Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 1)

So here we go, my Royal Society (RSNZ) Teacher Fellowship for 2009 has begun and I near the end of my first week. The year really kick started with the symposium in Wellington last Thursday. All fellows met for an overview of the scheme, to be given hot tips for a successful year and ways to to be effective presenters. One thing I latched on to was Rose Hipkins advice "Reading is work. Thinking is work". All too often our job as teachers revolves around doing and producing. Reading and reflecting are too often seen as indulgent activities, only suited for evenings and weekends - who reads educational literature during their non-contacts? Yet, it is so important to continually be informing and improving practice. It is one thing I will relish this year and with one book down in my first week, I have made a good start.

My first week at Massey is nearly down, based at Ecology Group I have spent the week getting familiar with my environment, reading The Shorebirds of Australia (in preparation for our forthcoming trip to Broome) and practicing my photography with a very nice Canon camera and 400x lens. I've always wanted to do bird photography and the local vet pond has provided me my first opportunities, some of the better shots can be seen on the slideshow below.

Thursday was also a field day, checking out the southern side of the Foxton Estuary. We had tried mist netting for godwits, unsuccesfully, a couple of nights in the last fornight and the possibility of netting on the southern side needed exploring. It was a good feeling to be walking across the salt marshes and be thinking - This is my job for 2009 & I like the view from my office window!
Dr. Phil Battley (my mentor) & me

Out in field - Foxton Estuary

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

NZ study Challenges world on teaching

John Hattie has just released a book Visible Learning and a brief summary was provided in The Sunday Star Times last week. The article, titled NZ study challenges world on teaching, doesn't really reveal anything particularly radical, but confirms the importance of effective feedback to help student learning. I absolutely agree, as I teacher I am well aware of the importance of providing feedback to help students in the next step of their learning, both written and oral feedback. I am also interested in exploring ways students generate their own internal feedback and seek feedback from their peers. Feedback doesn't just go from teacher to student, and of course teachers should always be looking for feedback from students as to what is working and not working in the classroom.

What does confuse me about Hattie's report is that class size is not particularly important in helping student learning. Class size is included with school type, homework and a student's diet and exercise as factors not significant in effecting student learning. However, following the paragraph to this effect a further paragraph states, "All of these things could help improve the quality of interaction in the classroom, but are not nearly as effective as strategies such as giving regular feedback and fostering an atmosphere of trust". To me it seems smaller class sizes would surely be significant in allowing time for more effective feedback to occur. It could also provide more opportunity for more teacher-student interactions to take place and this must be significant in developing the atmosphere of trust needed. Many secondary teachers have 5 classes. The quality of feedback teachers give to 5 classes of 30 has got to be less effective than the feedback offered to 5 classes of 20, within the same time frame. Furthermore, from work I did for my MEd I am aware class size can effect students willingness to seek help in class - both very small classes and large classes discourage student help seeking. Small classes, due to student being obvious or conspicuous and large sizes due to lack of availability of the teacher. These findings support a medium class size, my ideal would be about 20.

Given the repsonses to Hatties' article, I know I am not alone in finding his suggestions on class size surprising. I am also concerned about his push for performance pay. I have yet to read any research that shows performance pay improves student learning, though to be fair I haven't been active in searching for it. I can only imagine performance pay causing less collaborative school environments with far reaching effects.

With Education Minister, Anne Tolley latching on to Hatties' work, I hope she focusses on findings that help the profession, the teachers and importantly, the kids.