Students should get a gold star for hanging in there

Last Sunday (June 9) The Age published a piece entitled Teachers should get a gold star for hanging in there.

While it was a popular article with teachers on Twitter and was generally very supportive of teachers, there is one section of the article I disagree with.

One clear reason why we lost 70 per cent of children from reaching a year 12 final achievement was that we actually encouraged the girls in the typing/shorthand class to get a job in an office after year 10 and the boys who were ”good with their hands” to leave for an apprenticeship. To this day, I feel very guilty about that wasted cohort being lost to a fulfilled education.

Does that mean we are devaluing trade qualifications? That anything less than year 12 is not worthy?  That we don’t need tradespeople? That we deny people ‘who are good with their hands’ the opportunity to work in areas they have a passion and talent for?

My brother was one of these boys who left school at the end of year 11 for an apprenticeship. He was and still, good with his brain and his hands. That’s why he won several awards from his workplace and his trade school during his apprenticeship. That’s why he now engineers refrigeration and air conditioning systems on vital buildings like hospitals and blood banks. He would have been terribly unhappy in the confines of university. Today he thrives on his own creative solutions to difficult problems.

My plumber is another one of these boys. Still in his 20s, he has started his own business, employed an apprentice and supplies a significant service to his customers. He is respectful, efficient, clean, trustworthy and reliable. And happy.

What would we do without these boys? Who would provide the public service of collecting rubbish and keeping us healthy? Who would grow our food? Deliver our eBay purchases? Surely it is up to the student to decide their own course in life?

I will never agree that every student needs to complete year 12. I do believe that education is a key to life, but university is not the answer for everyone. There are plenty of other educational options for those wanting to learn. Tafe, Moocs, CodeAcademy, Khan Academy, iTunesU. You don’t have to be in year 12 or at university to be a student.

So I think we should also give students a gold star for hanging in there; we should support our students in whichever endeavours they choose. And that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that the two aforementioned tradespeople earn much more than I do and I have two Masters degrees on top of my BEd.

‘Everything I learned was from the internet or YouTube’

Yesterday’s Age and Sydney Morning Herald featured one of my school’s students. Andy Truong is a 15 year old fashion designer who is just about to mount his own solo show at this year’s Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. He is the youngest ever designer to hold their own show. What an amazing effort, it’s seriously impressive.

But the line that really stood out for me in the news article was Andy’s quote, ‘Everything I learned was from the internet or YouTube‘. It’s a way of learning that some of us don’t understand and don’t rate. At Friday’s excellent session with Marco Torres, he told the story of presenting to 7 different Maths conferences. He held challenges between the maths experts and students. At each session, the students won the challenge simply because they used the internet, apps and software to discover what they needed to know. We need to start acknowledging the way the internet can teach us; we need to start thinking differently.

If Andy Truong had sat back and waited to learn design and sewing using traditional methods, he wouldn’t be experiencing what he is today. So kudos to the people who shared their knowledge via YouTube and the internet that he was able to access.

This type of sharing is something that, I believe, has brought us to a crossroads of current human belief and nature. It has been epitomised by the Apple vs Samsung decision in the last few days. Debate rages online about whether Apple or Samsung are in the right; simplistically, should we share our ideas or are others allowed to use our ideas or to ‘copy’?

Again Marco Torres illustrated a point using the example of Disney buying the rights or ideas to Marvel Comics for $4 billion. Here ideas are our new currency. He also explains how chefs like Jamie Oliver are the ideas people and it’s the sous chefs who actually fine tune the recipes initially conceived by head chefs. It’s the head chefs who earn more as they’re the ideas people.

Andy Truong certainly has his own ideas, that’s not in doubt; but what if the people who shared the ‘how tos’ on YouTube hadn’t have shared? How would Andy have learned? He probably wouldn’t have. So what value is there on sharing? It’s not something we can put a price on.

We need to radically rethink our ideas about making a lot of money vs making enough money and the role of sharing in our society. What will we decide?

Change and reform

On Saturday my parents and I attended the launch of a book entitled Pioneers and Suffragists. My great grandmother and various great great aunts were featured for their respective roles in signing and canvassing for signatures for the ‘monster petition‘. My family and I had never heard of this 1891 petition to give women in Victoria the vote, let alone the role our ancestors played (and what a crime that everybody I have mentioned this to had never heard of the monster petition either. Why don’t we study this in school, when Australian history is said to be ‘boring’?)

The stories of these women had been gathered over 4 years and the descendants of some of them gathered to celebrate the women and their role in bringing democracy to us, something that we take for granted today. Yet it was only just over 100 years ago that women were granted the vote in the state of Victoria.

The keynote speaker was Dr Richard Evans, whose speech was relevant to what we are trying to achieve in education today. Although he was talking about the petition itself and the 17 years it took from the time the petition was lodged until women were entitled to vote, many of the thoughts echoed the reform we are seeking in education.

  • reform means we have to go forward. Reform cannot be backward looking
  • we need communities to gather together to demand change. We can’t do it alone
  • change means economic sacrifice
  • change sometimes comes about for other reasons, but grab it anyway!

We are developing strong communities through #TMMELB, #plnaction and #vicpln in Victoria. We have a strong group of teachers who are collaborating on the response to the Victorian government’s New Directions paper. We are working towards real change and reform of learning. I just hope it doesn’t take another 17 years!

Learning for the future or schooling of the past?

It was with great shock and then anger that I learned from my nephew that his school makes him hand write his essays. He is in year 10. I tweeted this out and the conversations that ensued were very interesting and enlightening..


 As we live 60kms apart, I rely on Google Docs for tutoring him in his essay writing, so he has to type up his responses for me to comment on and then handwrite his work to be handed in. Surely this time could be better used? If plagiarism is an issue, there are tools for that. It’s bad enough that 13 years of schooling is geared towards the year 12 exams, but having to handwrite essays in my opinion, is a waste of time and opportunities. What are your thoughts?


Sorry blog

Dear blog,

Please forgive me. I’ve neglected you. I’ve been spending lots of time curating three new topics on; My dream school, eBooks and libraries and Teach meets, in addition to my other topics Pottermore and Are you game.

I’ve been sidetracked by lots of items that came up at the #plnlead day lead by Will Richardson at the State Library of Victoria on 20 July. Some of the notes from the day can be accessed here:

Some of these items include writing part of an article on the #vicpln program and hashtag for the Australian College of Educators and collaborating with other teachers in forming the #plnaction group and writing a response to the DEECD New Directions paper for school leadership and the teaching profession.

And I’ve been busy preparing and presenting my session on Creative literacies and QR codes for the AToM conference held on Saturday 11 August at the State Library of Victoria. I’ve been unfaithful as I used a posterous blog for this material.

Is there any way you’ll forgive me? I know it’s all my fault and I’d hate to break up as we’ve been together for a while now and I think we understand each other. Let me know what you think. I know I ate your chocolates too, but you hadn’t touched them.

Love, me xx

The reason I became a teacher

Yesterday I was reading a newspaper on my iPad while on a treadmill at the gym. A young man approached me and asked me if I ever taught at a certain school. When I said I did, he introduced himself. I had taught this now 31 year old man for pastoral care for one period a week when he was in year 9.

He still remembered my name (and I remembered him well, once he had told me his name. Of course in the meantime he had changed from a boy to a man) which surprised me. But the most pleasant revelation was what a fine young man he had grown into. He was extremely well-spoken and polite.

He admitted that when he left school, he tried to get a job without any further qualifications, but it was impossible. He took on an apprenticeship and is now a tradesman, gainfully employed and enjoying is work. He is also completing further study to improve himself and his future prospects. We agreed that learning is much easier all round if the student wants to learn, is ready to learn.

We discussed technology in schools and he really gets what a lot of teachers don’t. That if young children are playing with interactive devices like iPads to play games and read interactive books, when they get to school, it’s hard for them to be engaged and want to learn if they are forced to use a pen and paper all day every day.

How nice to think that I might have had even a tiny influence on the way this fine young man has developed. He really has got his act together. He didn’t even have to approach me, he could have just walked past.

This encounter really made my day and is the reason why I became a teacher.


Further to my post earlier this year about an afternoon tea for teacher librarians in Melbourne, Michael Jongen from Preshil has generously offered his school library as the venue for us to meet. Details are:

(library is between the cottage and the big house)

View Larger Map


Please register below so we know how many people to expect.

National Year of Reading Launch – Victoria

What an appropriate day to launch the National Year of Reading – Valentine’s Day. Those of us who love reading thought it very apt.

The State Library of Victoria hosted a lovely morning to officially launch the #nyr12.

The morning began with demographer Bernard Salt speaking about literacy. Based on census results, we need to work on literacy with (for example)

  • Migrants
  • People aged 50+
  • Gen Y young men
  • Maryborough
  • Colac
  • Melton

Literacy rates of Australians (dip in graph is good...)

We are our most literate between the ages of 35-45.

Areas in Victoria like Kerang, Inglewood and Wedderburn have very low tertiary education participation, so how do we deliver education to somewhat remote areas like that?

Wyndham and Whittlesea are the fastest growing areas in the continent. Other statistics include:

  • Robinvale 14% indigenous population
  • Dimboola 40% volunteers
  • Melton 13% volunteers

We need to match volunteers up with literacy needs; provide slick, corporate style programs that are attractive to baby boomer volunteers. Now volunteers want kudos.

Primary school literacy programs will be needed in next 10 years as over 50,000 children will be added in 5-9 age group.

In 1931, you were a child until you turned 14, then you were an adult. Age of death was an average of 63 years of age. In 1971 death at 71, teenager from 13-20. In 2011 death 82, adolescent until 30. There has been a postponement of commitment, particularly to marriage. Way of life in our 20s has changed in a generation.

34% teachers in 2006 were aged 50-55. So obviously we need more teachers coming in. Global citizens need a second language, if not a third.

Melbourne football players promote reading

The Premier, Ted Baillieu officially launched the National Year of Reading.

Then the winning book in the Victorian section of Our Story was announced.

Victorian Our Story finalists

Well done those men by Barry Heard is the Victorian winner.

Henk Kraima, an international expert in the promotion of books and reading showed examples of how a culture of reading has been built in the Netherlands.

  • Professionals must work together to make their own performance better.
  • Reading is facing stiff competition from gaming and social media but also these industries have slick advertising.
  • Play it smart if you don’t have the money. How? Work together!
  • All must have the same goal. 
  • Reading is a life skill for well being. It’s in your head and heart. Your motor. Exploit the feeling. 
  • We need to be creative, entertaining and innovative when promoting reading.
He went on to illustrate three examples from the Netherlands:

1. Promote reading aloud.

Everyone supports it. Prime Minister. Royal family. CEO of all big business. All go to visit schools and preschools to read the same book aloud on the same day. Paparazzi and TV crews in schoolyards, reading makes the news. Everyone is Facebooking and Tweeting about it. Dutch parents hear from people that interest them that reading is important. They talk about reading at home. Children ask their parents to read the book to them. Libraries are on on Facebook and Twitter. Same graphics sent out to all stakeholders.

Bookshops sponsor a breakfast for schools and pre-schools on the same day. This is also promoted via Facebook and Twitter. Whole bookshops are set aside temporarily for children. Publisher print a special edition of the chosen book, which is usually the picture book of the year. Publishers provide point of sale materials to bookshops. Bookshops advertise heavily and offer discounts.

  • Authors and illustrators visit schools
  • Schools inform parents
  • Schools host evenings with parents about the value of reading aloud.

Everyone has to find and agree on a date. Then raise awareness. Websites are developed.

They then mobilise aid of others. Companies can give financial support and advertisements. ABN Amro put ads on cash point receipts and bank account statements or online accounts.

2. Book week
For one week everything revolves around books. Everyone who is involved in the promotion of reading does something special. Free train rides for readers; if you buy a book or become a member of library, free travel for a Sunday. Had to put extra trains on. Successful people wrote letter to 15 year old self.

3. One book, one city.

This is done on a national scale. People are encouraged to join libraries and not take them for granted. Libraries give away 700,000 copies of a small Dutch classic book.  Shops sell luxury bound copies and audio books. Published complete book on poster. Used Facebook and Twitter to promote. All students the read book. Made book letters from book title put in library. There were queues to get into libraries. Book Week was promoted on all television and radio stations. Conversations about books were occurring everywhere. The book selected must be at least 20 years old.

It’s all about timing, money and attitude.

One event each month of the year (except December):

  • January read aloud day
  • February poetry
  • March Book week
  • April Children’s jury
  • May YA
  • June month of crime books
  • July/August summer reading
  • September national book fair
  • October children’s book week
  • November Nederland Leest (Netherlands Reads)

We can change the behaviour of people, but we must do it now. Don’t wait for another opportunity.

Gaming vs grading: please explain!

Over the time, there’s been a fair bit of airtime on Twitter as to the evils of grading. I’m not sure exactly what the arguments were against grading, but just that it was no longer the thing to do.

As a student whose entire secondary schooling (apart from year 12) was based purely on a pass/fail assessment, I can say that the lack of grading resulted in a lack of motivation for me to do my best.

For the first few terms in year 7, I carried on with my primary school ethos to do my best as I loved learning. But seeing other students, who rarely did any work and any they scratched together to hand in was pretty awful, get the same grade as me who’d spent lots of time and effort to do my very best was pretty soul destroying.

So from then on I did the minimal; just enough to get a pass. I was ill prepared for HSC where exams, grades and marks were all that mattered. The same went for university. However, the system of grades at year 12 and Uni meant that my philosophy changed back to trying my very best.

Anyway, apparently my views are anachronistic and certainly unfashionable. But what I want to know is how does gaming for learning, where games give players instant feedback, scores, access to levels, access to resources and even leaderboards be good and even desirable for people who are against grading? Don’t get me wrong, I have used gaming for learning to great success and believe that in fact, the instant feedback, scores, etc. are one of the things that motivates people to play. Why else do so many businesses now try to incorporate gamification? Badges, leader boards, mayors in FourSquare anyone?

I am not a fan of class rankings (which to me = gaming leaderboards) as students will never collaborate if they are ranked against each other. (Rather like how teachers will stop collaborating with each other if performance pay is introduced. A group does the work but only one get rewarded.) However, I do see that grades = scores are a motivation. Game players are always trying for a better score, motivated to improve. How is that different from grading?

So I’d like someone who is against grading but for gaming to explain to me why one is bad and unacceptable and one is good and desirable.