Teachers’ Professional Learning Portfolios: Do they really improve teaching?

By Nathan Woods

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Teaching portfolios are used widely in pre-service teacher education programs and amongst faculty in higher learning institutions. The focus of this article, however, is on the role that teaching portfolios can play in enhancing the learning of in-service teachers in the compulsory education sector. Much of the literature on teachers’  professional learning portfolios discusses tensions between the formative and summative application of portfolios; this review avoids this discussion and focuses on the formative potential of teaching portfolios. Drawing on relevant literature, five key questions are addressed:

  1. How are teaching portfolios defined?
  2. Do teaching portfolios capture the complexities of teachers’ learning?
  3. Do teaching portfolios enhance teachers’ critical thinking?
  4. Do teaching portfolios promote collaboration within schools?
  5. What impact do teaching portfolios have on practice?
  6. Is the time required by teachers to construct portfolios reasonable and sustainable?

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Team Teaching

By Nathan Woods Supporting_People_Smll

Team-teaching can motivate students and teachers, and help to create an open, democratic learning environment. When working in teams, teachers can take advantage of their differences in knowledge, opinions, ideas, and personality to model collaborative dialogue and behaviour, which can improve learning outcomes for students (Cotton, 1982; Murata, 2002; Slater, 1993; Walker, 2008). So why is teaming so difficult to implement, and what can go wrong? Continue reading

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Critical Thinking

By Nathan Woods

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Humans are not always good thinkers. We discriminate against ‘others’, conform to group pressures, and blindly obey authority figures. We are often addicted to the pursuit of wealth, status, and power. We cling to our existing beliefs and ideologies, exaggerate our own good intentions, and see evil in those who disagree with us. However, we also have the potential to take control of our thinking – to examine it and improve it. We can use our intelligence to create a better world, to cooperate, and to prevent suffering. We can endeavour to be fair-minded, wise, and rational. For this reason, understanding and promoting critical thinking should be a primary aim of all educators.  Continue reading

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Do Schools Kill Creativity – A Response to Ken Robinson

By BRENT SILBY

Robinson argues that schools are primarily concerned with conformity and that this has a negative impact on creativity. He suggests that by grouping students by age, delivering a standard curriculum, and testing them against standardized criteria, schools are essentially diminishing the individuality and creativity of students. In his Do Schools Kill Creativity TED Talk, Robinson states that:

“…all kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.” He goes on to suggest that “creativity is now as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status”. (Robinson 2006).

Robinson seems to be implying that schools currently place little value on creativity. He is also creating a distinction between literacy and creativity, suggesting that somehow schools value one but not the other. But literacy and creativity go hand-in-hand. A highly literate person can become hugely creative in the production of written works. It is not the case that schools favor literacy over creativity. Schools encourage both. Furthermore, in other areas of creativity, schools excel. During their life in school, students are exposed to an immense array of creative endeavors from music to visual art; from fiction to game design. It is simply false that schools place little value on creativity. Robinson, himself, is a product of what he might call “traditional schooling”, and he is clearly creative. Arguably the most creative people on the planet are the products of traditional schooling. Given the fact that there is so much creativity in society, it seems to be misleading to make the bold claim that “schools educate the creativity out of kids”. Continue reading

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Language and the GERM

By Richard McCance

Most teachers around the world now are probably well aware of the threats from what Pasi Sahlberg has labeled “the GERM” (Finnish Lessons, 2012). However, while some of these threats are blatantly designed to shock the system and impose a new paradigm onto existing structures, others are more subtle and covert. High stakes accountability measures and the privatisation of public education are two obvious examples of the former. One of the more nuanced and often overlooked threats comes in the form of the language used to redefine or reshape the educational system towards particular goals or outcomes.
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Do We Have a Philosophy of Education?

By Graham Mundy

The intention of this paper is to suggest that New Zealand has no philosophy of education, and that the many problems permeating our education system are a consequence of this. A selection of some of these problems will be outlined, and will be shown to have arisen from a lack of underlying principles which, had they existed, would have provided both epistemological and ethical touchstones, which in turn would have exposed these inadequacies.
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Critical Thinking in the English Classroom

By Nathan Woods

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This review illustrates a need for research on how teachers in New Zealand have interpreted the Key Competency ‘thinking’ and how they have attempted to embed critical thinking as a Key Competency into English courses. The review is divided into four sections. Section one, What are the Key Competencies, outlines broader issues related to the implementation of a competencies-based curriculum in New Zealand, relating these broader issues specifically to the Key Competency ‘thinking’. Section two, What is Critical Thinking, reviews the literature on critical thinking, paying close attention to how critical thinking has been defined, and how this definition reflects the idea that critical thinking is a competency that draws on skills, dispositions, knowledge, values and attitudes. Section three, What is English, briefly outlines the key features of the English learning area, as stipulated by the New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007). Finally, section four, Critical Thinking in English, provides a brief review of literature showing how critical thinking can be embedded in English courses. Key themes arising from the review are: (1) critical thinking can be expressed differently in different subject domains; (2) subject-specific content knowledge plays a key role in critical thinking; and (3) schools and teachers may overlook the subject-specific nature of critical thinking when they interpret the Key Competencies.

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