education for the short-term benefit of society;
  6. When young people learn outdated skills, they can’t find meaningful work;
  7. All of this is extremely difficult to change.

I agree with most of these points. After graduation from Cambridge during the economic crisis with no job, no practical skills and no employers even remotely interested in hiring biology graduates, I felt I’d been cheated into some massive con. Unlike history or art, biology isn’t particularly interesting to other people, either. I would love to see curricula become more relevant to society than they are today—we’d have a more interesting, more employable crop of graduates in years to come.

Part II, The Saber-Tooth Curriculum, is the most famous story in this book. In synopsis, a cave-dwelling society refuses to alter its school curricula despite an impending ice age which completely redefines the skills required in the workplace. This story highlights how schools still teach swathes of irrelevant knowledge (too much maths, too much chemistry) and neglect the useful skills to the detriment of everyone (reading, writing, health, religion, and more).

The most incredible thing about this book is that it’s still relevant 70 years after being written! As long as school curricula are playing catch-up with society, The Saber-Tooth Curriculum will stay relevant. Recommended for anyone who went to university. ★★★★★

Book: STS Education: International Perspectives on Reform

Okay, I acknowledge that most of these teaching books aren’t of any interest to most people. My next book review will be an interesting one—I promise. 🙂

STS Education
Another hard-to-find book

“Please make science education relevant”.
259 pages, ★★★★

STS stands for “Science, Technology & Society”. It’s an international group founded in Oxford in 1990 with the aim of re-thinking how to teach science in today’s schools. All the authors in this book broadly agree that the science taught in schools needs to be more relevant to our daily lives. No more lofty, pointless theory. Many of you will know that I agree with that. 🙂

Instead of just “this is how nuclear reactions happen”, STS aims to add, “here are the safety, environmental and economic implications of nuclear power plants”.

Instead of just “this is how plants photosynthesise”, STS might add, “here are the implications of using biomass as a source of ethanol for cars”.

STS isn’t alone. ChemCom, SEPUP, SATIS, SISCON and SCISP, and—shameless plug—The Triple Helix are all striving towards the same goal.

I’ve summarised the most interesting chapters of STS Education below. Notice that all the authors broadly agree!

In Chapter 1, Joan Solomon argues for moral science education because the next generation will use science to have a huge influence on society. She uses the industrial revolution, the green revolution, energy crises and myxomatosis to illustrate her point (in a revised edition, she might also allude to avian flu, SARS, improvised explosives and food safety scandals). Only “moral science” classes can ensure that the next generation’s use of science is positive.

In Chapter 2, Glen Aikenhead wants to keep science education relevant. According to Aikenhead, science has made three major leaps in history:

  • First, Natural Philosophy emerged based on observations of nature. Bernard Sylvester (12th century); Roger Bacon (13th century); Nicole Oresme (14th century); Leonardo da Vinci (15th century); Nicolaus Copernicus (16th century); Johannes Kepler & Galileo Galilei (17th century) all had a major influence.
  • In 17th century Europe, the counter-reformation led to the institutionalisation of science. Mersenne, Descartes, Bacon, Huygens, Boyle and Hooke all had a major influence.
  • In 19th century Europe, the Industrial Revolution led to the professionalisation of science.
  • In the 20th century, World War II led to the socialisation of science.

Aikenhead’s point (I think) it that science keeps changing, so our education of science should change, too.

In Chapter 3, John Ziman says there are 7 ways to teach science:
(Italicised comments are my own)

  1. Relevance approach—“here’s why we should learn about X”
  2. Vocational approach—“learning about X can help you work at Y”
  3. Transdisciplinerary approach—“X is relevant to your other classes”
  4. Historical approach—“here’s the story of how X was discovered”
  5. Philosophical approach—just don’t go there
  6. Sociological approach—the best approach—”X affects us all”
  7. Problematic approach—”what would happen if X…”

In Chapter 5*, Glen Aikenhead says STS aims to fill a “critical void” in the curriculum with “human compassion”. The actions proposed in this chapter looks like an extra layer to Bloom’s Taxonomy—a seventh, “Moral” tier. After students have understood, applied, evaluated and created things in class, can they make moral decisions based upon the information given? Aikenhead proposes that 10% to 40% of science education should be “moral science” (just once, 80% is suggested).

Aikenhead also says here that STS has four purposes (again, italicised comments are my own):

  • Cognitive—plain old brain training
  • Academic—useful knowledge for life
  • Personal—improve your own life by learning to make informed decisions
  • Social action—improve the lives of others by leading by example

*Chapter 5 was the chapter on our university reading list.

Chapter 11 talks about historiography and the public’s alternative conceptions of science. “No one has explored the views of the public about historicity of science and the relationship between theories that became superseded and those that replace them”. I love that sentence. I’d like to see “historiography of climatology” taught in schools—as well as, “alternative conceptions of science”. Both, though, are touchy subjects!

Chapter 12 is sloppy. The line “…all Africans believe in the existence of the creator—the supreme God” is ignorant, and, ironically, unscientific. (They’d never be allowed to write “all Asians” or “all Europeans”, so why is “all Africans” acceptable?)

Chapter 6 is only relevant to curriculum planners (i.e. governmental organisations). I skipped Chapter 13 on India. Chapter 14’s gender debate would have been interesting in 1990 but is now out-of-date. All other chapters were of little relevance to me.

STS is already an old idea, and some of its ideas have already been implemented in curricula worldwide. However, I think this doesn’t go far enough. I want to see MTS (for maths), HTS (for history), ATS (for art) taught in our classrooms. If we understand why we’re learning such seemingly irrelevant stuff as circle theory, then we might just pay a bit more attention in class. That can only be a good thing. ★★★★

Book: EDF4004 Curriculum and Assessment

EDF4004: Curriculum and Assessment
Custom book compiled from various chapters of other books

Wordy and top-heavy. Time’s better spent reading PEEL, Oosterhof & Marsh.
290 pages, ★★★

Q: Why the strange title?

“EDF4004 Curriculum and Assessment” is a custom book that contains all the major readings for the Monash University EDF4004 Curriculum and Assessment course as of 2011 (the reading list has since changed, but the general ideas here are still relevant). The publishers have overhauled the formatting to make it consistent, added new page numbers and even a new index for this “custom book”. It’s probably only found in Monash University.

Q: What does “top-heavy” mean?

Good question. In places, this book leaves the classroom and focusses—again—too much on theory. I want practical classroom advice, not classroom theory. I’m a training to be a teacher, but this book seems more tailored either to a philosopher or a Minister of Education. I say “top-heavy” because this book is aimed at those at the top of their profession, not at graduate teachers. I didn’t need to read most of this book.

In this book, you’ll find the following information:

Curriculum Design: This book tells you how to design a curriculum from the top down. Unfortunately, the description is wordy and hard to follow, and our tutorials were much more useful in explaining the curriculum design process than this book. I used this book to make this diagram, but the notes I took in our tutorials were much clearer and more useful.

Maker’s (16-part curriculum design) Model—totally confusing, overly-theoretical re-hash of PEEL practices. Read PEEL instead.

Gardner’s (8) Multiple Intelligences—be sure to cater to all of these skills when designing assessments and assignments:

  • Intrapersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Naturalist
  • Spatial
  • Bodily-Kinaesthetic
  • Music

(7) Aspects of Quality Learning—check that your assignments and assessments contain all these classroom aspects:

  • Processing
  • Planning
  • Linking
  • Reflecting
  • Decision making
  • Risk taking
  • Working collaboratively

Bloom’s (6-tier) Taxonomy—make sure your assignments and assessments satisfy the following modes of thinking:

  • Remember
  • Understand
  • Apply
  • Analyse
  • Evaluate
  • Create

While browsing the web, I found a previous Monash University student’s blog (coincidentally, also from 2011), who put some useful study notes online. Check out her site here. Her diagram (titled Appendix 1) combines Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences nicely.

(5) Orientations of a curriculum—Cultural, Personal (see William Kilpatrick), Vocational, Social (see Harold Rugg) and Economic (see David Snedden).

The literature cited in EDF4004 are in overwhelming agreement that there’s been a recent call for “new basics” that take into account the “multi-literacies” that “transcend social boundaries”. Basically, play to every student’s individual strengths, no matter what those strengths are.

(8) Student Masks (by Keefe & Carrington, 2006) — students disguise problems with strange behaviour. Here’s a translation (left = what you see; right = what’s really going on).

Academic masks

  • Mask of super-competence → student may have reading difficulties
  • Mask of the clown → has ADHD
  • Mask of boredom → struggling with focus and studies
  • Mask of activity (busy doing futile tasks) → struggling to complete the work (stuck)

Self-esteem masks

  • Mask of helplessness → being ostracised
  • Mask of invisibility → low self-esteem
  • Mask of the victim (and bully, too) → talk to student then refer to psychologist
  • Mask of contempt (“school sucks”) → feels rejected by studies, socially or at home

Remember that these ‘masks’ were devised by Keefe & Carrington, 2006.

Page 122 summarises Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design in two concise bullet points! (There’s no need to read that two-star book now):

  • Curriculum Content—same for everyone
  • Curriculum Process—varied for each student (use a mixture of PEEL techniques)

Page 130 tells us that Aboriginals are doing terribly in Australian secondary schools.

Page 164-5 tell us how peer-assessment and self-assessment are great learning tools but teachers are seldom well-trained enough to implement them properly. In peer-assessment and self-assessment, remember to:

  • Promote the value of self-reflection
  • Set targets (or get the students to set themselves targets)
  • Develop explicit criteria (so students can’t cheat when marking)
  • Provide practice (students’ self-assessment ability gets better with time)

Page 179 tells us that parents want honest, individualistic, constructive school reports, and longer, better-organised meetings with teachers at parents evenings.

Mirroring Oosterhof somewhat, page 192 reminds us that there are four types of portfolio assessments:

  • Showcase portfolio (my best work)
  • Evaluation portfolio (all my work, graded)
  • Document portfolio (teacher’s secret record)
  • Process portfolio (student’s own progress reports)

There were only two more surprises in the rest of the book:

(1) Celebrating student achievement can be carried out in the form of brochures, newsletters, in-school displays… and out-of-school displays at (for example) supermarkets and universities. Students displaying their best work in a supermarket (supervised, of course) is a great idea.

(2) ICT can assist student learning. iPads are so ubiquitous now that students would probably rebel if you banned them from schools. Compared to the dazzling, high-resolution graphics on an iPad, a conversation with even the most informative teacher can seem like a bore in comparison. How are we supposed to compete with iPads for a student’s attention? (iPads are marvellous things, but teaching students how to use them specifically for study seems like an arduous task.)

The most useful part of this book was at the end: “how to make a grading rubric”. Thankfully, we’d already done this in yesterday’s tutorial. First column: criteria. Next columns contain high, medium and low ability descriptors for each criterion. Final column is “not shown”. Give each square points (typically high = 3; med = 2; low = 1; none = 0) and total each student’s score. This is great information, but I’d heard it already.

I see a pattern here. Is there anything about teaching that I haven’t already read? Or are all other teaching books just re-hashes of PEELOosterhof and Marsh?

Do I really need to read anything else? ★★★

Infographic: Summary of Curriculum Design Schema

I’m preferring useful, practical advice to pure theory. The most useful part of this table is the right-most column (the white one), which tells you how to design a curriculum. Enlarge it and take a look.

Summary of Curriculum Design Schema
Click to Enlarge (PDF)

Book: Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design

I once went to a Cambridge lecture where an adorable character spoke about the differences between ‘biochemical physics’, ‘physical biochemistry’ and ‘biophysical chemistry’ (or something like that). This book does the same thing—it re-packages existing theories in grandiose nomenclature. The result is confusing and pointless.

Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design
Clash.

Re-hash of everything we’ve learned in teacher training so far.
200 pages, ★★

I’m being overly critical of this book because it’s not on my university reading list.

This book integrates two existing educational models: Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Understanding by Design (UdB). Both are referred to by acronyms throughout.

Basically:

  • DI = foreground, teaching, corollaries, schools, students;
  • UbD = background, curriculum, axioms, content, learning.

(Confused? Me too. If you were to read the endless pages that describe where DI stops and where UbD begins, you’d be even more confused.)

Aside from complicated jargon, this book contains nothing new! The “6 Facets of Understanding” are just a reinvention of Bloom’s taxonomy. The “GRASPS Frame” for creating assessments is just a rehash of PEEL practices that are relevant to testing (get the students involved, get them to own the test, create the test, give them choices, etc.) Everything about DI and UbD was explained clearer and earlier by other people!

This book focusses so much on the uniqueness of DI and UbD that it frequently descends into senselessness. Here’s an excerpt:

Corollaries to Axiom 6

• A routine part of collaboration in academically diverse classrooms should occur between teachers and specialists who have expert knowledge about student needs and instructional approaches most likely to respond to those needs.

Why not just say, “teachers should seek advice from superiors when needed”? Big words don’t make you clever. All this book taught me is that several educational reform movements are all moving in the same direction. That, at least, is worth knowing. ★★

Book: The Content of Science: A Constructivist Approach to its Teaching and Learning

The Content of Science
$195, anyone?

Only selected chapters are relevant to secondary level science.
292 pages, ★★★

We were asked to read chapter 2 as part of our teacher training, but in my view, chapter 2 wasn’t the most useful chapter. (Chapter 2 talked about constructivism and how to overcome alternative conceptions, but honestly, it was a little unclear.)

Chapter 3 was a little better. It said that students need to make connections between:

  • the concepts they learn in different classes; and
  • between the concepts they learn in school and their personal experience.

I particularly liked a phrase in chapter 4 written by Layton (1991). He writes that researchers “need more emphasis on researching deconstruction and reconstruction”. This reinforces the idea that “kids are not empty vessels” succinctly (see TED talk below). I like this quote by Layton so much that I quoted it in a recent assignment.

Chapter 5 details how to design class projects. Author Cliff Malcolm proposes conducting group design projects in the five following steps:

  1. Analyse existing examples and present findings
  2. Choose components that your group wants to include
  3. Design your project
  4. Build your project
  5. Submit project and present your design to the class

The above approach, which is relevant to making 2D and 3D models, is also analogous to the methods of teaching proposed by Posner (1982), Osbourne & Freyburg (1985) and Chiappetta & Koballa, Jr. (2006), which deal with the scientific models in students’ minds. The teaching approach for teaching both tangible and intangible (scientific) models begins with exploring students’ existing conceptions. Discussion and experimentation should then be used to (a) find faults in the existing models, and (b) design an improved, more scientific model, which is shared with the class.

Summary of Constructivist Teaching Methods
Click to download PDF version.

Chapter 6, in my opinion, focuses too much on assessing students quantitatively. While it’s true that grades motivate students to a certain extent, allocating extra teacher-time to improving the accuracy of those grades has negligible effect on student motivation. This book goes much further than Oosterhof’s assessment manual in the range and extent of testing. This book advocates tallying every move of every student: how many times they raise their hands, how many times they daydream or chat; how many intelligent questions they ask their peers. Collecting this immense amount of data would require at least one teaching assistant in each class, and the results may be no more useful than the informal observations that a teacher makes instinctively anyway. Chapter 6 is assessment ad absurdum.

The next few chapters are only relevant to primary schools. Richard Gunstone, however, in the final chapter, describes his “P-O-E” method (predict—observe—explain), which, in my view, should accompany every demonstration done in science class. Over time, P-O-E is also a subtle way of introducing students to aspects of the scientific method. A study by Wittrock & Kelly (1984) showed that “before-during-after” approach (very similar to P-O-E) increased reading comprehension in English classes significantly.

Only half of this book was relevant to me so I give it only three stars. James. ★★★

Infographic: Summary of Constructivist Teaching Methods

I’ve felt off-track recently. There are a lot of things on my mind which really shouldn’t be there, so for the last few days, I’ve done almost no reading. This chart summarises what I learned today.

Summary of Constructivist Teaching Me
Click to download PDF version.

Infographic: Summary of Developmental Theories Relevant to Education v3

Summary of Developmental Theories Relevant to Education v3
Click to download PDF. Version 3 last revised April 2013

Pooled from various internet sources (sorry, I have no time to reference this), here’s a summary of all the theorists I’ve come across in Oosterhof’s textbook, in Marsh’s textbook, and with Freud added in for good measure. Enjoy! 😀

Book: Developing and Using Classroom Assessments

I just put my résumé online. Take a look (there’s a link in the menu bar).

Here’s another education book: a testing bible.

Oosterhof
There’s more science to classroom assessments than students think!

Makes designing professional-looking tests a whole lot easier!
304 pages, ★

Teachers spend 25% of their time on designing, invigilating and marking written assessments. For the other 75% of the time, they’re doing what’s called ‘informal assessment’—observing all the tiny cues in the classroom that they pretend not to notice: the cellphone, the yawn, the shy know-it-all, the one who’s not concentrating, the eager hand-raiser who really loves your class… all these observations end up in a secret notebook (or in the teacher’s head).

Developing and Using Classroom Assessments tells you step-by-step how to design all kinds of classroom assessments. Assessments can be:

  • Formal/informal (informal assessments are daily observations)
  • Diagnostic/Formative/Summative (and preliminary)
  • Internal/External (we will only deal with internal)
  • Curriculum-based/Portfolio-based (students love portfolios: they boost confidence and self-esteem, and allow students to discover their strengths; but portfolios are time-consuming for students to create and for teachers to read)

When designing tests, pay attention to:

  • Purpose: tell the students how you’re going to use the information gained from the test.
  • Specifications: design the test carefully
  • Validity: test everything you taught in the right proportions
  • Consistency: different skills tested together hides a student’s true ability. Give separate grades for each skill used (argument, handwriting, spelling, style).

Score your tests according to:

  • Ability: self vs. best ever self
  • Growth: self vs. previous self
  • Norm: self vs class
  • Criterion: pass/fail grading for each question.

Always put grades into context. “Henry scored 90% in geography” is useless information. Say, “Henry understands our plate tectonics class very well” or “Henry’s score on the plate tectonics test was the second-highest in year 9 in our school”.

Test by:

  • Computer: students prefer this method and get higher scores on computers than on paper. It’s also more convenient for both teachers and students, and closely resembles any job in the ‘real world’.
  • Pen & paper: while some schools are emphasizing pen and paper tasks, the main reason for this was “it will help the students get used to paper examinations”. In my opinion, this is not a good reason.

Never use grades to discipline students.

Always give students feedback and a chance to improve their grade. Usually, they will in the ‘real world’, too.

When analyzing grades, use these statistical methods:

  • Percentiles
  • Quartiles
  • Standard deviations
  • Year-group-equivalent scores (use median of each year-group to make a standard curve, then find the year-group-equivalent of each student, e.g. “Johnny attained year 6.7 level”).

You don’t always need to show these grades to the students. Keep some on paper, and some in your head, and be mindful of how your students will react to a bad grade (will they give up?)

I love the balance of theory, pracrice and examples in this book. Let this book guide you step-by-step to design innovative, varied, valid and reliable tests time after time.

Like Marsh’s Becoming a Teacher, this is one of those books I’ll be referring to repeatedly at the start of my teaching career. Buy a copy, and it’ll make designing good-looking tests so much quicker and easier. 

Book: Teaching for Effective Learning: The complete book of PEEL teaching procedures

Teaching for effective learning: The complete book of PEEL teaching procedures
Keep this on your teacher’s desk.

Directory of best teaching methods. A logical, concise teacher’s bible.
250 pages,
★★★★★

The Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL) was founded in 1985 by a group of teachers and academics who shared concerns about the prevalence of passive, unreflective, dependent student learning, even in apparently successful lessons. They set out to research classroom approaches that would stimulate and support student learning that was more informed, purposeful, intellectually active, independent and metacognitive. The project was unfunded and not a result of any system or institution-level initiative. PEEL teachers agree to meet on a regular basis, in their own time, to share and analyse experiences, ideas and new practices.

PEEL has evolved into a global education reform movement with supporters in most developed countries. Its creed, pooled from teachers (not theorists or politicians), has been expanded into an abundance of numbered lists: “the 6 PEEL goals”, “the 10 journeys of change” and “the 12 PEEL teaching practices”.

Fortunately, their main text, Teaching for Effective Learning, is still a practical teaching guide with maximal classroom significance. I’ve already used many of the methods in this book in my own classes, and decided to give my own views here on how effective they all are.

From my 3 years’ teaching experience, here’s my list of favourites (with star ratings)…

A1: Concept mapping (basically character mapping). I love this method and use it myself. Interestingly, PEEL tells you to extend it by including characters, themes and objects in the map (which would be very complicated). ★★★★★

A2: Concept grids (basically tables). Seldom applicable, but useful when they are. ★★★★

A3: What’s my rule? This works better the other way around. Put two headings no the board and ask for differences and similarities from the class to stimulate discussion. Also a form of diagnostic (preliminary) testing. ★★★★

A7, A8, A9 and A10 (and to some extent A26) are ‘translation’ activities, in which your subject of instruction (e.g. Chemistry) is translated into another (English, Drama, Art and Media, respectively). “Write a story about an apple being digested…/ Make a poster that advertises a plant of your choice”. These are time-consuming because students generally aren’t used to linking subjects together, but are fun and students learn a lot from sharing their work in front of the whole class. ★★★★★

A12: Brainstorming. Small groups (individuals or pairs) results in greater participation per student. Ask open questions, let students brainstorm the answers. ★★★★★

A16: Cloze exercises. Choose a new text and use software to automatically replace every (usually 7th) word with a blank space. Ask the students to fill in the blanks. Research shows that cloze exercises are a reliable (formative) test for reading comprehension level. ★★★★

A18 and A29 combine to form a “Reading Process”, or a form of active reading. Highlighting characters, underlining new words, and summarizing each paragraph are standard practices for improving reading comprehension. (They are scaffold techniques, which can be mostly abandoned later, or evolved into more natural forms of note taking). ★★★★★ (as a “Reading Process”)

A25: Silent class. Do this sometimes! Tell the students they’re going to spend the entire class reading in silence. When you read attentively and visibly and silently, making notes, the students will start to imitate you. You can’t do this often, but done occasionally, it improves discipline and independent study habits. ★★★★★

A34: Whole-class simulations. Works well for enacting historical events, which are relevant in almost all subjects. Memorable, but can’t be done too often. Requires planning. ★★★★★

B1: Predict-Observe-Explain. Central to science education. ★★★★★

B3 and B7 are types of assisted discussions. This should be standard practice in all classes where group discussion is allowed. Always facilitate and mediate students’ discussions by walking around the room and talking to all the groups. Scope for group-work is limited in Chemistry, though. Pairs work best. ★★★★★

B8: Probe prior views. Diagnostic testing (a.k.a. preliminary testing) should always be done before a unit is taught. Use A3, A12 or simple question-and-answer as a whole class to probe prior views. ★★★★

B19: Complete statements from a stem. “A paragraph is…” makes both a good start-of-class quiz, and a good summative testing technique. ★★★★★

B28: Buzan® mind mapping should be compulsory education. ★★★★★

I excluded three types of PEEL techniques:

First, I’m not a fan of gimmicks. The ‘Y-chart’, the ‘thought balloon’, and the ‘postbox’ method (a bizarre secret-ballot-brainstorm combination) were among the ‘gimmicks’ that I omitted from the list.

Second, I’m also not a fan of non-educational classroom games. “the 5/3 method”, “brainstorm bingo” and “circuses” might make kids happy but won’t teach them enough to justify the commotion.

Finally, some quality PEEL methods were only suitable for primary schools. ‘Mingle/match/mate”, “guess the picture”, A19 and A20 were some of those.

The ones in this list are the best of the rest—the ones I’ll use as a secondary school chemistry teacher.

This book is relevant for every teacher: primary and secondary, sciences and arts, both high and low ability streams. I’ll be referring to this bible when planning my own lessons as a constant reminder to diversify my teaching style and keep my classes interesting. ★★★★★

Book: Ideology and Curriculum

Cambridge, according to Rajesh Koothrappali, is, “wonderful, not only because it’s a good school but [also] because it totally looks like Hogwarts”. How apt.

9780415949125

Theoretical Marxist nonsense. Irrelevant to schools.
264 pages, 

Admittedly, I learned little from this bland, so-called ‘Marxist’ book on education reform. If I could summarise its message in one sentence, though, I’d write:

“School organisers impose curricula on the lower classes to spread their elitist idea of ‘culture’ for self-preservation and thus self-benefit.”

Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I overlooked something important, but that’s the #1 message I’m taking home from this book.

The ‘nonsense’ here applies more to ‘theoretical’ than to ‘Marxist’. I’m a teacher, not a philosopher, so a purely theoretical approach to education reform with no recommendations for what I should do in my school feels completely irrelevant to me. Rallying the masses into a revolutionary frenzy—a key tenet of Marxism—is something this tedious book completely fails to do. Read something else.