Going Back To Basics Is Still Going Backwards

chris-pyneI’m not a big fan of Christopher Pyne. As far as I’m concerned, our new federal education minister has shown himself to be inept and completely out of his depth in his current portfolio. He continually implies that Australia’s teachers are less competent than they should be and that our students are not receiving a proper education.

The amount of political mudslinging every time he opens his mouth is just an embarrassment to any thinking person. In his interviews with that other redneck extremist lunatic, Alan Jones on 2GB, the two of them make complete asses of themselves as they bask in idiotic, inflammatory statements about Australian teachers.

The thing that really ticks me off about Pyne is this phrase he continually uses… “back to basics”.  In adopting this phrase he poo-poos “modern teaching methods” which he considers airy-fairy, and talks about how we need to get back to a direct instruction model where students listen to a teacher talk at them. He dismisses the idea of child-centred learning, and wants a return to a more didactic teacher-centric model.  And don’t even get me started on his ignorant judeo-Christian-centric view of history.

Christopher Pyne is a fool who knows nothing about teaching or learning.

When I hear a politician say they want to go “back to basics”, It usually means one of three things…

1. They actually have no idea how to move forward.  By going back to a previously known state, something that used to work in the past, they attempt to absolve themselves of the responsibility to move forward. If it worked for your parents, it must work for you too, right? By going “back to the basics”, whatever the hell that actually means, they don’t need to think of what a better future might look like. They don’t tackle the hard task of building a better tomorrow, they just hope that whatever we did yesterday will still work tomorrow.

2. They have no idea that the world has changed. Anyone who claims that going back to the way something worked in the past is a sustainable solution, simply does not understand how much the world has changed. By going “back to basics”, we go back to a pre-Internet, pre-hyperconnected, pre-Google, pre-Globalised world that looks very little like the world our children are actually growing up in today.

3. They have no idea what our kids actually need. Yes, literacy and numeracy are important, but it would be foolish to assume that the concept of “literacy” as it existed in the 1960s is sufficient in the 2010s. Of course we should produce students who can read and write and know their times tables (and we do, although to hear the way these politicians belittle educators you would think that not a single student can read).  There are other forms of literacy that matter as well, and I don’t want to see Australia go down the same path as our American friends who seem to have a school system which values the Three Rs and not much else, and in fact the insane focus on “the basics” has come at the detriment of so much else about learning that makes us human.

Pyne wants to quote PISA figures and all sorts of other statistics that are supposed to “prove” that Australian kids are going backwards. Continually improving our students ability to read, write and add up is important, but so is their ability to sing and dance and play and paint and draw. We need well rounded students who enjoy learning, who  discover what it means to be truly literate, not just with words and numbers but in all senses of the word.

Make no mistake, no matter how you look at it, going “back to basics” is still going backwards. Any fool can see that. Any fool except Christopher Pyne it seems.

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26 thoughts on “Going Back To Basics Is Still Going Backwards”

  1. Well said Chris…reviewing a Curriculum again…while we are working together on it….implementing the National Curriculum that has been written with consultation and collaboration….hmmm…pay some experts to review it and….wait again for another review….fund a few more ‘important’ people rather than funding the students who need the resources….sounds familiar…I have little faith in the guy and the current state of politics with regard to education….Keep up the terrific blogging Chris.

  2. Spot on Chris, We need a forward thinking progressive government not these jokers.

    It makes me Angry that these people play with our kids (my kids) future. Education is already too far behind the real world. Schools should be at the cutting edge of educational theory and practise, not going backwards.

    Schools are also too far behind as it is. Just look at many classrooms today compared with classrooms in the 1960’s or 1920’s, they are exactly the same: teacher up the front in front of a board of some type (blackboard, whiteboard or smartboard) and the students sitting in desks facing the front (or if they are lucky in a group or with a computer) waiting for the learning to happen.

    We don’t need people like Christopher Pyne or Kevin Donnelly taking us even further backwards.

    keep up the good work

  3. Couldn’t disagree more! As a maths teacher, I see everyday many kids who do not have a grasp of the basic concepts. The problem as Pyne correctly points out is we are not focusing on basics AT ALL. I am constantly discouraged from having kids route learn things like tables because it’s “old-fashioned” and I would be ok with this if it were replaced with something that works. All that has happened in the past 6 years of Labour was that we neglected basic skills in favour of “general capabilities” which included sustainability in the maths classroom !?!? Please put your politics aside: kids need to learn certain facts/skills/knowledge but they have not done so satisfactorily for a long time. Why not go back to how it was when kids DID learn?

    I and Pyne are not advocating a reactionary model we are merely pleading that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater and don’t totally neglect direct instruction methods which work. I can tell you they do often work- at least for me, at least in maths but the problem (no matter who is in Government) is that teachers are afforded no freedom for the running of their class and are instead subjected to the Progessive agenda whether or not it works. Case and point my new school which claims “As long as we are trying something new, it’s ok if we fail as teachers”.

    1. Hi Andrew. Thanks for the comment, it’s good to have an alternative opinion, so I thank you for that.

      I agree with you that there is still a place for direct instruction, and particularly in the mathematics area. I have no issue with that. But you already have that… direct, didactic instruction – the clichéd “sage on the stage” is STILL the predominant way that most class are taught by most teachers. Go for a walk around your school some time and peer into the classrooms as classes are happening. Rare is the class where the students are not just sitting in rows listening to a teacher who stands at the front talking to them.

      Does direct instruction work? Of course it does. Is it the best way to teach? That depends. You and I have probably had teachers who CAN teach this way and make it work… they are engaging, funny, they tell good stories, they can read the mood of class and they they are masters at teaching using this method. When direct instruction is done right, it can be magical. If you look at John Hattie’s work in ranking the factors that make a difference to student learning using an Effect Size score, direct instruction ranks highly, no argument there.

      But many (many!) teachers are not masters at it. They can be dull, uninteresting, uninspiring, and they often plough through the work regardless of the class’s reaction to it. Direct instruction done badly is a waste of everyone’s time.

      My mother was a teacher and she often lamented the many educational fashions that came and went over the lifetime she spent teaching. Literacy and the way it was taught went through so many changes over the years – remember when we stopped worrying about whether words were spelled right, as long as the general idea was communicated? What a load of rubbish that was, and consequently we ended up with kids who couldn’t spell. Except if they were in my mother’s class because she never lost sight of teaching the important things no matter what the latest fashion in teaching might have been.

      I suggest you do the same. If you feel that basics are not being focussed on in the curriculum, you can still put all the focus on them you want in your own classroom. To say that teachers are afforded no freedom to teach what they believe is important is poppycock. You ALWAYS have control over what happens in your own classroom. If YOU believe it’s important, then YOU should teach it.

      While you say that kids learned better back in the day, there could be many many factors as to why that is the case. I could argue that one of the reasons that our students might not have the same level of literacy and numeracy that they did “back in the good old days” is that the world around them has changed and our education system essentially hasn’t. Is that a valid argument? Maybe not, but I’m just pointing out that there could any number of factors that contribute to what you see as a decline in standards. Personally, I don’t think think kids of today are any less literate or numerate than they were when I was younger… but we like to think that’s the case so we can pine for the good old days.

      The point of the post was not whether we should have direct instruction or not. It was about moving our education system forwards, not backwards. If something from the past worked, then work out what that was and push it forwards… find out what about it worked and amplify that. It’s not that teaching styles in the past were no good – clearly they were as you and I both turned out ok – but let’s figure out what the good things were and base our progress on doing those things better, improving on the past, not going back to it.

      My problem with Pyne is that he spouts mindless policy sound bytes. He stays “on message” at the expense of listening to others. There are new directions taking place in education systems in every country around the world at the moment, and they can’t all be wrong about it. Learning does need to be centered on the child, I don’t know how anyone could argue against that idea. And while teacher focused direct instruction might work for some things, it is not the solution to everything. And yet, we still (over)use it as though it is. Let’s bring some balance into the education of our students. Let’s figure out when we need to teach, and when we need to allow them to learn. Let’s figure out when we should “push” the information to them, and when we should allow them to “pull” the information to themselves. I know that the act of teaching is important, but I just want some balance put back into the way we help our kids learn.

      We could start by uncluttering the curriculum, and helping kids learn more deeply about fewer things. We could help them more by teaching them to be metacognitive about their own learning, so that they “learn to learn” for themselves.. We’re not going to make that happen as long as we continue this ridiculous search for the “right” spin on history and other nonsensical red herrings.

      1. Chris, with respect you seem confused. It is the constructivist, inquiry-based approaches that have held sway for many decades. Direct instruction had completely fallen out of favour. It is rarely used in school to the extent that it is needed. AS you point out it is the most effiecent and best method of educating children. We need to bring it back. Just take a look at Uni. text books for student teachers. They are full to the brim with constructivism and direct instruction barely rates a mention. Is there a bias? You bet and it is towards discovery learning which has been an abject failure. Sounds intuitively good but doesn’t work!

        1. Sarita, with respect, that’s bullshit.

          Read what I said. Sometimes, the most efficient method is direct instruction. And sometimes it’s not. But I think you confuse efficiency with effectiveness. It sound like in your world you’d have students sitting in rows, listening to the teacher talk, taking notes. Efficient? Probably. Effective? Not so much.

          You imply that constructivist learning is the dominant model (by the way, I never actually mentioned the word constructivist in my post or any subsequent comments… you are the only person to use that term) If you had set foot into a school in the last decade you would see that this is clearly not the case. The vast majority of classroom practise is still overwhelmingly teacher centric and content driven.

          You imply that the alternative to students getting direct instruction is making castles out of cardboard boxes or other such things. You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about. Making learning more student centred has nothing to do with removing rigour from the process, or treating the learning process like it’s a children’s party. You are totally missing the point.

          Making learning more student centered is simply about allowing students to have more say in their learning. It’s about providing them with more choices and opportunities to interact with the big important ideas of education. It has nothing to do with watering the learning down or making it less academic… quite the opposite.

          We don’t need to bring direct instruction teaching back, because it never went away. It is the dominant teaching paradigm. Walk through the corridors of any school at random and I will guarantee you that what you’ll see in most cases (particularly at the high school level!) will be students sitting at desks, writing in books, taking notes while a teacher lectures from the front of the room.

          Based on your comments I can only conclude that you are not a teacher and have no real idea what you’re talking about. Or if you are a teacher, you’re “one of those teachers” who clearly do not understand the changes in society and the world around you, and therefore are unable to see how they impact on what you do or why you should change.

          1. Gosh you sound very defensive. I am sorry that I don’t agree with you but all my good sense and research suggests that you are not correct. We must live in parallel universes. If you look into the history of Educational pedagogy direct/explicit instruction has been ousted for many decades. I don’t see how you can possibly argue otherwise. However, I do hope you are right and that in High school it is as you describe. I have my fingers crossed.

            No, I am not a teacher but my partner is. I have seen the text books and ideas that have informed his teaching course and it is completely dominated by the ideas you espouse. Further, he describes high school as anti-explicit instruction while a great deal of time is spent in groups debating – well nothing much of anything really. I have also seen this way of teaching being the dominant approach at my daughter’s primary school. The principal seems very committed to a child-centric notion (totally nonsensical to me) and as a result only a half of the kids manage to pass English and maths. Most don’t know their times tables even when they are in year 7. Some can barely add. So I am a concerned parent who was stunned by the “teaching methods” being used at our school. Not only were they cumbersome but ineffective too.

            Lastly, I would add that I was actually educated at a school in the 1970’s that was considered probably the most progressive school in Brisbane. My grandparents donated the land to this school and my parents were great advocates of child-centred learning. Then they saw what it achieved – or more accurately what it failed to achieve. I leant virtually NOTHING in my years there, nor did my sisters or friends. We spent our high school years trying to pay catch up.

            If you want real, researched proof of what approaches actually work I recommend you read up on “Project Follow Through”. Also note that even ACARA are now recommending more explicit instruction which suggests that this has been largely neglected. I don’t think you have done much research and suspect that you are perhaps a teacher who has been fully indoctrinated by the current dominant theories that permeate most levels of education.

            1. How do I respond to that…

              So I’m a teacher with over 25 years of classroom experience, I’ve taught in schools on two continents and visited numerous schools throughout Asia, Africa, North America and Australasia, and have spoken with thousands of other educators about teaching and learning, and about what works and what doesn’t.

              You went to school in the 70s, open admit you had a poor time of it, and send your kids to a school you’re still not happy with.

              With respect Sarita, I think I probably have a broader perspective on this than you. You’re entitled to your opinion of course, but I think it’s demonstrably wrong.

              It’s perfectly feasible that you think all schools approach the education of their children by dancing around the Maypole and singing kumbaya, which you incorrectly label as “constructivist learning”. I’m sorry if that’s what you’ve seen happening in the small handful of schools you know about. But your assertion that “child centered” education is lacking rigour and that nothing gets learned is just plain incorrect. It sounds more like you happen to have struck a bunch of teachers who simply weren’t very good teachers.

              The truth is that a good education – and a good teacher – is well aware of when direct instruction is needed and when it’s not. And there are times for both. It’s not a matter of one over the other, it’s about knowing which to use when and for whom. Teaching is a far more nuanced art than simply adopting a one-size-fits-all approach of lecturing students and thinking that it will magically give every one of them what they need. It won’t.

              1. Yes, I think that we need a little inquiry-based and much more direct instruction. It is a question of more balance. For many years the “basics” have been neglected. It is high time we shifted a lot more focus back on the basics, especially in primary years. Kids need to amass knowledge and be able to perform basic tasks before you can introduce to much complexity.
                You think that it has been skewed towards rote and basics and I certainly do not. How do you explain the dismal results our students are achieving on PISA and other international tests?

                As for your criticism regarding were I send my kids: I have tired unsuccessfully to move my children to another school that uses John Fleming’s explicit instruction approach as well as other schools that weren’t so imbued with inquiry based learning. Do you realize how hard it is to get into good schools when you are not in catchment? It is virtually impossible! Instead I made up for the shortfall in my kids maths education by spending big bucks to take them to Kumon – a mastery/rote approach that they both responded to rapidly and successfully. No mystery. They didn’t have ANY of the basics they needed.

                Now, I’m not sure that the school realises just how many kids go to tutoring schools just to get by (not to hothouse) and then they take the credit thinking their inquiry based learning has been successful in the long run. Well it hasn’t. Parents are taking up the slack. Just check out the grass roots movement in Canada. Parents and mathematicians are rallying against inquiry and want basics back. they are tired of having to tutro their kids. You, as a teacher, may not be aware of the amount of work we as parents are putting into our kids at home just to keep them afloat. Dig a little deeper, scratch the surface, talk to parents and you might find that tutoring is how the kids have managed. And yet we shouldn’t have to spend money to have our kids taught what should be taught at school. Many parents are fed up.

                1. In addition I highly recommend this article: which concludes: The past
                  half-century of empirical research on this issue has provided
                  overwhelming and unambiguous evidence that minimal
                  guidance during instruction is significantly less effective
                  and efficient than guidance specifically designed to
                  support the cognitive processing necessary for learning. http://www.cogtech.usc.edu/publications/kirschner_Sweller_Clark.pdf

                  Perhaps your interpretation on this form of learning is somewhat different to many others. However the pendulum has swung so far towards this form of learning overanay other that this form of learning has lost any credibility.

                  1. If the finding is that minimal guidance yields worse results than an appropriate level of guidance, I’m not sure why anyone would find that surprising. What you’re saying is that being taught effectively leads to better learning than being taught poorly. Hardly a revelation.

                    I don’t think we have a dissimilar view in wanting our kids to be taught effectively, I think the problem here is that you and I are using terminology in very different ways. You came out swinging at the term “constructivist” and I realise now that you really don’t have any idea about what that actually means.

                    What you’re critical of is not constructivist learning, nor child centered learning, nor inquiry-based learning… what you need to be critical of (and what I hope you are being critical of) is poor teaching. Making the learning process more child centered is not about teachers abrogating responsibility to actually teach. Far from it!

                    It sounds like you have had a series of experiences with outright poor teaching by crappy teachers. It’s not the ideology or methodology that’s the issue here so much as teachers you’ve struck who apparently cannot or will not teach well. No proper teacher will ever just set kids loose without guidance, without a framework, without the basics, and allow them to cruise through the class without monitoring and feedback. Teachers who do that are not using “constructivsm” as their methodology, they are just crap teachers.

                    All of the things you’ve said about the need for parents to send their students to tutoring, etc, is not an indictment on what you call a lack of direct instruction, but rather an epidemic of crap teaching.

                    The job of a teacher is to identify what each student needs to be successful and provide it to them. For some, that will be very explicit instruction and guidance, for others it will be more about getting out of the way a bit and giving them more freedom to learn in their own way. But all the time, knowing where each student is at and being ready to swoop in to administer whatever the child needs to succeed.

                    It also varies greatly from subject to subject, age level of the students, etc. Just saying “we should go back to a direct instruction model” fails to capture so much of the nuance required to make learning work. Having a single-minded focus on a rote instruction approach to “the basics” and the learning of content also totally ignores the many other reasons we educate children, which is to socialise them, help them understand what it means to be human, and to help them become the creative generation they need to be in order to solve the big challenges of the future. In fact, one might argue that a pure direct instruction model goes a long way towards destroying many of these other things.

                    The problem I have with your assertion that we should just scrap all that “airy fairy inquiry nonsense” and return to the “direct instruction model” (honestly, do you even truly know what that means?) is that you want to push yet another one size fits all model to children whose learning needs come in all different sizes. And that is the real cause of the “failure” you have so much concern about in our schools.

                    To sum up, you and I seem to both agree we need more balance in education. I’m totally with you on that. Where we seem to differ is in what the current state of that balance is, and where it needs to be.

                    1. I agree. We seem to disagree on emphasis. Yes the pedagogical approach was crappy at my girls school. I don’t know that the teacher’s were inherently crappy, it’s just that they have been taught at Uni. that “progressive” educational theory is where it’s at to the exclusion of much else. Please understand that while you may not have learnt this it is the way teacher’s are being “programmed” to teach at schools now and this has been going on for some time. I think I do know what an inquiry approach is. I have spent 2 years researching these concepts before I decided on my position.You can put it under the banner of constructivism or progressive ed., where it was initially thought up. Does it matter? Expecting to many kids to delve into inquiry/discovery learning without well consolidated fundamental basics, is in my view, one of the reasons so many kids are doing so poorly.

                      The thing is that you criticise Pyne for trying to prioritise “basics” yet I think that we do need to give them much more time and focus along with explicit instruction where the teacher is the fountain of knowledge not just a guide. I think you may have missed the thrust of the article I copied the link to. It is saying that explicit instruction works very well and minimal guidance does not. Inquiry/discovery model usually dictates that the teacher steps aside so that students may construct their own meaning. They may guide them somewhat but essentially being child-centred, which you praise highly, means the teacher is a facilitator not a “teacher”. Supporters of “Progressives” Ed. have never been very good at pointing to empirical evidence which backs up their claims that this is a better, richer, less passive way of learning and in the long run leads to better intellectual development and outcomes. On the other hand those who support explicit instruction have a lot of great studies to back them up. I don’t buy into these Romantic, post Modern applications to Education. And yes I do believe that the more traditional model caters better to the majority of kids.

                    2. In addition I believe strongly in rote. I wonder how else you are suppose to get kids to learn their times tables and addition tables, musical notes, sight words, sounds that letters make alone and in combination, how to kick a soccer ball well, learning the steps of a dance routine and the list goes on. Yet rote, too,, has fallen out of favour and replaced by stupid, complicated strategies, pretty pictures, and patterns etc. Some kids may eventually grasp it but most wont. However most will grasp rote learning. It’s just a matter of repetition and we all possess a memory which we should put to go use.

                    3. Lastly if I have misinterpreted what inquiry learning is could you provide me with an explanation and perhaps a description as to how you would teach a class using this method and to what end ie what would you hope to achieve? How would it be better than using explicit instruction? How would you know it was better ie what measures would you use? I am sincere in this request as it seems that you think that I am clueless as to how inquiry “looks”.

                      Deeper knowledge, application to real life problems etc are all achievable under explicit instruction and less likely to lead to misunderstanding or students drawing incomplete, or flat out, incorrect assumptions and ideas.

                      Also if you think it is a problem with so many crappy teachers, then I would think that you might support Pyne in trying to address this issue too. Though I feel more inclined to support Noel Pearson’s idea that we must “teacher proof” the system with a great pedagogy (explicit instruction) because we will never be rid of crappy teachers.

  4. PS: Your point about going back to a time when kids DID learn is quite subjective. I never learned my times tables (and am still not great with some of them) I seem to manage to survive ok. ;-)

  5. I’ll try and be brief…

    Firstly, I very much do not have control over what or how I teach. I am constantly told by higher ups at my school how I must teach- and the instructions are always that I abandon direct instruction in favour of games and “activities” which frankly do not teach the kids anything. Furthermore, Universities are full of biased academics who indoctrinate rather than train teachers. I was marked down in essays for critiquing “student-centred” education. This may be because I am an early career education but make no mistake, many teachers out there are not afforded freedom and this applies to everyone at my school on a daily basis.

    Secondly, here is a report from ACER http://www.acer.edu.au/media/new-report-confirms-decline-in-student-achievement/. This, together with commonsense and seeing how poorly are the numeracy skills of my students leads me to believe that in fact kids are becoming less literate and numerate. Are there many reasons for this? Sure…but we are not addressing the problem as we are constantly implementing methods that are not proven to achieve results. Nothing implemented in schools have arrested this decline nor have any policies of the previous Government.

    Thirdly, are some teachers boring? Sure. It is most important, however, that kids learn. We are not entertainers. As professionals should we attempt to be more engaging? Again, this is true but too much focus from University and the general community is to be entertainers first and foremost and educators second.

    Fourthly, I know you are not attacking Pyne merely for his stance on direct instruction. My whole point is that his review seeks to cut through the crap of education. The problem is simple: we constantly strive not for outcomes but for political correctness. That’s why I teach Aboriginal issues in Mathematics- it doesn’t improve their maths but its very politically correct. We need someone who cuts this bullshit and is prepared to implement proven strategies. The response to Pyne’s review from the Greens and Labor was laughable- they focused on spending. Splashing cash hasn’t helped the problem…ever. You said Pyne was poo-pooing modern teaching theories and dismisses the idea of Child-centred learning and I am pointing out that he does this because they’re crap and the direct instruction method works.

    I think we fundamentally agree on the idea that teachers should be free to teach how they want if they get results. Unfortunately, I see everyday teachers considered “good” because they are innovative with their lesson but don’t actually teach kids anything. I won’t even get started on the lack of content knowledge of many teachers (though Hattie didn’t this as a huge link in his meta-analysis, I can tell from experience that teaching a subject you know little about only harms students).

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for your reply. I appreciate your perspective.

      When I talk about making lessons more student centred, I don’t necessarily mean that each lesson should start by doing something airy fairy, giving them butchers paper and coloured textas to brainstorm what they had dreams about last night.

      Making a highly teacher directed lesson more student centred can be as simple as ensuring that you ask more questions and allow time for the answers. This post has some good thoughts on that idea…

      http://www.edutopia.org/blog/five-powerful-questions-teachers-ask-students-rebecca-alber?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=blog-alber-5-questions-students-list

    2. Andrew I’m no fan of the LNP but on this issue I fully agree with Pyne and with you. Direct instruction works. Constructivism, as I’ve witnessed it, is rubbish. Building castles out of cardboard boxes does not teach you about history! Forcing teacher’s to incorporate aboriginality, feminism (I’m a feminist by the way) and environmentalism (I’m a greenie too and vote for the Greens) into every subject would be laughable if it wasn’t so absurd. As you say teacher’s are not there to entertain they are there to teach content and knowledge.

      Chris, even though the world has changed many things do not. 1 plus one still equals 2 the last time I checked.. Standard algorithms where invented by very smart people. Why are we so quick to dismiss what works. Stop confusing the poor kids with your multiple strategies and just make it simple and efficient. If they grasp these basics, then they may stand a chance at actually having the knowledge they need to negotiate more complex territory. You are making a grave mistake Chris. I eagerly await the reintroduction of basics and explicit instruction.

  6. Really interesting debate. I think Andrew is coming at the issue from a mathematical standpoint where direct instruction has a distinct role to play. I totally agree that elements of the maths curriculum must be rote learnt and mastered through repetition (number facts, times tables, algorithms etc.) but even within Maths I believe there exists significant benefits to inquiry-based, real world investigations. If students are learning Maths purely through direct instruction and because there teacher is telling them to, without context and the links to their own worlds, the motivation and interest will surely be lacking. As Andrew correctly states, we are not paid to be entertainers, but I strongly believe that if students are not engaged and interested (and occasionally entertained!), we will continue to disillusion this generation of learners by going back to what what worked in the good ‘ol days. I dare anyone to argue that direct instruction alone motivates students to learn. My standpoint comes from teaching upper primary and would welcome secondary school teachers’ thoughts.

    As for not having control over your own classroom and the way that your subject is taught, I feel lucky because the schools (primary) I have taught at, allow a significant amount of the “way” in which we teach to be personalised to suit each individual teacher. I know that my teaching style will always differ from those around me and believe that it is essential that school’s allow this freedom (within reason!) to ensure teachers are utilising their strengths and not teaching in a style and method that is mandated by “higher powers”.

    As for the “Asian perspectives” and “Indigenous perspectives” that the National Curriculum infuses across all subject areas. This is where you can “cut the crap”, for lack of a better phrase.

  7. A few things..
    It’s the Australian Curriculum to be recommended by ACARA to each State education authority who has responsibility for setting the assessment of the curriculum.

    ATAR scores are highest in maths and languages, both suffer the most direct instruction.

    Maths ‘teaching’ for the exam is most effective in the limited time available by direct instruction(telling).

    -IMO- While telling is not teaching, it has the side benefit of encouraging self selection by students to study something else…eg. The ATAR scores in your class will be higher if there are less low scores.

    Also Victoria has already decided aspects of the Australian curriculum will not be implemented. The entire senior physics course will be a Victorian design, not ACARA. By attempting to satisfy so many disparate interests the ACARA senior physics course is a mess!..too much like NSW which has no mathematics, does have special relativity(difficult theory) and no thermodynamics(heating and cooling)

    There is plenty of room for improvement but Chris Pyne seems to be placing a ‘conservatives-Tory’ overlay across the proposed curriculum rather than having a pedagogy agenda.

    The states will determine the curriculum, Victoria has had Australia-Vels in place for three years, NSW is still scrambling to adjust to the idea of study design standards instead of a syllabus which centrally dictates what/when/how…Victoria dropped that 15 years ago!

  8. I think Andrew has it more right. I have become highly suspicious of curriculum reviews in Canada. I took an after-degree in Education, and no I am not in the classroom. Not sure what’s happening with teacher training in Australia, but my sense–and please note, I did encounter very competent, intelligent individuals among faculty–is that the field is bloated with needless jargon, irrelevant theories, and a taste for fashion. I wonder if the shift in educational theory at least partly reflects leveraging by a professional body to ‘prove their worth’ in the market, so to speak. The bad old days when vicious brutes could thrash kids for any transgression, real or perceived, are thankfully gone. But the good old days when students don’t seem to observe boundaries and learning in the classroom is just something else that gets in the way of their ‘individuality’ surely can’t be much of an improvement? I believe students average a bare minimum of 5 hours screen time per day in Canada. That’s personal screen time, whether it be on a mobile device, desktop, what have you. Incidentally, obesity rates are sky-rocketing. What it comes down to is, ‘back to basics’ or whatever you call it, I think anyone who challenges what’s going on deserves our attention. Let’s not forget these are manners of speech. We are all talking, I hope, about identifying what is worth learning and how it will get learned (taught, or discovered if you buy into that). A friend is developing basic mathematics apps for smartphones/tablets, so you might identify that as progressive? It very much involves rote learning, and it appears to work. I don’t at all care for this movement into total screen culture, but if that’s what students are doing with their brains and eyeballs then I suppose that’s where they’ll be learning. Until the grid fails.

    Incidentally, and to be a troll, I think the opening line in response to Andrew (both times, Chris) comes across like someone who knows the protocol for being gracious and respectful of others’ views. But protocol and sincerity are hardly synonyms. And as fun as the little creatures are (gravatars or whatever), the result is, the author ‘appears’ as a dynamic human while the rest of us are cartoons. Not a great strategy, in my opinion.

    I greatly appreciate the opportunity you’ve provided to express these views :>

    1. Emik,

      My apologies for attempting to be respectful of others opinions. I suppose I could begin each reply by telling people how foolish they are to disagree with me and how wrong it is that they have an alternate view. Except a) they are not foolish to disagree, and b) alternative views are important. I’m not sure why you see a respectful approach to dialog with others as lacking sincerity… unless of course you really are just trying to be a troll.

      As far as the little creature Gravatars are, it’s just how WordPress works. If you don’t want to be a cartoon gravatar, go to WordPress.com and set up an account with a photo and then sign in to my site with your WordPress account when you leave comments. If your implication was that I’m trying use a “strategy” to make other commenters seem somehow less like “dynamic humans”… that’s just stupid.

      You’re absolutely entitled to your opinions, but perhaps you’ll have a different perspective once you’ve spent some time in an actual classroom.

      1. Chris, the sarcastic apology nicely illustrates my point. I came across this blog entry and I’m calling you on it. Read your own post and tell me how respectful you are of, for example, a government you clearly disagree with. Nice image you’ve posted there. And that’s fine, I just don’t see the point in duplicity. I am reading a combative tone and I’m game for that evidently. I do not have a privileged perspective, but when I said I am not a classroom teacher I did not say I have not spent time in the classroom. In fact, I continue to spend time in a K-3 classroom each and every week.

        I also see what’s going on once these students are ‘released’ to post-secondary. They often cannot express themselves in intelligible sentences. They often cannot formulate coherent arguments. I am seeing their emails and I am reading their assignments.

        What I see is a public system in Canada that is ill-positioned to face the next century, and I’d wager Australia’s circumstances are not entirely dissimilar. Leaving aside my disagreeable tone for a moment, here is a question for you: 100 years ago in Canada, as I suspect was the case in Australia, many children would gather in a single-room schoolhouse for daily lessons. Typically, grades 1-8 would assemble under the care of a single school teacher, often with the assistance of the older students. Would it be fair to say that the value of these lessons were fairly clear to many of the students, and if not the students, to many of their parents? I wonder about the perceived value of education now. Do people even know what they have? Because if something is not valued, I don’t see how any strategies can accommodate. These indicators are prominent in many other areas, and voter turn-out would be another perspective to examine. So what are students learning now, what have they been learning over the past 20 to 30 years, and to what extent can we see the results in society?

        I also have some familiarity with Word Press. In my opinion, if your blog is about pop culture observations then the gravatars are perfectly appropriate. But you are writing opinions about significant issues relating to education, and I assume you welcome readers and those who’d respond to your views. This is one opinion and not a hill to die on, but I don’t care for the psychology where the author is the ‘real’ voice and those who respond are weird cartoon monsters. Perhaps not a single person besides me would even care, it’s just an observation. You can toggle that setting in Word Press.

        It’s good to be challenged. Everything I’ve posted may well be asinine and sheerly contrarian. The only thing worse would be total agreement on everything, no? Best wishes from Canada.

        1. That depends Emik. Being contrarian is useful if it helps further a discussion and force both sides to evaluate their own views and further refine them. But being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian is just a waste of everyone’s time. ( and to be honest, your nitpicking about perceived sarcasm or the way WordPress avatars work seems to me to be in that category)

          That said, you’ve raised some really interesting issues about your perspective on what you feel is an wrong-headed approach to education, and you’re perfectly entitled to those views, many of which I agree with about. I think whatever differences of opinion we hold on this topic are more minor that you might believe.

          The way you describe it, it sounds like your interpretation of child centered learning is an education without any rigour, without any explicit teaching, without any adult supervision… nothing could be further from the truth, at least not the way I see it. Making an education child centric is about offering choices, providing options, allowing exploration, etc, but all the while being very clear about expectations and learning outcomes. Moving away from didicatic learning is not about lowering standards, it’s about entering into a more equal relationship with your learners so that they have more skin in the game. I have high expectations of my students, but I want to convey those expectations with questions, not statements. I want them to learn for themselves, and I also want to teach them as needed, but I want to be wise enough to know when each approach is the right one. Making education less didactic does not mean we stand around holding hands and singing kumbaya and hoping that knowledge just seeps into their heads through some unknowable osmotic process. It just means we approach our learners on an equal footing and try to make the learning process fit them, not the other way around.

          The argument over teacher focused vs student focused learning is not an either/or proposition. You CAN have both.

          My problems with Christopher Pyne is that his “solution” to fixing education is about moving backwards. There is much about traditional learning that works, and I’m not proposing that we dump it all. But we need to make progress by keeping those things that work and extending them with approaches that make sense for today’s learners. Simply declaring the whole system to be broken and thinking that a move back to the way we used to do things is not a good answer. And that’s what he is proposing.

          There is also a significant cultural aspect to this that would be mostly overlooked to anyone outside of the Australian political landscape. The people he has enlisted to review the process are cronies of his. He is stacking the deck so that he gets the answers he wants. It also overlooks the massive investments of time and energy spent in getting to the point we are currently at with curriculum reform. It overlooks the infighting between the right and the left of Australian politics. Just like I might not understand the nuances of how Canadian politics and personalities might influence decisions made in your country, I think it’s fair to assume that you probably don’t understand those same things here. There is a history of decisions here that are playing out on both sides of the Australian political spectrum that make my comments on this issue perhaps a little more nuanced than might be obvious to an outsider. I mean, I think Rob Ford is an idiot, but clearly there are people in Toronto who keep voting him in.

          It’s not that I’m worried about you having a dissenting view, far from it. It’s just that you’ve managed to be such a pratt about expressing it.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?