Teaching Portfolio

The Deakin University Master of Teaching (Primary and Secondary) is a two year degree (16 credit points) with 80 days of supervised professional experience, 35 days in a primary school and 45 days in a secondary school.

Placement One (10 days)

Dates: 20/7/20-31/7/20
Year level: 5/6
Class size: 23 students
Location: Foothills of the Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
School sector: R-7, Government.
School profile: 141 Students (4% Indigenous, 5% LOTE), 18 teaching staff.
ICSEA value: 1019 (just above average).

Summary: One of the clear highlights of the placement for me was the ‘community’ feel of a small school and the bushland setting, at the foot of a significant reserve of the Adelaide Hills called Anstey Hill. There was also a ‘nature play area’ which the younger students especially took advantage of. It was fun to see them playing in the mud, having stick fights, climbing trees and creating ‘shelters’ at recess and lunch.

Placement Two (25 days)

Dates: 12/10/2020 – 13/11/2020
Year Level: 3/4
Class size: 23 students
Location: Foothills of the Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
School sector: R-7, Government.
School profile: 141 Students (4% Indigenous, 5% LOTE), 18 teaching staff.
ICSEA value: 1019 (just above average).

Summary: I was extremely fortunate in this placement to have many opportunities to plan and deliver lesson sequences in literacy (Persuasive Texts), Numeracy (Geometry) and Art to a bright and vibrant group of Year 3/4s. Under the guidance of two mentor teachers I was able to observe lessons and receive feedback on my own in order to improve my teaching practice over my time there. I came to realise that my strengths in teaching are my curiosity in learning about students and my ability to engage students with enthusiasm. I am still developing skills in effective classroom management, balancing creating a learning environment which is both engaging and challenging whilst also maintaining order and catering to all students.

AITSL Standards

All blog posts are tagged by the standards, either with a number or with a hash tag such as #knowstudents, as well as other tags relating to pedagogy.

Standard 1: Know students and how they learn.

My first year placements were at the same school, given the circumstances of COVID-19. In my first placement I worked with Year 5/6s and in the second I worked with Year 3/4s. This has both advantages and disadvantages. In the Year 5/6 class there were a number of students with complex emotional needs (ASD, ADHD, dyslexia and students with behavioural challenges), which meant routine and setting demands which were not overwhelming was extremely important. In the Year 3/4 class, the students had a broad range of academic abilities, ranging from one with Global Developmental Delay (GDD) who was working at a pre-foundation level on their own learning plan, another student who was working at a Year 1/2 level due to missing significant periods of school, a handful of students working far above the class (two at approximately a Year 7 level and four at a Year 5 level) and three students who only come to school part-time and so are always behind.

In both classes, one with exceptional emotion needs and the other academic, it was absolutely integral to understand and know each and every student. Due to the relatively small number of students in the class I had ample opportunity to get to know the students individually, learning about their families, interests outside of school and strengths and weaknesses in school. I observed how Year 5/6s differ from younger students in that they are far more social, with more interest in each other and friendships than in previous years and how this affects their learning. I talked with my mentor teacher about what learning ‘looks like’ and how this will change as children develop (i.e. quietly working individually on tasks vs. engaging in lively discussion in groups as they get older).

Day-to-day the factors identified above have a different influence on the energy of the classroom, sometimes to a significant degree (i.e. disruptive behaviour) and sometimes to a small degree (i.e. student not participating in class), however, I have to be prepared for any and all occurrences with appropriate strategies. This is easier to do when I know the students well beyond their ‘factors’, to know who lives at home, what they like having for lunch, what sport they play or who they are friends with in class, for instance. Knowing my students well means that I can create engaging lessons based on their interests (which often immediately removes disruptive behaviour resulting from boredom), can help the students to feel empowered by allowing them to demonstrate their ‘funds of knowledge’ to the class, and have a significant advantage in understanding which of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ is lacking.

Standard 2: Know the content and how to teach it.

In my first placement I was able to run a 2 hour unit split over two lessons – with assistance from the mentor teacher – about Mobile Tiny Homes. The curriculum involved maths, technology and design, art and IT. At the time I had just built my own mobile tiny home and so could physically take them through my ‘home’ to inspire and provide authentic meaning to the lesson.

In my second placement I was able to create a curriculum based on the theme of ‘patterns’ which was interlinked through maths, art, english and dance, which also involved the planning of an excursion to a local State Park at the conclusion of the sequence.

All unit sequences I created were guided by a combination of ‘The 5 E’s (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate), the Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework (explicit/modelled, shared learning, collaborative learning and independent), High Impact Teaching Strategies, Bringing it To Life (BitL: fluency, understanding, reasoning and problem solving in maths) and the SOLO taxonomy (pre-structural, uni-structural, multi-structural, relational and extended abstract), as well as the Van Hiele Levels of geometric thinking (for maths).

By designing a curriculum which incorporated many modes of learning (video, drawing, writing, manipulatives, outside activities, Ipads), I was able to provide varied contexts for students with different strengths to access the learnings and achieve the content descriptions. I found that by removing the overarching classification of lesson (i.e. maths, art, English, HASS) I was able to remove a barrier to some students learning, which is the perception that ‘they just aren’t good at it’. Dissolving these boundaries, I have found is an essential teaching approach to improving the student’s perceptions of their abilities – you cannot have a fixed mindset about something you can’t easily define!

Standard 3: Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning.

At my placements I participated in lesson planning, formative assessment as well as reflection after the lessons with the supervising teacher.

In my first placement I observed how the teacher accommodated students with a wide range of abilities in each activity, by both setting different tasks as well as lowering or raising expectations (i.e. not expecting all students to be able to write in paragraphs, capitalise appropriately or spell all words correctly, but expecting all to engage with the task with a positive can-do attitude) and scaffolding learning individually ad-hoc as he noticed students might be struggling or finding a task too easy.

In my second placement the student abilities in my Year 3/4 class were most diverse in numeracy, with students operating at a Foundation up to potentially Year 6/7 level (according to PAT test data). This meant that I had to be prepared every maths lesson with a substantive task (20 minutes plus) that had multiple entry levels, enabling prompts for the students working towards the standard and extension activities for the high achieving students. For the early finishing students, this would sometimes take the form of a work-sheet (when I needed them to be self-sufficient because I was actively working with a group), a series of probing and extending questions (what if, where else, could you, etc.), or a completely separate activity applying the same concepts in a different context (if the rest of the class was sufficiently challenged with the first task). This process required me to really know the students – well enough that I could predict how quickly they would complete the task, what some students would struggle with and how I would enable their learning, as well as what sort of task the extension students would find sufficiently motivating to complete on their own.

The lesson structure – especially for maths – often followed a launch/explore/discuss model (Russo, 2020) and was premised on the idea that students learn best when provided with opportunities to struggle.

  1. Launch: the teacher reads the problem to the students and whilst he will ask clarifying questions, he doesn’t give them any clues of how to solve it.
  2. Explore: The students work independently for 5-10 minutes to solve the problem. Some students struggle a lot during this time and it is very tempting to help, but important that you do not. After 10 minutes of the majority of the class were still struggling, or were completing the task using an inefficient method, the teacher would head back to the whiteboard and give an enabling prompt. Importantly the teacher would make his way constantly around the room watching the students and in writing remarks in the margins of students workbooks.
  3. Discuss: For the last 15 minutes of the lesson the teacher would bring the students to the mat with their work and selectively ask students to share their methods. He would use this time to build up to the very best method of figuring out the problem, scaffolding the students understanding.

Standard 4: Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments.

It is important to create an environment where children feel included and accepted in the classroom community, whether it be their religion, culture or the diversity of their family structure (divorced parents, LGBTQI parents, etc.). A child who feels as though they do not belong will invest a huge amount of energy in managing their anxiety which will not allow effective learning to take place. What this looks like is being curious about the students in your class, meeting their families and understanding their ‘outside of school’ spheres. Because of their home environments, some students will need more love and affirmation than other students. I think that by sharing stories from your own diverse life and experiences you can build a bond of trust where sharing without fear of judgement becomes the norm.

Throughout my placement in the Year 5/6 class I actively worked towards increasing the student’s comfort of being in ‘the learning pit’. By the end of the placement I was prefacing every lesson with a reminder that the lesson is challenging, it is supposed to be, there is no right way of doing it, we do it at our own pace, maths is supposed to be slow and not fast – we will discuss how we figured it out at the end of  the lesson together. I also introduced pop-sticks with student’s names on them as a method of asking questions early-on in my placement. Asking questions of the class at the beginning of the placement, I would always get the same 5 students answering questions and it is difficult to develop a learning journey in a class discussion if a student says the answer straight away not because they just learnt it, but because they had prior knowledge of it. By ‘cold calling’ students I ensured that they were paying attention to me, to each other, and were always actively thinking of at least something to contribute. This also meant I would get a ‘not quite right’ answer I could build on and seek contributions from other students. This ensured that even the students operating at a lower level could participate and understand the class discussion, rather than stare at the ceiling and then feel completely lost once back at their desks.

On my placements, I was able to interact with numerous School Support Officers (SSO), realising just how invaluable their presence in a classroom can be as well as the wonderful one-on-one work they did with the students (with one even using ‘dungeons and dragons’ as a vehicle to explore emotional resilience!).

Standard 5: Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning.

Assessment should be embedded in every stage of the planning cycle, and can be just as informative to teachers as it is to students. This can best be achieved using a constructively aligned planning process (described below) as demonstrated in Readman and Allen (2013).

Assessments were intentionally planned at regular intervals throughout the lesson sequences to allow me to assess student progress. In the first week I took care to look through each students work books, allowing me to gain a ‘benchmark’ of where each student should be working so that I could tailor my feedback to their level in my assessment tasks. Each new topic began with a diagnostic task so that I could adequately plan the unit to meet the learning needs of the students, followed by a formative assessment piece which provided me with the appropriate information to track their progress in regards to the learning intention and a summative assessment piece (math game, artistic work, individually written persuasive text). I also regularly marked the students work, placing their books into two piles: the ‘I get it’ and the ‘I don’t get it’. I would then make a list of the students in the ‘I don’t get it’ pile and utilize the student-run morning session (brain starter, spelling, daily 5) to work one-on-one with them to ensure that they keep up with the class.

Before I actually went on placement, I thought that learning intentions and success criteria were silly. Why did they need to know what they needed to learn before learning it? Isn’t that the joy of discovery? No is the definitive answer to that question. Not knowing what the end purpose of a lesson is gives students anxiety, both the high achievers who are left wondering how to ‘high achieve’ and those who are working towards the level who are thinking, ‘have I done enough? Am I smart enough yet?’ or something along those lines.

In my Year 3/4 placement I set up an area in the classroom with the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy, which describes a learner’s progress from ‘surface-level knowledge through to a deep, contextual understanding’. It graduates stages from no idea, through one idea, many ideas, connecting ideas and reviewing and linking ideas. I utilised this in the classroom to help me understand if there was a gap between my perception of how much knowledge the students had on a topic and how much they thought they had learnt. I began each unit of work with a diagnostic task. In one example, from the diagnostic task on Geometry I did not expect as many students as there were to place their names in ‘relational or connecting ideas’. By the end of the unit, few of these names had moved and many students noted in their weekly reflections how they had learnt about the connections between different aspects of geometry. I can only conclude that they underestimated how much there was to learn about shapes and geometrical reasoning!

In my Masters degree I had the opportunity to use the ‘Mathematics Assessment Interview’ to inform teaching for three students in Year 1, 2 and 4. I was also able to carry out a funds of knowledge and reading interests interview (Fellows and Oakley 2019), reading behaviours assessment (Fountas and Pinnell 2010) and writing interests interview and assessment in order to assess reading level and to inform teaching of a Year 1 student.

Standard 6: Engage in professional learning.

I have always had a great love of learning, it is the main reason I began learning teaching in the first place!

I have a Working With Children Check in place for both South Australia and Victoria and because of this engaged in the ‘Responding to Abuse and Neglect’ course online in June 2020.

  • September 2020: 2020 Early Careers Teachers Conference in South Australia. I learnt a great deal about the success of schools in running project-based maths and science in Year 8/9 classes. Specifically, a unit on space and space travel and a unit on tiny homes (design, science, maths, etc.).
  • Summer 2020/21: Sustainable Living Certificate Course Online. I did this course because I’d eventually love to set-up/run a school garden with chickens and worm farms and vegetables and maybe even a kitchen (such as Stephanie Alexander).

Standard 7: Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community.

In my first placement I was able to meet many of the parents of the children in the class and observed how the teacher interacted professionally with them. It is important to be in regular contact and on good terms with parents especially if there is a management plan in place (for those with ASD or behavioural issues, for instance). The conversations with parents gave me another dimension of understanding to the funds of knowledge the students may have brought to the classroom (i.e. family really loves cooking or camping or has a strong interest in sustainability).  

I was not able to interact with parents at all in my second placement due to COVID rules.