Back again…

Last  year, 2014, had been on and off for me in terms of eLearning Island. I will start to engage my readership again in 2015 and document some of my insights as I increasingly engage with educators in my role as a Team-leader with Junior Cycle for Teachers.

Blogging (via Edublogs) and micro-blogging (via Twitter) are an interesting symbiotic mix, Twittersince there is usually a healthy relationship between the two. Twitter is often a source of my inspiration, while Blogging very often reflects my interests and vice versa. For the past two months or so I have really only operated in the Twitter space and I have become somewhat frustrated with my lack of time to develop longer blog postings.

I have noticed though that Twitter can become somewhat of a bubble – I say in by bio “…hopefully not an echo chamber…” – but a lot of what reaches me is what I like to hear. Now that is not necessarily a bad thing, provided of course I think it through – and that is where the frustration of not creating longer blog postings comes in!

So here’s to 2015 – the year of the longer blog posting!

I am doing a lot of thinking about Key Skills, Key Competences, Twenty-first century skills, call them what you will: three related  blog postings caught my attention over the holiday period

  1. Steve Wheeler on Preparing our Children for the Future
  2. EDTOSAVETHEWORLD on But are we preparing them for College?
  3. Matt Acevedo on The Case for Group Work   on the Blackboard blog

Wheeler’s posting on seeing children as creative individuals rather than as commodities is 3515990945_889a0aa139_man engaging foreword to my 2015.

He writes “The problems our students will encounter when they reach adulthood will be unique to their generation, possibly created by the new technologies they use, and no amount of knowledge acquisition from today’s curriculum, nor teaching from today’s experts, can prepare them for that.”

There is a huge challenge as children in Ireland enter college experiencing what the Economic and Social Research Institute refer to, as the mismatch between Secondary and Third Level Education (Leaving School in Ireland: A Longitudinal Study of Post-School Transitions (2014 here). It is interesting to read about this from another perspective. EDTOSAVETHEWORLD points out “When college professors {…talk…} about what preparation students lack when they enter higher education, they rarely say the ability to quickly copy notes. Instead they highlight competencies like reasoning, problem solving, and disciplinary thinking.

Acevedo addresses one of the most challenging skills, competencies, abilities when we are required to work together in groups, “Group projects in courses provide an avenue to promote and foster interpersonal skills within a subject-specific context or a condition that models real-world scenarios.” Acevedo’s solution (at Third Level) is not necessarily one we could advance at Secondary Level here in Ireland (Peer evaluation of group members) but his blog is well worth reading, in terms of making us think about what we might do!

Just some thoughts to kick eLearning Island off! Happy New Year Everyone.

Photo Credit: The Group by  Greg Lobinski via Flickr




The Sutton Trust Report – great teaching?

The Sutton Trust Report was published recently in the United Kingdom. Watching its Twitter feed reminds me that education in the United Kingdom is charged with the politics of Left and the Right. Nevertheless it is an important report with some interesting conclusions.

Before reading the Report or looking at the many summaries of it to be found online (a nice one here from The Guardian), it is important to understand what the Sutton Trust is.

I will do this via two quotations from their website

 “We are particularly concerned with breaking the link between educational opportunities and family background, and in realising a system in which young people are given the chance to prosper, regardless of their family background, school or neighbourhood.”

 “It found that over a school year, poorer pupils gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers. In other words, a great teacher can produce a whole year’s extra learning.”

Thus their concern in the title of their Report What makes great teaching?”  It is important to note that the subtitle is – Review of the underpinning research. Four authors are cited with Professor Robert Coe of Durham University as the lead.

The authors argue that there are six common components to great teaching. These are all nuanced with a deeper commentary in the document.

1. (Pedagogical) content knowledge (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)

2. Quality of instruction (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)

3. Classroom climate (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)

4. Classroom management (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)

5. Teacher beliefs (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)

6. Professional behaviours (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)

I am only going to deal with one idea from the Report found on page seventeen. It is in the context of “Examples of effective practices” in the particular case with evidence from cognitive psychology using the research of Bjork and Bjork (2011). The title of the cited article is instructive: Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning. Bjork and Bjork argue four points

  1.  …varying the learning context, types of task or practice, rather than keeping them constant and predictable, improves later retention, even though it makes learning harder in the short term.
  2. …the same amount of time spent reviewing or practising leads to much greater long-term retention if it is spread out, with gaps in between to allow forgetting.
  3.  …interleaving [learning] with other tasks or topics leads to better long-term retention and transfer of skills.
  4.  …any time that you, as a learner, look up an answer or have somebody tell or show you something that you could, drawing on current cues and your past knowledge, generate instead, you rob yourself of a powerful learning opportunity.

I particularly agree with their first point about making learning harder. One of the challenges to us, who favour the integration of technology in learning and teaching, is that some say is it to make things easier for students.

Absolutely not.

William Rankin argued exactly the same at the recent National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals Conference in Galway, Ireland. He appealed to the Sudoku players in the audience and asked how many would like their game to get easier. None! Similarly for children and adults immersed in the gaming culture. One of my favourite questions as a teacher, when introducing a new way of doing things via technology was “why do we have to do it this way?” when the student perceived an easier (less challenging) way.

I believe effective learning at any level is challenging, demanding and difficult. It needs to be scaffolded by a skilled teacher, who has got a good grasp of their subject matter and an understanding of how it is made meaningful for the myriad of young minds in front of them.

There is a lot in the Sutton Report. It is not an easy read – it is a serious literature review, but nonetheless worth having a look into.

What Makes Great Teaching by Professor Robert Coe (Durham University), Cesare Aloisi (Durham University),Dr Lee Elliot Major (Sutton Trust) and Professor Steve Higgins (Durham University)

Well placed research…


Sometimes there is a debate in education that a teacher might like to read a little more about from research journals, rather than the national media or other sectoral interest groups.

There are then two concerns

  1. Access to research…
  2. Where to look…

In Ireland, access to research databases, is available to registered teachers via the Teaching Council. Finding where to look, however, may be daunting especially, if this is your first time using academic databases.

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) had an interesting take on this recently.  There was a school shooting in Washington State and AERA made available fourteen peer-reviewed “no cost” articles to educators (here) to help them and their school communities develop a response to bullying and school safety.

A secondary benefit of AERA’s approach is that it puts selected scholarly research into the public arena at a time that greater thought and reflection may be needed.

I like this approach to research – a respected research body making available another form of support for the educational community.