Becoming literate is not simply about knowledge and skills. Certain behaviours and dispositions assist students to become effective learners who are confident and motivated to use their literacy skills broadly.
In our teacher training and professional practice we identify the aspects of teaching and learning that are the most important for us as educators, together with our own behaviours and dispositions as teachers. We incorporate these into delivery of syllabus content and meeting the needs of our students, as we engage in the art and science of education.
These issues and principles alter over time, as our knowledge increases, our expertise develops and we pick up on the evidence that is continually coming to light through research. We are influenced by the philosophy and demands of our workplaces and our educational systems. Our teaching practice, ongoing professional learning, wide reading, and engagement with our colleagues all help to build our professional knowledge and judgement.
When I returned to teaching early in my career, Morrison and McIntyre (see Blog ‘Teachers and teaching’) identified four issues as having influence on the quality of an ‘educational’ system –
- the behavioural skills of the teachers themselves,
- the relationships teachers have with both individuals and with classes,
- teacher ability to motivate pupils, and
- overall ‘management’ of classroom activity.
These resonated strongly as I reflected on my (then) two years of experience and my intention to get back to the profession and do the job properly. They have continued to inform my practice.
Since then, education has become a commodity that is bought and sold on the local, state, national, and international markets. The demands of economic rationalism and its enthusiasm to provide an economic justification for activities are having an influence on what happens in, and to, ‘educational’ systems. This may be described as the collection of evidence of ‘what works’, ostensibly to do what is known as ‘improving outcomes’.
The added complication is the amount of money that is being poured into education from both public and private purses, and the expectation of immediate, measurable evidence to justify that ‘investment’. The addition of increasing numbers of outsiders demanding to have their input into the teaching profession adds to the complexity, while so-called experts pop up in all shapes and guises with quick-fixes for the very work we have been developing and addressing for years.
The impact on education systems, schools, and teaching and learning has been profound and damaging. The impact on us as teachers has been to disempower us by publicly challenging every professional judgement we make. The press has been trotting out the ‘failing school/teachers/students’ hysteria with every national and international test result, or, it seems, whenever there is a slow day for news. (SMH 25 Feb 2018, is an example).
These measures, as they truly are, have had considerable impact on those four issues identified as having influence on the quality of educational systems.
The behavioural skills of the teachers themselves have shifted. Data collection is developing into a necessary box-ticking exercise for us as we:
- deliver dense and many-faceted syllabus content, and
- measure apparent learning by marking off steps along paths that may or may not be sequential or developmental
Syllabuses and learning progressions have been developed over considerable time, usually by experts in the field who have synthesised complex concepts and behaviours into text. These documents are complex, dense and extensive. It takes time and effort to access, understand and utilise these excellent and comprehensive documents fully.
Some sectors require implementation that is unwieldy and time-consuming, needing to be checked and cross-checked online, requiring lengthy interaction with a screen and often unreliable software, and by the school executive. This monitoring continues up through the ever-changing hierarchical structure of systems themselves, so everyone can apparently be accountable for their actions. (SMH 13/06/2018)
This is time taken from examining and selecting syllabus content appropriate for learning and development, and planning engaging and stimulating strategies for the needs of students. It is time taken from developing relationships with students and classes; it is time removed from attending to the encouragement and motivation of students, and the overall ‘management’ of classroom activity.
It is time taken away from us to be able to develop our professional skills to ensure that our teaching contributes to the development of authentic literacy for our students within subject areas. As we are explicitly told in the Australian curriculum, being literate is not simply about knowledge and skills.
It is more important than ever for us to be very sure about what learning is, and what we as teachers can be to our students and their families, to our colleagues, and to the profession, so our students can become effective learners who are confident and motivated to use their literacy skills broadly.
Morrison, A. & McIntyre, D. (1973) Teachers and Teaching 2nd Ed. Penguin Education UK