Monthly Archives: November, 2015

Great Podcasts for Education

Early this year my car radio decided to quit and I haven’t had chance to fix it yet. Given I work an hour away from home, this could make for some very long and boring commutes to and from school. Luckily there are a whole range of interesting and informative podcasts that I’ve managed to track down, and I thought I’d start to compile a list of suitable educational ones here on this blog.

Are there any educational podcasts that you love? I’d like to keep expanding on this list so please let me know!


When there are no sufficient answers…

I usually save this space for speaking about things like pedagogy, resources and issues in education. These are topics that I am passionate about, but which rarely evoke the kind of emotions and questions that I’m trying to reconcile at the moment, and that undoubtedly will impact on students and staff in our schools.

I was thirteen when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001. I still distinctly remember watching the coverage as I got ready for school that morning, and the cloud that hung over everybody as we observed the events that unfolded over the next few days and weeks. This was the first time the notion of terrorism had come into my conscience, and the first time it occurred to me that the world was not entirely safe. In the 14 years since, there have been continual reminders of how vulnerable we are and how fragile human life is. And this week we are feeling this yet again.

As we in the “western world” struggle to comprehend the atrocities committed in France this weekend, we grapple with so many emotions – helplessness, vulnerability, fear, grief, outrage…just to name a few. There are the obligatory statements from those leading our nations and inevitable changes in policy, both at home and overseas, to protect us, to protect our country and to protect those our country counts amongst its closest friends. In our capital cities we light our monuments and buildings in French colours; the Premier of NSW sources a French flag large enough to fly at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge alongside the Australian flag.

As individuals, it is times like this that we seek connection and solidarity with like-minded people. Some people attend memorial ceremonies and masses. Many people express their grief, confusion, and support for those affected on social media. Facebook creates a “safe” button and allows its users to temporarily superimpose the French flag over their profile pictures. I’ve heard some commentators criticise this as “slacktivism,” but I hesitate to call it that because I think in situations such as these, people (rightly) feel so strongly about a situation that they personally cannot influence, that they look to show their support for those affected in a visible and immediate way.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

At the same time, I feel somewhat unsettled by this phenomenon, because as a society Australia can be unintentionally selective in our outrage (some darker elements of our society are intentionally selective – I choose not to give them air time here).

I am struggling, not because I don’t believe in what this movement is saying, but because of what it is NOT saying. Twenty-four hours before the Paris attacks, 40 people were murdered in an attack in the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. On 10 October, at least 95 people were killed when twin bombs were detonated in Ankara, Turkey. People in Syria are facing terrorism on a daily basis, and these are just a handful of examples of the horrific impact of terrorism in our world. Yet, they do not receive anywhere close to the international attention attracted by similar events in the west. We don’t see the red, white and green of Lebanon, the red and white of Turkey or the green, white, red and black of Syria, lighting up our national monuments. Enormous groups of people do not attend mass at St Mary’s Cathedral to pray in unity for the souls of those lost.

Blogger Joey Ayoub, who hails from “a privileged Francophone community in Lebanon” writes a poignant and heartbreakingly honest account of this weekend’s events. To him, it seems that “my people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris.” This seems mortifying to the average, well-intentioned Australian – but it is the message we are sending through omission.

So why, as a society, do we allow ourselves to be so selective in our outrage? Have we simply come to accept that this senseless violence must be a part of everyday life in the Middle-East and other areas of the world?

I guess, in terms of action that individuals can take right now, it starts at home with ensuring our 480,000 strong Muslim population knows they are valued, included and an important part of our society. The worst thing we could do is isolate them because of the vile actions that some people commit under the guise of their religion.

As a country, we need to be visibly united, not just with other western countries, but with the global community at large. We need to show that we care about the innocent people in countries being torn apart by violence, even those who, politically, perhaps have a slightly different world view to our own. I just don’t know how we do this in a way that is meaningful, rather than tokenistic. And that’s what I’m grappling with…people much smarter than me might have some answers – but at the moment I just can’t shake a sense of sadness and helplessness for what’s happening in our world.

So as we #PrayForParis, let’s also make sure we do so as ardently for all of those suffering in the face of terrorism in our world.



Enhancing Student Learning Through Collaborative Planning

It is widely accepted that the Australian population is becoming increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse. This is reflected in our classrooms, with students bringing a great variety of linguistic experience to school with them.

The targeted support of struggling English language learners was once largely the responsibility of the EAL/D practitioner. But with the increasing diversity and decreased funding, this role has evolved. Now, the government and Catholic education sectors in New South Wales promote a whole-school approach to addressing the needs of English language learners. This means that the EAL/D teacher now works in a range of modes, depending on the needs of the students and teachers at the school. In the Sydney Catholic Education system, EAL/D teachers might operate through a combination of:

  • team teaching
  • withdrawal
  • bilingual classroom support
  • resource teaching
  • EAL/D informed instruction
  • parallel teaching
  • bilingual teaching

(Catholic Education Office Sydney, EAL/D K-12 Position Paper, 2014)

Many of these modes require collaboration, but team teaching and resources teaching rely upon it. Collaborative planning involving the EAL/D specialist teacher and mainstream teachers (and supported by leadership through actions, words and policies) is an essential component of the whole school approach. It helps to meet the needs of all students requiring targeted support, not just those that the EAL/D teacher is able to get to.

The Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards defines collaborative planning with relation to special education as, “the process undertaken to determine the most appropriate curriculum options and adjustments for a student with special education needs.” EAL/D students do not fall under the category of special needs, but if we were to replace the words “special education” with “diverse learning” and “adjustments” with “teaching strategies,” the definition would be adequate for our English language learners. Collaborative planning is essentially the opportunity for the EAL/D teacher to work with a group of classroom teachers to develop teaching strategies and programs that are age and stage appropriate and accessible to EAL/D students. It means that staff are up-skilled in their programming and classroom practice and more students are therefore exposed to the targeted teaching strategies – not just those who fall into the EAL/D specialist’s priority groups.

Like any approach, collaborative planning has its strengths and challenges. I recently asked @TESOLoz and @sammi_orazi, two experienced EAL/D teachers from primary schools in Sydney’s south-west, how they viewed collaborative planning.

Some of the strengths of the process included:

  • it provides an opportunity for EAL/D teachers to support in designing and creating communicative strategies, ways to scaffold learning, and programming and planning
  • it encourages specialist and classroom teachers to engage meaningfully with student data and to use the ESL Scales, EAL/D Progression and the Literacy Continuum.
  • these discussions ensure everybody is on the same page in terms of understanding the students’ language learning needs and how to address them through programming and teaching strategies.

Challenges included:

  • everyone involved must be prepared with data, documents, ideas, and open minds.
  • there is never enough time!

@TESOLoz indicated one way that her school manages this lack of time is by scheduling the EAL/D teachers’ RFF (relief from face-to-face teaching) at the same time as the teachers that they provide in-class support to. I love this because it means that the collaboration becomes on-going and a natural process. From a secondary perspective, however, it is even more difficult to find the time due to complex timetabling and teachers having many classes. This year the school I am at has taken the approach of providing release days for groups of classroom teachers from the same faculty who teach the same year level. On these days, the teams have worked with the Teaching and Learning Co-ordinator and the EAL/D teacher to complete a Language Analysis of their classes and then engage in collaborative planning. Whilst the time we have had has been limited, what the collaborative planning process has allowed is rich discussion of the language demands of the KLAs, and opportunities to analyse student data and begin to develop strategies to target their language learning across  the curriculum.

It takes hard work and commitment from all involved, but ultimately collaborative planning is essential to meeting the needs of our increasingly diverse student cohort. Often there are only one or two EAL/D teachers in a school and they are spread thin. By sharing knowledge and up-skilling classroom teachers, we provide a more equitable and accessible learning environment for more of our English language learners across the curriculum.


“Classrooms of Possibility” – by Hammond and Miller

Many recent articles and posts about English language education in Australia have highlighted the fact that this area is ever-changing and reflective of what is currently happening in our society. Undoubtedly, the teaching of English as an Additional Language or Dialect is undergoing transformation at a government and policy level with changes to funding and allocations, but also at a grass-roots level as various groups of people arrive in Australia, many of whom have been forced to flee their home countries. Under the UN’s Rights of the Child, the children that inevitably arrive here amongst these groups are entitled to an education and to access an age-appropriate curriculum (ACARA).

For EAL learners, who may arrive as refugees with potentially very low levels of literacy in their first language and are now attempting to learn concepts at the same time as learning a new language, accessing this curriculum becomes a challenge for both them and their teachers.

Jennifer Hammond and Jennifer Miller’s book Classrooms of Possibility: Supporting at-risk EAL students explores the range of experiences that refugees bring with them and the implications for their education here in Australia.


The contributors recognise that there is significant evidence “that the strongest predictor of educational success for students learning in a second (or additional) language is the level of formal education in their first language (Thomas & Collier, 1997)” (Hammond and Miller, p. 18). For students who may have had limited or disrupted schooling in their first language, learning the academic style of English required to succeed at school will be much more difficult. Additionally, they often have to adjust to new institutional structures, form social relationships, and negotiate needs with teachers and other students. They may also have to deal with traumatic incidents from their past, which can influence how they adjust in our school system. 

Despite these challenges, however, EAL students with disrupted schooling can still flourish with the right support. Hammond, Miller and their contributors use many years of research and experience to suggest ways that we can support these at-risk EAL learners in mainstream classrooms. Amongst these – and to me one of the most important – is the notion of “cultural capital”; that EAL students feel that the language experience they do have is important and a valuable tool for their future learning. Depending on their experiences as a minority group (it is important that we avoid treating all refugees as a homogenous group), these students may have become culturally and linguistically disenfranchised, made to feel lesser or as an “other.” One of the most valuable things we can do as teachers is to encourage them to maintain connections with their language and culture and, when they feel comfortable, to share that with others as a rich resource for learning.

I recently observed what may be a very simple example of this: a newly arrived Kindergarten student is often hesitant to use the English that she does know for fear that she might make a mistake. Instead, she prefers to speak to her teacher (a native English speaker) in her home language through her more confident older sister, who then translates as best she can. A noticeable change has occurred in the last couple of weeks however, with the kindergartener taking greater risks with her use of English. This seems to have coincided with the teacher making an effort to learn and regularly use a few words and phrases in the girls’ home language. The students, who come from a refugee background, are sharing knowledge with the teacher, rather than the language learning being one-directional. It would appear that, as a result of this, the younger girl has developed more of a sense of her own cultural capital (although I’m sure she wouldn’t phrase it that way!) which has in turn facilitated a greater confidence with her own language learning.

The general message here and from the far more research-based claims made in Hammond and Miller’s book is that whilst the needs of at-risk EAL learners are exceedingly complex and challenging, there are simple things that we can implement in the mainstream setting that support them to access the curriculum equitably.

A great test of this is imminent with the arrival of an extra 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, set to be resettled permanently in Australia starting in December. This will present a challenge for many of our schools, but the children have a right to an education and we have a responsibility to ensure they receive it on an equitable basis to their Australian-born peers. To the teachers and school leadership that this will affect, Classrooms of Possibility is an invaluable resource with a positive message about best practice in supporting these learners.

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