Forays into Upper Primary Science

As the Australian school year draws to a close, I have had the time to reflect upon and review my experiences teaching upper primary science during 2010.

March-May 2010 – Year 6/7 Science & Arts

Earlier this year, I replaced a science/arts teacher in a small independent Christian school in Perth’s southern suburbs. I taught Science and Art one day a week, working with a group of 20 students exhibiting a challenging range of literacy skills, learning difficulties and special needs. It proved to be a professionally rewarding relief assignment; one which required me informally plan, teach and assess students’ learning, rather than acting as a gloried (although well-paid) ‘babysitter’.

As a general rule, I tried to follow the absent teacher’s notes, in expectation of his imminent return. After discussing the situation with the regular classroom teacher; however, I increasingly drew upon my Curriculum Resource Bankand developing  ‘instructional toolkit’ to translate the teacher’s suggestions into more engaging learning activities.

A Professional Experiment – Modelling Concept Maps

On my first day, I was asked to complete a unit on the Human Body, implementing a (poorly written) blackline master test. In a personal first, I decided to model the use of a concept map to assist students’ test preparation. The results were rather surprising, as I detailed the next day in my reflective journal:

“After the recess break, students had to revise for a test on the human body. I experimented with modelling the use of a concept map as a revision tool; using different coloured markers to highlight the levels of detail.

I was surprised to find that the use of this strategy enabled one student, who finds writing very difficult [and has an undiagnosed learning difficulty], to share his significant knowledge of the topic.

He was later able to complete most of the test, despite taking twice as long as his peers.”

Flickr CC Image: ‘Science Activity – Ecosystems

Putting this in Context

Throughout the Graduate Teacher Professional Learning Program, an extremely valuable mentoring / support program for graduate teachers in Western Australia, our presenters have discussed how effective teachers have a toolkit of instructional strategies which they can use to support and assess student learning.

imageRather than using a strategy haphazardly, teachers can select a teaching strategy for a defined purpose, and use it to improve student learning outcomes. I believe this is an important aspect of ‘instructional intelligence’ (Bennett & Rolheiser, 2001), an area in which I have undergone significant professional growth over the past two years.

The seemingly trivial anecdote above marked the very first time I personally selected an instructional strategy with a clear learning purpose in mind (rather than following another teacher’s instructions).

Shortly afterwards, I recorded a professional learning goal to practice and evaluate my use of other instructional learning strategies in my relief teaching practice. As I will outline in my next post, I was extremely surprised and pleased with the results.



Bennet, B. & C. Rolheiser (2001). Beyond Monet: The Artful Science of Instructional Integration. Toronto: Bookation


Reflections on Classroom Management (Index)

My Experiences, Philosophy, & Reflections

  1. My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management
  2. The Conscious Competence Ladder (Skill Development)
  3. The Four Stages in My Teaching Practice
  4. Classroom Management – Summing Up

The 3 R’s of Effective Learning Environments

  1. Setting the Scene
  2. Overview of the 3 R’s
  3. Transforming a Year 3 class into a learning community
  4. The Third ‘R’ – Shared Responsibility for the Learning Process
  5. My experiences with the Third ‘R’

‘The Theory of Bumps’ (Bennett & Smilanich, 1994)

  1. The Key Principles
  2. Explanation & Suggested Strategies

The 3 Keys to Working with Challenging Students

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a “problem” or challenging behaviour?
  3. Part 1: Building Positive Relationships
  4. Part 2: The Classroom Learning Environment
  5. Part 3: The Teacher’s Attitude, Actions, & Management Approach
  6. Responding to Anger

Building Positive Relationships

  1. Small Talk: “From little things, big things grow”
  2. Relief Teaching – Chalk & Small Talk!
  3. Get Involved with Breakfast / Lunchtime Clubs
  4. The Importance of Active Listening

Top Tips for Teachers – Behaviour Management (Video)

Cracking the Hard Class

Giving Something Back: Mentoring Student Teachers

I excelled in my academic studies at university; however, as a result of my youthful inexperience, I always felt vulnerable and unprepared during my practical teaching experiences. While I had some excellent mentor teachers, on several occasions I found myself working with unsupportive, and in one case, overly critical teachers. One almost drove me to quit my teaching degree.

image_thumb24Now, many years later, I have come to love working with student teachers at various stages of their teacher-preparation courses.

I may be “just” a graduate teacher, but my diverse relief experience and engagement in professional learning has enabled me to meaningfully mentor several future teachers in the areas of classroom management, planning and instructional strategies.

Working with “Terry”

While I’ve worked with many student teachers over the past two years, one really sticks in my mind. I met “Terry” (not his real name), earlier this year, when he was about halfway through his 10 week second year teaching experience. To be honest, he resembled me on my final year school experience. This was not a pleasant memory.

Through our discussions, it became clear that Terry lacked confidence in his teaching ability, and seriously struggled with lesson preparation and behaviour management. Watching him teach, I could understand his supervisor’s critical performance assessment; however, I was not particularly impressed that no-one had taken the time to teach him practical strategies for improvement.

Through the course of the day, I explained some behaviour management strategies for gaining student attention and managing the who, what and when of lesson transitions. I was pleased to see Terry experimenting with a few strategies, although he needed to work on his consistency.

I also went through the stages of effective lesson planning; stressing the need for an explicit learning purpose and observable assessment criteria. While I don’t bide much by the excessively prescriptive lesson planning preformats student teachers are expected to use, I have learnt, through painful experience, that a clear lesson purpose and explicit criteria are key to effective teaching.

After school, I spent an hour helping Terry plan a maths lesson on fractions, painstakingly persuading him to halt his rush into calculating improper fractions with numbers. I taught him how to plan using the First Steps Number resources, and suggested ways to introduce and conclude his lesson.

While Terry seemed much more prepared for his ‘model’ lesson, I was unable to return to the school to see how he went. I would have appreciated some feedback; however, this experience helped me to clarify and translate my First Steps professional learning into real-world practice.

Professional Learning: A Two Way Street

I find these informal mentoring experiences personally and professionally rewarding, as I find myself becoming more confident in my own abilities and instructional practice as a result of sharing my professional knowledge with other teachers.

I once read that learning is enhanced when we teach someone else, and this has certainly proved true in my case. Teaching and learning is a two-way street. I learn from my more experienced colleagues, swap teaching resources, and support student teachers in areas of need. Now, I benefit professionally from sharing my learning journey with my Australian and international audience via A Relief Teacher’s Journey. It has been a truly empowering experience.

Becoming a Reflective Practitioner and Blogger


As a new teacher, I established a reflective journal; documenting and reflecting on my teaching experiences, observations, and ongoing professional development throughout my first year.

I view my journal as a very personal record of my experiences. As I flick through my handwritten entries, recorded in multiple exercise books, I can trace the low points, bitter times, and highlights of my professional learning journey. I can now look back, laugh about my mistakes, and marvel at how far I have come.

I am no longer the nervous, inexperienced, and inefficient teacher I once was. I am hardened by experience, better organised, and a much more effective relief teacher. I am proud of my work, and enjoy the variety and flexibility my job offers.

Learning to Blog, Blogging to Learn

Now, writing for A Relief Teacher’s Journey, I have discovered the incredible power of blogging as a reflective tool, and as a medium for sharing my thoughts, skills, and practice with teachers around the world.

Learning to blog was somewhat easy. It is the lessons I have learnt through my blogging endeavours, and the professional connections which my work has fostered, which make the experience worthwhile. Thankyou for the feedback – it is greatly appreciated.

Until next time …