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A New National Curriculum Framework for Early Childhood: Risks or Opportunity? March 20, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Education Policy and Politics.
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From Associate Professor Christine Woodrow

The development and implementation of Australia’s first national framework for curriculum and pedagogy in early childhood settings: ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming : The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia” (EYLF), was launched in July 2009 for immediate implementation. This has been a significant early outcome from the Rudd government’s early childhood reform agenda. The development of this framework was perceived by many to present a unique opportunity for the creation of new discourses of early childhood, rich with ‘transformational possibilities’ (Sumsion et al 2009) and the articulation of a vision for the role of early childhood education in promoting social inclusion and equity. The compressed time frame for its development (nine months compared to the six years of development for the New Zealand early childhood curriculum Te Whariki) and the political compromises necessary to achieve quick consensus from the many stakeholders have undoubtedly truncated the opportunities for dialogue about what matters in early years education and limited the conceptual space for the creation of new discourses of early years education and the work of those undertaking its leadership. The account by Sumsion et al (2009) of some of the necessary compromises by the development team and the kinds of challenges to, and erasures from, early versions of the EYLF by risk-averse political gatekeepers provide sobering reading and salutary lessons about the political and contested nature of curriculum. They also provide telling insights into the significant challenges that must be overcome if the early childhood field is to advance robust new images of professional identity and early childhood leadership. For example, the reported institutional resistance to the use of the term ‘pedagogy’, explicitly chosen by the writers to communicate complex ideas involving the centrality of relationships and the importance of intentionality in teaching in early childhood contexts where this is not always visible, together with the censoring and erasure of reference to power relationships in play, could be read as maintaining the hegemony of childhood innocence and developmental frameworks. These frames have not been seen to be empowering to the profession in recent times and a robust critique exists to highlight their dangers in reinforcing care and nurturing dimensions and minimising the intellectual character of early childhood work. Conflicting images of the early childhood professional have emerged during the implementation of the government’s ‘new agenda’, that both constrain and expand possibilities for strengthening professional identities within the field. It is at least encouraging to see politicians locating early childhood provision within a ‘professional discourse’. Arguably, the activation of strong and effective field-based leadership will play a significant role in how these opportunities and challenges ultimately play out. As Osgood (2006), Miller (2008), and others have suggested, early years educators can ‘harness their own agency’ ( 2008: 260) and exert power over their professional identity and positioning to resist the disempowering potentials inherent in many policy discourses.
The new Early Years Learning Framework might be one such avenue for this assertion.

New National Teacher Professional Standards: An almost-missed opportunity? March 19, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics.
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From Steve Wilson

Recently a Commonwealth Working Party has developed a set of draft national standards for consultation. These standards are designed to describe the competencies and skills Australian teachers require to effectively work in and lead education into the 21st century, at the Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished, and Lead levels – each designed to describe a more advanced stage of a teacher’s classroom career. These standards can be viewed at:

http://www.mceecdya.edu.au/mceecdya/npst2010-consultation-call_for_submissions,30532.html

The School of Education at UWS will be making a submission about the draft standards as part of the consultation process. You are invited to make a comment on this Blog to state your view of the standards, and we will be looking to include a range of pertinent views from this Blog into our submission.

One question for me is whether these standards effectively project the profession well into the 21st century and capture the types of expectations that we will have of 21st century teachers in 20+ years. There is not a great deal of reference in the standards to technologies and technological competence, and the standards could generally have been written for the 1970s, when I trained to be a teacher many years ago.  These standards seem decontextualised from the current world and the way it is demanding that education engages with its students. The standards seem to represent quite low expectations of graduate teachers in particular. The standards seem to be instrumental; not aspirational. Maybe this is what national standards should be: a set of minimalist and basic competencies. However, I cannot help feeling that in adopting these, we may lose an opportunity to effectively capture the reality of the work, creativity, and high levels of professional competence, required of the 21st century teacher.

What do you think of the standards?  Please feel free to make a comment on our blog. You can read all comments using our ‘About’ facility.

The teacher remains central to student learning March 5, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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From Jane Hunter

The teacher will always remain central to student learning in schools and in universities. This argument is supported in two books I have recently read. The first is William Kist’s new book The Socially Networked Classroom (2010), and the other is Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other powerful Web 2.0 Tools for Classrooms (2009). For example, Richardson  states that “through the unique process of blogging students are learning to read more critically, think about their reading more analytically and write more clearly” (p.20).

Other education academics  who do research in teaching and new technologies like Erica McWilliam (2009) from the Queensland University of Technology posit the notion of ‘next practice’ and ‘creative capacity building’ in 21st century learning; she suggests a ‘meddler in the middle’, a teacher who utilizes an active, interventionist role in the classroom and really knows about pedagogy.

Blogs are powerful Web 2.0 tool for learning. If you hold that idea for one moment and add it to some of Kist’s, Richardson’s and McWilliam’s research – then teachers using blogs as meta-pedagogical organisers for student learning are potent ways to achieve key aims in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.

As mentioned  in a previous post, from March 2010 the NSW Department of Education and Training blogging tool, blogED, is being delivered through the Connected Classrooms Program.  blogEd provides the teachers who plan to use it with a ‘next practice’ and ‘creative’ pedagogical opportunity. The following snapshot is an example of how a high school teacher (pseudonym used for her name and the school) used blogED during the 2009 trial.

Kate is Head Teacher, Visual Arts and Computing Studies at Farley High School in South-Western Sydney region. She described her motivation for being a ‘blogger’: “visual arts, as with every other subject, lends itself beautifully to the use of a blog. Digital video drove my need to develop my computer literacy, and with the development of the new Photographic and Digital Media syllabus, opportunities to incorporate Photoshop and other software to digitally enhance 2D art forms are endless”.

Kate used the tool with her mixed-ability elective Year 9 Visual Arts class, and said, “when my students go home, I want them to be thinking about my subject more than any other subject! The blog provides a fantastic link between school and home – I set a descriptive task for homework, I had 27 hits on the blog in 24 hours”. She set daily blogs, and a weekly blog for short and longer learning tasks. Such blogs would be loaded with stimulus material in the form of video, vodcasts, links to internet sites and to still images. The students also were able to upload their own material via the concept of a “Di-Log” (a digital log or journal) when Kate gave them authoring rights.

Over the trial students’ uploaded compressed video art, scans and photographs of their artworks, and wrote recounts of their processes. “What was also interesting,” she said, “was that the more literate students were able to model better grammar for the ESL students, as they read each other’s responses. When the NAPLAN results are available, I will be able to design blog tasks that specifically address individual students’ needs in literacy and numeracy”.

Significantly, Kate saw using the blog as an occasion to enhance her relationship with students: “I know my students better after using the blog, I saw more of their personalities, all without much more of my own time. In fact, interacting with students’ written responses on a blog is far faster than taking home a stack of books”.

Three students from her class commented, “I now know more about the subject because it has a blog”; “I showed the blog to my parents to show them how well I am working in class with other students and how much work I am getting done!” and “I like how students can post comments and do their homework on the blog. You learn better since you can locate it on the Internet at home, you can’t forget your homework or lose it”.

In the later part of the trial Kate started a new blog, ‘The Hall of Fame’ – a list of students who did something well during the lesson. Students’ names were recorded on the classroom’s interactive whiteboard and noted on the class blog. At the end of the term they were awarded a merit certificate to show their parents and family that they had made it to … ‘The Hall of Fame’.

In a future posting I’d like to share a snapshot of how a primary school teacher in a Western Sydney school used blogED with his class.

 Jane Hunter

4 March 2010

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