14 December 2016

My Experience of Writing a Research Paper

Earlier this year I enrolled in a post-graduate course to learn how to conduct and write a research report adhering to academic standards. I was really keen to get started, thinking my background as an educator, journalist and creative writer would help me excel and produce valuable findings to enhance aspects of teacher education.

I used to see myself as the Little Red Engine That Could when it came to studying, but since I choofed into the unknown land of Academia, just the words little and red best describe how I feel. I'm tired, frustrated and more confused about what I set out to achieve than the day I started. This article might resonate with those who’ve completed research papers in the past, or better prepare those considering to extend their studies to complete a Masters or post-graduate certificate.

1. Your opinions and experience mean nothing. Until you are a somebody, you are a nobody, which means your account of events are considered unreliable or even worse, untrustworthy. You need to find lots of ‘somebodies’ to prove to yourself, and judgemental others your ideas are worth putting on paper. Even common, reasonable statements like ‘banana skins are yellow’ need to be approved by professors specialising in scientific fields of banana colour recognition. Claiming your eyes as a reference is an absolute no-no.   

2. This leads to my second point—the more ‘expert’ opinions you read, the more inexpert you deem yourself to be. People generally commit to research projects because they’ve already racked up significant findings from a little thing called ‘life experience’. However, as you start to place great importance on what others in the past have said, your own beliefs and versions of events become diluted. Your ideas, your confidence and your ability to think and communicate clearly diminishes, as you start to wonder whether you dreamt up the issue you once so clearly lived and described with conviction. Ideas that started out crisp and sharp end up whirling around inside your head like grass-stained socks in a washing machine; they struggle to be salvaged or revitalised enough to be hung out for public inspection.

3. As you start to question your beliefs and whether you’re the man or woman for the job, so to do those who used to provide timely ‘yeahs!’ as you vented your frustrations and shared your ambitiously wild plans to make good in the world. Some days when asked what my research paper is about, I say I don’t know because I can’t even differentiate my own beliefs from the several hundred others I’ve taken into account. My research relates to effective communicate, which makes it all the more deflating when I can’t string a sentence together to share all the interesting stuff I’ve learnt.

4. Submitting your research paper to experts in the same field is like throwing a deer carcass to a wolf pack. Most professors lovvvvvvve revealing flaws in your arguments so they can make ‘suggestions’ to improve validity (aka tell you what you definitely must do or else you will forever be utterly wrong!!!) They try disguise their authoritative narcissistic behaviour (which they learnt from older generations during their cub days) as a gift to you and the poor unsuspecting public who may happen to read your misleading claims. Perhaps the worst part for a new researcher, is that academics almost always disagree on the most appropriate method/conclusion/action, meaning most of the advice offered contradicts the views of the very next person to get involved.

5. The common saying goes “less talk, more action”, but when it comes to academic research, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, action is spurred on by valuable research—once methods have been decided, data has been collected, deliberated on, avoided, revisited for further deliberation, written up, erased and rewritten, critiqued, cried over, critiqued some more, and eventually broadcasted out over the world wide web. It seems like so much unnecessary talk takes precedence over action in the world of academia, meaning that if change occurs as a result, it does so at snail’s pace. I think this puts society at a huge disadvantage, as some of the greatest minds are left to natter in libraries and coffee shops while others (with less to offer) go out and change the world.

I don’t expect many academics to agree with the points I’ve made. And in this case, I don’t give a damn.

29 November 2016

Make Your Own Meaning of Life: A Simple Reminder

How you choose to interpret these three words is entirely up to you! 

Study these two images. The text appears exactly the same in each, yet the images highlight opposite views. One would make you think the poster (on social media) is bitterly disappointed with life- that nothing in life brings happiness. Contrarily, the lighter image sends a more cryptic message to the viewer. The image shows a girl swimming freely in the depths of vibrant blue water. "Surely she is happy?” thinks the viewer, but they can’t figure out how the text pairs with the image. That’s because we fear nothingness. How could nothing equal happiness? 

If we look hard enough, we can see faults in everything and everyone. If we rely on nothing, NOTHING = HAPPINESS 

I try to identify the positive message in online content as often as possible. However, some days I default to what most of us have been conditioned to believe – that life should be hard. 

Keep yourself in check and try to read the positive messages more often! 

13 October 2016

Effective Communication is Paramount in Teaching and Learning

Changing tact as teachers

The typical Australian classroom represents our globalised world, enriched with students of diverse backgrounds and cultures. This being the case, there will never be one single method of communication to suit all learners and situations. However, teachers can be educated to become ‘adaptive experts’ in communication, which will assist them in gaining students’ trust and help develop positive relationships. Teachers must continually strive to learn the complex makeup of each student - this includes recognising their beliefs, interests and motivations towards learning. Teachers can tailor daily lessons and interactions to make the learning experience more enjoyable and meaningful.

‘Casey dances to a different drummer’. This is how the deputy principal of my high school justified my unruly classroom behaviour to my parents and teachers. Most educational institutions function by enlisting drummers (teachers) who play rhythms (deliver content) according to their own musical preferences and experience. This can be problematic if the dancer (learner) feels uninspired or has difficulty finding ways to join in. Having spent over two decades of my life learning under these conditions, I know how dramatically this can impact on one’s self-identity and whole attitude towards learning.

As we live in a rapidly evolving, globalised, digital world, the reality is that there will never be one single method of effective communication for all students or situations. Australia’s classrooms are enriched with culturally diverse students, meaning teachers must consciously use a broad range of communication strategies during each lesson. Additionally, they need to be able to recognise how their choice of strategy can significantly impact upon student learning outcomes.

Uncovering the anchors within each student

Learning new information involves some form of communication. How well this communication is received depends on what the learner already knows. What is known or believed to be true, acts as an anchor for the learner to process and make sense of the new information. If teachers can uncover these anchors by getting to know their students, they can select appropriate strategies to support them while they make connections. This widely adapted concept spans from a constructivist viewpoint and is commonly referred to as scaffolding.

A study by The National Research Council (1999) used the term ‘adaptive expert’ to describe the sophisticated communication skills required of a modern day teacher. This concept has many layers, however, put most simply, means the most effective teachers seek to understand the complex nature of each student so they can adapt their interactions to make each lesson relevant and enjoyable for all.

How are teachers strengthening their communication skills?

I am about to undergo research to investigate how initial teacher education programs (most commonly delivered by universities as undergraduate degrees) educate preservice teachers to identify and adapt to the subtle and complex communication preferences of their students. My hunch is that course providers largely assume that teachers develop the ability to effectively communicate simply by attending lectures and placements in schools. Isn’t it bizarre how teachers still attend lectures, yet are told not to lecture the students they will end up teaching?  

I’ll be asking questions that aim to reveal the learning opportunities currently provided for preservice teachers, specifically seeking to understand:
a) how they learn a range of communication strategies
b) how they practice these strategies; and
c) how they are assessed and provided feedback on their ability to use these strategies.

Several studies have been undertaken to determine teachers’ effectiveness towards establishing positive relationships with students. These studies have found that teachers require greater training to build trust and closeness. John Hattie, chairman of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) recently remarked “it is strange just how few of those centrally involved in teaching others know about the interpersonal and psychological processes that underscore successful learning”. I know Hattie is not alone in saying this, as myself and colleagues regularly discuss how little the topic of communication is addressed in professional development. Sadly, I believe the general public would be alarmed if they saw how numerous teachers still operate their classroom and interact with students and parents.

Where we need to head with education

The overall purpose driving my study relates to the role teachers choose to adopt within the classroom. Despite having access to rich online resources, most teachers I have worked with or learnt from still default to a traditional teaching role- as the primary provider of content-based knowledge. Having taught in several school settings- including primary, secondary, government, private, national (Melbourne and remote Northern Territory) and international (Japan), I am surprised that most daily lessons do not make effective use of modern technology. If teachers shift their time and focus toward building strong relationships, they can learn how to motivate their students to commence self-initiated inquiries. In becoming a facilitator of learning, teachers can transition from delivering content to teaching students how to develop a love of learning. A great example of where this is already happening is High Tech High in San Diego, USA.   

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