Transcript of interview with Professor Lyall Buttcaster, 21/3/2016.

Hello. I’m Fiona Fishscales and tonight on Eyeball on Education we talk to Professor Lyall Buttcaster about Australia’s falling standings on the PISA rankings.

FF: Welcome Professor Buttcaster.

PB: Thanks Fiona, great to be here.

FF: Recently Mr Sanadreas Fault from the OECD gave a scathing criticism of Australia’s slide down the PISA rankings; do you think that attack was warranted?

PB: Well first let me say, I don’t think it was an attack….

FF: Well he did say “We treat teachers as strange interchangeable widgets on the frontline – they are just there to implement useless prefabricated knowledge.” That’s pretty harsh?

PB: Well quite Fiona, but he does have a point really. We have young men and women leaving our schools without a set of essential capabilities for the 21st century.

FF: What sort of capabilities are we talking about?

PB: Its widely acknowledged that students today need a whole set of skills to take them forward. They need creativity, problem solving and entrepreneurial skills. They need to be collaborative, innovative individuals who construct their own learning and they also must have grit and resilience!

FF: Are they skills peculiar to the 21st century? They seem pretty generic?

PB: Not at all Fiona. If we are going to empower students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet, indeed a future we can’t possibly envisage then…..

FF: Sorry, did you say jobs that haven’t been invented yet?

PB: Absolutely! We need students with the skills to……

FF: Sorry Professor, how did you know what the skills required will be, if we can’t envisage what the jobs will be?

PB: Look, we are sliding down the PISA rankings rapidly and it’s not good enough. We need creative……

FF: Mr Fault said that 20% of our students are ending school with out strong basic literacy and numeracy skills. Shouldn’t we focus on why that’s happening?

PB : Well the countries that regularly top the PISA rankings like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore… We need to look at what they are doing, and why we are going backwards. We need students who have those specific 21st century sk……….

FF: Is that what those top ranking countries focus on?

PB: Well no, but I believe Shanghai and Singapore are thinking about it. They realise the importance of creativity in the 21st cen………

FF: What about Finland? Aren’t they always front-runners? What are they doing then?

PB: Well they have fallen down the rankings a bit I’m afraid.

FF: Lack of creativity?

PB: Not entirely. They seem to have a society that values teachers. They..

FF: So they have stopped valuing them?

PB: Not that I’m aware of …..um. Look that’s a very different culture over there and we need to be aware of that so….

FF: Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, presumably very different as well.

PB: Sure. But we know what we have to do. The USA is on the cusp of introducing a new test of resilience or ‘grit’ at the end of upper secondary schooling. We are also looking at resilience and character in England.

FF: How do you measure that?

PB: Well it’s complex no doubt, but we usually find a way of measuring things quite well.

FF: All evidence to the contrary…

PB: I’m sorry?

FF: Nothing.

PB: Look we are still working with an Industrial model of …

FF: And stifling creativity?

PB: Yes quite. How did you know I was going to say that?

FF: Wild stab in the dark. So Shanghai for example, has a very progressive model of education?

PB: No, but a very different culture of course. Again, we need to prepare our students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Around 70% of jobs will be obsolete in 10 to 15 years time and…

FF: That’s been said for over a decade now.

PB: Well yes, but this time……

FF: Does it matter how we are ranked internationally?

PB: Yes! We need to be globally competitive in an exciting new world. We can’t be seen to be dropping back with the likes of Poland. We…

FF: That’s a bit offensive surely. What’ the Polish system like?

PB: I have no idea but…

FF: I imagine they are not being creative enough…

PB: That’s very flippant. Look in 2016 the PISA test will include collaborative problem-solving, and as this name change suggests, will have a unique social dimension not before seen in testing. It’s very exciting. We need to get on board with this now.

FF: Otherwise we will slip further on the rankings?

PB: Yes. There is a sense of urgency about this…

FF: Politicians certainly love to talk up our failings in education based on International rankings.

PB: Your point?

FF: Can we worry just about how Australian kids are doing, rather than comparing them to vastly different cultures?

PB: No, we need these comparisons to let us know how we are going in a globally competitive market. We need to produce competitive, entrepreneurial, creative, innovative, problem solvers for jobs that haven’t been invented yet.

FF: I still can’t get my head around that.

PB: You don’t need to; your job will be obsolete in ten to fif….

FF: Thank you Professor Lyall Buttcaster.

PB: Nice to be with you.










Differentiating Language

This post was partly inspired by Greg Thompson’s excellent blog post about purpose, context and audience. I have often mused about the role of language and how confusing it can be even when we speak what appears to be the same language. Let’s bounce!

What happens when discussions on twitter about teaching and learning develop into disagreements about what particular terms and indeed individual words mean? What usually happens is that people cling tenaciously to their personal definitions and little is resolved. You also find that some people will change purpose from one tweet to another. It may be something that is peculiar to social media generally but especially on twitter.

The purpose of a twitter discussion can swing from 1. Establishing a position. 2. Confirming if definitions are compatible. 3. Personal insults because definitions are not compatible. It’s not uncommon for this to render your viewpoint as irrelevant because one person is saying oranges are called oranges, and one person is saying oranges are navel oranges. There appears to a rough set of rules that don’t clarify anything. I’m not sure if Wittgenstein meant that when expressing the view that the vagueness of ordinary usage of language is not a problem to be eliminated but rather the source of linguistic riches. It is misleading even to attempt to fix the meaning of particular expressions by linking them referentially to things in the world.

It’s all a bit of a game at times and one I’m certainly guilty of playing from time to time. Like the rules of a game, Wittgenstein argued, these rules for the use of ordinary language are neither right nor wrong, neither true nor false: they are merely useful for the particular applications in which we apply them.

There has been lots of discussion recently about the term ‘differentiation’. There have been some excellent articles on what differentiation is and what it isn’t. There has also been something of a hue and cry to arrest those who have any problem with differentiation, without understanding that what differentiation means for one person is not the same definition as another.

“A teacher who differentiates instruction proactively plans and carries out varied approaches to content, process, and product in anticipation of and response to student differences in readiness, interest, and learning needs.”

Carol Ann Tomlinson

I don’t have a problem with that definition, as good as I’ve heard to be honest. But for many educators, those varied approaches would include using learning styles, multiple intelligences and ability grouping as examples of their differentiation. I’m currently working with a first year teacher who used multiple intelligences as one example of how he would use differentiation in his teaching and was roundly praised for it by his lecturers. I personally don’t think multiple intelligences are at all useful, but for many teachers they are definitely part of the differentiation equation. So before I make the statement that “Not all differentiation is good”, I need to establish what definition I am using, what I’m not using, and what definition I disagree with. (It’s pointless disagreeing because ownership of another definition is not mine to take).

In my previous blog post I spoke about differentiating less in my class. There was an excellent reply from Corinne Campbell who believed from what she had read that I was differentiating just fine. It struck a chord with me. It’s often just swings and roundabouts. (To clarify, I mean ‘Six of one, half a dozen of the other’ when I say that.)

I’m going too spend far less time challenging and asking questions on Twitter; the lexical tangle has worn me down. I have no ownership of others definitions and I need to respect that. I hope this has made some sense, if it hasn’t, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.

Lets turn to the master, who always makes sense:

“I think perhaps the most important problem is that we are trying to understand the fundamental workings of the universe via a language devised for telling one another when the best fruit is.”

Terry Pratchett

If you have read this far, thank you and well done.




Personalising the Curriculum By Not Personalising?

Can you have a differentiated curriculum if all students are being taught the same thing at the same time? I argue that you can. Lets bounce!

If you have followed my blog, (bless you) you will know that I have turned to a much more traditional approach to my teaching. I know lots of people are jumping out of trees to say forget the traditional vs progressive dichotomy, but I’m lacking the vocabulary skills at the moment to digress. My view is that there is definitely less differentiation in my class than previously. Or is there? I spend a lot more time explicitly teaching concepts to the whole class and there is a lot less group work than before. But does that mean my students are missing out on a more individualized curriculum that may better suit their needs? I don’t think so.

Since almost *scrapping group work and spending the extra time on explicit instruction I think students are getting more individual attention. Nothing better than hearing “You’ve lost me”. Excellent, I get to go over the concept again, improve my instruction and rework my examples. Of course you can do this with group work to follow but while that often generates great discussions and discoveries, it might not be the learning I wanted. I know this is heresy to say but for me that is ‘wasted’ time. As the learning I want is mandated in the curriculum that needs to be first cab off the rank. (Without very solid foundations we have nothing to build on.) So after explicit instruction students stay at their desks and work on showing me they have grasped the concept.

I’m trying to set up the desks so that I can have access to students as quickly as possible, this is made easier by some students having to sit on their own, (What a horrible teacher where’s the inclusivity?) and maximizing my time for those who need assistance. We have no funky lime coloured, pod shaped furniture available and much of the classroom is in rows. Some people would argue that my classroom is from the “Industrial Age”. I prefer to think we are “Industrious”. But that’s just me. Judging from the smiles, laughter and learning in the classroom, I think my students are the better for it.

*I’m mandated to use guided reading groups.

If you have read this far thank you and well done.