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UWS: A success story in teacher education and educational research November 18, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Steve Wilson

It has been a good year for the University of Western Sydney (UWS). Recognition of the university’s reputation as a quality institution has recently been captured by the recent publication of the Times 2014 World Higher Education Rankings. Here, UWS is noted as being amongst the top 100 of the world’s ‘young’ universities (under 50 years of age). It has also been included for the first time in the rankings of the top 400 universities in the world, marking it in the top 2% of all universities around the globe. These are great achievements for a university marking just its 25th anniversary in 2014.

There is also reason for the academics and professional staff in the School of Education at UWS to be justly proud of their own achievements in teacher education, research, and their engagement and leadership in the community. This is because a 2013 Report resulting from a high level external cyclical review of the UWS School of Education (2012), has concluded that:

The School of Education at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) has evolved into what can be considered a success story in terms of education faculties in Australia (Report, p.i).

In their report the review panel, comprising highly placed Education senior managers from other Australian universities and education systems, provides advice to the School on ways it can improve: this is, after all, a fundamental purpose of such reviews. Significantly, having consulted with UWS university students and graduates, school principals, teachers and community members during the review process, it congratulates and validates the School for the quality it is achieving, and points to a number of features of the School’s degree and research programs which have led to highly successful outcomes in teacher education and educational research being achieved by the School.

It is this success I wish to focus on here, particularly as teacher education programs across many universities often receive bad press from detractors (particularly some politicians and people in the media) who seem to often lament the quality of graduates of university teacher education, but who do not usually take the opportunity to investigate and understand what really happens in university teacher education. This is an alternative, and evidence-based good news story, from UWS.

The features of the UWS School of Education programs which are evaluated and praised by the review panel in its report include the following.

UWS’s ‘clever’ and effective course design
UWS has a postgraduate model of teacher education, meaning that students enter teacher education having completed a Bachelors degree. Through this pathway they bring an experience and maturity into their teacher education which assists them in becoming critical and classroom ready teachers. At UWS, facilitated pathways through Bachelors programs leading into the Master of Teaching degrees provide students with certainty in accessing postgraduate teacher education. According to the Review panel,

Introduction of the Bachelor of Arts pathway into the Master of Teaching was an especially smart move as this helps to prevent large numbers of students completing four years of study in education only to realise that they do not want to become teachers. This is a powerful model for linking undergraduate to postgraduate courses (p.22).

Course content and teaching approaches are also recognised by the panel as high quality features, and are addressed below.

Engaged learning and teaching
The panel’s Report commends the School on the experiences it provides to its student teachers through its program of service learning. Describing service learning as “one of (the School’s) great strengths” (p.7), and quite distinctive to what is offered in other universities, it praises the School for the range of community service projects in which student teachers can participate, and for the vast numbers of student teachers engaged in these programs (who each gain course credits for undertaking voluntary work). Commenting on the value of student teachers having the opportunity for deep engagement with people in the community, it notes that:

The Panel heard that the process of ‘getting to know people one-on-one’ through programs can be transformational – both for the UWS students and for the members of the community participating in the program (p.7).

The panel also notes the very positive responses to these programs from both student teachers, and community agencies and their clients. It notes the positive outcomes these programs achieve, including, as just two examples of many, preventing high school students from dropping out, and helping refugees improve their learning success through tutoring programs. The panel notes that feedback from external agencies and individuals involved in the service learning programs is extremely positive:

Feedback from this group was overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing gratitude and thanks to the School (including its students). One external partner that has received over six hundred student volunteers from the School spoke of the “clear commitment of UWS to build capacity in the region” … It became clear to the Panel that exemplary results are being achieved through community and regional engagement and the Panel wishes to congratulate the School on its outstanding engagement performance (p.i).

High graduate satisfaction
A clear outcome of the review is recognition that the School of Education is marked by outstanding teaching, indicated by high levels of student satisfaction with the programs and teaching. In expressing this, the panel notes that:

The Panel received many reports of the School’s outstanding learning and teaching performance, including the programs, focus, quality of teaching, and content of curriculum. The School has strong results in the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) [an Australia-wide instrument for measuring graduate satisfaction with university teaching] and Student Feedback on Units (SFU) surveys, as well as excellent scores on the My University Website (p.21).

A notable element of this feedback from the panel is that it took the opportunity to meet with many present students and former graduates before making this assessment of the quality of UWS courses and teaching. Some of the comments from present and former students relayed in the report include: ‘the course was wonderful’; ‘our tutors are excellent and provide the most unbelievable amount of resources’; ‘lecturers go out of their way’; ‘teaching is excellent at this university’; ‘some subjects are cutting edge’; ‘academics try so hard’, and that the School is ‘such a better atmosphere than my first (other) university’ (p.24).

More generally, the panel reports that student comments noted

The outstanding support provided by academics within the School, including the levels of empathy and understanding shown to students experiencing stress and/or personal difficulties (p.24).

In a summative comment, the panel notes that the “overall quality of the School’s teaching and learning is excellent” (p.21). This is something about which the School’s staff should be very proud. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Review indicates that while some politicians and others may choose to criticise and even disparage university teacher education programs, the quality of their graduates, and point to low levels of student satisfaction with their teacher education programs, this is certainly not the case with UWS, as just one example in the university sector.

High employer and community satisfaction
While staff in the School of Education have always felt that the quality of their graduates was high, the review and report confirms this. Noting that many UWS graduates find employment in highly culturally diverse areas of Sydney, the Panel notes that:

feedback from external partners also testified to the quality of the School’s graduates and their work-readiness for highly diverse settings … (and) it was impressed that students were confident of their preparation for the diversity of the region” (p.21).

The general capacity of UWS graduates, as identified in both classroom practicum and service learning settings, is praised by external stakeholders. Some of their comments tendered to the review, as mentioned in the report, include:

The Panel also heard that that the School’s students and graduates are viewed as being enthusiastic, caring and “very knowledgeable about the needs of children”. Others commented that “UWS students are of a very high standard”; “students are fantastic”; “I am amazed at the quality and enthusiasm of the students”; and that students on practicum “know what they are doing” (p.3).

Quality and engaged research
The UWS School of Education has built up a strong research program which is both theoretically sound and of high relevance and impact (particularly, though by no means exclusively, through its engagement through research with social and educational issues in the greater western Sydney region). In reviewing the scope of educational research conducted within the School and research centre, the panel’s report

notes that the School’s research concentrations focus on: educational psychology; global children, families and communities and education; transnational knowledge exchange; equity of educational outcomes; youth transitions and high school completion; and, social ecology (p.13).

More recently, the Centre for Educational Research in the School has strengthened its research program by adding in the theme of sustainability through education.

Endorsing the quality of educational research at UWS, the panel comments that “the School has on its team a number of the best educational researchers in Australia (and in one or two cases with global reputations)” (p.13). It also notes that, relating to results in the national Excellence of Research in Australia (ERA) 2012 research evaluation process:

It is the Panel’s view that research in the School is being done well … and the Panel congratulates the School on achieving an improved overall ranking of ‘3’ … which is classified as average performance at world standard, and … now clearly above the sector average of 2.4 (p.15-16).

The panel also comments on the School’s “good reputation for graduating” students undertaking research higher degrees such as doctorates, and on the “high degree of support provided to them”, including “regular meetings with mentors who were clearly busy; opportunities to attend conferences and workshops; and, opportunities to take part in project planning of programs” (p.17). The panel concludes that “overall, the message from research students was that the School has a strong focus on the future and is “a fantastic place to be a researcher” (p.17).

The motivation for reporting these achievements at UWS is that teacher education within universities is sometimes subject to uninformed, and often quite negative, criticism. This is a good news story out of UWS which is worth reporting because, as just one example in the higher education sector, it shows a different and successful narrative for university-based teacher education. Such stories enable those who work within universities to be proud of what they do, and those outside of them to have confidence in what universities are achieving.

The message from this review of the School of Education at UWS and its recent report is that academics and professional staff in the School of Education at UWS are achieving quality outcomes. They should feel justly proud that they have a good, successful model of teacher education, supported by outstanding university teaching, and a world class program of educational research. They are achieving high quality outcomes in each of these areas.

This review indicates that current UWS students, former graduates, schools and learning institutions who employ these graduates, teachers who work with them, and the community at large, have every reason to be confident in the education that graduate teachers and researchers who have attended UWS have received. They should be equally as confident in the capacity of these graduates to make lasting, positive impacts on their professions, on the lives of children and the general population, and on the world, during their professional lives.

 

Steve Wilson is Emeritus Professor at the University of Western Sydney and Adjunct Professor in the School of Education at UWS.

You are not alone: the journey of a graduate November 4, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Angel Mok

Definitely unexpectedly, and almost contrarily, a mixture of emotions about life gushed to my heart when I finally sat down to write this article. It is ONLY five years ago that I left the University of Western Sydney but so much has happened. I’ve seen a lot of transformation in both my friends and myself, and this really makes five years feel much longer than it is. We are no longer the new graduates who doubted every step and decision we made. We are so much more confident because we know we have chosen the right paths for ourselves.

No matter where you are on your career path, I hope you are doing something you are passionate about and using what you have learned from UWS or your own insitution.  If you are not very sure about this, perhaps you might consider contacting some of your lecturers and tutors at UWS and discussing options with them. Or perhaps you might have been thinking to connect/reconnect to some people who would understand your current circumstances. I hope your Alumni can bridge this connection and provide you with the support we all need.

Entering the workforce with a teaching qualification opened up a whole range of possibilities for me but like many new teachers, the initial excitement was accompanied with lots of doubts and uncertainties. I did not follow my classmates to secure a full time position in a childcare setting or primary school after I got my Master of Teaching (Early Childhood) in 2007. Instead, I have been working in different educational settings including long day care, preschools, primary schools and various universities since then. The experience of working in a range of settings has really enriched my understanding of teaching and learning, as well as of myself.

Inquisitive minds in the classroom always excite me and make all the hard work in schools worthwhile. But I was also aware of my thirst for intellectual stimulation which had become a driving force that took me back to University. Eventually in 2010, I followed my heart and did something I am passionate about but really never expected that I would do. I embarked on a journey to do a PhD. Embarking on research has been a very steep learning curve but I am loving every moment of it. I often doubt my capacity to finish such a big project as a PhD but I have never considered giving up because I believe this is an amazing new path.  

I am not sure how the leap into doing a PhD actually happened, but I am sure it would never have happened without my experiences at UWS. I still vividly remember sitting in the lecture rooms, listening attentively to my lecturers – Ros Elliot teaching ‘Constructions of Childhood’, Jean Ashton on ‘Literacy’, Chris Johnston on ‘Additional Needs’, Criss Jones Diaz on ‘Postmodernist theories’. And who can forget making sherbet and flying hot air balloons in Colin Webb’s science curriculum classes as well as the EXPOs which showcased students’ talents and hard work? Those were some of my fond memories of studying at UWS from 2005-2007. What an amazing couple of years I had at UWS. It just feels like yesterday.

Like a lot of young people, I entered university right after high school and got my first degree without thinking too much about what I really wanted to do in the future. It was not until I did my masters degree at UWS as a mature student that I started to realise how much I love learning. And now this is the second year into my PhD research which aims to explore the cultural identity of Chinese residents in Sydney, and how that influences their children’s performance in mathematics. It is still too early to share any of the ‘findings’ but this autoethnographic study has helped me to understand ‘my people’ and myself.

As mentioned before, I spent a couple of years exploring the possibilities of applying my knowledge before I eventually committed myself to one of them. As exciting as it might sound, I have to admit that this journey of exploration was not easy at all. In fact, it was a rather lonely journey which was full of self-doubt. I am lucky to have classmates and friends who have been very supportive along the way, but I still wish I knew someone who was also exploring his/her professional identity as I was. I needed to know I was not alone.

I think that one of the greatest values of the UWS Alumni is that you can talk to someone from a similar background, who understands your situation and can provide you with the social and professional support we all need. Perhaps you can find this person(s) from the Alumni. And I guess this is all it’s about – creating a network of support that is much needed for all of us.

Angel Mok is a former a PhD student at the University of Western Sydney in the School of Education. Angel has previously undertaken a Bachelor of Early Childhood Studies and Master of Teaching (Early Childhood) at UWS.

Mapping the early English speech of very remote Aboriginal children July 1, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Primary Education.
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 from Lawrence Kenny

“Dis one crying get football” (6 year old Central Western Desert child).

At first glance this description of a child upset because their football has been kicked into a creek on a family outing may appear clumsy and unsophisticated for a six year old speaker. However, for this very remote Aboriginal child this sentence is one of many milestones in their journey to becoming a competent and meaningful speaker of English. It is one of a number of major linguistic steps in their journey from being immersed and fluent in their own homeland Aboriginal language, to becoming a bilingual or multilingual speaker that includes English.

It is important to map the linguistic journey of these very remote Aboriginal English as Foreign Language (EFL) speakers as they are repeatedly identified and reported as having the poorest educational results of all Australian school children, yet they begin their Western education journey arriving at school being competent speakers of a very complex language system.

For many early childhood educators it is widely accepted that language is the key factor for all higher level cognitive functions and that language development and comprehension does affect the development of later literacy skills. As an early childhood educator in a very remote Aboriginal context for more than 7 years I have had the privilege of being immersed within a cultural and linguistic context unique within the wider Australian social milieu. During these 7 years I was involved for a year with the Indigenous Language Speaking Student (ILSS) program funded by the Australian Commonwealth Government. A major part of the ILSS program is the reporting and assessment of the English oral language abilities of 6 year old very remote Aboriginal children enrolled in the ILSS program.

During my year within this program it became apparent that there was no systematic or culturally appropriate method for the collection of English oral language data and, more disconcertingly, that no English oral language profile existed for these EFL learners. When educators and education systems within this unique educational context can understand and identify the development patterns and milestones in English oral language for these EFL learners, the better able all involved can cater for and to the education of these unique Australian EFL learners. 

It is important that education providers and curriculum developers in the Northern Territory and throughout Australia recognise that the education and linguistic contexts of very remote Aboriginal communities throughout Australia are extremely distinct from non remote Aboriginal and non Aboriginal communities. This distinction is important as it recognises that very remote Aboriginal children are English as Foreign Language (EFL) learners as opposed to English as Second Language (ESL) learners. The term EFL is distinct from ESL as EFL learners are not immersed within the broader social milieu of the language being learnt, whilst ESL learners are surrounded by the social and cultural elements of the language being learned.

Unfortunately this recognition is not apparent with the consistent application of mainstream English as first language and ESL developmental profiles in the very remote Aboriginal context. The application of these developmental models or profiles creates a language disparity and a deficit model for the assessment of these unique learners. This leads to a dislocation or a content/context divide that does not recognise the appearance and consolidation of emergent developmental behaviours and indicators for oral SAE that are common to very remote Aboriginal school children in their first few years of formal Western schooling.

The application of these developmental profiles is problematic as they are undertaken in mainstream urban and/or rural communities where SAE is the taken for granted first language, and they do not include many of the emergent developmental behaviours and indicators that are the foundations of more advanced SAE speech.

As the Australian education landscape undergoes a dramatic shift towards a National curriculum framework, a part of this new direction in the Northern Territory is the introduction of the Diagnostic Net for Transition to Year 9 (NT DET, 2010) [now called by NT DET the Diagnostic for Transition to Year 2]. The language profile within this document identifies six areas in the development of SAE oracy and although comprehensive, this developmental profile clearly reflects mainstream education developmental profiles and does not encompass any early and emergent language behaviours or indicators. These early emergent language indicators are what many very remote Aboriginal students display in their first few years of school, and this is the content /context divide for these English as a Foreign Language learners.

The T-9 Diagnostic Net provides an incomplete view of the developmental process as it begins with a description of learners that have mastered the emergent SAE oral behaviours and indicators. For example, the Transition speaking and listening profile describes students as speaking in sentences of four to five words and that they are able to join these short sentences using the words and, or, but, and because. This is the ‘expectation’ for these students by the end of their Transition year, which is the first year of school contact for many of these very remote Aboriginal children who are at least five years old but no more than six years old (NT DET, 2010, pp.30-31).

After their first year in Transition children move into first grade or year one and are now in their second year of schooling. Table 1.1 outlines the expected “grammatical markers” and “little words” (NT DET, 2010, p.30) that students must be able to use by the end of this year.

Table 1.1 Grammatical markers and little words
Present progressive Driving
Plurals Balls
Regular past tense she walked
Irregular past tense broke, fell
Possessive daddy’s…
3rd person present tense regular he works…
3rd person present tense irregular she does
Contractions he’s…, she’s…
   
Little words a, the, is, am, are

NT DET (2010) Diagnostic Net for Transition to Year 9. The Continua. Oral Language Development in the Curriculum. Speaking and Listening (p.30).

 The Diagnostic Net T-9 Continua (2010) does not cover emergent oral development as it begins with Transition students being able to speak and link four to five word sentences together by the end of their first year of school contact. The Diagnostic net then sees students progress to year one or first grade and depicts students using grammatical markers for tense and contractions in their speech by the end of this year of schooling.

The anticipated developmental progression over the first two years of school envisions these very remote students acquiring the previously discussed oral SAE abilities, yet does not acknowledge that beginning learners of a second language need time for exposure and consolidation in the learning process that may begin with an extended silent period before moving through holophrases and into the stages of telegraphic speech in their use of SAE (Ellis, 2009).

To conclude, very remote Aboriginal children in the NT arrive at school with little or no experience with English and the application of mainstream and ESL developmental models in the very remote Aboriginal context fails to recognise that developmental profiles must complement learners to be useful documents for teachers.

References:    Ellis. R. (2009). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. (2nd Ed). Oxford. Oxford University Press.    NT DET. (2010). Diagnostic Net for Transition to Year 9. Retrieved on the 29th September from http://www.det.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/13969/DiagnosticNetT9.pdf

Lawrence Kenny has two degrees from the University of Western Sydney, graduating in 1998 with a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood), and with a Bachelor of Education [Honours 1st class] in 2000. Lawrence is currently enrolled in the School of Education’s PhD program and is conducting research on the development of Standard Australian English in the early school years in four very remote Aboriginal communities in the Central Western Desert region of the Northern Territory. Lawrence is an employee of the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training and has worked as a teacher and teaching principal in this context for more than 7 years.

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