To: Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group
Date: Friday, 13 June 2014
Response by: The Council of the Mathematical Association of Victoria on behalf of mathematics educators in Victoria.
This feedback by the Mathematical Association of Victoria to the Teacher Education Consultation Paper is presented by the Council of the MAV on behalf of the members of the Association.
2. What characteristics should be fostered and developed in graduate teachers through their initial teacher education?
2.1 How can those best suited to the teaching profession be identified?
2.2 What are the skills and personal characteristics of an effective beginning teacher? How can teacher education courses best develop these?
Pathways into teaching vary. Over 30% of undergraduate students at Australian universities enter as mature age students. And in teacher education the make up of the mature age cohort varies considerably as well; with ‘first professional career’ decisions being made by both younger (25 to 34) and older (40 to 50) students and – most pertinently from the perspective of mathematics education – many are pursuing a second, third or even fourth professional career.
So although, on balance the MAV supports the proposition that an agreed national minimum Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) ought be part of the process for entry by post year twelve students into undergraduate teacher education courses, a range of predictors and selections tools are required and it should be the responsibility of universities engaged in teacher preparation to commit to rigorous selection focussed both on academic achievement and interpersonal qualities.
For instance, it is likely that someone who has a record of community and/or school career co-curricular engagement through sport, music, performance and so on would be a good prospect. It is known that someone who has grown up in a ‘teaching’ family can have a better understanding of the demands and benefits of teaching and be more likely to persist through the ups and downs of the initial years of teaching.
In order to facilitate an adequate national response to the Advisory Group’s later questions in the consultation paper about the shortage in Australia of qualified and capable mathematics teachers, the MAV would add to the characteristics sought a mathematical capability equal to the teaching role being contemplated and, as importantly, a deep interest in, even a passion for the mathematical sciences. To this end, universities should be required and supported to set significant pre requisites for entry into primary and secondary mathematics education programs. Further, additional pre-entry testing in mathematical content knowledge appropriate to the type and level of school education mathematics the teacher is to prepare for should be contemplated.
The MAV has assisted the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership in its work to describe the “skills and personal characteristics of an effective beginning teacher”, particularly in the field of mathematics education and recommends the consequent illustrations of practice by career stage as having value to the work of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group.
The authors of “Policy, Practice, and Readiness to Teach Primary and Secondary Mathematics in 17 Countries: Findings from the IEA Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M)” (ACER 2012) report that an extensive study of nations that perform well in international tests of student mathematics achievement tend to require high standards of performance from both pre-service and graduate teachers. These countries aim for high quality candidates for entry into teacher education programs that have themselves faced a rigorous accreditation process. The standards expected of graduates are high (quite possibly higher than those currently expected of mathematics education graduates in any Australian jurisdiction) and are expected to remain high prior to achieving full status as a teacher. Specification of masters programs as a preparation for work as a mathematics educator should be considered.
The MAV would like to see teacher education courses structured so that students, particularly those preparing as a primary school teacher, are offered a mix of tuition and testing early in their courses so that they can understand their mathematics content knowledge and capacity to explain that knowledge and so assess their suitability for teaching before they accumulate large university fee debts and before they attempt to learn how to teach mathematics.
3. What teaching practices should be developed in graduate teachers through their initial teacher education?
3.1 How can the teaching practices that produce the best student outcomes be identified?
3.2 How can teacher education programmes encourage teachers to reflect on evidence to support their choice of teaching practice?
3.3 How does reflection on evidence translate into student outcomes?
The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers as developed by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and endorsed by Australia’s Ministers for Education were developed from international evidence based research and can be taken as a useful guide for the Ministerial Advisory Group in their endeavour to answer questions about identifying “the teaching practices that produce the best student outcomes”. Likewise, application of the Standards by education systems and teachers encourages teachers to “reflect on evidence to support their choice of teaching practice” and to then reflect again and modify their practice in the light of that evidence, the characteristics of the students they are working with and the context they are working in.
Any teacher needs a wide repertoire of skills to build a working relationship with each student in front of them. Key to this is ‘hearing’ the student, which goes beyond mere ‘listening’, and requires of the teacher that they ask good follow-up questions in discussions. We need to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ concept of teaching. The research may say that direct instruction, for example, is effective but that does not mean that every lesson every day is based on direct instruction. They key is to make student teachers aware of the evidence and of the need to adapt each lesson to the content of the day and the readiness of the students.
The MAV believes that graduates in primary school education and secondary school mathematics education should be able to demonstrate an agreed national standard for mathematics and mathematical pedagogical content knowledge.
Melbourne is internationally recognised as a centre of excellence for research into teaching and learning in mathematics because of the excellence of a number of academic groups at its universities. This research activity continues to shape and improve the preparation of mathematics educators and mathematics education in schools. Courtesy of this work, mathematics educators are leaving university better prepared today than previously. The MAV regards it as essential that teacher education occur at institutions with a significant level of mathematics education research activity.
4. What level of integration should there be between initial teacher education providers and schools?
4.1 What evidence is there that effective integration achieves good teaching practice? What are the most effective types of integrated experiences in preparing new teachers?
4.2 What are the cost implications of more integrated professional experience? Are there more effective ways in which professional experience might be funded?
4.3 What other methods, or combination of these methods could achieve better outcomes than the current approach to professional experience?
4.4 How can partnerships between teacher education providers and schools be strengthened to make teacher education more effective?
4.5 How can teacher education providers and schools best work together to select and train mentor teachers to effectively support pre-service teachers on professional experience?
4.6 How can consistency of good practice and continuous improvement across teacher education providers and schools be assured?
Professional experience is becoming a key ingredient in the development of graduates in many professions. It should be supported as a positive and integral part of pre-service teacher education. It needs a commitment by university providers, school systems, schools and the teaching profession overall. In part, this requires more effective linkages between universities, school systems, teachers and pre-service teachers. The MAV believes that the professional teaching associations have a clear role to play here. As an example, mentoring systems could be put in place through the teaching associations linking aspiring maths graduates to experienced mathematics teachers currently in the system.
The MAV agrees that higher standards and better resourcing is required to make sure that a student teacher’s practical experience in mathematics education is made more effective. The practicum is clearly the element of teacher education programs that providers and schools systems struggle with most to sustain and improve.
An MAV Councillor currently working as Deputy Principal at a suburban primary school reflected that his experience was that there was often:”
• A lack of focus on mathematical PCK from undergraduate courses, translating into limited understandings when undergrad’s are taking part in their teaching rounds.
• A greater focus from undergrad’s on content rather than the aforementioned PCK (you need to know how to hold the paint brush before you use the paint analogy)
Our experience is also that setting a baseline standard in numerate competency is vital for all type 1/2 primary courses”
Improving the selection and training of mentor teachers is needed. Often it is a case of anyone who puts their hand up to collect the few extra dollars for mentoring ‘gets the gig’. Mentors need a better understanding of how the teacher education providers have structured their course, including what the student has and has not met so far in the course. This would include bringing to the attention of mentors the key educational theorists and their ideas that the provider has chosen to inform the preparation of the student.
Although the Ministerial Advisory Group has only asked about providers and schools here, the MAV believes that the professional teaching associations in conjunction with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership have a key role to play in ensuring that students, mentors and employers all understand the significance of access to extensive and worthwhile professional experiences in all teacher education programs. Universities and school systems should work to construct partnerships in conjunction with the professional teaching associations that explored ways of sustaining and improving the contribution professional experience makes to the preparation of mathematics educators.
5. What balance is needed between understanding what is taught and how it is taught?
5.1 What is the desirable interaction between content knowledge and teaching practice for developing teachers? What is the difference for primary and secondary teaching? Why is there a difference?
5.2 Should there be explicit training in how to teach literacy and numeracy in all teaching courses?
5.3 How can the balance between the need for subject specialisation and a generalist approach in primary teaching qualifications be addressed?
5.4 What, if any, changes need to be made to the structure of teacher education courses? Should content be studied before pedagogy (i.e. should ‘what’ to teach be studied before the ‘how’ to teach)?
5.5 What barriers are there to restructuring teacher education courses to ensure they address these concerns, and how may they be overcome?
5.6 Why does Australia face a shortage of maths, science and language teachers?
5.7 What can be done to encourage teaching students to develop a specialisation in these areas?
Attainment of the knowledge of the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of mathematics education can develop hand in hand – and both are important. It is true that, for instance, that students are capable of more intellectual and abstract thought at secondary school. So approaches to the development of pedagogical content knowledge may need to differ in the preparation of secondary school and primary school teachers. Many primary teachers understand how to vary their teaching practice according to the stage their students are at in mathematics, but feel constrained by their lower level content knowledge. Conversely, many secondary teachers have solid content knowledge but feel constrained in their classroom practice such that students experience a rather limited variety of classroom styles. Primary teachers would benefit from better content knowledge whereas secondary teachers would benefit from better pedagogical knowledge, particularly with regard to differentiation in the mathematics classroom.
The MAV supports the notion that all teachers should be able to teach literacy and numeracy, as this is consistent with the integration of content across the Australian curriculum. There is so much to cover in the AC: Mathematics curriculum that it becomes necessary to find ways of addressing what is overtly mathematics wherever it appears in other subjects. This approach is particularly relevant for data interpretation content. For instance, through their awareness of the demands and opportunities afforded by the subject matter, a capable history teacher will be able help their students develop their understanding of the numeracy of history. As generalists, primary school teachers can feel better prepared to support literacy and numeracy development across the curriculum. However, it is essential to recognise that numeracy - ‘the ability to use maths in real life’ (http://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk) - can only be taught effectively if students are also experiencing success in their learning of mathematics. Of necessity, a successful numeracy program requires a successful mathematics education program.
The MAV believes that use of the term ‘generalist approach’ can all too often cloak a deficit model where much of the primary school curriculum receives less attention than it deserves in teacher preparation programs. A capable generalist teacher should be a capable science teacher, a stimulating mathematics educator and knowledgeable about health and physical education – and so on. In particular, the Association is convinced that mathematics pedagogical content knowledge and support to help prepare primary school teachers become confident mathematics educators should receive far greater attention. This should include ensuring that all primary teacher education programs provide a relevant mathematics education major and that incentives are provided to encourage student teachers to so specialise. Indeed, the MAV believes that it is now necessary to embark on a national program of preparing primary mathematics education specialists.
It is true to say that those countries that do well in studies of student achievements also respect and reward the profession of teaching in ways that are broadly comparable for the other professions in that society. At present, it is not like this for the profession in Victoria – the salaries and conditions for teaching should compete with those for other professions at commencement and, naturally, across the career range. Attention to this is an essential tool for helping ensure that people with the potential to be great mathematics teachers are in a position to select teaching as a career as against those other professions - currently with better salaries and conditions - that compete to attract the mathematically able to their ranks.
Notwithstanding the thirty or so “pathways into teaching” in England, in The Labour Market for Teachers: A Policy Perspective (2002) Professor Peter Dalton shows that “the lower are relative wages (or wage growth) in teaching, the less likely is a graduate to choose that career.” The one avenue for becoming a teacher in Singapore, on the other hand, appears to be more effective because a career in education is seen as seen as a well rewarded and respected professional occupation.
The shortage of mathematics teachers is particularly acute – and has been so for many years. The mathematical science and mathematics education communities have been urging government attention and action for at least the past two decades. The need for action has never been greater. Scholarships, HELP free placements, financial support to encourage career changes and financial and career incentives for mathematics education graduates need to be in place. To redress the current neglect it will be a case of all measures having to be applied, not just one or two
6. General points.
The Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Panel should see pre-service teacher preparation as part of a continuum. A quest for improvement in Australia’s achievement levels in mathematics, the sciences and numeracy dictates that the country needs to develop a comprehensive approach to improving the quality of the teaching of mathematics. The approach must involve universities, school systems, schools and professional teaching associations in partnerships for the long term with a coherent and linked system for pre-service preparation, quality research, graduate entry, mentoring, professional learning, career support and the participation of teachers at all stages of their career. Mathematics educators can be ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’ at different stages of their careers.
A paper by Dr Lawrence Ingvarson, Professional Certification: Promoting, Recognising and Rewarding Accomplished Teaching (ACER 2011) details a powerful argument about the need for teaching to develop as a profession and for the professional teaching associations such as the Mathematical Association of Victoria to actively participate in “the evolution of a new conception of teaching as (a) strong and accountable profession – with career stages closely linked to evidence of increasing expertise in the classroom and in supporting colleagues.” That is, high entry standards, well prepared graduate teachers and high salaries will not be enough for improvement. Career retention and development will also be required and in this the profession itself must play a key role.
The MAV favours a process built around professional certification.
The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (of which the MAV is a member) is one of at least twenty Australian professional teaching associations to have developed in recent times professional standards. The AAMT’s are called the “Highly Accomplished Teacher of Mathematics”. The development and introduction of career points and salary levels tied to professional certification has been recommended for Australian teachers in several reports over the past decade. Such a system would encourage all teachers to develop their practice and at the least maintain professional standards.
The profession stands ready for this challenge. As the professional association for mathematics teachers in Victoria, the MAV looks forward to the opportunity to work with the Australian Government Department of Education and the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and their counterparts in Victoria to design, implement and regulate a system of professional certification designed to help stimulate “improved teacher quality” to “raise expectations and outcomes and better support student learning.”
Appendix – About the MAV
MAV Core Statement
Valuing mathematics in society
The Mathematical Association of Victoria (MAV) is a membership driven not-for-profit association, which provides a voice, leadership and professional support for mathematical education. Its mission is to advocate for the continual review and improvement of mathematics education and the profession of mathematics teaching.
The MAV will achieve this by:
• Being a leading voice in mathematics education,
• Supporting mathematics teachers and educators,
• Listening and responding to members and the broader mathematics community about their professional needs,
• Celebrating excellence in mathematics education,
• Defining the profession of the mathematics educator,
• Promoting best practice in mathematics education,
• Influencing policy and practice in mathematics education, and
• Promoting the importance of mathematics in careers and daily life.
The Mathematical Association of Victoria (MAV) first met in July 1906.
The Association has since developed over time into a large professional teacher association with over 10,000 teachers in schools from all systems across Victoria entitled to membership benefits. 63% of members are based in Greater Melbourne, 37% in regional Victoria. 68% of members are based at State schools, 19% in the Catholic system and 13% from independent schools. 52% of members work at the primary school level, 46% at the secondary level with the remainder at TAFE and universities.
A Council of elected members governs the MAV. Councillors take responsibility for particular portfolio areas such as professional development, student activities, journals, publications and membership services.
The staff work together to plan and deliver specific services to members, such as:
➢ Professional learning programs
➢ Curriculum implementation support
➢ Public lectures
➢ Student enrichment activities like VCE revision days, family maths nights, games days and project based quests
➢ An annual metropolitan conference attended by 2,000 teachers
➢ Regional conferences attended by over 300 teachers
➢ Policy development and advice to members, Government and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority
➢ Advocacy and information services.