Linda Graham

Are regular classroom teachers really not qualified to teach students with special needs?

Sure enough, representatives of parent and teacher groups have emerged to back Senator Pauline Hanson’s claims that children with ‘autism and disabilities’ should be removed from mainstream classroom.

Primary principals in south western Sydney were reported as saying a shortage of places in special schools and classes is leading to the placement of students with disability or special needs into regular classes with a teacher who is “not sufficiently qualified”.

No description of the necessary qualifications was provided in the article but the implication was clear: special qualifications are needed to teach special students. In other words, a regular teacher education qualification just doesn’t cut it.

At about the same time Dr James Morton, who is Chairman of the AEIOU Foundation and parent of a child with autism, in an interview on ABC radio criticised universities for failing to prepare teachers to teach students with disability. His chief complaint was that units specialising in autism are not mandatory in undergraduate teacher education programs and accused universities of not investing in Australia’s future.

Then we had Professor Kenneth Wiltshire of the UQ Business School who argued via an opinion piece that the states had pulled a “con job… late last century” by promising “disabled students could become mainstream in every way by being included in conventional schools”. He then claims the states only supported inclusion because they were “cost-cutting by closing many special schools”.

While confused and lacking any supporting evidence, Wiltshire’s article echoes points made in the other two examples:

  1. special students need to be educated by special teachers in special places,
  2. regular classroom teachers are not qualified to teach students with disability and/or universities are failing to adequately prepare them
  3. there are not enough special teachers and special places (because of inclusion and the closure of special schools).

Is there truth to any these claims?

In short, no.

Firstly, research consistently shows that educating students with disability in special places does not guarantee better academic or social outcomes, better employment prospects or post-school options and social inclusion. Quite the opposite, in fact.

This does not mean that they will do well in mainstream schools built for a narrow range of students. It means that local schools must evolve to cater to the full range of students. And this means teachers and teacher preparation must also evolve.

The 2016 Australian Senate Report made recommendations for teaching skills that would improve workforce capacity for inclusion: universal design for learning, differentiated teaching, and cooperative learning.

With this knowledge, teachers can identify what support students need to access the curriculum, engage in classroom activities, and achieve at school. These skills are emphasised in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, which since 2012 have underpinned the accreditation of university teacher education courses.

The Standards make clear that all classroom teachers are qualified to teach students with disability and/or additional needs. To be accredited, university teacher education courses must also cover four key focus areas that directly relate to students with disability: (i) differentiating teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities, (ii) supporting learning of students with disability, (iii) supporting student participation and engagement, and (iv) managing challenging behaviour.

Every graduating teacher must provide evidence that they meet each Standard to achieve registration to teach. To maintain their annual registration, existing teachers must provide evidence that they have engaged in professional learning relating to the Standards.

Clearly, there is a framework to ensure that registered classroom teachers are qualified to teach students with disabilities and/or additional needs, and for universities to prepare their graduates to do so. The benefits are seen in numerous schools and classrooms across the country, but there is scope for both teacher preparation programs and schools to embrace inclusive teaching practices.

Finally, the claim that places in special schools and classes have declined because of inclusion and the subsequent closure of special schools is completely false.

This is clear from a range of data sources.

 Research from New South Wales has shown that proportion of enrolments in separate special educational settings in Australia’s largest education system has been increasing since the 1990s. In other words, the “mainstream” is shrinking.

These findings are supported by national data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) which shows that there was a 35% increase in the number of students with disability attending special schools between 2003 and 2015.

But most telling is this: Prior to the 1992 Disability Discrimination Act, before we signed the 1994 Salamanca Statement, and before “inclusion” was really a thing, there were 444 special schools accounting for 4.4% of all schools in Australia.

Almost three decades later — after the 2005 Disability Standards for Education, the 2008 Melbourne Declaration, and a multitude of reviews and inquiries nationally – there are now 461 special schools, accounting for 4.9% of Australian schools.

That represents an 11% increase in the number of special schools and this has occurred despite evidence that inclusion leads to more positive outcomes for students with disability.

We may well be living in a post-truth world but none of the empirical evidence supports the claims being made by Hanson’s backers.

 

Professor Linda Graham works in the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Linda coordinates Inclusive Education Theory, Policy and Practice, a core unit in the Faculty of Education’s Master of Inclusive Education and leads QUT’s Student Engagement, Learning & Behaviour Research Group (@SELB_QUT), and is a member of the Board for All Means All – Australian Alliance for Inclusive Education. She has published more than 80 books, chapters and journal articles, and is leading two current large scale projects investigating educational responses to students with learning and behavioural difficulties. Linda blogs at drlindagraham.wordpress.com.au and can often be found on Twitter: @drlindagraham

Dr Kate de Bruin works in the Faculty of Education at Monash University Her current research investigates evidence-informed practice and policy in inclusive education, with a focus developing teacher capacity for using inclusive pedagogies in ways that improve equity and quality schooling for all students, and she regularly provides professional learning to school teachers in these areas. She has worked with government departments on projects such as the Victorian Inclusion Support Programme, and the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data for Students with Disabilities.

Dr Ilektra Spandagou is a senior lecturer at the Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney. She worked as a special teacher in mainstream settings before she completed her PhD at the University of Sheffield, UK, in inclusive education. She has worked in inclusive education in three countries: as a researcher at the University of Sheffield, UK, and as a lecturer at the University of Athens and the University of Thessaly, Greece, before moving to The University of Sydney. Her research interests include inclusion, disability, comparative education and classroom diversity. Her current research projects focus on inclusive policy and practice within a rights perspective. A common thread of this work is a conceptual understanding of inclusive education as a transformation project requiring a paradigmatic shift in perceptions of both ability and education. Her publications include the book ‘Inclusive Education: International Policy & Practice’ (co-authored with A.C. Armstrong and D. Armstrong) published by Sage in 2010.

Expensive new government funded website for schools fails to deliver

Students with disabilities often struggle in Australian schools. There have been many inquiries and reports over the years that tell us this. Of course, students with disability struggle for a range of reasons but a major one is the lack of funding for support materials that can be used by teachers with the responsibility of educating them. So when funds do become available it is very important for them to be spent carefully and wisely.

Our post is about a new resource, the Leading Learning 4 all website, which was commissioned by the Australian government in response to the latest review of the Disability Standards for Education in 2015. The resource aims to promote inclusive school practices but we believe it makes some fundamental mistakes.

We decided to air our concerns here because it might help raise awareness of the issues involved and hopefully improve future support and resources for teachers involved in educating children with disability.

What is “Leading Learning 4 all”?

Leading Learning 4 all is a website developed by the Australian Special Education Principals Association and built by Schoolzine Pty Ltd.  The idea for the website is it that it will be a place where teachers and schools can go for ideas and to learn strategies that will help them with the education of children with disability. The website aims to develop a repository of inclusive teaching practices across Australia, which will be added to over time.

It claims to be organised around the Disability Standards for Education for Australian schools and is aimed at school leaders. It cost taxpayers $622,000.

We believe this was money poorly spent and a great opportunity wasted.

The bulk of the resources available on this site are in the form of videos and schools are invited to upload their own.

The website states that these videos “are not intended to be crafted, professionally directed pieces”. The idea is if teachers and schools upload their own videos of what they are doing with their students with disabilities, this will help develop a repository of practice that will be useful to others looking for help.

Although this signals respect for the teaching profession, it also assumes that school practitioners have the means and technical know-how to generate videos that are appropriate for broader use.

One fundamental problem with this site is poor modelling

Teachers and school leaders will look towards the existing videos on the site as a guide. We should expect they would be good models of the things teachers and schools might aim for.

For starters, the videos are both low-tech and low quality, so on a production level alone they do not provide a good model for amateur video producers to work towards.

But we have identified far more serious problems with the videos on this site.

For now, we will highlight just three: poor accessibility, flawed representation of students with disability, and incorrect interpretation of the Disability Standards for Education.

Poor accessibility

The provision of accessibility, such as text captioning—to enable access to information and equitable participation—is basic to any resource intended for students with a disability.

At the time of our investigation of the website, there was a video with the captions presented in the Dutch language and two videos with no captioning at all. The remaining videos only had auto-generated captioning by YouTube.

This practice does not comply with international accessibility expectations and organisations have been asked to lift their game. For example, the US Ministry of Justice last year ruled that the automatically generated captions on Berkeley University’s YouTube channel “were inaccurate and incomplete, making the content inaccessible to individuals with hearing disabilities”.

This is not the only accessibility problem with the videos and we have listed others below:

  • no pre-recorded sign language, or available scripts of the videos
  • continual background music in the videos that could distort what viewers hear
  • many resources are in PDF format, which means they need to be downloaded and filled-in, presumably using a pen or pencil. No other formats are provided
  • no glossary or plain English information
  • no contacts for translation or interpreting services. While the website can be translated using Google Translate, this service lacks accuracy in translating policy and legislation. In a multilingual society like Australia providing support to families from non-English speaking background to access information in their language is an essential advocacy practice
  • The information provided for sensory disability (as a handout) makes no reference to digital accessibility. In our fast-changing technological world, teachers need to be aware of how technology can be both a facilitator and a barrier to students with disability

Flawed representations of students with disability

Students are present in just 7 of the 17 videos available on the website in the Interpreting the Disability Standards for Education section. In these 7 videos, 11 of the 12 students featured have an obvious disability.

One indicative video in the section Reasonable Adjustments with the title ‘Adjustments in the Curriculum’, has the credit “Sue and Students, Teacher [school name]”. The teacher, Sue, is sitting between two girls and starts talking to the camera:

“The two girls are from grade 3/4. One is a hearing-impaired girl and the other girl is not hearing impaired. They both work on Maths on money recognition and simple addition and equivalency. And they are working with me together in the deaf facility because they are at a similar level and it gives them some focus with me in a smaller group situation. So girls, let’s have a look…”

Sue keeps talking to the girls for another two seconds and the video ends. The ‘girls’, who have no names and no voice and who have been introduced by their impairment (or lack thereof), are treated more like props than thinking, feeling humans.

This is a huge concern because a central feature of inclusive education is the use of person-first language. While there are exceptions with some communities or individuals electing to be known as ‘Deaf’ or ‘Autistic’, this is a personal choice and should not be assumed.

School children should therefore never be referred to as a ‘hearing impaired girl’ or a ‘Down syndrome boy’ because of the risk that they will be defined by their disability. Disability is only ever an aspect of humanity and not the sum of who a person is. The respectful use of language should be a basic consideration in any resource relating to inclusive education.

It is also not at all clear what adjustment is being made in this video example, what relevance this adjustment has to hearing impairment, or why the lesson needs to occur in the deaf facility, especially when the second girl is not hearing impaired.

Rather than an exemplar of inclusive practice, this video example appears to be about reverse integration—a concept that is deeply entrenched in special education traditions.

Interpretation of the Disability Standards for Education

Both the 2012 and the 2015 reviews of the Disability Standards for Education have commented on the lack of confidence that schools and teachers feel in interpreting the key terms of the Standards. Despite the emphasis on training, schools still struggle with the concepts of ‘on the same basis as’, ‘consultation’ and ‘reasonable adjustments’, which are all examples of the key terms of the Standards.

The examples provided in the Leading Learning 4 all website do not assist in clarifying these terms. They instead provide a poor model to guide practice. This is exemplified in a video on ‘consulting with students’ where collaboration between teachers and a physiotherapist to develop a fitness program to enable a student’s participation in sport is discussed, without once mentioning whether or how the student was consulted in the process.

Why the problems with this site need to be fixed

Everyone involved in the education of students with disability should understand the fundamental concepts and practices underpinning inclusive education; concepts as simple as ‘consultation’ and practices as important as using person-first language.

We strongly support the development of quality resources for teachers and schools to enhance their inclusive practices. Unfortunately, the Australian government’s Leading Learning 4 all website falls short of this aim and may lead well-meaning educators to unknowingly engage in practices that are both discriminatory toward, and stigmatising of, students with disability.

Rather than addressing poor practice, this website risks perpetuating it. And, if the Australian Government’s own inclusion website does not model inclusive practice, who will?

An example of videos that DO model expectations and good practice

We thought you might like to see what we do consider to be a great example of modelling and expectations.

The Reasonable Adjustments Project developed in England produced a manual and DVDs in 2005. The DVDs are now available on YouTube. They are of high quality and consistently use sign language interpretation and embedded subtitles.

The Leading Learning 4 all website represents a costly, missed opportunity for the Australian Government to do the same for the Australian school context.

 

Ilektra Spandagou is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney. She has been involved in teacher education in special and inclusive education both in Greece and Australia. She has experience working with general and special education teachers in the area of theories of inclusive education, and the nexus of policy and school practice. Ilektra’s research interests include inclusion, disability, comparative education and classroom diversity. Her publications include the book Inclusive Education: International Policy & Practice.

Linda Graham is an Associate Professor in the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT). She coordinates Inclusive Education Theory, Policy and Practice, a core unit in the Faculty of Education’s Master of Inclusive Education. She leads QUT’s Student Engagement, Learning and Behaviour Research Group (@SELB_QUT) and a number of research projects in the area of inclusive education. She can often be found on Twitter: @drlindagraham

 

Ben Whitburn is a Lecturer of Inclusive Education in the Faculty of Arts and Education at Deakin University. Ben draws on critical disability studies, policy sociology, and insider perspectives to research and teach principles of inclusive schooling in theory, policy and teacher practice. He tweets @BenWhitburn

 

Parent-teacher partnerships: poisoned by ‘bad parent’ click bait

The late January back-to-school ritual has turned ugly. Among the cute little stories about multiple sets of twins beginning school together and the healthy snacks parents can concoct for their child’s lunchbox, is a new form of click-bait that blames parents for coddling their child and turning them into monsters that harried teachers then have to deal with.

One particular piece would have us believe parents feed their children nothing but junk, allow them to stay up to all hours then pass their “already tired” offspring to beleaguered teachers at the end of six weeks of holiday chaos. Mums and dads (but typically mums) then lie in wait for about the first two weeks, at which point they begin to “whinge” about their child’s teacher.

Have you noticed how opinion pieces like this follow a predictable pattern? First come the generalisations, then incitement to outrage, followed by the taking of sides (always the right one) and self-righteous advice gained from the perfect personal experience.

Another example of this type of ‘bad parent’ click bait features a series of rants by anonymous teachers about the horrors of teaching today’s school students. Seriously.

These articles may well do what they have been created to do, act as click-bait, but they are just plain awful when it comes to nurturing parent-teacher relationships in Australia.

They also have a nostalgic air; they present as a short-form journalistic ode to the ‘good ‘ole days’ when children were seen and not heard. Are we supposed to believe that no one parents well these days, even though a large proportion of teachers are also parents?

Evidence shows that today’s parents are probably working harder at parenting than at any time previously. Whilst it is always possible to find examples of neglectful or ineffective parenting (both now and in mythical golden-ages), those parents aren’t helped by contempt directed at them by the media.

And here I will add that teacher staff room gossip about parents should be included in things that are not helpful. Staffroom gossip can also breed an unhealthy feedback cycle that works to build reputations around particular kids and families. The result is that some students never get a fair go.

What’s worse is that it can set up a vicious triangle that works to keep teachers, students and parents at odds. The teacher generally ends up being at the long end of the triangle and it is very difficult to get a positive outcome from there.

What my research tells me

One thing that has come across very loud and clear in the many student interviews I have conducted is that no matter how dysfunctional their family background, children still feel love for their main caregivers.

When asked if there was anything they would change about themselves if they could, one boy replied that he wished that he could turn back time. He wanted to go back to the time before he was taken away from his mum, before she became addicted to drugs and alcohol, before she would lie on the floor in her own blood and vomit.

Children often know when teachers speak and think ill of their families. The resentment towards teachers felt by some of the young people in my research was palpable and many indicated that they reserve their worst behaviour for the teachers they perceive as judging them and their families.

Many teachers will know that one sure-fire method kids use to start a fight in the playground is to call another kid’s mum a “slut”.

But, what doesn’t seem to be as well understood is that the disapproving glances, dismissive air, imperious tone, and short shrift that some teachers give when interacting with parents is picked up by their children.

And it makes those childen angry. It makes them both defensive and protective. It makes them feel inferior. What it doesn’t do is help.

The strongest message that came through these student interviews is that, if forced, kids will back the people they love.

We need to reject the parent versus teacher positioning

That’s what worries me about click-bait that positions parents as inept and teachers as victims. Such articles exacerbate an “us v them” mentality.

It gives licence to hostile teacher behaviours that can affect a whole school’s culture. Over time, the more positive teachers may leave, taking with them the possibility of seeing and doing things differently.

The end result can be a war-zone with rampant bullying and physical aggression between students, complete disrespect for teachers, high absenteeism and very little learning.

Places much like the schools described in one of those articles. But rather than question how these schools became like that or what we can do to fix them, it seems easier or perhaps more entertaining to just blame parents and the ‘monsters’ they’ve produced.

Schools need involved parents

Parents are great advocates and many (mothers in particular) contribute a significant portion of their time to fund-raising for their local school, sitting on P&C committees, and/or supporting teachers in reading groups, going on excursions and donating class supplies.

This occurs much more now than in the good ‘ole days because many schools are critically under-resourced.

Children who have parents who are involved in their schooling, even on a very simple level, can have a much more positive experience. Teachers who get to know parents can find new ways to connect with their students.

For this to occur, we need to acknowledge that productive parent-teacher partnerships benefit all involved: students, parents and teachers.

So, as tempting as it might be, we have to resist the click bait because it won’t help any of us form those partnerships.

 

GrahambigLinda Graham is Principal Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT). She is the Lead Chief Investigator of two longitudinal research projects focusing on disruptive behaviour. One examines the experiences of students enrolled in NSW government “behaviour” schools (Australian Research Council DP110103093), and another is tracking the language, learning, experiences, relationships, attitudes and behaviour of 250 QLD prep children through the early years of school (Financial Markets Foundation for Children FMF4C-2013). In 2014, she was elected Editor of the Australian Educational Researcher (AER) and serves as a member of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Executive Committee.

Our obsession with school achievement data is misplaced: we’re measuring the wrong things.

In 2008 Australia began a national assessment program that tests school children in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in reading, writing, spelling and numeracy (NAPLAN). These assessments only really entered the national consciousness in 2010 when the Rudd Government launched the My School website, after assuring concerned stakeholders that it would not be possible to directly compare schools and that we would not go down the path of English league tables.

Tell that to The Australian, which has since launched its own website called Your School. The site promises us that we can use it to compare our “own list of schools” online and provides every other media outlet in Australia with the resources to produce its own set of league tables.

Since 2008 and particularly since 2010 we’ve seen a major change in school practice and the national conversation. We’re all familiar with the story of Queensland where Premier Anna Bligh, shocked by her state’s performance in the first NAPLAN, wrote to parents stating that their children would sit practice tests in the lead up to the 2009 assessment.

I was Sydney at the time and blithely unaware of what was happening in QLD but I remembered it as a bold and progressive state: the home of Productive Pedagogies, New Basics, the Inclusive Education Task Force, and a play-based preparatory year firmly grounded in early childhood philosophy.

Upon returning to Brisbane in 2013, I was stunned by how much had changed. My first indication was when my daughter, who was in Year 9, began coming home every week saying “I @#!& hate Thursdays!”

Thursdayitis was a new one for me, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that Thursday, in Term 1 of Year 9 at her school, is “NAPLAN Turbo Day”, where everyone practised NAPLAN type exercises. Not long after that, you might be interested to know I received a form requesting that I sign off on disability support provisions. This was something I refused to do (not sure how much help another 5 minutes would be when the problem is not knowing the answer). Once NAPLAN was over, normal teaching returned and my daughter celebrated never having to do NAPLAN ever again.

But, nothing has surprised me as much as how NAPLAN and our obsession with student/school performance has changed school for school beginners. Being involved in research that looks at the relationships between school practice and disruptive behaviour, I see daily how an intensive focus on literacy and numeracy actually exacerbates the problems of children who start school with early learning and behavioural difficulties.

Researching the behavioural “Tipping Point”

Before returning to QLD, I had developed a longitudinal project based on what boys in special “behaviour” schools had told me about their formative school experiences. I wanted to understand the process of “hard-baking” that they and their principals described: how early learning and behavioural difficulties develop into severe acting out and full-blown hatred of school.

I wanted to learn how that happened and what contributions were made by school practices. By their own accounts, these 33 boys didn’t come to school already hating it. It was a process of attrition and one to which they say schools contribute.

The fact that the majority of these teenage boys nominated the early years (K-2) as the time when they began disliking school, that they received very little support, and that many had received their first suspension during this period told me that the very beginning of school was where the research needed to start.

The project, which has been seed-funded by the Financial Markets Foundation for Children, commenced in 2014 with 250 QLD prep children. As I was a research fellow and we didn’t have a huge amount of funding, I began spending a lot of time in prep classrooms.

Our research aimed to establish a baseline of what children bring to school so that we could track school liking, learning, language, relationships, attitudes and behaviour over time. This battery of assessments immediately highlighted that there is a very wide range between children, even within the same class.

Whilst we chose similar schools (all in disadvantaged areas of south eastern QLD and all with ICSEA scores one standard deviation below the mean) we had some children scoring well above age equivalence and others well below.

It was also very clear that the children who came to school well behind others were in real danger of remaining that way because their teachers either did not have the time to address the needs across their classroom or because the teacher did not have the skills to correctly identify those needs.

And, from my vantage point, NAPLAN definitely exacerbates this. The pressure to have children up to speed by Year 3 reaches down through the early years of school (even to Kindergarten or Prep) where the focus is heavily skewed towards literacy and numeracy. Of course reading, writing and numeracy are vitally important but our research is finding that some other very important things are being crowded out in the process.

What could be more important than the “3 R’s”?

The most important component of quality learning that is now under threat is time to establish warm and positive teacher-student relationships. The more frantic the classroom, the more focused teachers are on the business of “learning”, the more superficial and fraught the relationships. And this is a problem, particularly for children with early learning and behavioural difficulties for whom those relationships might actually make the difference between engagement and disengagement.

My behaviour school research has taught me that the process of “hard-baking”  is fuelled by resentment. There comes a point where pissed off young people decide that they’re going to get a bit of their own back, regardless of what it might cost them in the long run. Once they reach that stage, it is very hard to turn them around.

Building warm and positive relationships costs nothing in the scheme of things and little actions – regular conversation, a pat on the back, a smile, some extra help and a bit of recognition – could very well save connection to schooling for our most vulnerable students.

As my research teams prepare for the National Summit on Student Engagement, Learning and Behaviour being hosted at QUT this week, I have had much cause to think about the central message that I want the Summit to impart.

It’s this: if we have to measure things in order for them to matter, measure student-teacher relationships, school liking and school avoidance.

Find out how students feel about the place where they spend such a large part of their day and the strength of the relationships they have with the second most important adults in their lives.

This is something worth working on but it will never happen if all we measure and if all that counts are ABCs and 123s.

 

GrahambigLinda Graham is Principal Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT). She is the Lead Chief Investigator of two longitudinal research projects focusing on disruptive behaviour. One examines the experiences of students enrolled in NSW government “behaviour” schools (Australian Research Council DP110103093), and another is tracking the language, learning, experiences, relationships, attitudes and behaviour of 250 QLD prep children through the early years of school (Financial Markets Foundation for Children FMF4C-2013). In 2014, she was elected Editor of the Australian Educational Researcher (AER) and serves as a member of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Executive Committee. The 2 day National Summit on Student Engagement, Learning and Behaviour  begins Wednesday 8th of July.

The hit and miss of dealing with disruptive behaviour in schools

Disruptive student behaviour is a major source of stress for Australian teachers and one of the most common reasons teachers cite for leaving the profession. Less discussed, however, is the role that schools play in driving misbehaviour. Whilst there are undoubtedly differences between children in terms of their temperament, ability and willingness to learn, the ways in which teachers choose to respond to those differences has a big impact. That impact can be positive or negative, affecting the child, their teacher and their future teachers.

Negative relationships and the ‘snowball effect’

Research has shown severely disruptive behaviour is affected by a process of “cumulative continuity”, where children’s early characteristics (self-regulation, temperament, academic and verbal ability) interact with their school/classroom environment, resulting in a “snowball effect”. Difficulties adjusting to the demands of school can result in poorer quality teacher-child interactions and mutually reinforcing negative relationships, which in turn compound learning and behavioural difficulties.

Over time, these interactions frame children’s perceptions, expectations and behaviours. Their subsequent teachers however often don’t know what that child’s school experience has been and/or what might be driving their classroom behaviour.

In the pressure cooker that is modern education, that teacher’s guide to action is often the behaviour that has drawn their attention in the first place. With large classes, heavy workloads and diverse classrooms, there is often little time to identify and reflect on deeper causes (called antecedents) in a more holistic way. In many cases, lack of time forces teachers to rely on their perceptions, which may or may not be accurate.

Perceptions about behaviour may be misleading

A common perception is that children’s behaviour affects their learning. This may well be true for some children, but it is equally possible that underlying learning difficulties are manifesting behaviourally. A belief that a child’s behaviour is affecting their learning will lead to an increased focus on behaviour management or perhaps a referral for behaviour support. But if the antecedent is the other way around, or if it is bidirectional (that is, going both ways), then behaviour management won’t address the underlying problem.

Common perceptions about misbehaviour affect how it is addressed in schools. Poor parenting is often blamed for a student’s disruption and non-compliance, a view which obscures factors that are outside parent control. These include (but are not limited to) the appropriateness of curriculum, the pace and level of instruction, peer relationships, teacher-student interactions, classroom climates, learning environments, school culture, and the provision of appropriate and timely supports.

A common consequence of these beliefs is an attempt to manage children’s behaviour by removing them from the classroom. Increasingly, this involves the child being moved into a separate support class or special “behaviour” school, rather than addressing the underlying issues within the setting.

What the kids have to say

According to students enrolled in NSW behaviour schools, their misbehaviour is a reaction to school work that they perceive as too hard, boring and/or irrelevant to their lives. These students – typically boys – are described in the media as  ‘dangerous menaces ‘ who need to be locked up for the safety of themselves and others.

But, when asked what they got in trouble for most at school, the teenage boys in our research named behaviours often classified as ‘persistent disobedience’ rather than physical aggression, such as talking out of turn, backchatting, not doing their work, not raising their hands, and swearing.

These findings resonate with the Behaviour at School Study (BASS) which has found that low-level disruptive and disengaged student behaviours occur frequently, and that aggressive behaviours occur infrequently.

The problem is that teachers find these low-level behaviours extremely draining. While most school students engage in such behaviours at some point, some students – like those in our research – do so more frequently. This tends not to be deliberate, not in the early years at least.

But, if these children are left unsupported and then punished when they fail, these behaviours can become very deliberate indeed. The trick is to correctly identify the source of the behaviour and to respond in a way that neutralises the antecedent, rather than seeking only to neutralise the behaviour. So, what is one of the most common causes of disruptive behaviour?

Misbehaviour as compensation for academic success

The boys in our research reported much greater academic difficulties than their age peers and would resort to misbehaviour to compensate or conceal these difficulties. For example, many said they would “walk out of class” or not turn up in the first place because they found the work too boring or too hard. In some cases, frustration with schoolwork would precipitate swearing, followed by an altercation with the teacher and the student leaving the room or refusing to do their work. Twelve-year-old Owen, for example, explained that he mainly got in trouble for swearing but then went on to explain when and why he swore:

I just didn’t want to do my work, so I swore: “F–K this! I’m leaving the classroom.”

Stories such as these seldom receive an empathetic response in the public comments that are made about school behaviour. This is because the challenges facing these students are typically oversimplified and often misunderstood.

It is important to note here that the students in this study had a history of severe language and learning difficulties that had remained unaddressed for much of their school lives. For example, there were three brothers in our study; one 14 year old and 11 year old twins. Their receptive vocabulary was equivalent to that of children aged 10, 8 and 7 years respectively. They scored even lower in expressive vocabulary with age equivalent scores of 8, 7 and 7 years. Imagine trying to engage with the Year 9 or Year 6 academic school curriculum under those circumstances?

The boys’ mother – who was actively engaged in trying to help her sons and who had a good relationship with their school – reported that they had not received any speech/language therapy or other targeted academic support since Reading Recovery in Grade 1. The resourcing simply isn’t available.

Many of the boys in our study faced similar challenges and reported feeling immense frustration because they felt they were being forced to do work that they couldn’t do. One boy reported that he was sent to the behaviour school in Year 6 when his primary school finally figured out that he couldn’t read and that he wasn’t just going to “get used to it”. Another stated that he was hoping that he could be a truck driver when he left the behaviour school because he could now read street signs. He was 15.

Many of these boys felt misunderstood by their teachers. Rightly or wrongly, these students felt that their teachers just didn’t like them. Most could recall at least one teacher who was kind, who they felt understood them and who could help them learn, but for these boys those teachers were an exception.

The good news is that the cracks in the system through which these students have fallen can be addressed. But, to achieve this, teachers need time and support to trial new strategies, modify curriculum and adjust their practice. And it’s not all about behaviour management.

Relationships & quality teaching

In another study that has been designed to longitudinally observe factors contributing to “cumulative continuity” in a sample of 250 Queensland prep year children, we found that teachers are generally well organised and have strong behaviour management skills. We also found that they are generally emotionally supportive. However, not all were equipped in the area of instructional support.

This is important, because classrooms that were lower in instructional support were also associated with higher teacher-ratings of child behaviour problems and with higher child-ratings of school avoidance. Alternatively, classrooms with high emotional support were associated with closer teacher-child relationships (as rated by both teachers and children) and lower teacher-student conflict. Interestingly, behaviour management did not predict student outcomes in any of our models.

These findings suggest that the common “go-to” response of more and better behaviour management may not be what is needed: perhaps because the majority of teachers are already quite competent in this area. Rather than more professional development on proximity techniques, seating plans, or gimmicks like Class Dojo (an electronic equivalent of reward charts), we need to start looking at ways to address the emotional and learning needs of students who are acting out.

Only techniques which address the underlying issues that are causing behaviour problems will be successful.

Band-aid solutions which attempt to remove children or “fix” only the symptoms will simply create a generation of disengaged students who will leave school early with few of the skills they need in a modern economy.

These children aren’t hard to spot, even when they are very young. But, for some reason, they seem very easy to miss.

 

Linda GrahamLinda Graham is Principal Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT). She is the Lead Chief Investigator of two longitudinal research projects focusing on disruptive behaviour. One examines the experiences of students enrolled in NSW government “behaviour” schools (Australian Research Council DP110103093), and another is tracking the language, learning, experiences, relationships, attitudes and behaviour of 250 QLD prep children through the early years of school (Financial Markets Foundation for Children FMF4C-2013). In 2014, she was elected Editor of the Australian Educational Researcher (AER) and serves as a member of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Executive Committee.

Cologon copyKathy Cologon is a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University. Her research focuses on the development of effective approaches to supporting inclusive education and social inclusion with a view towards greater recognition of the rights of all children. Kathy’s book “Inclusive education in the early years: Right from the start” was published by Oxford University Press in 2014.

 

 

Sweller copyNaomi Sweller is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology, Macquarie University. Her research interests focus on cognitive development, primarily with children in the prior to school and early primary school years. Her main areas of research involve the use of gesture as an instructional and communicative tool, as well as concept learning by preschool-aged children.

 

 

Van Bergen copyPenny Van Bergen is a Senior Lecturer in Educational Psychology in the School of Education, Macquarie University. Her research focuses on the development of children’s autobiographical memories and on the implications of these memories for emotion and self development. Her projects include examinations of: (i) school children’s recall of salient emotional events, such as schoolyard conflicts; (ii) the ways in which children’s socio-emotional skills, such as emotion understanding and perspective-taking ability, interact with memory systems; and (iii) the ways in which parent- and teacher-talk foster specific styles of remembering the past.

 

Walker copySue Walker is a Professor in the School of Early Childhood, Faculty of Education, QUT and a Researcher within the Children and Youth Research Centre at the Queensland University of Technology. Dr Walker is also a senior researcher with the Excellence in Research in Early Years Education Collaborative Research Network (EREYE CRN) with Charles Sturt University and Monash University and a key researcher in the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Her teaching and research interests include epistemic beliefs and teachers’ practice; early childhood social development; child outcomes in relation to inclusive early childhood education programs; early intervention and the transition to school.

 

2015 National Summit on Student Engagement, Learning & Behaviour.

Keynote speakers are Maxine McKew, Dr Andrew Martin (student motivation & achievement), Prof John Smyth (pedagogy & engagement in disadvantaged schools), and Dave Burgess (popular TEDx speaker from the US & teacher magician). 

Early bird registration of $145 ends June 15. Standard registration is $195.  Registration is all inclusive.

Lay off blaming new teachers for ‘falling’ standards

Public discussion on teacher education has reached a depressing new low. A casual flick through current commentary gives the impression that teacher education is stuffed. Faculties of education in universities are populated by leftist oldies who haven’t been near a classroom in decades, teacher education courses are too easy to get into, many students who do get in are doing it as a last choice course, student teachers don’t get enough experience in schools before they graduate, and not enough schools have partnerships with universities. I could go on.

If you listen to the pundits you would believe universities have taken no notice of the many and varied changes in teacher education requirements in recent years. As an education researcher, who observes her hard-working colleagues in teacher education jumping multiple accreditation hoops, I have to tell you it is patently untrue.

Whilst I am not a teacher educator, I’m entering this debate to challenge these myths, point to the political function that I think they serve, as well as to say something in defence of early career teachers.

The focus on teacher quality is a political distraction

Following years of hand-wringing over the association between social disadvantage and student performance in national and international assessments, Australia finally seemed ready to give all children the support they need to excel at school. The Gillard government’s focus on equity led to the, now ailing, Gonski model of needs-based school funding and focused attention on the quality of teaching in our schools.

However, even before the change of federal government, ‘quality teaching’ morphed into the odious mantra of ‘teacher quality’. When the Liberal National Coalition gained government, rather than implementing initiatives to support and develop existing teachers so they could continue to improve the quality of their teaching, it concentrated on blaming universities for the perceived ‘problems’ with literacy and numeracy standards in schools.

Preservice and early career teachers became framed as an amorphous group characterised by low ATARs, poor literacy, and hapless classroom management. They are all probably infected by an unhealthy level of left-leaning bias as well, but I may be reading too much into the general rubbish that is written about education by people who don’t teach and who aren’t experts in education research.

Where is the evidence that new teachers are responsible for a decline in student achievement?

The fevered commentariat don’t seem to need much evidence to spruik their views these days but surely you must have wondered. I have not read anywhere, or heard anyone refer to hard evidence for such an outrageous, but apparently so easily believable, claim.

And very little is being said in defence of new teachers, despite this lack of evidence. Media articles such as “Bad teachers to go under huge changes to teaching degrees” fuel the perception that all the ‘bad’ teachers are new entrants and that all the existing ones are great. The silence around this reeks of complicity. Practising teachers should be loudly speaking out in defence of new teachers.

There is also an assumption that time on the job results in proficiency. I’m not so sure about that.

The less attractive teaching becomes as a career choice the bigger the problem we will have

Thankfully some stakeholders are starting to think about this. Greg Craven, Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, one of the biggest producers of teaching graduates, recently pointed to a 12% drop in teacher education applications as evidence of students being scared away by “teacher bashing”. Craven warns of a looming teacher shortage as a result of “talking down the teaching profession”.

Putting aside potential conflicts of interest, Craven has a point. According to recent projections from the Australian Council for Educational Research, “demand for teachers is currently strong and trending upwards, and is forecast to remain high in most states for at least the next ten years”. Should university fee deregulation become a reality, we may see teaching applications plummet as prospective students weigh the costs, both financial and professional.

Juxtaposing conjecture with observed reality

I felt compelled to write this piece after conducting classroom observations as part of a longitudinal study that is tracking the language, learning, attitudes, relationships and behaviour of 250 prep children in southwest Brisbane through the early years of school. The project has been seed-funded by the Financial Markets Foundation for Children and is now in its second year.

During these observations, we visit classrooms and record interactions between teachers and students. Whilst training two of our research assistants to use the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (or CLASS), I was blown away by one of the teachers we were observing. In the first 20 minute cycle we saw not one but two seamless transitions (changing from one activity to another) in a highly-diverse, low-SES prep classroom. This was not an easy class judging by the data collected via our child measures, but this teacher made it look easy.

There were no disruptions and children were falling over themselves to be involved in the activities their teacher was presenting. She seemed to know where every child was in that space and what they were doing; what’s more she seemed to understand that some children needed to move in and out of the activity and would gently but firmly guide them back in once they’d had a few seconds to chill.

This teacher was so engaged in her teaching she was oblivious to us even being there. Every time that we passed through her class, whether we were formally observing or whether we were collecting children for assessment, this teacher was always ‘on’. Her concentration never wavered; there was no down time. She was always prepared, moving from one learning activity to the next quickly enough to prevent the experience from going stale, but slowly enough to ensure that each child benefitted from it.

When I got the chance I asked her how long she’d been teaching and she told me this was her third year out. I was impressed. After much reflection I included the question “How long have you been teaching?” in our teacher interview schedule. Whilst our results are preliminary and based on only 18 prep teachers, I was fascinated to discover an interesting pattern during our preliminary analyses. When we ranked mean scores on the CLASS measure (by three certified observers, all trained to reliability) and matched these against years of teaching experience, we found that the three highest mean scores (in each of the 3 CLASS domains: Emotional Support, Classroom Organisation, and Instructional Support) were achieved by three early career teachers (1-3 years out).

The next two highest-scoring teachers had each been teaching for more than 30 years, however, the differences between the mean scores of these five teachers and others were not insubstantial. The early career teachers, in particular, consistently scored in the high or high-mid range (4.75 to 7.0) across all three CLASS domains, whilst the mean for the full sample was low to high-mid range (3.90-5.80).

This is important because regression analyses using the full dataset show that higher CLASS scores are associated with higher teacher ratings of relationship closeness, whereas lower CLASS scores are associated with higher teacher-student conflict, higher teacher-ratings of child behaviour problems, and with higher child-rated school avoidance.

By the end of this year we will have data from another 18 (Grade 1) teachers and I will be interested to see if this pattern bears out. Even if it doesn’t, in our first year of observations and despite a small sample, we’ve come across three outstanding early career teachers who are teaching in disadvantaged primary schools and who are doing it exceptionally well.

The Grattan Institute’s Ben Jensen joined the chorus recently by claiming that high-performing early career teachers “are excellent in spite of their teacher training, not because of it”, and that the failure of teacher education programs to prepare graduates for the classroom is largely responsible for teacher attrition and student failure.

Again, a claim with no evidence. I found myself thinking about the schools where our brilliant early career teachers teach. Perhaps their schools have exceptional induction and mentoring programs that ameliorate the “failures” of teacher education programs. That is definitely something that we’ll consider as we go forward with our research but, judging by research with early career teachers, exceptional induction and mentoring programs are not readily available.

Incidentally, the highest scoring teacher in our study is a young man in his first year out of teaching, which doesn’t provide a lot of time to benefit from such programs should they exist in his school. To be honest, I can’t imagine what he thinks or how he feels or indeed how any of our early career teachers feel when they hear what is being said in the current debate. No wonder new teachers become jaded and leave.

My point is don’t believe everything you read about how universities today are failing to produce high performing teachers, or be distracted by political spin from the real issue of equitable school funding. Dumping on our early career teachers, our student teachers and, in turn, their university teachers will solve nothing.

 

 Linda GrahamAssociate Professor Linda J. Graham is Principal Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education at Queensland University of Technology, Editor of the Australian Educational Researcher (AER), and a member of the AARE Executive Committee. She is grateful to have received funding for this research from the Financial Markets Foundation for Children (2013-030) with Dr Kathy Cologon (MQ) and Professor Sue Walker (QUT). This research will be presented at the upcoming National Summit on Student Engagement, Learning and Behaviour which will be hosted by QUT on the 8th and 9th of July, 2015.

 

Shocking evidence of US-style racial bias in Australian schools

Australian research is almost silent on how disciplinary practices in our schools are affected by racial bias. 

In the United States there is ample evidence that children from minority groups are more likely to labelled as having behaviour disorders. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with having a mild intellectual impairment, learning disabilities or emotional disturbance, and placed in special education classes.

Research from the US consistently shows that African American, American Indian and Hispanic students are more likely to be overrepresented if they are:

  • male,
  • from a low SES background,
  • live in a high-density urban area, and
  • where there is a high proportion of students from minority groups.

Similar trends have been noted in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada.

The lack Australian research on this issue is not because we somehow have escaped the problem but because Australian education systems are remarkably eclectic in the ways in which they report data.

Sophisticated longitudinal and geographical analyses tracking trends in diagnosis and placement are currently impossible. We remain ignorant of magnitude, cause and effect. But there are indicators and if you can see the tip of an iceberg, logic suggests that you would make a serious effort to alter direction.

What DO we know?

The NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) publishes an extensive array of educational data. Whilst they are riddled with inconsistencies and blind-alleys, DEC does at least publish some statistics disaggregated by Indigenous status.

These data show that Indigenous students are significantly over-represented in long school suspensions (5-20 days) and in separate special educational settings. DEC doesn’t draw that conclusion themselves but it is clearly evident when Indigenous students make up only 6.3% of total enrolments in NSW government schools in 2012 but account for:

24.4% of long-suspensions,

14.6% of enrolments in primary school support classes,

12.6% of enrolments in secondary school support classes, and

12.8% of enrolments in special schools.

These numbers tell us far less than we need to know. For example, is the disproportionate over-representation of Indigenous students in school suspensions and special educational settings increasing or declining over time? Are there discrepancies that might indicate institutional bias or is Indigenous over-representation in these data simply a reflection of social disadvantage?

I looked for evidence of trends emerging. What I discovered has made me believe urgent attention is needed.

Let’s start with the use of suspension: the strongest predictor of later special education placement and school failure.

Long-school suspensions: 2008-2012

Indigenous students accounted for 6.3% of total enrolments in NSW government schools in 2012, but received 24.4% of long-suspensions (averaging 11.8 days), up from 22% in 2008.

They were 5.1 times more likely to receive a long-suspension than non-Indigenous students (up from a risk of 4.3 in 2008), and 6.1 times more likely than non-Indigenous students to receive a repeat long-suspension (no change from 2008).

There was a 35.1% increase in the number of Indigenous students receiving a long-suspension between 2008 and 2012.

This is almost twice the increase in long-suspensions received by non-Indigenous students.

This is a serious problem because suspension is an ineffective and often harmful response to student disengagement that does nothing to address the underlying causes of disruptive behaviour.

As I mentioned earlier, suspension is also the most robust predictor of special education placement and later school failure. If that’s true, then high rates of suspension may be impacting Indigenous enrolments in special education. Let’s have a closer look at this part of the iceberg…

Enrolments in separate special educational settings

longitudinal analysis  of enrolments in separate special educational settings (1997-2007) found that Indigenous enrolments in support classes and special schools are increasing faster than enrolments of non-Indigenous students, and faster than Indigenous enrolments in mainstream.

In other words, the rise in Indigenous special education placements cannot be explained by Indigenous population growth.

This research also found that Indigenous students were already over-represented in separate settings back in 1997, and that the degree of over-representation has increased significantly since. Particularly worrying was the finding that the disproportionate over-representation of Indigenous students had accelerated in the 6 years since the Review of Indigenous Education (2004).

Enrolments in NSW government special schools

So, we know that Indigenous students are over-represented in special schools and that their enrolments are increasing relative to non-Indigenous students. This doesn’t appear to have stirred much in the way of public outcry, so I investigated whether Indigenous disproportionality differs by special school type.

There are three broad types of special schools in the NSW government school sector:

  • Traditional special schools enrolling students with moderate to severe intellectual impairment, physical and sensory disabilities, and autism;
  • Mental health special schools enrolling students with emotional disturbances, severe psychiatric disorders, or behaviour disorders; and
  • Juvenile justice special schools within juvenile justice detention centres.

In 2009, traditional special schools enrolled just over two thirds of special school students, mental health special schools enrolled almost one quarter, and juvenile justice special schools enrolled just under 10 per cent.

Indigenous representation varied significantly by school type with 1 in 4 kids in mental health special schools and almost 1 in 2 in juvenile justice special schools identifying as Indigenous. Less than 6 from every 100 students in Traditional SSPs were Indigenous.

This means that Indigenous disproportionality in special schooling is explained by over-representation in particular types of special schools; namely mental health special schools and juvenile justice special schools.

Now, I know that still might seem unremarkable to some, so I looked a little more closely at mental health special schools. There are two broad types in this group:

  • special schools for students with verified mental health issues, and
  • special schools for students with disruptive behaviour.

The former requires a confirmation of disability (under the category of mental health problems) prior to entry, the other doesn’t.

Indigenous students accounted for 18.8% of enrolments in the type that requires confirmation of disability and 27.1% of enrolments in the type that doesn’t.

In my field of research, that’s more than the proverbial tip of an iceberg.  It’s the equivalent of a smoking gun.

At the very least, these trends tell us that our school disciplinary practices are affected by racial bias and that we need to more carefully examine how discipline is applied, to whom, what for and in what ways.

 

Linda GrahamAssociate Professor Linda J. Graham is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education at Queensland University of Technology. She is grateful to have received funding for her research into educational responses to children who are difficult to teach from the Australian Research Council (DP110103093; DP1093020) and the Financial Markets Foundation for Children (2013-030). She is presenting this research at the NSW Aboriginal Education Council’s 50th Anniversary Conference, Saturday August 30, 2014.

 

Educational researchers are right: schools should dump naughty corners and time-out strategies

 Popular media erupted this week around the use of naughty corners in Australian classrooms. Two South Australian researchers, Dr Anna Sullivan and Professor Bruce Johnson, suggested the use of naughty corners and other similar time-out behaviour management strategies could be in breach of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child.

The point they made is these strategies can exclude children from the classroom and therefore have the potential to deprive them of their right to an education. Children who are regularly excluded will miss vital elements of their basic education. Other strategies, such as children’s names being added to smiley and sad faces on classroom whiteboards, could violate their right to be treated with dignity.

The comments section of The Adelaide Advertiser, the first news service to run with the naughty–corner-should-be-gone story, went into meltdown with statements including:

What about the rights of teachers who need time out from the bad behaviour of children? Bad actions have consequences so sometimes it is necessary for children to be removed from the class. Disruptive children must be removed from the class so the teacher can teach other children who want to learn. (Kerry)

And this:

It is easier to understand why our world ranking in education is dropping and that we have no Primary School in this State in the top 100 schools in Australia, when our Universities are so out of touch with reality. (David)

Most of the respondents, many of whom were teachers, could not understand what could possibly be wrong with these strategies; especially the seemingly benign use of visual tallies.

Strategies like the ubiquitous “happy/sad faces” (traffic lights, ladders, class dojo’s… take your pick) may seem unobjectionable to adults, however they tend not to work with the very children at which they are aimed.

Why not?  Well, those children tend to be less motivated by their relative position in the class, which is what these strategies rely on. Think about it. If they were, then they would already be up there with the “good kids” – striving to be in the top group for reading, to get the most gold stars, to receive the most pats on the back. They wouldn’t be horsing about instead.

The children at risk I work with don’t tend to be motivated by such tired, old gimmicks. And, even if you can get traction by introducing something they haven’t seen before (stickers, counters, reward charts, free time), the novelty wears off pretty quickly.

The only students you’re ever really going to reach with strategies that rely on relative position  (best, first, the one with the most stickers) are the ones you never have to worry about.  They are the ones whose names are reliably found at the top of the ladder, the green spot on the traffic light, and under the happy face on the class whiteboard.

In the meantime, what happens to the ones you really want to reach?

Well, they’re pretty intuitive. They’ve already worked out that they’re in the bottom reading group, have the least gold stars, and most wouldn’t know what a pat on the back feels like. They are used to seeing the names of the “good kids” at the top and theirs at the bottom. To be frank, they probably don’t need a visual aid to know what they’re used to seeing on their teacher’s face.

Don’t get me wrong. They don’t like being at the bottom; not initially anyway. For many, it’s a puzzle. They just don’t understand how they always manage to get it wrong or, perhaps more accurately, they don’t know how the hell the “good kids” always seem to get it right! And do it so effortlessly.

Little by little they cease to care. Some become hard-baked and bent on revenge. Most end up excluded in some form of time out: the naughty corner, the principal’s office, the quiet room, suspended. That’s a process that I want to understand as an educational researcher because it is complex, multifaceted and NOT driven solely by the child.

Let me tell you where I think it starts.

I was recently out in primary schools collecting data for a project that is tracking prep (kindergarten) children through to the end of grade three. The research, which has been seed-funded by the Financial Markets Foundation for Children, involves a multitude of child measures including the “Who am I?” Developmental Assessment, the School Liking & Avoidance Questionnaire (SLAQ), together with language, literacy and numeracy assessments.

It has been a real eye-opener for me to work with four and five year olds.

I usually work with disgruntled teens who aren’t particularly bothered if they can’t do something or at least are much less open about it. You’re more likely to hear them say that they “can’t be f***ed” doing something, rather than admitting “I’m just not able to”.

It is a totally different story with the preps or kindy children. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been met by wide eyes and doubt when I turn from asking them to draw a square (one of the developmental tasks on the “Who am I?”) to the dreaded triangle.

I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve been met by eyes filled with fear, when they’ve attempted to do it and their triangle looks more like a pear. I’m sure you’ve worked out that I’m not talking about the most competent kids in the class. Some of the children whose names are under the happy face can draw triangles that look like they’ve been traced using a protractor.

No. I’m talking about a particular sub-set of children who have trouble working out the difference between letters and numbers, who hold a pencil like it’s a nunchaku, and whom my grandmother would say have “ants in their pants.”

One little fidgeter sticks in my mind. Let’s call him Hayden.

Hayden was 4 years and 9 months old when I first met him earlier this year. The same age my son was when he started Prep. My son is now 12 and a rugby forward, so Hayden seemed tiny and completely unready for the demands of the classroom.

He was fascinated by everything though and especially interested in what I was doing. He kept coming up to me and asking “When’s my turn? I haven’t had a turn yet!”

On one of those occasions, he arrived with a small can of fizzy drink in his pudgy little hands that he put down to point to something on the page to which my current participant had just turned.  In that moment, his pinky finger brushed the top of his can of drink and it spilled over the “Who am I?” booklet.

I’ll never forget the look of sheer terror on his face as he stood rooted to the spot waiting for me to erupt.

Knowing instantly that’s what he expected, I put my hands in the air in mock surprise and said in a silly voice and a big smile (I’ve done time with a few Hayden’s):

Oh dear! Whoops-a-daisy!  I think we’ll need a paper towel.  Can YOU show me where I can find a paper towel?”

Brimming with purpose, he raced me to the corner of the room and pointed to the top of a cupboard.

Now, for those of you who haven’t met me, I’m only 150 cm tall. There was no way I was going to be able to get the paper towels down without breaking something. So, I asked the class teacher who was nearby.

I purposely didn’t say what the paper towels were for and I purposely didn’t tell her what had happened. The look of fear on Hayden’s face warned me not to do that.

We took off with our paper towels and began mopping up the drink. Kaylee’s “Who am I?” was none the worse for the experience and I was happy to tell Hayden that it was okay, it was an accident and everything was fine.

Then his teacher happened to put her head outside the door and saw what the paper towels had been for.

And it began.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE?  DIDN’T I TELL YOU TO SIT DOWN??  LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!!  DO AS YOU ARE TOLD!!  IF YOU HAD DONE WHAT YOU WERE TOLD, THIS WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED, WOULD IT?? NOW GET INSIDE AND SIT DOWN!!”

And that was it for Hayden. He returned to time-out where he spends a great deal of his day, never finding his name under the happy face or on the green traffic light.

My challenge to the apologists in The Advertiser’s comments section is this: was that response deserved?  Was it appropriate?  Would the teacher dare to behave like that in front of Hayden’s mother or father?  Is that behaviour “management”?  Will it achieve anything remotely positive?  Most importantly, what is Hayden learning? If we constantly hit 10 on the Richter Scale, is he ever going to notice when the next teacher tries a 3?

I will tell you I believe his teacher is a good teacher. And I can understand how difficult and frustrating wrangling a class of 20 squirmy five year olds can be. But, I also know, having worked with many angry, adolescent Hayden’s that experiences like that have an indelible effect.

At first, they are shocked and scared and hurt. But, over time and with enough repetition, a big “F**k you” forms and some kids come out fighting.

So teachers, next time you wonder what on earth caused that child in Year 5 or 6 to tell you to get stuffed and run out of the room or the child in Year 8 to throw a chair, spare a thought about their earlier school experiences and the strategies used to manage their behaviour. I will lay a bet this child began as a Hayden.

( Read  The Adelaide Advertiser article and comments HERE )

Linda Graham  Linda Graham

Associate Professor Linda J. Graham is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education at Queensland University of Technology. She is grateful to have received funding for her research into educational responses to children who are difficult to teach from the Australian Research Council (DP110103093; DP1093020) and the Financial Markets Foundation for Children (2013-030).

For those looking to educational researchers for alternatives to time out strategies:- Persistent misbehaviour challenges teachers more than student violence and aggression

More from Linda Graham HERE

A high achiever who always wanted to be a teacher but never did: here is my story

It appears that many high achieving students are shunning a teaching career these days.

More than half the Year 12 students offered places in teaching degrees this year had university entrance scores below the average of 70, with one in eight scoring 50 or less, according to a recent article in The Australian.

Arguments about the ability of ATAR scores to predict the quality of graduating teachers aside, I suspect this trend has less to do with university “standards” and more to do with the perceived attractiveness and public face of teaching.

Why do I say that?  Well, that is what made me change course even though I believe passionately in education and in teaching. This is my story.

I was about 15 when I first thought I might like to become a teacher.

I have to admit it wasn’t the result of rigorous consideration. It came to me as I sat in maths class bored out of my brain, wondering what I was going to do with my life and realising that there were only two things that I liked: English and Modern History.

There didn’t seem to be much that you could do with these subjects though, apart from being an author or an archaeologist. As the ancients never appealed to me and I was pretty sure I’d never make enough money to survive as an author, I settled on English and History teacher. That decided, I returned to drawing on the desk, wishing the day away.

That was mid-Year 9. A year later, I walked out of school after a blistering encounter with the principal, determined never to return. So much for that teaching career. But return I did. In a manner of ways.

At the age of 21, I decided that the corporate world was lacking in meaning and substance. I was searching for something more; something that my Dad believed I would find at University.

Believe me, it is a convoluted path to get into university when you don’t even have a Year 10 Certificate. But I knuckled down, studied a little more than I partied, and managed to complete Adult Matriculation at TAFE with quite a high Tertiary Education Rank (TER).

That rank, together with a Diploma in Marketing from TAFE, gave me a world of options. I considered equine science, genetic counselling, law, and even film make-up artistry … and teaching.

Again, I couldn’t escape from my love of literature and history, so it was back to my dream of being a teacher. I enrolled in a BA Double Major with a Dip Ed.

During my time at uni something strange happened. I fell out of love with literature and in love with the study of education.

I did better in my Education subjects than in anything I’d ever studied. In my third year, I received a letter of offer, as did others in the top 5% of my cohort, to join a fast-track Honours program, while completing my Dip Ed, to become a teacher.

I did neither.

By this point in my degree, something was clear to me. Schools hadn’t changed since I’d left. If anything, they were worse.

I wanted to be the teacher in Dead Poet’s Society. I wanted to make a difference. To change the world. Instead of drawing on the desks, I wanted to stand on them and shout “My Captain! My Captain!”

Basically, I wanted to enjoy teaching and for the kids in my class to enjoy it too. It just did not seem possible.

So instead of becoming a teacher I did what many women my age do, I took time out to have a baby.

Two years later and I was back to do a Masters, still entranced by everything Education but ever more convinced that I didn’t have what it now took to be a teacher. By this time it was the early 2000’s, before we really entered the throes of “performance pay”, PISA, NAPLAN and My School.

Even then, it was clear that teaching was a high-stress, high-responsibility but relatively low-paid and low-status profession, particularly if one happened to teach in the “dreaded” public system.

I used to watch various Education Ministers – aided and abetted by sections of the media – vilify teachers as lazy, unintelligent and poorly qualified in order to justify policies that sought to “teacher proof” the learning and teaching process.

Who would want to buy into that?

Not me.

Like most people who think of going into teaching, I had family members who were public and private school teachers who could tell me what it was really like. The hours they spent marking, writing reports, following up with parents. The countless times they spent their own money buying resources and replacing children’s forgotten lunches.

They didn’t often speak of the joys of teaching but I’m glad to say that I now understand that for myself.

Graduation

I did a PhD and entered the world of educational research.

After many years as an academic, observing in classrooms, interviewing teachers, researching with kids and working with creative and innovative principals, I sometimes regret not becoming a teacher.

I now know it is possible to make a difference – perhaps not in the revolutionary and immediate way that I wanted to – but in different ways and at different times for many hundreds of kids.

But that is not the public face of teaching.

That is not what aspiring school students with ATARs that function like a deposit on their future see when they scan the UAC book as I did exactly 20 years ago.

Perhaps this is why we have so few applicants with +75 ATARs entering teaching? Not because universities are seeking lower achieving students but because higher achieving students are scanning the environment, like I did, and are saying, “No thanks! I’m not signing up for that!”

Ultimately, if we do not respect and reward teachers for the public intellectuals that we need them to be and trust them accordingly, then why would anyone with the means to obtain that respect, reward and trust elsewhere be expected to enter teaching?

It is an image problem that increasing ATAR cut-offs won’t fix. This will simply work to reduce the pool of applicants.

The only way to attract high-achieving students to choose teaching is to treat the teaching profession with the respect it deserves.

 

Linda Graham  Linda Graham

Associate Professor Linda J. Graham is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education at Queensland University of Technology. She is grateful to have received funding for her research into educational responses to children who are difficult to teach from the Australian Research Council (DP110103093; DP1093020) and the Financial Markets Foundation for Children (2013-030). This research has been published as: Graham, L. J., & Buckley, L. Ghost hunting with lollies, chess and Lego: appreciating the ‘messy’ complexity (and costs) of doing difficult research in education. The Australian Educational Researcher, 1-21.

We need to value and properly fund research in education to ensure Australia’s future

Our future economic growth, prosperity and wellbeing depend on what we do now as a nation. And anything we do should be based on research-evidence.

For those reasons alone, investment in educational research should be at the top of our agenda. Someone please tell me why it isn’t.

Let’s look at school education in particular.

Hardly a day goes by without some collective wringing of hands over literacy and numeracy performance, teacher quality, student absenteeism, year 12 completion rates, teacher quality, school preparedness, university preparedness, what should and shouldn’t be in the curriculum, teacher quality, student distaste for mathematics, high youth unemployment, teacher quality, Indigenous student performance, teacher attitude. And did I say teacher quality?

Yet funding for educational research, one of the few ways we have to better understand and tackle these issues ( including teacher quality)  is scarce and becoming scarcer.

You may be used to hearing researchers in general complain about the lack of funding for research. And I know that we have a so-called “budget emergency”, but some of us are doing it tougher than others.

In a paper to be published in a 2014 issue of Australian Educational Researcher, I investigated what has happened to funding for Education research over time by examining outcomes for the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects grant scheme between the years 2002 and 2014, comparing allocations to education against those allocated to psychology and cognitive Science.

I did this because I was interested to learn if other disciplines were suffering a similar drop in funding to educational research.

I found that between 2002 and 2014 there has been a decline in the percentage of ARC Discovery funding  (the major source of Australian research funding) being received by educational researchers.

However, this downward trend was not shared by our peers in psychology and cognitive science.

In fact ARC Discovery funding to psychology and cognitive science more than doubled in the 2002-2014 period with an increase of more than $7 million, whereas education received only $309,199 more in 2014 than in 2002 (see Table 1 below).

And remember the real cost of research would have grown during this period. In other words, you get a lot less bang for $3 million now than you did a decade ago.

Table 1. Real and percentage change in funding for Discovery, comparing Divisions 13 and 17

Division

2002

2014

Percentage change

Total Discovery funding pool

$191,473,765

$257,632,541

34.55%

13 Education

$3,119,500

$3,428,699

9.91%

17 Psychology & Cognitive Science

$6,378,258

$14,033,809

120.03%

Given the complexities and cost of conducting research in schools, these differences have had a serious dampening effect on research relating to education.

It is also important to bear in mind that education research is almost exclusively funded by the ARC but that psychology and cognitive science also gets a significant share of funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) as well. The funding gap between these important disciplines is therefore much larger than indicated by an analysis of Discovery alone.

There are a number of implications that flow from both the shortage in funding and its concentration, but the one we have to urgently address is that Australia risks strangling the development of future educational researchers – in particular those who have the ability to conduct high quality research in the complex and poorly understood field of school education.

Research in schools is a messy business. Schools are often chaotic places with agendas and timelines that do not gel well with academic research designs (the type of submission that is likely to be successful in an ARC application). Students, particularly the types I work with, can be even less accommodating than their schools.

Unfortunately, these factors are not well understood by our peers and there remains a common perception that education research lacks rigor, particularly qualitative approaches.

It is well known that scientists have worked hard over the last few decades to communicate the value of research in the clinical and natural sciences and that they have been successful in raising the profile and prestige of scientific research.

Given the contraction in education research funding in recent years, it is now critical that researchers in education speak up.

We need to speak up about  the value of the work we do.

We need to speak up about the beauty and complexity of research in this field and  the critical role that qualitative approaches to data collection, and analysis, play in ensuring quality.

We need to point out the invaluable insights and powerful connections  that this type of research can produce.

Bottom line is Australia is spending less and less on quality research in education.

We risk getting what we pay for. No one will win in that future.

Linda GrahamAssociate Professor Linda J. Graham is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education at Queensland University of Technology. She is grateful to have received funding for her research into educational responses to children who are difficult to teach from the Australian Research Council (DP110103093; DP1093020) and the Financial Markets Foundation for Children (2013-030). This research has been published as: Graham, L. J., & Buckley, L. Ghost hunting with lollies, chess and Lego: appreciating the ‘messy’ complexity (and costs) of doing difficult research in education. The Australian Educational Researcher, 1-21.