Take Outs: Day 2 Evidence-based teaching summit 2016

University of Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina c.1350

University of Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina c.1350

Take a close look at the medieval painting above what do you notice?

Has anything changed in classrooms today? Of course yes there are no devices, I’m speaking mostly about engagement – 24:1, only 6 paying any attention, the rest seem disengaged, with more than one having a little snooze.

Now how about this one?

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11

Ron Canuel (CEA) opened Day 2 of proceedings giving us insights into the research done at CEA. He says that much of education has been hijacked by others and that it is indeed time we took it back. We certainly all know (I hope) that standarised tests do not lead to improvement in the educational outcomes of students, however, they do benefit real estate agents! According to Canuel – everyone wants to live in a catchment area of what is considered a ‘good’ school (and no I’m not elaborating).

Oh and the second painting above? Well, Ron mentioned something that really struck a chord with me, he said that education change should look like the Renaissance with a lot more emphasis on all subjects. School of Athens is how I imagine a classroom should be, collaboration, thinking, genius, excitement, movement, passion, reflection, ordered chaos —–> can you hear it?

26% & rising...kids who are not dealing with school recommended reading from Daffydd Wiesner-Ellix (CBD Strategic)

26% & rising…kids who are not dealing with school recommended reading from Daffydd Wiesner-Ellix (CBD Strategic)

My next take out is about teacher quality. There is no measure for an effective teacher (Gary Marks, ACU). A teacher who may be effective in one classroom may not be in a different one let alone in another school. So where is the teaching profession heading? Tania Aspland (AITSL) argued that we could easily devise a how-to manual becoming an expert teacher the same as one might consult a how-to manual on becoming an expert golfer or tennis player. The first chapter in this manual would, of course, be OBSERVATION and the STANDARDS provide us with something against which to measure our progress. So, where can we make the greatest impact in the context of our place and time (Neil Barker, DET) in schools? Can educators, as Susannah Emery (Curtin University) asks, be ‘quest givers’ given the strong attachment our current students have towards gaming? Perhaps the Teaching & Learning Toolkit presented by Tanya Vaughan might just assist us in making the greatest impact happen in our classrooms, where they belong.

The highlight of the summit for me was meeting and sitting next to David Mitchell, Adjunct Professor (College of Educational Studies and Leadership), University of Canterbury, NZ. He delivered the final keynote address. Of course, while chatting at the table over the two days, I did all the talking about my research before it dawned on me just who he was – for those who don’t know his research is in diverse needs of students and inclusion and if you follow my blog you would know that my PhD is in special needs!!!! I spent the night after the first day of the conference reading up on Dr. Mitchell and got my hands on an online copy of his book. I have since read a number of journal articles and will hold true to emailing him to discuss his research, ask questions and gain first-hand insights as I journey through my PhD.

Dr. Mitchell also commented on my note-taking so here I place the sketchnote I completed as he spoke…now I would have added so much more but I really enjoyed just listening. I think I’ve got enough for you to get the picture of just how much wisdom this man has offered me especially as I continue my PhD. I secretly hope too, that Dr. Mitchell might read this post one day and see it for himself for I was not confident to show him on the day.

Sketchnote -Dr. Mitchell's keynote

Sketchnote -Dr. Mitchell’s keynote


Question: Can Principals significantly influence learning in their schools? (Helal & Coelli, 2016)

Fact: 24% of ALL students and 40% of those who are disadvantaged are at risk of reading failure in Australian primary schools. The explicit teaching of literacy covering the BIG5 may assist (Kerry Hempenstall – Case Study presentation).


One more thing – Whilst Radmila Harding was a little apprehensive about being the very last speaker of the conference and wondered if there would be anyone left to hear her presentation I have to say it was engaging, and well I’m also going to say … FUN! There were hands-on activities and videos to make us laugh… and so it ended… happily. The take home message not only from Radmila’s presentation but I think from the whole conference:

Let’s work collaboratively to build a team that won’t fall down so all may benefit and grow in their experience and journey of learning and living.

And yes there were enough people left who enjoyed it right to the end.

End of Day 2

Thanks for reading 🙂

Day 1 – EBT reflection

What’s special about special ed?

Learning Support Officers (LSOs) come to mind – but they can’t and shouldn’t be doing it on their own.

There is so much confusion as to the role and responsibilities of teachers and LSOs. Obviously this is an area very close to my heart and at the very core of my PhD research.

The role of Learning Support Officer

The main role of a Learning Support Officer (LSO) is to assist students on an individual or group basis in specific learning needs under the direction of a teacher who is ultimately responsible for the design, implementation and evaluation of education programs and related services (CECV 2014). It is not the role of the LSO to withdraw students who misbehave or who don’t seem to understand the learning required. The teacher is responsible for all students in the class and for optimal learning environments to be created and sustained; they must have all members present and willing to participate in the environment. The teacher’s role is to make that happen by learning about, and teaching the students for whom they are responsible and in the case where there are students who present with disability an extra effort is required to work collaboratively with the LSO in order to make that classroom a cohesive and functional optimal learning environment for all. After all, it is not about the content, it’s about the students, it’s about how they learn and it’s about how the teacher can make that happen. Begin where they are, challenge them, support them and show them where they could be. Believe.


Teachers play a key role in facilitating the effectiveness of the Learning Support Officer (LSO) and their capacity to enhance student learning. To enable this, flexibility, communication, collaboration and clear direction is required from the teacher.

Unfortunately there are few training programs or research data to identify skills and knowledge required to successfully establish and maintain a healthy relationship between teacher and LSO that leads to optimal learning opportunities for students with disabilities.

Optimal learning environments support students’ natural desire to learn where learning becomes both playful and challenging. Optimal learning environments need to be developmentally appropriate and encourage positive social behaviours as well as reflecting intelligence (Lackney 1999, Linton et al, 2014). Standards should be raised to a level where they can be achieved with some effort and as students succeed the level is raised a little more and the procedure continues until the final goal is reached (Sileo & van Garderen 2010). Once this happens then new goals are set. A student’s efficacy, i.e. personal belief in their ability to succeed, has been identified as an effective predictor of learning and therefore we must set learning goals that allow them to be successful but not without effort (Shernoff et al 2014).

Cooperation, communication and collaboration between teachers and support staff can foster optimal learning environments for all students but especially for students with disabilities. Student engagement is highest when concentration, interest and enjoyment are stimulated simultaneously. The most effective way to collide these in the classroom is by taking the time to get to know each one of your students. It is imperative that one knows what their students like, what their strengths are, and most importantly, to know their abilities and this can only be done by first establishing a relationship. Once they are hooked, the content learning will come (Burgess 2012, Solarz 2015).

There is evidence that a lack of time and uncertainty as to individual roles and responsibilities, (Bourke 2008, Rutherford 2011, Fisher & Pleasants 2012, Butt 2014), that seems to be preventing the formation of successful working partnerships between teachers and support staff for the ultimate goal of improving student learning outcomes. However, it is imperative that we make time to talk learning, rather than other administrative matters, that can be covered in an email or document sent to all.

The Effective Practices Framework for Learning Support Officers (CECV , 2014) lists seven desirable competencies for teachers supervising the work of LSOs (p. 17).



I encourage you to take each of the seven desirable competencies and work through them one by one in establishing collaborative and communicative work relations (AISTL 2015) in order to create optimal learning environments for all students and most especially for those with disabilities.


Thanks for reading 🙂


Australia. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2015). The essential guide to professional learning: Collaboration. Melbourne: AISTL.

Bourke, P. (2008). The experiences of teacher aides who support students with disabilities and learning difficulties: A phenomenological study. Queensland University of Technology.

Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate. Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, C.A.: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.

Butt, R. (2014). The changing role of teacher assistants – where being a ‘mum’ is not enough. (Doctor of Philosophy), University of Canberra, Canberra.

Fisher, M., & Pleasants, S.L. (2012). Roles, responsibilities, and concerns of paraeducators: Findings from statewide survey. Remedial and Special Education, 33(5), 287-297.

Lackney, J.A. (1999). Why optimal learning environments matter. Paper presented at the Alaska Chapter of the Council of Educational Facility, Anchorage, AK.

Linton, D.L., Farmer, J.K., & Peterson, E. (2014). Is peer interaction necessary for optimal active learning? CBE – Life Sciences Education, 13, 243-252. doi: 10.1187/cbe.13-10-0201

Rutherford, G. (2011). “Doing right by”: Teacher aides, students with disabilities, and relational social justice. Harvard Educational Review, 81(1), 95-119.

Shernoff, D.J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Flow in schools revisited. Cultivating engaged learners and optimal learning environments. In M. Furlong, J., R. Gilman & S. E. Huebner (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology in schools (pp. 211-226). Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Sileo, J.M., & van Garderen, D. (2010). Creating optimal opportunities to learn mathematics: Blending co-teaching structures with research-based practices. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(3), 14-21.

Solarz, P. (2015). Learn like a pirate. Empower your students to collaborate, lead and succeed. San Diego C.A.: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.

Victoria. Catholic Education Commission of Victoria. (2014). Effective practices framework for learning support officers. Melbourne: CECV.

“Very informative, presented so well. Enjoyable”

“Teaching a room full of learners the same thing in the same way over the same time span with the same supports and expecting good results from all students has never happened and never will.” Tomlinson


Last week I facilitated a couple of workshops on working with non funded students. They were well attended, interactive workshops with a mix of teacher and education support staff  who were very eager to share their expertise and experiences with colleagues and other staff from different schools and sectors. One school even sent their whole education support unit!


The morning sessions began with a quick discussion of the roles of teachers and education support staff and then covered specific learning disabilities with which students may present in schools. Many students who have experienced these learning difficulties are not funded but the impact it has on their learning and ability to work effectively in mainstream classes is similar to those who are funded. These difficulties can lead to withdrawal, behavioural issues, anti social behaviour and low self esteem. Our role as educators is to help these students overcome or compensate for their learning difficulties, funded or not. Below is a representation of Dr. Sheldon’s Horowitz‘s idea of the basic psychological process used in understanding and using language. His explanatory videos are great, easy to follow and well explained.

Specific Learning Disabilities


I then presented some strategies and ideas that can be used in the classroom to assist the students with learning difficulties in accessing the curriculum. I believe that if we take the time to assess what the students know and then plan a variety of activities that take into account learning preferences, abilities and readiness of students, our classes would be more engaging not just for those with difficulties but also the mainstream cohort as well as those students who display particularly well developed strengths in specific areas.

Differentiation and modification

The day continued with a focus on differentiation and modification. What is the difference? It is surprising, based on my own experience in schools, that many teachers and education support staff have a limited understanding of these two methods. I often come across so called ‘modified’ tasks where the teacher has simply removed the last few questions on the test or asked that the student completes every second question. This folks is not modification. I have found however, that teachers implicitly do differentiate their curriculum but may not be aware of the many more ways this could be done so all students are engaged in deep learning.

The ‘guru’ of differentiation is Carol Tomlinson. Her premise is that there are essentially 3 P’s in differentiation i.e. Presentation, Process and Product.


  • How are you going to teach it?
  • What do you want the students to know and do?


  • How will the learning be done?


  • How will the students demonstrate learning?

When modifying work for students, teachers and education support staff must take into account the abilities, readiness and learning preferences of the child. Before modifying work for any student, especially those who are not funded, the school should seek permission from the parent. In some cases the parent will not give permission, and while this is disappointing, teachers must abide by this decision although they can make extra efforts to ensure the child has access to a differentiated curriculum. This is one where by the delivery of content is varied, and accommodations such as more time, different settings, choice in presentation and response are offered.

handsSimply, the difference between differentiation and modification comes down to the expectation of work to be assessed. In differentiation there is no change to the assessment criteria or rubric but a modified task requires us to make changes to the assessment criteria. In all cases, modifications are instructional or test adaptations that allow the student to demonstrate what he knows or can do, but they also reduce the target skill in some way. So if a student is provided with a modification, generally it will lower the performance expectations. It often reduces the learning expectations or affects the content in such a way that what is being taught or tested is fundamentally changed.

When planning for either differentiated or modified tasks, there are three questions we must ask ourselves:

  1. What do I want students to know?
  2. What do I want students to understand?
  3. What do I want students to do?

Collaborative task

The afternoon was dedicated to activities that allowed the participants to use their own assessment tasks, or mine, to make accommodations or modify based on student profiles that I provided. We then came together and discussed our learning.

boy2-1ne7o1bStudent Profiles

The day ended with an example of what I think a student profile should contain so that informed decisions about the student’s individual learning can be made.


While two out of 53 participants thought the workshop was too focused on education support staff and one thought it more valuable for early career teachers, overall, the feedback was very positive (see below) and many participants took away ideas and strategies that I hope they have begun implementing in their classes. For me it’s always about the students, so anything extra we can do to improve their learning experience is very worthwhile and very rewarding for us as educators.

“Jo touched on many ideas that I can share and implement at my school.” Anita

“Wonderful & engaging presentation” Anon

“The course was quite informative, found out about a few strategies which can be easily applied at our workplace.” Claudine

“Very informative, presented so well. Enjoyable” Anne

“Very relaxed and informative conference.” Anon

“Presentation was very comprehensive and information was very beneficial to my teaching.” Anon

“Excellent speaker. Fantastic, useful info/strategies to put into classroom practice.” Debra

“A great presenter with lots of ideas, hints, etc.” Alexandra

Many thanks are extended to all who participated last week in Geelong and at the Mulgrave venue!

If you’d like to learn more, why not register for the workshop delivered through Critical Agendas. I’ll be running similar workshops in Geelong on May 29 and Bulleen on June 6.

Drop me a line, or comment below. I’d very much like to know what measures you take to support non-funded special needs students at your school.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Things don’t always work out


Well, we missed out on Europe again..long story…so I thought that it best I get on with what I love doing aside from travelling, i.e. teaching and learning.

I’ve been reading up on special education and in light of the up-coming professional learning day I will be running for Critical Agendas in November (details to follow), I would just like to make some comments especially in regard to non-funded students in your classrooms. In some cases there will be an aide in your class, their main duty will be to look after the needs of the funded student and fair enough too, but in most schools we assume that the aide will also make time to assist other students who supposedly have a learning issue that is not “bad” enough to warrant any funds.

In reality though it makes it very difficult for all parties, teachers, students and aides to be able to fulfil such a task of ensuring  this does happen, especially given time restrictions, lack of professional learning and the reality that many teachers are not fully aware of the learning needs of each of their students.

To adequately meet their needs, there must be a willingness and availability to work as a team in developing quality teaching and support for teachers and teacher aides. It is important to allocate time for them to attend relevant professional learning sessions and to discuss and make appropriate and realistic modifications to existing curriculum no matter the cost.

Over the next few months I will be carrying out some research on the nature of the relationship between teachers and teacher aides. Very little research has been carried out on relationships between the teacher aide and the teacher in the context of their interactions and collaboration involving the on-going physical and mental care as well as the academic and social learning of the students for whom they are responsible. The aim of my study is to explore the nature of this relationship. I hope to be able to develop and present my findings in order to build a theory and then use that to offer relevant and meaningful strategies so that all students will ultimately benefit from an even better quality of teaching and learning.