Gaming, ethics and the new responsibility of parents

A week or so ago I wrote a series of tweets about my seven year-old playing the video game, Assassin’s Creed. I was tweeting about how much I enjoyed sitting with him whilst he played. I’m not a gamer, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I probably never will be. But just cos I’m not a gamer doesn’t mean I know nothing about gaming. I’ll get back to this point in a little bit. My tweets prompted a response from a very savvy and generous educator who I have much time for, Andrew Miller. He was keen to chat further about my thoughts on gaming and how I engage with games as a mum and a teacher. As a consequence, I sent an email to Andrew and promised him a follow-up blog post. Below is the email I sent to Andrew and then my further reflections on this issue … one I am thinking much more seriously about as my two sons develop a greater love of video games and the world of gaming. 

Hi Andrew,

I haven’t got much for you except to recount the experience I had with Balin, my seven year old.

He loves to play video games and was happily playing Assassin’s Creed whilst I sat on the lounge with him writing chapters for a book on spelling, lol. He always gets so excited about playing and loves to ask me to watch things he can do. I love watching the cut scenes which he says are boring – haha. I like to ask him questions about his actions whilst he plays to check that he is comprehending the cause and effect of actions in the game – especially violent ones. He was telling me that the guards were bad guys and I asked why. He told me they were protecting a bad king who was stealing children and trying to destroy an innocent land. We chatted about guards in ‘our world’ and if they were good guys or bad guys. He could tell me a lot about corruption and abuse of power – even if not in those words. I think the game he’s playing might shock some parents because it is violent, I think they would ‘ban’ the games but that isn’t the right course of action in my opinion because the young people miss out on some super important real world knowledge and skills. Balin was saying before, ‘They’re running away from me because they think I’m bad but I haven’t done anything wrong’. I asked him why they might think he is bad, and he said, ‘Because I am an assassin from another country’ and I said, ‘How do they know this?’ he could tell me it was because of the way he dressed and behaved – his character also has a different accent. This was a great way to start talking about prejudice based on appearance etc. I hate violence and some of the actions make me sick to hear the sounds but I don’t stop him playing – I just talk to him about the behaviours and how they might differ in our real world.

Pretty valuable opportunity to discuss ethics. From a video game. How many parents sit and talk about the morality of people’s actions in films that they are watching as a family? Probably not as often. I think teachers could easily bring video games into the classroom as an opportunity to discussion decision-making and morality.

There is always a lot of talk about violence in popular culture. We know that violence is nothing new – it has always been part of the human experience and no doubt always will be. What seems to upset some is that this violence is now exposed daily to our children in their ‘virtual play’ through video games, online, television and films. People seem to forget that our perception of ‘the child’ has been reshaped dramatically since the 18th century thanks to those wonderful advocates of childhood, William Blake and Charles Dickins. We have a very clinical, almost anesthetised view of the child – their innocence is a given and we assume that there is a level of ‘purity’ which young people must retain until it is socially acceptable to ‘break out’ – around about 15 or 16 is acceptable for most people. But I think innocence and purity have been misconstrued and we now actually see children as impressionable, vulnerable, weak, needing guidance and protection. What an epic fail! Kids are resilient, clever, creative, witty, strategic thinkers and epic problem solvers. Conflict is central to human experience. If we spend all of our childhood having adults ‘conflict avoid’ on our behalf, how will we learn to be understanding, empathetic, critical and resilient adults?

I used to worry about my boys playing video games that were too violent. I even had a mini-meltdown when Balin was playing Skyrim and had the responsibility of deciding whether to assassinate a villager or spare his life. It distressed me greatly that my 7 year old was making these decisions without me there to talk it through with him. And there is the clincher! Parents have a massive responsibility to co-game with their kids. It doesn’t need to be immersive co-gaming – although this would be (and is) a fun and rewarding experience for both parents and children – but can be as simple as sitting with your child whilst they game and chat about what’s happening. Why did they make the decision to kill that thing or person? What is their character’s place within the wider game world? Who are their enemies and allies? Why? Why are there more male characters than female? Are children powerful or powerless in the game world?

Like I said in my email to Andrew, lots of parents allow their kids to watch films that have violence and fail to engage in any discussion about the causes and consequences of the behaviour of the protagonist/antagonist. I guess the same can be said for music videos in which women are all too frequently represented in an appalling, over-sexualised way. Do parents use these texts as an opportunity to discuss the valuing of women, power, gender stereotypes? Probably not. I know it sounds ridiculously geeky, but shouldn’t we be engaging our children in discussions about appropriate behaviour, right and wrong, social expectations, individuality … and more?

Of course, this also opens up the discussion about the new responsibilities of teachers. If our students are spending an increasing amount of their time (at home and at school) playing games, shouldn’t we feel obliged to engage with this form as well? We must concede that many parents will not engage with their children’s gaming. They may lack time or inclination. Surely this presents a need that teachers today must address? There is something really special about conversing with young people about the games they are playing. You should try it some time … even if you don’t play the game, get ’em to explain it to you and make it your responsibility to ask questions that force them to think deeply about their gaming experiences. Maybe.

Video games are here to stay. They bring with them wonderful learning opportunities for your kids and for you as a parent. They also bring new parental responsibilities. If you’re willing to spend 50 or 70 bucks on a video game for your kid, do them a favour and spend some quality time with them learning how it works, watching them navigate the game world, the characters, the conflict … help them make the best decisions or at least think about the decisions they are making and why they are making them. Have fun with your children, laugh at their mistakes and cheer at their successes. I don’t game … I find it insanely frustrating and I spend too much time complaining … but I do know a fair bit about video games. How? My children taught me.


Habits of Mind and PBL

Last week the focus of #ozengchat was ‘critical thinking’. I couldn’t participate in all of the chat (I was out walking my dogs in the dark, and yes – that did end up with poop on my shoes) but I did tweet out a few strategies/tools that I use in my PBL classroom to facilitate critical thinking. I suppose I could have been a brat and just said ‘PBL = critical thinking’ and left it at that. But that’d be a bit mean, huh? So the three things that I did contribute were this:

1. The KWL table. Every teacher has heard of this. Maybe you haven’t used one in a class, but you know what one is. My students use a KWL table at least once a week. Our projects are structured around them. What do I mean? Well the very first thing my students to when they are introduced to a new project is to determine ‘What I Know’ (this is testing for prior-knowledge to ensure we don’t repeat stuff unnecessarily), then after reading the project outline they ask ‘What do I Want to Know’. We usually play a fun game called ‘Speed KWLing’ that I made up. (I explain it at point 3 in this post here). At the end of the project students reflect on ‘What I Learned’ during the project. Of course, I often use this structure for each stage of a project too – that means students complete a minimum of THREE KWL tables for each project – one for the investigation, one for the product and one for the presentation.

2. Geoff Petty’s goals/medals/missions checklist. This is an idea that I discovered whilst researching for my Draft Research Proposal. I read Geoff Petty’s famous book Evidence Based Teaching and was really keen on this idea of structuring learning experiences using the Goals/Medals/Mission system. You can read about it here. I have my students set their learning goals at the beginning of each lesson and then they reflect on their learning at the end by giving themselves ‘medals’ and ‘missions’. I have embedded this structure into assessment handouts as well because I think it’s super important to give students a checklist of what is expected of them for each product. You can see some of the checklists I’ve created here and Petty has sample feedback proformas on his site here. Of course, we need to keep in mind that flexibility for creative interpretation of a task is needed.

3. Habits of Mind(HOM). When I was at ISTE last year one of the keynote speakers was Stephen Covey. If you don’t know who he is, you probably have heard of his book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ – I hear it was a big seller in the 1990s, lolz. Well you may not know, but he recently wrote a book about education The Leader in Me—How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time. This was the focus of his keynote and it really was inspiring. It made me think about how I use Art Costa’s 16 Habits of Mind for the same purpose – to get students to think about their thinking! Having a good understanding of how you can control your own habits of mind is super important for students as they participate in project-learning experiences. For success in PBL students need to be fully conscious of their learning behaviours and how their habits of mind can hinder or help them succeed in the project. In my school my HT has chosen four of Costa’s 16 HOM to have our students focus on this term. I refer to these each lesson and students are starting to understand how something like ‘Listening with Empathy’ is important to master if you are going to be a great audience member, peer-assessor or speaker.

Cory MacDonald (@MrCoryMac) is a teacher from Newcastle who popped up on my twitter radar a few months back. He’s a man of mystery because he doesn’t tweet much and isn’t bothered about following too many people – he wants twitter to be useful and manageable and totally respect that. Cory came to my attention when he tweeted me his blog post about learning spaces – he had adapted some of the ideas I had posted here to make them work for him and his students. I must confess I am super envious of his space, it is just epic. So it’s not just the learning spaces that he has put to work, Cory has also adapted my use of edmodo, classDojo and Habits of Mind. To be honest, Cory has taken my ‘meh’ ideas and transformed them into complete, workable and beautiful ideas. His blog is like a secret treasure trove of AWESUM and I recommend you all read the posts he has written this year here.

The things I got the most excited about was Cory’s most recent post about learning management (I hate the expression ‘classroom management’ – for me ‘management’ is all about managing the projects well and using strong structures to enhance the potential for students’ success). You can read his post here.  My favourite quote is ‘Structure is about consistency not uniformity‘. This is very true! What I also love is how his focus is on personalising reward-systems to motivate students to develop better Habits of Mind. Just like me, he has selected a small number of Habits of Mind that his students will ‘master’ in Term 1. Like me he decided to use ClassDojo to award student points for demonstrating these positive Habits of Mind. Like me, he has linked the Dojo points to ‘awards’ that students can attain. Unlike me, he has personalised the award system to make them appealing, fun and relevant for his students. Unlike me, he has created beautiful posters that not only give visual cues for each Habit of Mind but he has also added a series of tools that students can use to ensure success at mastering this Habit of Mind. The man is a genius! I love that he has negotiated with his students the types of rewards they would like to work towards – Zombie Escape looks amazing! This is Student Voice at its best! I’m really looking forward to discussing with my students their chosen rewards – it could get crazy! I wish I could make pretty posters, I can’t. But I can set the task for my students to do it for me! Here are the first three of Cory’s Habits of Mind posters:

Please note that these posters belong entirely to him and it is super cool of him to share them with us. Please, feel free to use them in your classroom and in your school, but attribute him as the creator – attribution goes a long way in 2012!

That’s all from me – hope some of these strategies might come in handy at some point for you, even if you’re not doing PBL!

The draft NSW English K-10 Syllabus: more than a textbook

My new role at CLIC has me engaging daily with the current draft version of the new English K-10 Syllabus. After a couple of weeks of doing not much else but reading and talking about the new and changed content to the syllabus, I reckon I could call myself a bit of an expert. And as a self-proclaimed expert I just want to say this: the syllabus, just like all the others that preceded it, is NOT a textbook! It does not advocate teaching from a textbook, it does not advocate teaching from the front of the classroom, it does not advocate for worksheets and it does not advocate for teachers to use resources created by others. It is a document that is entirely focused on the student. It is a document FOR students – because guess what? They are the reason for our being.

Today I got sent an email from a publisher (not one of my publishers, of course) that invited me and my English teacher colleagues to an evening discussing the new Australian Curriculum: English and their latest series of textbooks. They forced my hand. I had to write this post. You ALL need to know this: we teachers in NSW  DO NOT teach the Australian Curriculum! We teach the syllabus of our state – the one written by the Board of Studies! Currently version two of the draft English K-10 Syllabus it is in consultation – you need to read through it and speak up! Go to a consultation event or write an email to the board if you don’t agree with something that is in the current draft. Use the links on the BOS site here to either register for a consultation or complete the survey giving your feedback on the draft. THIS is where YOU are empowered as an English teacher. You should NOT be attending meetings with publishers to discuss the Australian Curriculum – the content of the AC has been carefully embedded into the NSW Syllabus, this content is required content – we have to teach it – but it must NOT be decontextualised.

I really am worried about English teachers rushing out to buy an armful of resources that have been published hastily in response to the Australian Curriculum: English without any engagement with the state Syllabus. This is dangerous, indeed. Who wants their own children (and by that I mean the children you were responsible for bringing into the world) to be sat down in front of a textbook and/or whiteboard (interactive or not, I don’t give a shit) and ‘taught’ the ‘basics’ of grammar, spelling, complex punctuation, word origins and the consolidation of handwriting? No one! But guess what will happen if we desperately snatch up the latest textbook or teacher-manual from the bookshop shelves? You will have your child (yeah, the one with the big smile and the inquiring mind, the one who loves to be challenged by science fiction films and video games, the one who spends half a day burning bugs with a magnifying class or dancing in the sun to no music, yeah – that child) sitting in front of a textbook and/or whiteboard and being ‘taught’ the ‘basics’ of grammar, spelling, complex punctuation, word origins and the consolidation of handwriting. Why? Because that’s the stuff that these writers will pull out of the Australian Curriculum: English. That’s the stuff we English teachers are being sold as the new way to teach English because it is ‘in the curriculum’. Those things are in there, but they don’t make up the bulk of the document. There are so many wonderful new opportunities being presented to use English teachers with the introduction of this new syllabus. So please, look to the Syllabus and think how you can make some cool stuff for your students. Don’t rely on a textbook. By all means, buy them cos nearly all writers have some gems to share with their readers. Just don’t believe the hype that we will be teaching just the Australian Curriculum: English and don’t believe the hype that it’s all about grammar, spelling and punctuation taught in a decontextualised way. It’s not.

NOTE: I am a published author of a number of Excel books. My books are on NAPLAN (yup, that evil test) and the HSC Standard English course (yup, that other evil test). I have recently completed draft chapters for another book for a different publisher that engages with aspects of the new Syllabus – however it will NOT be published until after the final version of the Syllabus has been decided upon. Most importantly, that book treats the new and changed content in the context of responding to and composing texts. This post is NOT an advertisement for my textbooks(s) nor is it an attempt to discredit the super hard work of other writers. I just want you, English teachers, to engage with the NSW English K-10 Syllabus. It really is important.


My first teachmeet #TMWR2012

Last Friday night I did something very different. I attended a TeachMeet. If you don’t know what one is, I recommend you watch this video. TeachMeets have been happening for a while now, but it’s really only be in the last twelve months that I’ve seen them happening consistently as part of my own PLN. But up until now I haven’t been motivated to attend one, which is kinda odd I guess since I spend so much time on twitter talking with my PLN about education. I guess I haven’t attended because I haven’t felt the need to go – the ideas I would share in a 7 or 2 minute presentation have been shared via this blog and via my tweets. To repeat those to the same audience strikes me as being redundant. And yes, attending would not be all about me and what I could do, but I also feel that if you attend a teachmeet, you should present at one – even if it’s for 2 minutes.

I attended Friday’s TeachMeet for two reasons: 1. I was asked by one of the organisers (Matt Esterman) to present on PBL. 2. The organisers are genuine, committed, hard-working people who were attempting to break a world record and I wanted to help them out. I could lie and say that I was motivated by the names of people presenting or by the excitement of being part of an event that big. But then I would be telling a lie and that’s not cool at all.

I had offered to present a 7 minute pechkucha on Project Based Learning and a 2 minute micro-presentation on Learning Spaces. At 12 noon on Friday I was emailed by Matt Esterman asking me if I minded presenting for 2 minutes as part of the opening ‘hello everyone’ session. I was shit scared at the prospect, but I also knew that if Matt was asking 5 hours before the event he was probably pretty desperate for someone to fill a gap. So I said yes. What did he want me to present on? Anything at all. Right. Let’s just say the following five hours were full of anxiety and doubt. I had to talk about ‘anything’ for 2 minutes in front of up to 300 people on a rainy and cold Friday night. Hmmmm.

After getting lost on our way and then frantic dialing Matt, we finally found our way to building 4 at Australia Technology Park. I must say walking through those doors and seeing Mitch Squires, Pip Cleaves, Megan Townes and Malyn Mawby was pretty neat. I didn’t stop bumping into my twitter PLN – in the flesh (no, not naked, although that would have been hilarious) for the rest of the evening. I must take this sentence to apologise for my blank stares at times, it really is hard to match faces with avatars and twitter usernames, I feel like I was rude to a number of people and seriously didn’t intend to be – the night was nothing short of overwhelming. When I finally found Matt and Simon Crook (another of the key organisers of that massive event) I was surprised to learn that my 2 minute Learning Spaces presentation had been bumped from the program – I was meant to present on Learning Spaces in front of 300 people? That wasn’t going to happen.

A glass of wine and a series of reassuring words from my English-teacher pal Mark O’Sullivan at the front of the ‘Theatre’ and I was feeling a little, tiny bit less stressed. As Ewan McIntosh spoke to us all about the origins of TeachMeet (which was actually really cool and I hope to revive pubmeets very soon), I hastily typed up an outline for my 2 minute talk and asked the guys near me to read through it and check it’d be OK. I even started smiling at someone sitting beside me whose face I recognised, only much, much later to realise it was Chris Betcher – no wonder he looked surprised and a little put off by me, lol. Anyway, here’s my notes:


Wow – three paragraphs into this post and it’s all about me, me, me. Oh, wait – that’s the point, right? This is my reflection. I walked up on stage and grabbed mic from Ewan (when he had finished speaking, of course). I hate microphones. I think I told everyone that. They are awful things. Despite my nerves and my insanely shaking hand, I managed to speak for 2 minutes. If you wanna see it, you’ll have to click on the link below and watch the Ustream that was recorded. I went 20 seconds over my allocated time – oops!

I just want to say that this really was a spontaneous talk (despite my one minute planning) and I hope I didn’t sound like too much of a git. The lovely lady who got up and presented on Google Docs after me was really amazing and she had put so much effort into preparing. The purpose of my talk was to just say, hey we should all be thinking resourcefully, embrace a ‘do it yourself’ attitude and make sure we keep our learners at the heart of everything we do. Yup, don’t stop thinking about the kids. I just wonder what the evening would have been like if we had some younger thinkers there – from the ages of 5 and up. Yeah, a logistical nightmare, but I still think it would be super cool.

My next presentation was also in the Theatre – it really is such a large space, designed for a much grander and more formal presentation than the one I was giving. Actually, filling that space was a tough gig – not filling it with people (I think there would have been 50 or so people in the audience and many, many empty seats) but filling it with your presence, your ideas, your passion, your voice. That was tough! As always I had left my preparing to the very last minute and was still tweaking my slides at 2pm that afternoon. I was happy with the images I had chosen, but really had to make up what I was saying on the spot. I wish I could find a video of what I said, I might learn something from the impromptu me – really, it feels like another person takes over your body and just blabs when you only have 20 seconds per slide to talk. Since I don’t have the video, I’ll just have to post my slides for you. Hope they make sense!

I will also share with you the slides for my Learning Spaces presentation that never was. I guess I’ll have to put my hand up for another TeachMeet so my presentation gets an audience. Lee said this one was better than my PBL one. Glad he told me that after I finished my PBL pecha kucha, lolz. Here are the slides:

 I was really stoked by the support of my PLN during my talk. It sure is an amazing feeling to sit down after a presentation and look at your twitter account to see a whole load of tweets mentioning your name and saying really nice stuff. I kept some of those tweets and I’m going to post them below. How about following the people who tweeted? I can attest that they are awesome – and not just cos they told me I was awesome, lolz.

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Oh, and this post is all about me – I know that – and I’m sorry. The next post about teachmeet will definitely be about the presentations that I saw. The people who were responsible for planning, organising and running the WORL RECORD BREAKING TeachMeet are well spoken for in this moving blog post by Simon Crook.

Build your vocabulary and improve your arguments

Below is a list of words and ideas from marking that may help students improve their writing :0)

NOTE: Even though I don’t necessarily agree with teaching writing in a piecemeal fashion, I do feel that helping students to improve their vocabulary and expression is essential … why? No, not for their exams (although that is going to help them for sure) but simply because being able to articulate your thoughts into a coherent argument is a life skill absolutely essential for young people heading into the fray with ultra conservatives hell-bent on killing the planet, or at least the human race. (Oh, and yeah – I know there’s wanky literary-type stuff in there that probably ain’t saving any tree or fish anytime soon. Bite me.)

moral order
divine retribution
preoccupation with …
new world thinker
a complete cessation of existence
immanence of death
manifests in …
moral integrity
mediatation on …
inner argument
religious reform
‘the apparel oft proclaims the man’ – Hamlet (re: Dickinson’s attire, all white)
‘Don’t you think, my lord, that Beauty accounts for more than Truth?’ (Ophelia to Hamlet)
alerting audiences to …
cultural uncertainty
traditiinal set of values
conflict with society’s expectations
disillusioned with society
shared connection with ‘universal’ (significant) concepts and experiences
importance of family in framing an individual’s well-being and idenitity
internal debates of the mind
religious tension and political turmoil
echoes the cultural anixeties of the time
rational thinking and self-exploration
…. speaks of …
embodiment of the sturggle between old and new values/ideals
imbued with
intrinisc moral code
a modern individual constrained by the views and expectations of a traditional society
archetypal metanarrative of humanity
intellectual obstacles
superlative adjective
moral imperatives
linguistic hinge
tragic consequences of freewill
selects reason over passion
places trust in the divine being
contemplative tone
tragic decision from which she cannot return
intimate poems
the audience is positioned to …
humanistic issues: love, revenge, rivalry, loyalty, politics, society
deals with basic human emotions
importance of morality in guiding one’s life
Aristotelian values
philosophical and moral questioning
clash between traditional Christianity and rising humanism
eloquent and articulate language
inner turmoil
commentator on the social, religious and philosophical inconsistencies of the era
philosophical deliberation
own moral guidelines
moral ambiguity
transcends time
sympathy for
empathy for
inversion of speech
balanced sentencing
moral superiority
human desire for forgiveness



Year 12 Advanced Module B: Pecha Kucha Assessment Task – helpers

(Below is a scaffold for my students for our HSC Module B: Critical Study of Text speaking assessment task. It could help teachers/students doing close or critical study of any text, really. More about this task – including the handout – can be found here and here.)


INTRODUCTION: directly address the key words/ideas in the essay question. Identify which essays you will be speaking about in the speech (all or a couple). Outline your thesis – this will just be what you think Orwell attempts to do with his essays (so to make it easy, just select on or two key ideas). Remember that what we want to see is that you have developed a personal, critical response to the essays … this is your ‘thesis’.

WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE ESSAYS? be specific and honest – did you like the essays? did you like Orwell’s style? His content? WHY DID YOU HAVE THIS RESPONSE? give a couple of examples from the essays to support this. THEN TELL US THAT THIS HAS EVOLVED … WHAT DO YOU THINK NOW? (this is your thesis)

(there are two ways to go about this, one where you focus
on a couple of essays, one where you focus on all the essays – for those doing TWO essays, you might want to treat each essay separately like I have with Yeats and threading the following points together as you discuss each essay.)

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT HIS CONTEXT? only talk about that which is relevant to your thesis!! Consider where he published these essays – who was his audience? WHY DID THIS HELP YOU TO UNDERSTAND HIS IDEAS/PURPOSE BETTER? make sure you link this to the essays … give evidence from the essay.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE ESSAY FORM? You might want to show off a little and say something about Michel de Monaigne and the French definition of the word ‘essai’ … tell us something briefly about the essay form – is it what you are familiar with? Why do people write essays? HOW DOES ORWELL USE THE STRUCTURE AND FEATURES OF THE ESSAY FORM TO EXPRESS HIS IDEAS? Think about why he chose to write essays and not ‘articles’ per se … why didn’t he just write poems, or plays, or novels? This must link directly to the essays you are discussing.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM READING CRITICAL RESPONSES TO THE ESSAYS OF ORWELL (OR JUST ABOUT ORWELL AS A WRITER)? You should refer to one or two critics – you really need to get to HOW this response altered your original thoughts on Orwell as a writer and thinker (as an ‘artist’) … did it make you change your way of thinking, did it challenge you to defend your original position, did it reinforce what you were already thinking about Orwell? Give examples from the critics (just a half a sentence or a sentence quote – we want YOUR ideas about Orwell, not the critic’s) and also examples from the essays to support your evolving appreciation of them.

NOW WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ORWELL AS A WRITER/THINKER/ARTIST? This is a return to the subjective frame and acknowledging the evolution of your response to his essays – might be a good idea to refer to his essays as being ‘significant’ and ‘valuable’.

NOTE: Please don’t forget that this is a SPEECH! Use your rhetorical devices – repetition, rhetorical questions, dramatic pause, strong statement, anecdotes, humour, accumulation.
Good luck! Send me your speeches for proof-reading/editing no later than 48 hours BEFORE you have chosen to present.

Academic research: is it worth it?

I started my Masters of Education (research) half-way through this year. It has been a tumultuous ride … my ideas about education, research, my future have been given a good spanking courtesy of my lecturer, my supervisor and my independent reading. I have grown as a thinker, I know that much for sure. But what will the end result be for people other than me?

I went into this post-graduate study with the dreams of researching PBL and being able to get real data that would indicate whether this pedagogy is worth the hard yards – for the students and the teachers. I wanted to have some real evidence to support or refute what I have been doing in my classroom (and banging on about on this blog) for the last 15 months. I wanted to contribute something meaningful to my profession and make an impact on how teachers teach. But you know what? After 6 months of talking, reading, writing, crying, stressing, arguing and giving in and getting on with it, I’ve discovered that the contribution I can make as a researcher is pretty damn small. And by small I mean drop in the ocean. It’s not like I thought that I’d revolutionise education by writing a 20,000 word research paper on PBL. I truly didn’t. And it’s not like I didn’t know that most education research – despite the thousands of hours of work and the absolute heartache given over to an idea – makes a very, very small difference to how teachers teach. But what hurts the most it the realisation that this Masters is only going to impact me. It’s a thing you do to get ‘qualified’ … it’s a horrible, painful process designed to test me and see if I’ve got what it takes to be a researcher and/or an academic. It’s like the HSC on steroids.

You can read the progression of my thesis proposal here. It’s morphed like crazy from a naive idea of a non-researcher to the more realistic questions of a researcher-in-training. I worked so hard on that final draft thesis proposal that it almost broke me. That’s not one of my trademark hyperbolic statements either. And guess what? I had a meeting with my supervisor (who is a great guy, BTW) last Wednesday and he helped me get to the realisation that my proposal needs to go. The focus, the question, the design … all of it. Gone. Basically I was being too ambitious for a Masters student. It’s impossible to get all the data I wanted to and then work with it meaningfully to answer the questions I had proposed. So instead, I’m going to be writing a case study of one class in one school. It could even by my school – he said that’d be great. It won’t be focused on PBL. It’ll be focused on technology use for formative assessment using aspects of PBL. Oh, and I won’t worry about the multiliteracies stuff – that’s a 16 year old paper – and besides, literacy is implied in the study because I’m focusing on English teaching anyway. Finally, I should probably use a modification of an Action Research design.

Why have these decisions made me lose my research convictions? Because I do this in my classroom all of the time. I study MY classroom and write ‘rich descriptions’ of my lessons on this blog frequently. Sharing my experiences with PBL, technology, assessment, teaching English in the 21st century here seems – to me – to have as much, if not more, impact than writing a 20,000 word dissertation that *might* get published in an education journal. Oh, and those journals mostly aren’t read by my target audience – real, actual, not fake or full of shit, working teachers. I just don’t see how me learning how to collect ‘data’ and analyse said ‘data’ then write up my ‘discoveries’ is going to benefit anyone but me. Why would it help me? Well completing an MEd (research) is a stepping stone to a career as an academic … if that’s a path I wish to pursue. But that was never my intentions. Of course I have thought about where I want to be professionally in 5 years and still at Davo hasn’t featured high on that list … the possibility of teaching budding teachers is kinda cool. And yeah, I definitely fantasied about being called Dr Hewes or even better, Professor Hewes. But being a researcher … what impact does that have on us, the teachers? It seems to take FOREVER for any research-based ideas about education to actually gain traction in the classroom. I just don’t know if that’s the path I should take.

I guess I should conclude by making it clear that I am not saying I make a massive difference writing this blog. But if I counted all of the words I have written about my teaching practice in blog posts, and then add all of the words you have written in comments about your teaching practice, well … I reckon that’d be well over 20,000 words. And I reckon, just maybe, those words have or will have more impact than the 20,000 I’ll be writing for my dissertation.


Hewes, B. (2011). Her Brain. Sydney: WordPress.