Category Archives: Uncategorized

Do we need longer school days or more flexible ones?

Two posts in two days is a rarity for me at the moment, but I’ve had the opportunity to do some reading this weekend and I’m a little riled up.

The first piece of reading was Lucy Clark’s Beautiful Failures, which I speak about in my last post. The second, which popped up on my Facebook feed on Sunday morning, I’m not so impressed by.

Yesterday the Adelaide Advertiser ran an article online titled “Two in three parents want the school day extended, SA Association of State School Organisations survey finds.”

‘Well, is that so?’ I thought to myself and clicked the link  to see what kind of quality reporting I might find. This is the Advertiser, remember…

So, the article basically explains that the SA Association of State School Organisations ran this survey of approximately 700 people(quite a small sample size given the many thousands of school age children in SA), 94 per cent of whom were parents, and found that a staggering 66 per cent of them wanted longer school days. There were three primary reasons for this:

  1. relieve financial pressure on families
  2. reduce the need for homework
  3. provide greater access to activities such as art, music, and sport.

Let’s unpack this a little.

Firstly, relieving financial pressure. The article states that the number of respondents who said that extending the school day would relieve financial pressure is the same as the number who place their child in Out of School Hours Care. At its crudest level, this equates to them wanting the school to provide a cheaper childminding option. What is being ignored here is the fact that the teachers who are then required (not volunteering, required) to provide the additional supervision would also come at a cost, leading to increased school fees. Not to mention that most teachers’ hourly wage would be more than that of an OSHC supervisor, so would it really be a cheaper option?

Next, reduce the need for homework. Now, I am very open to a logical discussion about the pros and cons of homework. I believe that too often it gets set for the sake of it. However, that aside, the argument that a longer school day will reduce the need for homework and therefore reduce stress makes no sense at all. The students would be spending more time at school, doing more work. A great deal of research suggests that homework is not beneficial for students so I think what is required here is not more hours at school, further exhausting already tired children and teachers (have you met a class of kindergarteners or 14 year olds at 3pm?), but an evidence-based discussion between schools and parents about the value of homework and how it is set.

The third reason in favour of longer school days was to provide greater access to activities such as art, music and sport. A valid issue that the article does raise is that a crowded curriculum and a fixation on literacy and numeracy to improve NAPLAN results means that time dedicated to the pursuit of such subjects is being squeezed out. These are subjects that encourage communication and creativity and that research suggests helps to shape our minds and make them more flexible. Lucy Clark, in Beautiful Failures, also refers to research that shows that music education is linked to positive well-being in students. Now, if this is a reason for a longer school day, or public schools offering more services, I might be able to be swayed but it would take some work because I do not believe that it can be made mandatory for all students and all staff.

So how by long did the parents who responded to this survey want the school day to be extended? Supposedly more than half wanted eight hour days, while 15 per cent wanted nine to ten hour days. Nine to ten! This, in itself, is obscene given the number of students who are already suffering anxiety and burnout. According to Beyond Blue, one in six young Australians currently experiences an anxiety condition and their greatest worries are stress and school, in that order. But sure, let’s keep them there longer…

Now, what must be noted is that the article is not one hundred per cent clear about what it means by a “longer school day.” So far I have interpreted it to be a longer instructional day, and indeed, that’s how the first part of the article and the parents’ reasoning makes it seem. It’s not until later that SAASSO’s director suggests that no-one is calling for a longer instructional day (questionable). But one of the survey’s findings was that 75 per cent of respondents wanted secondary schools to offer night classes. Now we are talking not necessarily about a longer school day for the students, but flexibility in hours. There seems to be more evidence to support this approach than the longer approach. Merrylands East Public School, in Sydney’s west has altered its school day to run from 8am to 1.15pm to ensure that students are learning at the optimum time for brain function. There is no less instructional time, but the results have been positive. There is also research that suggests most teenagers (who studies show require more sleep) would benefit from a later start to the school day. Schools such as Templestowe College in Melbourne have responded to this and operate three schedules including a 10.30am start (with a later finish). Of course logistically this would be a challenge (good luck to whoever is involved in timetabling that) but the flexibility could also be built in for the staff. Simply creating a longer school day is rigid and does not take into account the needs of many for flexibility.

As a teacher and a human being, I cannot support a mandatory extension of the school day as some parts of this article seem to be suggesting is needed. I do not believe there is any benefit in that for the well-being of students and teachers. What I could get around is a rethinking of how we structure school and approach learning to provide greater flexibility, in time, in environment and in teaching and learning style.

And on that note. Rant over for the weekend.


What does it mean to be a teacher-researcher?

Well, it certainly has been a while since my last post. The last six months have been busy – settling into a new role in a new school and commencing my Masters degree. Yet finally, as the semester’s marking and reporting is almost done, and my first uni subject is complete, I thought of my severely neglected blog!

My return to uni has been a reminder for me of all the things that I loved and those that frustrated me about tertiary education. That being said, I did learn some important concepts and develop some useful skills, and I guess that’s the main point. This semester saw me take on one of the compulsory subjects focusing on research in education. This isn’t an area I’ve been particularly interested in pursuing in terms of conducting formal, extended academic research, but as the course progressed and concepts gradually pieced together, I began to see how an understanding of and engagement with the principles and approaches of research are helpful even to classroom teachers such as myself.

To conclude the course, our lecturer posted three questions for reflection. The first was:

Do you consider yourself to be a teacher-researcher? Why/why not?


My response to this is a yes and no…

Under the National Professional Standards for Teachers, primary and secondary school teachers at proficient level are expected to engage with current research and implement sound pedagogical practices based on these studies. In this respect we are not so much doing the research as making use of it. However, there are times as classroom teachers that we are called to be researchers. We collect and engage with a wide range of information and data about our students on a very regular basis (probably more regularly than we’d think), analysing and assessing its meaning in order to make decisions about our practice. We do not always formalise by way of a published report, but we are gathering information to solve problems and questions. So, in that sense of the term, teacher-researcher, I think we could consider ourselves as such.

What do you think? Do you see yourself as a teacher-researcher? What makes you say that?

The Changing Face of EAL/D in Our Schools

Last week, The Conversation posted an article by Misty Adoniou – Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at the University of Canberra. In this piece, Adoniou considered what the inevitable influx of refugee students will mean for Australian schools. Over the next few months, 12,000 Syrian refugees will arrive, many of them children who will be welcomed into the education system. But are we currently equipped to adequately support them?

Based on current performance, Adoniou would suggest that we are not:

 Research reveals students from refugee backgrounds are most likely to be in the lowest quartile of achievement as measured by national standardised testing (NAPLaN).

This is unsurprising, given their circumstances. They are learning and being assessed through a new language. They have had interrupted schooling which leads to inevitable gaps in their curriculum knowledge. They are emotionally fragile due to the traumatic circumstances of their past few years and their ongoing worries about the family and friends left behind. (Adoniou, 7th October 2015)

This poses an enormous challenge for schools and educators working with these students. Many of these children and their families want to learn, want to succeed, and are in a safer environment where it is now more conducive to do so. Yet when there are so many complex factors impacting on their lives – new culture, new language, new school system, potentially traumatic events in their past – it is understandable that the students’ desire and effort to achieve is often simply not enough.

But that does not mean the future is all doom and gloom. As a government and an educational system, we do need to ensure the correct structures are in place to support these learners. Adoniou argues for a return to Gonski, a report that proposed resource loading for students who require English language learning support. However, unfortunately there is still no measure by which to determine who qualifies for this funding and who does not, and strangely, there is no obligation for the states to use the federally allocated funds on the EAL/D learners for whom it was intended!

Adoniou notes that in a survey by the Australian Council of TESOL Associations more than 50% of English teachers indicated that funding was not being spent on English language learners. So where is it going?

The article suggests that instead of going directly to the students who attracted the funding, the money is often being pooled into general literacy programs under the common misconception that language learning = literacy:

Mainstream literacy teaching is not sufficient. Literacy programs work on the premise that students can already speak and understand English, and will bring innate knowledge of the English language to learning how to read and write.

It is the job of the teacher to make English language knowledge visible to their EALD learners. However, this is beyond the expertise of mainstream generalist teachers, for whom English grammar is intuitive and invisible. While they can correct those errors, they cannot explain those errors. EALD students need teachers with specialist training in the teaching of English as an additional language. (Adoniou, 7th October 2015)

So what can be done? As Adoniou notes, it takes a long time to learn a language, especially the academic language required for success in the Australian school system. It is said that EAL/D children generally acquire Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS), or ‘playground language’ within a few terms. But Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) can take 8-10 years to achieve, and we rarely have that amount of time to get students up to speed. An effective solution, Adoniou suggests, is to “fund them out of needing funding.” If the money intended for those students is put towards intensive English language programming specifically for them, then there will be greater accountability in schools for their progress, and they will acquire language more rapidly and not require on-going support for as long.

This is not to say that great things are not being done in schools for New Arrivals. There are a number of fantastic intensive English programs in the government, Catholic and independent sectors. Unfortunately, the funding is severely limited (often only 6 months per student) thereby limiting what the dedicated teachers and students are able to achieve. Often, through no fault of their own or their teachers, these students leave the intensive programs for mainstream classrooms still not proficient in the level of language needed for them to access the curriculum on the same basis as their peers and with even more limited support in their new schools. The current system sets them up to struggle.

Adoniou ends the article with a sense of optimism, though. These students will be positive and productive citizens in Australian society, if we can just get the approach to their education right. It is challenge, representing a change that needs to start with those who make the decisions in departments and schools, but it is an achievable one.

Great Free Apps for Upper Primary EAL/D Students

Draftback for Chrome

Dear my beloved blog, I’m sorry for neglecting you so horrendously! I’ve had a few hiatuses since starting this site, but this has been by far and away the most extended one. I’m aiming to get back into the habit of regular writing now that I’m finally settled into my teaching roles here in Sydney.

I thought I’d start off nice and gently with a plug for a very cool Chrome extension that a colleague showed me the other day.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 9.40.23 pm

For those who don’t know it, Draftback is an extension for Chrome that draws upon the revisions you make to a document on Google Docs and plays them back for you as a video. It shows adjustments by anyone with editing access in chronological order and with a running time stamp at the top of the video. You can watch your work in real time or speed it up to 6 times the pace. This should be evident in the video below, which shows how I edited this blog post in Google Docs from separate gmail accounts. The video that the extension produces remain private unless you choose to publicise it (as I have here).

Draftback also produces a graphic representation of the writing and revision that occurred.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 9.56.16 pm

On its Chrome Web Store ad, Draftback claims to show the “archaeology of great writing.” And I guess it is…it allows writers and collaborators to view the process that they went through to develop their written texts. In terms of education, what a fantastic tool for helping students to recognise the evolution of their work, to help them understand that writing is a continual process of revision, editing and improvement, even for the strongest writers. I can see opportunities for using this tool with my students to encourage the reflective process of learning, and also to understand how their writing evolved when I wasn’t standing over their shoulder watching!

Covey’s Fifth Habit: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Stephen R. Covey’s fifth habit of highly effective people suggests that we must first seek to understand others before we seek to be understood ourselves. He points to the importance of actively listening with the intent of understanding rather than the common response of speaking or preparing to speak. Covey calls this ’empathic listening’, and argues that it goes far beyond “registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said.”

Covey draws on research that estimates that only one-tenth of our communications is conveyed through the words that we speak, whilst a third is represented by our sounds and almost two thirds by our gestures and body language. Empathic listening aims to understand meaning through “listening” to each of these communicative means: “you listen with your ears, but…more importantly, listen with your eyes and your heart.”

There are a number of skills involved in empathic listening, according to Covey, and they comprise of four developmental stages:

1. Mimic content – “active” or “reflective” listening (minimally effective)

2. Rephrase the content – reform the meaning in your own words and reflect it back to the person

3. Reflect feeling – paying greater attention to the way somebody feels about what they are saying.

4. Rephrase the content and reflect the feeling – this final stage gives the speaker “psychological air”. The listener is seeking to understand everything they are communicating, not only what they are saying through words. This is an important principle in cognitive coaching.


Once we seek to understand, then “knowing how to be understood is the other half of Habit 5.” In order to do this, Covey draws on the Greek philosophy ethospathoslogos.

Ethos is one’s “personal credibility, the faith people have in your integrity and competency.”

Pathos is the feeling, our empathy for others.

Logos refers to “the logic, the reasoning” component of the argument we are seeking to put forth.

Seeking first to understand others and then to be understood is within the Circle of Influence that Covey refers to earlier in his book, and it helps to expand that influence. Regardless of other people’s responses or behaviour, an individual can still attempt to understand. The more truly empathetic we are, the more opportunities for creative solutions that will present themselves, fostering more effective and productive relationships between people.


Dale Carnegie has a bit to say that is relevant to our schools!

These holidays I have set my self the goal of blogging at least weekly about some wider learning and reading that I have finally got the time to do!

Last week, as I traipsed through my digital newsletter and magazine subscriptions, I came across this Life Hack article titled 15 Best Leadership Books Every Young Leader Needs to Read.

Now, whether a teacher is looking at a career pathway that moves towards leadership or not, I strongly believe that as teachers we have the inherent responsibility to be leaders in our school and wider communities. So, this list grabbed my attention and I started going through the list deciding which titles seemed most relevant to my context, and then seeking them out on iBooks.

The first two books I decided to take a look at were Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ and Stephen R. Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’ More on the latter another time…this week I began with Carnegie’s book.


Originally published in 1936, the title of the American author and lecturer’s book makes me cringe a little. But once I got myself beyond that stigma, the majority of the book was fairly sound. There are a number of editions, but the one going for $0.99 on iBooks consists of six parts:

1. Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

2. Ways to Make People Like You

3. How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

4. Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

5. Letters that Produced Miraculous Results

6. Seven Rules for Making Your Home Life Happier.

Whilst appreciating the generosity with which Carnegie gives out advice, the book did become quite repetitive. Each section is split into chapters that explain a main principle of working with and leading people. Many of these are highly applicable in the classroom and when working with colleagues in education. They are, essentially, about building effective relationships and could act as a handbook for new and continuing teachers alike.

Below are the principles from the first four parts of Carnegie’s book, with a brief comment on how the first two sections might relate to the classroom or teachers’ office. This will be followed by a summary of Parts Three and Four.


“Principle One – Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” We need to consider how we communicate to our students, parents and colleagues when we believe a situation is less than satisfactory.

“Principle Two – Give honest and sincere appreciation.” I see this in the sense of the way we give feedback on work, but also the way that we acknowledge positive behaviour and choices rather than focusing on the negative.

“Principle Three – Arouse in the other person an eager want.” How do we engage students so that they want to learn and participate in the classroom?


(N.B. In the educational sense, I see this more as ‘Ways to Engage Positively With Others’ rather than making them like me)

“Principle One – Become genuinely interested in other people.” Listen to students and colleagues. Get to know their interests and talents.

“Principle Two – Smile.” The old “don’t smile before Easter” just doesn’t make sense. Be firm, of course, but students are allowed to see that we are human and we need to make them feel welcome!

“Principle Three – Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” In other words, learn your students’ names. ASAP. This acts as a behaviour management technique on top of being just a common courtesy.

“Principle Four – Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.” (See Principle One.)

“Principle Five – Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.” How does what you would like to see happen fit with what the other person is interested in? They are more likely to do it if it addresses their interests!

“Principle 6 – Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.” Make sure students and colleagues know they matter, absolutely. To be honest, without them you probably wouldn’t be there either!


“Principle One – The only way to get the best out of an argument is to avoid it.”

“Principle Two – Show Respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.””

“Principle Three – If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.”

“Principle Four – Begin in a friendly way.”

“Principle Five – Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.”

“Principle Six – Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.”

“Principle Seven – Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.”

“Principle Eight – Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.”

“Principle Nine – Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.”

“Principle Ten – Appeal to the nobler motives.”

“Principle Eleven – Dramatise your ideas.”

“Principle Twelve – Throw down a challenge.”


“Principle One – Begin with praise and honest appreciation.”

“Principle Two – Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.”

“Principle Three – Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person.”

“Principle Four – Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.”

“Principle Five – Let the other person save face.”

“Principle Six – Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be heart in you appreciation and lavish in your praise.”

“Principle Seven – Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.”

“Principle Eight – Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.”

“Principle Nine – Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.”

Carnegie Quote

Language diversity is a blessing, not a curse, in our classrooms

This title may seem self-evident to many, but I feel it needs to be said.

A particularly nasty little piece of propaganda popped up on my Facebook feed tonight, liked by one of my acquaintances, and I feel compelled to respond to its ignorant hysteria. The post lamented the increase in English as a Second Language students in our schools. I am not going to republish the image here as I don’t think it deserves further distribution, but it was a class photo of a group of students who clearly hailed from a range of cultural backgrounds. The photo has been edited to label each student by his or her supposed “first language.” Every student apparently had a language background other than English, except for the little girl in the middle labelled “English/Irish.” The caption underneath read: “More and more schools now have children with English as a first language as a minority. How can we allow this to happen? Our own language a minority in our own land!”

Now, this post came from a British political group, but I think it speaks volumes for the arguments currently coming out of some pockets of Australia, particularly in our current political climate. And as an educator and a teacher of ESL students, I am horrified.

Such statements are inflammatory, potentially dangerous, and based on ignorance. Among the problems with this post:

1. “More and more schools now have children with English as their first language as a minority.”

Where are the statistics on this? And whilst there may be some evidence of such an increase in some areas where large groups of migrants have settled within communities, what of it?? Schools often reflect the demographic of their local area. I’d assume that if the child with English as their first language is a minority in their school, English speakers are probably a minority in that community too. Don’t like it? Leave.

2. “How can we allow this to happen?”
Your country has immigration policies that allow people from all walks of life to move to its shores. Of course, in Australia refugee policies are a source of heated debate but that does not alter my point. People are ALLOWED to move here. We are, by and large, a free country with freedom of speech, religion, language, and culture. The vast majority of Australians are grateful for this, so should understand why others might want to come here! When people migrate here their children are entitled to an education. They have the same right to learn regardless of their first language. In fact, in an examination system conducted in English and with an emphasis on the written word, the native English-speaker is in a privileged position. From that perspective, the post smacks of people looking to lay blame on the vulnerable and refusing to take some responsibility for their own situation.

3. “Our own language a minority in our own land!”
I’m not even going to dignify this with an extended discussion. No, it’s not. Not even close. So stop it.

The post continues in the comments section, saying that the ability to learn of English-speaking children is being crushed by the high number of ESL students in their classes. Now, as an ESL teacher, I understand the challenges faced in classes where there are a number of students whose first language is not English. Some of these students’ difficulties are increased because they have also witnessed or been subject to horrific violence and suffered great psychological trauma. Some of these ESL students were born in Australia but are impacted on by their parents experiences. Coincidentally, some of them speak and write more effectively than their peers with English as a first language. I also know that we face very similar, if not greater, challenges when there are students (regardless of native language) with special needs, learning difficulties or behavioural issues. All of these students are entitled to a quality education and need support. Their families need support. Their teachers need support. But the only group mentioned in the vilifying post is students whose first language is not English, and they are painted in the light that they are robbing English-speaking children of the education they deserve. This is simply untrue.

Perhaps the one bit of truth in the post is that ESL numbers are rising. We can’t deny that. But maybe a more productive and inclusive discussion would involve the prevalence and development of New Arrivals Programs, greater availability of in-school support, and increased professional development to better equip mainstream classroom teachers for the changing demographic.

Ultimately, how fortunate are our children to be exposed to such a range of cultures, beliefs and languages in their own schools and communities? This is something close to my heart (perhaps I have some bias being an English and LOTE teacher) and I feel that gaining a deeper understanding through their peers can only make them less insular and better global citizens. We have the opportunity to expose our learners to rich and vibrant cultures, if only we will embrace them as a community!

Bottom line: English as a Second Language students are not stopping your child from learning, so that card is not an appropriate one to play.

Rapping Italian Verbs

Sometimes the lessons students remember the most are those that end up looking very little like the original lesson plan. Sometimes the most valuable learning comes from a random idea or a split second decision made by the teacher three steps from the classroom door. This happened to me the other day, and I have to admit, I felt an odd mixture of discomfort at relinquishing control and awe at my students and their creativity. I had a meticulously planned lesson where I knew that my Year 10 students would leave knowing which Italian verbs are irregular in the imperfect tense, but something didn’t feel right as I headed towards the classroom…as well-planned as the lesson was, I wasn’t keen on it so I doubted my students would be.

So I changed my mind at the last second. The new lesson outcome would be that students would leave the 40 minute lesson knowing the most common irregular verbs, and being able to construct one of them. I decided to take a calculated risk and try something that a colleague from another Catholic school (@LaProfOz on Twitter – look her up, she’s a genius!) had presented at a recent workshop – learning Italian verbs through songs. Now this was way out of my comfort zone as I cannot sing to save my life, but I knew that I had some outgoing students who could lead it for me….so I took a deep breath and dove in! I set the students to task in small groups almost immediately, allocating them an irregular verb each. They had the lesson to create a very basic rap or song that would help other to learn their assigned verb. Emphasis on ‘help others to learn’, meaning it had to be catchy, not complex.

Thinking a lesson was plenty of time, I unleashed my genuinely excited little song-writers and wandered, listening to their conversations and trying to give suggestions despite my lack of musical prowess. That’s when I realised that maybe a lesson wouldn’t be enough…by the time groups tried to get the ball rolling between themselves, argued with other groups over who would be able to use a particular song as their background, and then tried to start writing, we got very little done. The task was almost too simple and they seemed to feel the need to complicate it!

We persisted in the following lesson and managed to get a little further. Finally, on Tuesday, some groups began to record their raps and submitted them. Listening to what are some highly creative ‘masterpieces’, I noticed that a couple of the groups had let their imagination run wild, but missed the purpose of the text they were creating….elements of their verb were scattered through the rap (cleverly dubbed over Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’) but it was mostly in English and would be difficult for students to remember the Italian verbs strategically injected among lots of English. One group did get it though, and although they themselves initially had a low opinion of their product, I think it’s great! Their verb was ‘bere’ (to drink) so they made up a short rap that repeated the forms of bere, in the process recounting a tragic story of the star-crossed lovers ‘Latte’ (milk) and ‘Succo’ (juice). Funnily enough, each one of those students got ‘bere’ 100% correct in their test.

Upon reflection, the lesson task had not gone quite as I would have hoped, but there were positive signs for its success if we were to try it again. The students were engaged, even if some of them had missed the purpose of their product. They talked about the task with students from other Italian classes, and even the Year 11 and 12 students had hear about what they were doing. Next time I would do it with more specific guidelines, and perhaps give the students the opportunity to choose their groups and the goal of having to teach one of the junior classes.

And whilst I would never advocate for throwing lesson plans out the window completely, I am glad that I gave up control on this one. If I hadn’t moved outside of my own comfort zone, I never would have known!


Our students’ thoughts and reflections on Pompeii…

Cardijn College in Italia

Today we went to Pompeii. We drove for an hour from Sorrento to get to Pompeii.
Once we got to Pompeii we did some shopping for trinkets and tops. We made friends with some of the market owners until it was time to head off to the tour. When we arrived we were greeted by our tour guide, who took us through the Pompeii ruins. It was good to hear about the stories behind the buildings, and surprising to hear the amount of details that were known. It was interesting to see all the left over artefacts like the pots made for wine and the flour grinders similar to the ones we use today. It was a surprising realisation to see just how alike everyday life in the town Pompeii is to modern times. It was also very interesting to see body casts of the people who died and see…

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