Daily Archives: December 9, 2006

Worried about outcomes based education?

Following a story in today’s Australian, I have posted a rant on the subject, Pop songs are weird science — The Australian , on Lines from a Floating Life. Having read a comment there, and its associated blog, I added to the post. I now place those theses here too.

1. Outcomes-based education has nothing at all to do with seeing the teacher as a “facilitator”; in fact the reverse is true, as OBE insists that teachers actually teach and holds them accountable for what students can actually do at the end of the process. The woolly idea of “facilitating” is 1970s feel-good stuff; OBE is hard-headed post-Thatcherite “quality assurance”.

2. OBE has nothing to do with the teacher as “entertainer”.

3. OBE is not a left-wing plot; initially it was more probably a right-wing plot. See Jim Belshaw, “Changes in Public Administration – the New Zealand Model”.

4. OBE does not predicate any particular style of teaching, traditional or otherwise.

5. OBE does not cause the curriculum to become less traditional. You can have an OBE course in Latin which will differ from Latin as taught in 1955 only in the way the program specifies what students must be able to do in Latin after a unit of work and then tests that they are in fact able to use those bits of Latin — in other words, will have achieved/not achieved outcomes. Any variation in the way Latin might now be taught in 2006 comes from changes in language teaching from a whole range of influences, many of them actually well considered.

6. OBE has nothing to do with the rejection of the pass/fail mentality. It is at least 30 years, long before OBE, since anyone passed or failed the NSW Higher School Certificate. What the candidate gets is a result and a rank which may be good enough to open certain doors or not.

7. In good well-written outcomes reporting parents get a plain English description of what their children have been assessed as actually achieving. This may or may not be accompanied by a letter and/or a number, the semantic content of which is, and always has been, a great mystery. At least a clear statement of outcomes has some meaning, even if it may make comparing your child with Susie next door a little more difficult.

8. The fact there is so much confusion about OBE (whether it is desirable or not is a separate matter) is the result of illiteracy on the subject perpetrated by the media and certain commentators who really should know better.

The main down-side of OBE, from a teacher’s point of view, is that it makes the teacher only too conscious of his or her success or failure as a teacher, with the proviso, of course, that is it absurd to expect all students from IQ too low to assess on the one hand (and I have taught such) to bloody genius on the other (and I have taught them too, if “teach” is the right word then) to achieve identical outcomes. Needless to say, no curriculum makes such an absurd assumption, but the general public often seem to.

A second down-side, which will not attract much sympathy, is that it makes programming and lesson planning more rigorous and onerous. No longer can we just write down the name of the text studied and vague wish lists.

A third possible down-side, and one which worried good English teachers a great deal, is that “outcomes” which can’t easily be defined or measured, such as “enjoyment of poetry”, might be squeezed out of the course in favour of what can be defined. I feared this, but it does not seem to have happened.

A fourth problem with OBE is that the number of real outcomes any given unit of work may have could well be legion; what appears on the program is a selection arrived at during the planning stage of that unit. On the other hand, when one considers the sum of units taught in a year, having to determine outcomes for each unit does at least offer some guarantee that the year’s work has targeted a range of things it is hoped students will master. In the past where the emphasis was on the content of the course rather than on what students might be able to do it was more likely that the program might become unbalanced.

Read Professor Roy Killen, “OUTCOMES-BASED EDUCATION: PRINCIPLES AND POSSIBILITIES” and then believe very little of what passes for “knowledge” on the subject through the media.

See also for richer models of teaching Quality Education in NSW which includes but takes us beyond OBE and further from the more dreamily romantic or hippie-like aspects of “progressive education”, and my post on scaffolding.

Yes, I get frustrated… 😉


Further to this post, see, mostly on New Lines from a Floating Life:

  • HSC English Paper 2 Advanced 2006 03Nov06.
  • Julie Bishop’s third-hand knowledge of English teaching 08Oct06.
  • Three magazines and an amazing AIDS story… 11Jul06.
  • Right-wing non-news story #20563 10Jun06.
  • Dumbed down syllabuses 30Apr06.
  • My past catches up 25Apr06.
  • Reactionary myth-makers and education 22Apr06.
  • Literacy.
  • And just one item from my old blog on Blogspot (if you can see it):

  • History debate rages over loss of narrative – Top stories – Breaking News 24/7 –
  • See too Jim Belshaw’s kind response. That blog of his is a goldmine of background information on public administration, very revealing on the broader context from which current administrative approaches to accountability in education have sprung.

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    Posted by on December 9, 2006 in pedagogy


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    How should I write up a Science experiment?

    This scheme was devised by Ms Dale Hawkins and the Science teachers at Sylvania High School. The entry was first created on Tripod 3 December 2004. Revised with M. Kay, Head of Science at SBHS, 17 May 2005. Checked 18 September 2007.

    This is the best way to set out a scientific experiment. If you do not follow this style you will DEVALUE your answer.

    The skills which are required in Science need clear presentation and logical discussion of what you have done.

    Aim: What do you want to test or prove? OR What do you want to learn or discover?
    Hypothesis (optional): This is your prediction of the effect one variable will have on another.
    Equipment: List the equipment you need to conduct the experiment. Draw a labelled diagram clearly showing what the equipment is and how it is used.
    Procedure: List the steps you follow to conduct the experiment.
    Safety/Risks: What danger could there be in doing this experiment? Consider electric shock, burns, chemical contamination etc.
    Results: Draw up a TABLE to record results, if numerical data is obtained. Results may include written observations in a list or table, sketches, diagrams, photos, etc.
    Discussion: How did you ensure that the measuring was accurate? What mistakes were made? How could this improve? What did you observe? Is the result what you expected? Compare to published information. Were there any hazards (dangerous things/situations)?
    Conclusion: Have you tested or proved what you had as your aim? Say that you have done so in a clear, logical statement. Make an assessment of the reliability and validity* of your experiment.

    Make you understand all the words used in this. Some words are linked to a dictionary. Ask your teacher if you are not sure.

    Teachers: See Teaching Science to ESL students.
    See also Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students from Virginia Tech.
    Teachers and students: See also on this site Tower of Verbs: for Science – and other subjects.

    The following links are graded roughly, starting with easier ones and working up to harder ones.
    A Glossary of Science Inquiry Terms for Year 7 up: by Michael Szesze, Program Supervisor for Science, Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland USA. Covers a number of important words used in talking about Science.
    Science Dictionaries Online from The Library Spot.
    Scientific Dictionary from Enchanted Learning is beautiful! It doesn’t cover everything, but is well worth exploring from Year 7 onwards.
    Science Glossary for definitions of many words used in Science.
    Life Sciences Glossary – over 3,000 definitions, and growing!
    NASA Earth Science Glossary.
    * Validity:
    Here is a high school/junior college level discussion of validity that may help senior students. “The most common definition of validity is best described by the question: Are we measuring what we think we are measuring? There are two important forms of validity: internal and external validity…”
    Wikipedia on validity in logic. (For senior students and teachers.)


    Posted by on December 9, 2006 in esl for students, student help, study skills, writing


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