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Summer Teaching Intensives

What if the best way to teach students is also the best way to teach teachers… explicitly.
The original Summer Teaching Intensive was built on a simple idea — teachers would see high impact teaching live with real kids, be given our exemplar resources to keep, be supported to modify them, and then be coached as they practise implementing them with our trained students. Backed up with theory sessions from the one and only Dr Lorraine Hammond (Doc) this truly was an intense week of real teacher training, the kind that we wished was a staple of all initial teacher education efforts (university courses ITE).

In collaboration with Dr Lorraine Hammond AM and the wonderful team at Fogarty EDvance — Jordan and Jared from Shaping Minds (that’s us) led a unique teacher training event at Dawson Park Primary School in Forrestfield, in the foothills of Perth. 28 real students and 29 teachers from all over Western Australia gave up a week of their summer holidays to engage in an immersive teacher training experience.

The week started with a solid day of professional learning with Lorraine at Edith Cowan’s Mount Lawley campus. Teachers explored the fundamentals of Cognitive Science as they relate to teaching in ways that allow success for all students — namely, explicit or high-impact teaching. Equipped with refreshed perspectives on managing cognitive load and instructional strategies that are backed by extensive research, Day 1 was complete… enough with the theoretical.

Day 2 begins at Dawson Park and there was a bit of tension in the atmosphere, but it wasn’t from the students. If you’ve ever been to an audition or something like the Level 3 Classroom Teacher assessments, there is an intangible sense of impending doom as everyone knows they have to present — there are no spectators, every teacher must step into the arena.

…there are no spectators, every teacher must step into the arena.

We too are afflicted, as we struggle with the title of experts, especially when we are standing in a room full of our peers. There is no place for ego in education, it undermines teaching. Humble teachers see their flaws and admit their mistakes, they grow and learn, they model being human for their students. So, while its uncomfortable for us, we are encouraged by our students and with them, we stand and deliver.

Unlike most teacher demonstrations, we modelled almost a full day of instruction. The day started with a daily edit or do now settling activity, which much like their real classrooms, students completed quietly as the teacher observers moved into the large space and took their seats at the back. We cracked some jokes and talked a little with the kids, but it was a little awkward with 40ish adults taking notes or photos from right behind you. In spite of this, our students were pretty relaxed and some even enjoyed the attention. These Dawson Park students were accustomed to visitors, after the school had hosted over 500 observers through the Fogarty EDvance program up until that time, and many more afterwards.

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Roughly half of the Teaching Intensive Class of 2018 (First Ever!)

We wanted the English block to be as authentic as possible, so we started with a Spelling Mastery lesson as per usual. We deliver SM by the book, but routinely incorporate a lot more rehearsal and checking for understanding around the content. So, we move fast but instead of flying through the lesson, we create more exposures for students and build more automaticity.

We then transitioned into an English daily review or what we called the Big 5 Review (based on the famous National Reading Panel research). The fundamentals of phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and comprehension — all tied together and connected to real examples of literature and text that included contextual links to the students’ lives.

From the fundamentals of reading, we start to transition into writing, with a sentence-level vocabulary daily review. Here we introduce new tier 2 vocabulary words, which are rich and broadly applicable. Students explore copious examples and non-examples as they build conceptual understanding of the words. Before finally engaging in some heavily scaffolded sentence-level writing that was inspired by the wonderful work of Judith Hochman and Natalie Wexler (Hochman Method / Writing Revolution).

The final part of the English block demonstration was a writing lesson, which included writing paragraphs that included direct speech, as part of a Narrative Genre unit. All skill work that we do is extensively modelled and guided, with careful thought given to how to manage cognitive load in real time for students. In this style of teaching, all students can access success.

In this style of teaching, all students can access success.

At the normal recess break, students ran around the obstacle course and both of the large playgrounds. Some braved conversations with the teachers who observed them and basked in the glory a little. They then feasted on fruit and other yummy snacks. There was a lot of friendly support from teachers, they were all caught in a strange moment of empathy, knowing that they would be doing something similar in the coming days. It was impressive that they volunteered for this experience, there was much at stake, and if you disagree… then you are unaware of how invested most teachers are in what they do.  

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The Ridiculously Talented Jordan O’Sullivan

We called the students back in for the second round, and it was straight into some mental maths. Ushered to their seats promptly, students are encouraged to quietly commence their work. We move past desks and students checking their work and efforts, offering teaching at the point of error where possible. We then mark the work as a class, making a point to be accountable to our mistakes. Mistakes only become failures if we don’t learn from them.

Mistakes only become failures if we don’t learn from them.

Students are then engaged in a Maths daily review that incorporates retrieval practice of numerous Maths facts and skills. They move at a fast-pace and cover so many different concepts and types of activities, which is only possible because of the embedded routines that surround the review. Students answer chorally and on whiteboards, they discuss and interrogate each other’s answers. It represents one of the most meaningful returns for time invested that is possible in a classroom.

The Maths review is the focus of this block, but new content needs time so we move into a Maths lesson. On this day, it was the conceptual understanding of coordinate planes, and the skill of plotting coordinates. We introduced students to gestures and mnemonics for remembering the axes (X is lazy he lays down… Y likes to jump). Again, it was the whiteboards that were the champion. The feedback they provide about student understanding is second to none.

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Teachers Practising with All-Star Students

We made it to lunch. The students received a round of applause. There was plenty of high fives and fist bumps. The students celebrated with a feast on pizza, with entertainment from a magician… yes, a magician! After the teaching was done each day, there was always something fun organised for students to do to relax. We would often go up and join them for that bit, which was a release for all of us.

The students celebrated with a feast on pizza, with entertainment from a magician… yes, a magician!

Over the following days, teachers took turns prepping and delivering each piece of the content for smaller groups of teachers and students. Dr Hammond oversaw the event and gave feedback to the teachers. A lot of camaraderie developed over the week between them all, as there was a feeling that they had conquered something together.

Lauded as a success, we did it again in 2019, and this time we were joined by our friend Brooke Wardana who led an Early Childhood edition. The intensives after that even began to incorporate secondary teachers, with secondaries and primaries mingling together, in what is a rare occurrence. It has run every year since, the latest in 2022 was during an incredible heatwave where it reached 44 degrees in some classrooms. Talk about intense!

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The Honourable Sue Ellery, Annie Fogarty, Dr Lorraine Hammond and the Tributes

Hundreds of teachers have experienced the teaching intensives now and shared their knowledge back at their schools. From the South West to the Kimberley, teachers have kept up the good work and paid it forward. We often travel around the state see how people have applied the work to their own classrooms and schools. It is a big moment for us, humbling that we were involved in something meaningful and that our work has been beneficial to others.

The reach of the intensive has now crossed state lines as Catholic Education Canberra Goulburn have scheduled their first teaching intensive to take place in October 2022. This iteration of the teaching intensive will again be overseen by Dr Lorraine Hammond, with expert teaching from members of the Shaping Minds team.

This is all wonderful progress. A win for teachers and their students. What we hope for though, is this kind of intensive, pragmatic approach to teacher training to be instilled in both our educational systems and initial teacher education institutions (universities). Both of these bodies desperately need alignment. For teachers, they want to know how to teach most effectively and deserve this support, and the benefits obviously extend to their students and our broader society. There is a well-established body of educational research that informs us of what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. So let’s focus on empowering teachers and schools with this knowledge, and stop treating teaching like it is a choose-your-own-adventure story. Initiatives like the Teaching Intensive should be part of our System’s standard approach to preparing teachers to succeed in the classroom.

— Jared and Jordan