What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them?

A few weeks ago when I crowdsourced some election myths for this post, I was asked an interesting question by a Year 5 student: How do you know the difference between different political parties and what they are promising?

It turned out to be such a good question that I’m going to devote two blog posts to it! Today, I’ll be exploring political parties themselves.

 
What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them? A look at political parties in Australia and how we can create effective lessons to teach this sometimes complex topic. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

What are political parties?

Political parties are groups of people who believe in a set of values and ideals. They group together with the aim of winning elected positions at federal, state or local elections.

Members of political parties help to shape policies, vote to choose candidates for elections, help campaign for their political party and celebrate (or commiserate) after elections. Many Australians don’t belong to political parties, but might generally support one or another of them.

While the people in political parties share similar values, they don’t all agree all of the time. Party members, including MPs and Senators, might have strong disagreements about different party policies or ideas. However, these disagreements are usually worked out in party meetings and often aren’t argued in public. Australian political parties are known for having this ‘tight discipline’ which means that MPs and Senators from a certain party usually vote for that party in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Sometimes political parties with some similar values work together in a Coalition. Meanwhile, MPs or Senators who don’t belong to a political party are called independents.

Lesson idea: Students can develop their own political party. They should think about what kind of values are important to them, then create an advertisement convincing people to join their party.

Why are political parties important?

Political parties are important because they help groups of people work together to get people elected and to create laws and policy which promote their values. But there are other reasons why political parties are important.

In Australian federal politics, the political party (or coalition) which has the most elected MPs becomes the Government. This means they can choose ministers, develop policies, implement laws and run government departments. They also choose the Prime Minister.

Because the political party chooses the Prime Minister (and not the people of Australia), the ruling political party can change the Prime Minister anytime they want to (as we have seen a lot in recent years). This means any elected member of the ruling political party might become Prime Minister . . . This might be another reason for voters to choose a particular political party.

Lesson idea: Students explore how Prime Ministers are chosen - and discuss what qualities a good Prime Minister should have. Students can turn this discussion into a ‘job application’ to find an excellent Prime Minister.

 
What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them? A look at political parties in Australia and how we can create effective lessons to teach this sometimes complex topic. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

A Quick History of Australia’s Political Parties

In the early 1900s, Australia had three main political parties. The Protectionist Party wanted tariffs and taxes on imports into Australia to protect Australian products and jobs. The Free Trade Party wanted to get rid of taxes and tariffs to allow everyone to share in the wealth of the country. And the Australian Labor Party represented workers groups (or unions) to make sure that workers had fair pay and safe working conditions.

Over time, many political parties have come and gone in Australia. Some of them held positions of power in the Australian parliament, while others may have had a few elected members (or none) before dissolving. The Australian Labor Party is the only surviving party from the original big three.

Lesson idea: Students explore which Prime Ministers represented which party in the early 1900s. They can look a little closer at what policies they promoted and what kinds of laws were put in place.

Today’s Political Parties

Today there are still three main political parties who form government - but they’re a little different from the 1900s.

The Australian Labor Party still aims to represent workers and unions. They also describe themselves as a social-democratic party, which means they think the government should step in to promote social justice through social or economic means.

The Nationals Party is the second oldest party in Australia, founded in 1920. It aims to represent farmers, as well as people who live outside the big cities in Australia. The Nationals often work to make sure that people outside the cities have the same access to services as the people in the cities. They work in a coalition with the Liberal Party of Australia and share some - though not all - of the same values.

The Liberal Party of Australia was formed in 1944 after a meeting of organisations which opposed the Australian Labor Party. Their goal was to form a party based on individual freedom and personal choice. As part of this, they supported (and continue to support) free business - believing that business is the best way to create national and individual growth and wealth. They work in coalition with the National Party.

There are also a number of minor parties (or smaller parties) in Australia. At the moment, the biggest of those is the Australian Greens, a party which grew out of the environmental movement, but now works to develop policies around the environment and integrity, fairness and decency.

There are a number of other smaller parties who run in elections and have one or two elected members. These often change as their popularity grows or falls.

You can get a better understanding of different parties by exploring their values - what ideas they think are most important.

Lesson: Students can create a diagram showing the different political parties in Australia. They might like to research to discover what the core values of the parties are and if they’ve changed since the parties were first formed. Students can use these diagrams to highlight the differences between different parties.

In part 2, I’m going to take a little look at what political policies are, how to examine them, and how to tell the difference between them.

Want to read more? Try . . .

5 Things You Need to Teach Year 4 Civics and Citizenship

The Year 4 Australian Civics and Citizenship curriculum introduces students to some really important concepts - helping them understand the influence of government, laws and the communities they belong to on their everyday life. But what do teachers need to know to make these lessons more effective?

 
5 Things You Need to Teach Year Four Australian Civics and Citizenship. An overview of the Australian Civics and Citizenship HASS outcomes with teaching ideas for busy teachers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

1. What is Government?

Year 4 students are asked to explore local government and the services of local government. But before students can effectively tackle this subject, they should have some understanding of what government is.

This may seem like a fairly simple concept, but like many simple concepts it can be hard to define clearly for our students.

You may like to start by gauging student understanding. Ask students to write or draw what they think government is or to engage in a think-pair-share while defining government. Students can work collaboratively to create a collage showing what government is or can interview each other about what they think government involves.

Students may also like to add to their understanding of government as they spend more time learning about local government.

2. What does your Local Government Involve?

The local government outcome is a great way for students to take an introductory look at elections and at how government plays a role in everyday life. But there’s a number of things which you can do to make this more successful.

It’s possible that you live in a different local council area to your students or that your students live across two different council areas. This means you may need to do a little research on a different council area and some of the services which the local council offers.

It’s worthwhile getting in contact with your local council as you are planning your lessons. They might have educational materials which you can use in your classroom or they might be able to suggest excursion opportunities or aspects of the council which you may not have thought of. You might also be able to get a guest speaker from the local council - many local councillors engage in school visits and might be happy to speak with your students about the services offered by local government.

Another area of your local government to explore is the local libraries. You may be able to take students there as an excursion, and librarians are often available to show students the many services available through the libraries and through library websites - all services offered by local governments. (They might even have teaching materials available!)

 
5 Things You Need to Teach Year Four Australian Civics and Citizenship. An overview of the Australian Civics and Citizenship HASS outcomes with teaching ideas for busy teachers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

3. The Difference Between Rules and Laws

Another Year 4 Australian Civics and Citizenship outcome asks students to explore the place of laws in their life and how laws differ from rules.

As you approach these lessons, you might like to collect examples of rules which students might encounter. From school rules, to classroom rules, to household rules to shopping centre or play centre rules - although students see these daily, they may not have really examined them.

As they examine them, they can start to understand how rules differ from laws. The difference between rules and laws is another concept which can be simple, but can be complicated. It’s worthwhile spending a little time to write down your ideas on the concept to get them firmly worked out as you plan lessons and learning experiences for your students.

Students can also build a ‘growing’ definition of rules and laws - adding to or refining their understanding as they work through lessons on the topic.

4. Identity - and how it is shaped by different things

The Civics and Citizenship curriculum asks students to explore how their identity is shaped by the groups they are part of. This is a rather complex topic - what is meant by groups? What is meant by identity?

One way you can prepare to teach this topic is to take a moment to reflect on your own identity and how that has been shaped by groups. Some of the groups you belong to may not have much of an influence on your identity - my family background is Scottish, but other than an interest in visiting Scotland one day, it doesn’t have a massive influence on my day to day life. Other groups you belong to might make a daily impact on your life - my immediate family group prioritises dinner time, so we cook dinner and eat together almost every night - this is a group which has a big impact on what I do every day.

Reflecting on your own identity can help you plan a way for your students to explore the groups they belong to and how those shape their own identities. Students may be surprised to discover how many groups they belong to - from groups connected with their heritage, groups connected to their religion, groups connected to their family, friendship groups, school groups and activity groups. You can also explore other groups in your community - especially cultural, religious and activity groups.

5. Symbols and Traditions

As well as exploring groups in the community, Year 4 students are asked to reflect on the symbols and traditions of these groups. This might include ceremonies, activities, anthems, poems, school songs, colours or logos.

You might like to spend some time collecting examples of symbols and traditions before students start exploring these topics. This might include the logos, colours and uniforms of local sports teams; uniforms, mottos and school songs from local schools; traditions of local religious denominations or traditions of military or returned service people groups.

You can present these symbols and traditions to your students, asking them to reflect on why they might be important, why they may have developed, what they say about the groups and how they influence identity.

Looking for comprehensive Year 4 Civics and Citizenship resources? Explore the Year 4 Civics and Citizenship Complete Bundle and the Mini Units, Assessment Tasks and Word Wall and Poster resources which make up the Bundle.

Australian Election Myths (And Teaching Ideas for a Better Understanding of Elections)

As elections approach in Australia, people begin to talk about voting. And while this talk is sometimes about policies and personalities (and sometimes about democracy sausages), sometimes misinformation creeps into the conversation.

How does this impact us as teachers? Well, teaching civics is part of the Australian curriculum. And teachers are in a unique position to arm their students with accurate information - the kind of information which will make our students more informed when the time comes for them to vote - and less likely to fall for misinformation when it comes up.

 
Australian Election Myths and Teaching Ideas for a Better Understanding. Mythbusting misconceptions about Australian elections and voting in Australia and teaching ideas to help students be better informed. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Myth: A blank vote is a vote for the government
Reality:
A blank vote is regarded as an informal vote and counts for no candidate

Myth: If you don’t like anyone, you can cross them all out and write that you don’t want them. A new election will be held if a majority of people vote like this
Reality:
Crossing out candidates and writing on the paper will make the vote informal and it will count for no candidate . . . but it also won’t trigger a new election.

The myths which lead people to informal voting are probably the most dangerous (and the most likely to be promoted by groups looking to interfere with elections in Australia). An informal vote happens when a ballot paper is not filled in correctly. This might mean that the voter has ticked or crossed instead of numbering, written their name on the ballot, not filled in the ballot at all or hasn’t completed the vote under the requirements of the election.

In the 2016 Federal Election, about 5% of House of Representative votes were informal, with about 1.25% of voters leaving them blank, 1.25% of voters numbering incorrectly and about 1% writing slogans or protests on the ballots. While these votes do not count for any candidate (and do not trigger a new election), these votes are totally legal. Compulsory voting requires voters to have their names checked off and to put their ballot paper in the box - but secret ballot means there are no ways to check - and no punishment - if the voter deliberately submits an informal vote.

So why should we correct this myth? People trying to make a protest vote might not understand that preferential voting is designed so the majority of voters get the candidate they dislike the least. By voting correctly, you have a much better chance of getting the candidate you dislike least. It’s a protest against the ones you dislike the most!

Teaching about informal votes: Informal voting is more likely to happen if there are a lot of candidates running. You can work with your students to discuss why this might be the case - and to create a campaign of strategies to help people vote correctly when there are a lot of candidates. Students can create posters or leaflets with their strategies.

Myth: A donkey vote doesn’t count as a vote
Reality: A donkey vote is a perfectly valid way to vote - and why candidates want their name on the top of the ballot paper!

A donkey vote happens when someone votes ‘down the ballot’ without thinking about it - they number the first box ‘1’, the second box ‘2’ and so on. Because every box is numbered it counts as a valid vote. The first candidate on the paper gets the first preference, the second candidate the second preference (if required) and so on.

People might donkey vote if they don’t care who wins, if they don’t understand how the voting system works or if they’re lodging a protest vote. However, a voter might look like a donkey voter - but honestly be voting the way they want to vote! (Especially when there’s only a couple of candidates)

The electoral commissions in Australia work really, really hard to put the candidates names randomly on the papers. There is a double blind draw (they draw once to decide the order the draw will go in and then draw again to work out where the candidates go on the paper). The person drawing the ballot is - indeed - blindfolded (leading to some interesting and not terribly flattering photos of ballot draws!)

Teaching about donkey votes: Investigate the ballot draw system with your students - you might even be able to find video of a draw online. Ask students to create diagrams to explain the system. Or ask them to create their own better system of creating a ballot draw. Students can also explore why we don’t use other systems for the ballot like alphabetically or in the order candidates are registered.

 
Australian Election Myths and Teaching Ideas for a Better Understanding. Mythbusting misconceptions about Australian elections and voting in Australia and teaching ideas to help students be better informed. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Myth: How to Vote Cards must be followed
Reality: How to Vote Cards are just guides

Myth: Preferences aren’t Important
Reality: Preferences can matter a lot

Whenever an election approaches, there’s a lot of discussion about How to Vote Cards. These are the cards which volunteers hand out as you walk into the voting booth. Candidates create them to try to convince people to vote for them - then for the people they like the most (or dislike the least).

But, even if you like a particular party or candidate, you can definitely preference your vote (vote 2, 3, 4 etc) any way you like. The how-to-vote cards are just guides. The surprising thing is that a lot of voters have no idea how they will vote until they turn up - so those cards can be influential!

Preferences are important though. Preferential voting can be difficult to understand - and it’s a whole blog post of its own! - but preferences can change the results of elections. It’s a system which allows the majority of voters to elect the people they dislike the least. It’s a little strange, but the preferences allow us to have a greater say about who represents us and which party is - or isn’t - in charge.

Teaching preferential voting in the classroom - You can find a resource with a closer look at preferential voting at the Galarious Goods store and the Australian Electoral Commission also have a video about preferential voting. Students can create diagrams or their own videos which explain preferential voting.

Myth: It’s not worth voting in my seat, the same person always wins
Reality: While some seats are ‘safe seats’ there are still benefits to voting.

It can be a real pain to get all excited to vote, only to see the same person - who you don’t like - get elected each time. It’s enough to make you wonder why you bother to vote when you live in a ‘safe’ seat.

A ‘safe’ seat is a seat which is likely to be won by the current candidate (or the same political party). However, there are examples of safe seats going to other candidates. Sometimes this might be because local people are tired of being a ‘safe’ seat and seek their own candidate (like in Indi in 2013); and sometimes a change in boundaries and population, as well as political changes can be enough to change the seat (like when the Prime Minister, John Howard, lost his own seat in 2007). When this happens, the votes are usually pretty close, so it’s definitely worth voting.

Voting also influences political funding. When a candidate gets more than a certain percentage of first preference votes, they are eligible for election funding. This can be especially helpful to smaller parties.

In almost all state and federal elections (Queensland is an exception), you’re voting for an upper house as well as a local representative. These votes are often closer, and a small number of votes can make a real difference, so these votes can help make changes, even when you’re in a safe seat.

Voting is also one of the responsibilities of being an Australian citizen. It’s a chance to become better informed, to have a say . . . and to get yourself a democracy sausage or two.

Teaching about voting in the classroom: Explore the campaign in Indi for independent representatives. It’s a fascinating story about voters having a say. You can also explore more about the responsibilities of voters with this resource from Galarious Goods.

Have you heard any myths about voting in Australia? Make sure you leave them in the comments below.

Find more information about voting at the Australian Electoral Commission website

A huge thanks to Mel, Heidi, Skyler and Kate for their help in uncovering election myths!

Using Primary Sources in the Classroom when Exploring Anzac Day

As we explore Anzac Day in the classroom each year, we might seek new ways of presenting familiar events and stories. One way to take a closer look at the history of Anzac Day is through presenting and exploring primary sources. But where can we find primary sources around Anzac Day and how can we use them in the classroom.

 
Using Primary Sources in the Classroom When Exploring Anzac Day. A look at what primary sources are, where to find Anzac Day primary sources and exploring 3 particular primary sources. A Galarious Good blog post
 

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are documents, images or artefacts from the time period in question. They provide ‘on the spot’ information about the events and the people involved.

Primary sources can include photos, diary entries, newspaper reports, physical objects, government documents, advertising and interviews.

Where to find primary sources for Anzac Day

When exploring Anzac Day, most attention turns to World War One, particularly the events at Gallipoli. However, students can also explore the Second World War and other military involvements, including in Korea, Vietnam and modern peacekeeping and conflicts.

One of the easiest ways to access primary materials - especially news reports and photographs - is online. Many state libraries and museums have online collections, as well as organisations like the Australian Army. These documents can be displayed with projectors, used on tablets (especially the PDF booklets) or printed out for students to explore.

As well as the big museums in Australia, smaller local museums and historical societies may have primary sources for exploration. These collections might not be as big as the larger institutions, but might have connections with the local area of your students.

Libraries are other good sources of local history material. They may have photographs, newspaper articles or documents to explore, but may also have books which have collected photographs or documents together.

Finally, it’s worth seeing if the families of your students have any primary source material they can bring in to explore. Families may hold onto medals or photos of family members, or have letters or postcards or other primary source material like service records which they have collected over the years.

 
Using Primary Sources in the Classroom When Exploring Anzac Day. A look at what primary sources are, where to find Anzac Day primary sources and exploring 3 particular primary sources. A Galarious Good blog post
 

How to Use Primary Sources - Three Examples

Below I’ve chosen three World War One primary sources to take a closer look at, including some discussion and response ideas. These sources are all available online as of March 2019.

Recruiting Posters

You can find these resources at the Australian Army website

This collection of 10 recruiting posters gives students an insight into how the government and the army went about recruiting men to volunteer for World War One. The tone of the posters ranges from ‘come along and help out some friends’ to ‘you are pretty horrible if you don’t come and fight’, as well as asking young men to be proud of being Australian and of being part of the British Empire.

Students can explore the different images and words used on the posters and consider why those images and words might have been chosen. They can also explore what the reactions might have been to these posters. Students can also compare these posters to more recent armed forces recruiting posters - what’s the same between now and then? What’s different?

Students might like to use these posters to formulate questions about the war. Why did most of them say ‘God Save the King’? Why is the date for Australia Day so different? Who is this Earl Kitchener who is often quoted on the back? What are some of the items shown in the illustrations?

Students can also engage in research related to these posters. Why was so much recruiting required? What happened to men who didn’t volunteer to go to war? Did the Army use similar techniques in World War Two?

The John Lord Collection

You can find these resources through the Museum Victoria website

This is an extraordinary collection of primary sources - from war diaries to leave passes and many photographs. John Lord was 19 years old when he enlisted to serve in World War One and he served from June 1915 until after the end of the war. He took or collected a number of photographs and souvenirs which he brought back to Australia. You can read more about him at the Museum Victoria website.

Students might like to browse through the entire collection to get a better overall picture of the experiences of John Lord, or they could focus on one image like Extreme Right of Anzac which shows Australian soldiers standing on the edge of a cliff at Gallipoli. Students examining the photo will get a good understanding of how steep the cliffs were at Gallipoli and why it was so difficult to move around. They can also see the different types of clothing which was worn by the soldiers and make inferences about what they were doing at the time.

 
Museums Victoria: Extreme Right of Anzac Using Primary Sources in the Classroom When Exploring Anzac Day

Museums Victoria: Extreme Right of Anzac
Using Primary Sources in the Classroom When Exploring Anzac Day

 

Students can use the collection to create a page which tells a story of World War one, using a range of photographs to illustrate it. They can also choose a photo or two to write about or they can create pieces of artwork inspired by the photographs. Students might also like to explore the war diaries to create a short piece of writing about what it was like to be in World War One.

Newspaper Article - Rejoicings in Australia

You can find this article and the transcription on the Trove website

This news article from The Age in November 1918 demonstrates how the people of Melbourne celebrated the end of World War One. It’s a particularly descriptive piece of writing, allowing the reader to get a good idea of what it might have been like to be there.

Students might discuss why the celebrations were so joyous and what some of the issues were around the celebration. They might also like to rewrite the article in the style of a modern newspaper or search for images which might accompany the article. Students can also write a short piece from the point of view of a young person who might have been there during the celebrations or a time traveller from today who went back in time and got caught up in the celebrating.

This primary source is also a good example of some of the difficulties with using Primary Sources. The original newspaper can be difficult to read and the transcription has some errors. Students can talk about how mistakes might be made when using primary sources or how primary sources may be shaped by the people involved with them and their biases.

Whether it’s posters, photographs or articles - or journals, artefacts or official papers - there’s a wealth of primary source material related to Anzac Day, allowing teachers and students to take a deeper look at an important commemoration in our country.

Assessing and Addressing Waiting in Your Classroom

For many children, waiting for their classmates to finish working so they can move on is a frustrating - and frustratingly common - occurrence. Researcher have even found that some students spend as much as 50% of their learning time waiting for other students.

How can we assess the waiting in our classroom? And how can we address it so our students are learning as much as possible?

 
Assessing and Addressing Waiting in Your Classroom. Do you have students who are always finished early? What do they do while they wait for other students. This blog post explores why you should assess the waiting of early finishers and how to avoid frustrating waiting time. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

1. Be aware of the waiting in your classroom

It’s hard to address waiting in your classroom if you’re not really sure when or where it’s happening. Classrooms are busy places and it can be hard to be sure what is happening unless you’re making a point of focusing on it. Keep a record of what waiting happens over a week. You might want to record

  • The inevitable waiting. Waiting for assemblies, specialist teachers, technical equipment to work, students to line up to return to class or move around school. You can do things to reduce some of this, but there’s always going to be some waiting - and it’s ok for your students to know this.

  • Which students are finishing early. Some of the students might tell you if they finish early, others might just finish and wait. Keep an eye out for them, or ask your students to let you know if they finish early.

  • If there are students who are finishing with the rest of the class, but they probably could be finishing quicker. If students have become accustomed to getting more work when they finish early, they may have learned to slow themselves down to avoid the extra work. These students can be hard to spot, but keep a note of any suspicions you have. Especially look out for students who are inserting ‘non-work’ time into their work time and still finishing on time - although their interruptions might be distracting, it might be their way of delaying their finish.

  • Students who are finishing early, but could probably be working at a higher level. It’s good to have a record of who might be ‘rushing’ through the work and may need some slowing down strategies and thinking time.

  • Which subjects have more waiting time. Are students waiting more in maths? Or reading? Do you have lower number of students waiting when you do handwriting? Make a record of this to help you plan future lessons.

Be kind to yourself. If you get a lot of information it can be overwhelming. But it’s ok to pick one or two areas to work on first. It’s also ok to come back and undertake this reflection at a later time - especially if you’ve made changes. You may see some great improvements and you might also find some other areas to work on.

2. Plan to differentiate - combat waiting before it begins

The best way to avoid frustrating waiting in the classroom is to plan for all your students to be as engaged in learning as much as possible! This kind of differentiation is not always easy, though. Here’s a few things you might like to include in your planning.

  • Pre-assess when you can. If you’re approaching a new concept in reading, mathematics or science, it may be useful to offer a short pre-assessment. This allows you to see where students already have a good understanding of the concept - and where there are gaps in knowledge. The work can then be targeted to the students in your class for the best learning for all of them, and it may help you put together some temporary groups to work together.

  • Plan to use open-ended activities with different possibilities. Open-ended activities are a great way to allow all students to be engaged and show understanding of a concept. For example, instead of (or as well as) offering a page of maths problems where students add 10, ask them what happens if they add 10 to different numbers. Students can practice their skills and find patterns.

  • You can also offer students a range of activities to complete - nominating which ones are ‘must-dos’ and which ones they can choose to do when the ‘must-dos’ are completed. (You can read more, and get free resources from this great post from Top Teaching Tasks)

  • Think Sideways. What is the learning outcome? What would it look like if students dug a little deeper into that outcome? For example:

    • if the class are doing addition problems, the students who have finished can explore matching the addition problems to ‘turn around’ subtraction problems

    • if the class are reading an information sheet, the students who have finished reading can find the most important vocabulary (and rank importance?) or create a diagram of what they have read.

    • if students are working on reading sight words, the students who have finished can work on adding new letters or swapping letters to make different words

Try to make as many of your differentiated activities transferable to other activities, while still being effective. Creating a ‘tool-kit’ of differentiation for quick finishers will make it easier to make it part of your planning.

 
Assessing and Addressing Waiting in Your Classroom. Do you have students who are always finished early? What do they do while they wait for other students. This blog post explores why you should assess the waiting of early finishers and how to avoid frustrating waiting time. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

3. Be Prepared for Surprise Finishes

As prepared as you might be, you’ll probably still have time when students finish early. Here’s a few things you can try to work with that

  • Develop a classroom culture of ‘is it my best work?’ This allows all students to demonstrate the best work they can possibly do in the classroom, but also gives quick finishers something meaningful to do when they have ‘finished’. Going back and revising work is an important skill for all students to develop. Ask students to find 3 areas where they can improve their work and ask them to reflect on why they think those areas can be improved. It is possible that they won’t find anything, but it’s important for them to know that even adults (such as authors) go back and revise and improve their work - and a thoughtful way to use time.

  • Ask students how they would explain the concept or how to solve the problem to someone else. They might create a written piece, a drawing, a diagram, a verbal explanation - even a podcast or a video of their explanation.

  • Ask students to create their own related problems. If they’ve finished all the comprehension questions for a chapter, what questions would they ask? If they’re finished with a fractions problem, how would they create one? This allows you another way to see the depth of their understanding, while being meaningful work.

  • Keep reading and games on technology as a last resort. If there’s really no other way to fill in the waiting time, you may need these to turn to. Think about setting a time limit on them (assess when you’ll be moving other students on) so students know when they need to put the book down or turn off the game. And make sure there’s time in your schedule for all students to enjoy the games or reading time so there’s no resentment building against those fast finishers.

5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers: Part Two

 
5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers Part Two. A look at vocabulary, reading choices and differentiating classroom activities for gifted readers. A Galarious Goods Blog Post
 

Note: While this blog post is aimed at teachers in Kindy/Prep/Reception, Grade 1 and Grade 2, many of the ideas are adaptable or applicable to older grades as well.

3. Expand Their Vocabulary

Like background knowledge, vocabulary is something you develop with more time, more reading, more conversation, more exposure to different experiences and . . . well, more time. Asking 5, 6 or 7 year olds to automatically have the same vocabulary as older students is a tall ask.

While many of these young gifted readers have wide and varied vocabularies, it’s very possible that they have gaps in their vocabulary knowledge or that they are missing vocabulary understanding when it comes to particular subjects. While they can continue to grow their vocabulary through reading, it’s important to provide opportunities for students to see vocabulary as something you can work on, something to strive to improve at.

Parents of gifted readers will tell you that it’s incredibly frustrating to see sight words or high frequency words come home which are well below the level of their children. These are often accompanied with instructions to ‘learn them’ to ‘laminate the cards’ or to ‘check Pinterest for fun activities’. While these are excellent ideas for students who are learning these words, they leave parents of gifted readers wondering whether their child is being catered for at all, and what possible alternatives there are to sight word activities.

Offering a vocabulary list instead of sight word list is an easy way to differentiate this kind of homework (or school work) for gifted students. Like sight words, you can offer a few easy activities - look up the word, write a sentence with the word, see if you can spot the word in a book, draw the word - for students to complete in the classroom or at home. You can find or suggest additional ideas through Pinterest or extend students with ideas like using folding resources.

You can also help young gifted readers to extend their reading by teaching them how to look up word definitions in a dictionary. Students can develop the skills of finding words, looking at multiple definitions and (at times) looking up more words so they really understand the definition. This is a skill they’ll be able to use for years to come!

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

You can create or find vocabulary templates (or teach students to draw up their own) so students can engage in vocabulary work at a range of times.

To find vocabulary lists, search online for a few years above the grade level of your students (this is where testing will assist you in knowing what level your gifted readers require) - there’s a lot available! A number of subject lists are also available.

To teach dictionary skills, see if you can work with a range of teachers across different grades to put together a small group of students who would benefit from learning these skills. If you have a teacher-librarian, they might be able to put on a little workshop for the students or you may be able to work with your Principal or Curriculum Leader to release a teacher to teach dictionary skills.

4. Support their Reading Choices

This one is especially important when it comes to school libraries. Many, many young gifted readers have experienced the deflating experience of visiting the school library only to be told, ‘No, you can’t borrow that’.

When questioned, various reasons are given for this refusal: the book is too hard (even if the student has borrowed harder books previously); they can’t comprehend it (even if they have other books in the series at home); the subject matter is too old for them (even if parents have given permission); it’s just school policy.

If it’s school policy, then it’s bad policy - designed to dull a love of books and libraries (which should be enjoyed as the magical places they are). As a teacher, I recommend finding out whether your school has a policy like this and whether it should be updated to allow for the fact that some younger children read harder books - or that their parents are happy to read harder books to them.

As for the other reasons, they usually stem from a lack of knowledge of the student (that’s where you - as the teacher who knows the student - can step in) or concern about parent reaction. One teacher librarian told me that her school solves that issue by asking parents for blanket permission, then recording that permission so students don’t have to ‘re-ask’ every year.

Getting to know the books in the school library allows students to explore a really wonderful range of books in a place where they are regular visitors. If you don’t have a school librarian, or your school librarian is reluctant to recommend books suitable for your gifted readers, consider finding an older ‘reading buddy’ from a higher grade - someone who loves books and reading and will share some of the delights of the school library with your students.

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

Keep an eye out for advanced readers - anyone who might be reading more than picture books - before you start library borrowing. A quick note home to parents can help you get parent permission. You can then note this on a note you attach to the library box or basket or a tag attached to the child’s library bag. This way, you know who has permission at a quick glance.

 
5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers Part Two. A look at vocabulary, reading choices and differentiating classroom activities for young gifted readers. A Galarious Goods Blog Post
 

5. Differentiating Your Classroom Lessons

A gifted reader with excellent decoding skills will not be served with lessons purely aimed at decoding. And while some phonics lessons are excellent for spelling, constant repetition is also unhelpful if the gifted reader is already understanding and applying those lessons.

However, busy work - asking a gifted reader ‘just to read their book’ or to just do -more- of what other students are doing, isn’t respectful to the student either. They have a right to learn to the best of their potential - just like any other student in the class.

When it comes to differentiating for the gifted reader, it’s important to know where they can continue to learn (it all comes back to the testing!). Do they need to learn comprehension skills which help them with texts on unfamiliar subjects? Do they need to extend vocabulary knowledge? Should they begin to explore responding to texts through reviews or reader reactions? Or could they learn more about sentence structure and grammar so they understand why a sentence works - or doesn’t work?

Vocabulary and comprehension skills are two places where you can differentiate for students. If the class is concentrating on reading a particular book, you could ask gifted students to ‘insert’ or ‘substitute’ a range of provided words into the original text and to work out where they would be effective (a great way for students to apply their vocabulary understanding with words they have previously defined). You can also provide deeper thinking questions for students to reflect on while the class is reading particular books.

Retelling stories in different ways, creating questions for stories or other texts and asking ‘what if . . .?’ questions are all ways that students can extend their thinking about stories. And sometimes differentiation can be as simple as using correct terminology as well as easier wording when talking about sentences - pointing out that descriptive words are also known as adjectives provides a framework for students as they explore sentences in more detail.

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

This can be the hardest thing to make work in a busy classroom, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Remember that differentiation doesn’t always need to be a whole new lesson - it’s ok to repeat activities like writing reviews (even adult book reviewers improve by repeating this!), creating questions, finding effective words in texts or asking ‘what if . . . ‘ questions. And sometimes differentiation can happen just by offering an alternate text.

When you’re planning, ask yourself if there are any skills your gifted readers will need to explicitly learn - whether it’s how to write a review, use a dictionary or what a verb is. You may be able to work with teachers of other gifted readers to make this one group during literacy rotations, or you may be able to work with one or two gifted readers during silent reading time or individual learning time. And remember, even if your gifted readers are working on self-directed work - make time to check on their understanding and to show them that their reading is valued in your classroom.

Have you read Part One of this post? It covers testing and offering a range of texts and is a must read!

 
 

5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers: Part One

You get a list of the reading levels of your incoming class and there it is - a student on Level 26, way above the average level of the rest of the class.

Or, you notice that there’s a student who’s reading all the posters in your classroom - including the evacuation procedures - while the other students are working on their early letters.

Or, you have a student who is asking to borrow novels from the school library - even though students in his grade are only supposed to borrow picture books.

It’s not tremendously unusual to come across students who can read before they start school, or who pick up reading very quickly when they do start. But there isn’t an awful lot of support for those students - or their teachers. How can you plan for those gifted readers and differentiate to meet their needs in your classroom?

 
5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers Part One. A look at differentiating for gifted readers in Grade 1, Grade 2 and Kindergarten classrooms. Exploring testing of reading and providing a range of texts for gifted readers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Note: While this blog post is aimed at teachers in Kindy/Prep/Reception, Grade 1 and Grade 2, many of the ideas are adaptable or applicable to older grades as well.

1. Test Their Reading - in a Variety of Ways

It can be tempting to leave gifted readers for a while before testing their reading. After all, testing reading takes time - serious time. And you already know that those students can read.

Testing is essential, however. Without it, those students have no benchmark, nowhere to grow from. It makes it harder to plan for those students effectively, and it makes it harder to show parents or admin how you’re differentiating for those students when you have no idea where they really are.

As well as testing them using standard tests, consider offering them a couple of other texts to read - and to answer comprehension questions on. Texts on unfamiliar subjects with lots of context clues (like pictures) can be a great way to see if students are using strategies to make connections. Upper level informational readers are great for this.

Also consider asking your student to read and answer some thoughtful questions on a familiar text like a picture book. The student may be better on comprehension when they have the background knowledge to infer and make connections - and a lot of the harder standard tests are aimed at older students with more knowledge behind them.

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

If you’re struggling to find time to test reading, check with support staff to see if there’s anyway someone can give you a hand with your class while you test. See if you can work with another class where one teacher tests while the other undertakes some easy activities with the students. Plan some independent activities which allow you enough time for testing - and talk about how important it is for students to give you the time and space to get good information.

 
5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers Part One. A look at differentiating for gifted readers in Grade 1, Grade 2 and Kindergarten classrooms. Exploring testing of reading and providing a range of texts for gifted readers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

2. Provide a Lot of Different Texts - and Different Kinds of Texts

Do you have a reading area in your classroom? Think about what you have in it.

If you primarily have fiction picture books, you’re probably not meeting the reading needs of your gifted readers. Sure, they can read them - picture books are wonderful for all sorts of learning - but there’s no challenge to read further, to build more background knowledge - and there’s a subtle message that the reading area may not be for them.

Often young gifted readers are told that they aren’t good with comprehension. However, the problem is often that they’re too young to have built the kind of background knowledge you need for effective comprehension. That comes with age and with exposure to a wide range of books (and other experiences).

It’s unreasonable to expect a full classroom library of novels for one or two students, but there’s no reason you can’t include non-fiction books or poetry books or magazines aimed at younger readers. These texts can all be looked at and enjoyed by all the students in the class, but they give your gifted reader the option of more types of texts and different styles of writing - as well as helping them to build that background knowledge which helps so much in comprehension.

What if you have a student who is capable of reading a range of texts, but will only stick with the familiar? This is where you can think about your different subject areas and what you’re teaching there. If you’re looking at how materials change in science, have some reading texts about materials or change available. You can ask the gifted readers to explore these texts as part of their science lesson and report their findings back to the class, use it as a text during reading time and ask students to find connections or simply have it available for free reading. There’s great books available which cover all kinds of subjects these days - perfect for extending subject areas into text.

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

Do you book talk the books in your classroom? Talk about them, introduce them, or ‘sell’ them to your students? Try book talking you non-fiction or poetry books as well as picture books. It’s a quick and easy way of making a range of texts appealing to your students - and challenging your gifted readers to try something new.

Don’t miss Part Two of this important topic - covering vocabulary instruction, reading choices and lesson differentiation! Click here to read more

 
 

Don't Put My Child On Your Classroom Data Wall

In the lead up to the 2019 school year, Instagram was filled with teachers creating beautiful things for beautiful classrooms. But as the parent of a school-aged child, one thing worried me - the number of displays which were created just to share the academic and behavioural levels of children in the class.

And - as a parent - I’m asking you to take children off your classroom data walls.

 
Don't Put My Child on Your Classroom Data Wall - a look at public data walls and how they lack context, privacy, thought for outlier students and how they may harm our students. A parent-teacher perspective from Galarious Goods
 

Whether it’s reading levels, test scores, behaviour, number of books read or goals achieved, our schools are filled with data. But should those data levels be publicly displayed on the wall of our classrooms?

The call for ‘accountability’ - mostly stemming from No Child Left Behind (an early 2000’s government initiative from the United States), led to the call for more and more data to be collected, recorded, analysed and displayed. One way this was achieved was by creating data walls for teachers to use. These were placed in teacher areas - like staff rooms or planning rooms - where they could be used for planning and evaluation. But slowly, these walls of academic and behavioural levelling crept out of the teacher areas and onto the walls of the classrooms. It is these classroom displays which concern me as a parent and a teacher - for a number of reasons.

1. The Privacy of Our Students

Once a child’s name is attached to a levelled display in the classroom, they lose the privacy of their own achievement level. Every classmate, every other student who comes into the room, every parent can see exactly what behaviour level students are at or what reading level they have achieved and how they compare with other students.

In some places around the world, these data walls actually break laws protecting student privacy. But even when they don’t, these walls - which are often put up without the permission or knowledge of parents - share information about students which should be kept for the students, their parents and the staff of the school. I had to give parental permission for my son’s kindergarten to share his learning statement with his school - but few teachers ask for permission to share reading levels, behaviour levels or achievement levels with anyone who looks into the classroom.

2. The Lack of Context

A display showing how many books a child has read over the year sounds like a great thing. But when Alice is reading picture books and Bill is reading novels, Alice is obviously going to look better on the chart.

Lack of context is a serious problem for a wall chart - yet that is what students see, day after day. For some students learning comes super easy. They absorb the information, share the information and it all takes very little effort. For others, they can work extremely hard at school and at home and - on paper at least - show very little progress.

Even if Bill knows he’s only read half as many books as Alice because he’s reading much longer than books than she is - he knows that his number of books looks ‘small’. It takes away some of the pride that he might feel for being able to read longer books, or - at worst - tells him that he should also swap to picture books so he can have a lot of books to add to the chart on the wall.

You cannot easily add context to a chart on the wall in your classroom - not in a way which will help your students to understand it.

3. Is There Evidence That They Work?

The short answer to this is no. When researchers from Australian Catholic University examined the research, they found only one example of research showing positive results for TEACHERS using data walls - and nothing about classroom displays making a difference to students.

Australian authorities and school administrations often point to one school in Australia which showed improvement after putting data walls up where everyone could see them. However, this is a) isolated, b) focused on a particular population of students and c) was combined with a significant program of improvement - much more than just a data wall.

So, why are we doing it? Are we creating walls just because they’re popular? Or because admin told us to?

 
Don't Put My Child on Your Classroom Data Wall - a look at public data walls and how they lack context, privacy, thought for outlier students and how they may harm our students. A parent-teacher perspective from Galarious Goods
 

4. Does Your Data Display Harm Your Students?

Have you got anxious students in your class? Imagine being the anxious student working hard to go up the behaviour wall, but for some reason you don’t seem to be moving, no matter how hard you try. While your behaviour continues to be good at school - because you’re striving to be moved on that wall you see every session of every school day - your behaviour at home is deteriorating because you’re frustrated and you just don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Or what if that data wall becomes your sole focus in class. You’re no longer interested in classes which don’t progress you on the wall, or learning for the joy of learning. You just want to see that peg with your name on it moved.

Or what if you just cannot get past other people on that chart - if no matter what you do, you’re always on the bottom.

As a teacher, you may not see the harm these charts are doing to your students - students can be remarkably good at masking how they feel to fit in. But parents see it at home. We see it in poor behaviour and loss of enthusiasm for school. We see it in school refusal and constant anxiety related illness.

5. Do your data displays allow for outlying students?

Have you got a goals chart in your room? A chart with the standards for your grade level, and places to put the students as they’re striving to meet those standards?

What are you going to do when a student walks into your class and they’ve already met those standards? Your display has told that student and their parents that you have no goals for them to meet - that there is no learning place for them in your classroom.

If you’re measuring reading levels, where do students go when they’ve already reached the top level?

What about a student who is working on goals or levels which are not easily seen on a standard chart?

 
Don't Put My Child on Your Classroom Data Wall - a look at public data walls and how they lack context, privacy, thought for outlier students and how they may harm our students. A parent-teacher perspective from Galarious Goods
 

What’s the alternative?

The good news is that if you’re all about data, there are alternatives to classroom data walls. Data walls in teacher spaces - either physical or digital - can be a great tool when planning. There is no reason students can’t track their own data either - keeping it in a private place in their own notebooks and creating their own learning or behaviour goals.

Classes can also create collaborative displays. Recording the amount of books read by a class can be incredibly motivating (we kept ours on the door of our classroom and it provoked many conversations with students from other classes about why we enjoyed reading so much) - and every students contributes together from this. Similar things can happen with achievement levels - additions can be added to displays whenever any child in the class achieves a new level or has a particularly successful (for them) piece of work.

We can also acknowledge a full range of classroom achievements - from being a good sport during a sports lesson to using particularly good words in a piece of writing. We can make our classrooms places of joyful learning, instead of places where everyone is just trying to climb the ladder to their next regimented success.

Further Reading

TeachersPayTeachers Resources Which Have Caught My Eye

Do you ever find yourself browsing TeachersPayTeachers and coming across all sorts of amazing resources you can’t help but explore . . . even if you don’t really need them! I’m completely guilty of this - so I just had to put some of these products together in one place to share with you!

 
6 fabulous resources from Teachers Pay Teachers creators. With everything from geography to dramatic play to certificates, this is a must read list of great teaching and learning resources available through TeachersPayTeachers. Perfect for your classroom! A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Ok, so this isn’t one resource, but a whole lot of them - and they are utterly amazing. Top Teaching Tasks puts together reading comprehension skills and puzzles to create these engaging, motivating resources which are perfect for a whole range of holidays or learning topics. I would imagine that this range will continue to grow, so make sure you follow the shop for more.

One particular puzzle I wanted to highlight is a puzzle and so much more. The New Zealand Geography and Kiwiana Culture Unit would be a must have for New Zealand teachers, but could also be bought by teachers around the world for independent extension work - taking a little look into a country which many love but may not know much about. It would also be a brilliant purchase for families who are travelling around New Zealand - I know we would have had so much fun exploring the country through this unit before we travelled there in 2018!

2. Australian Prime Ministers Poster Set from Aussie Star Resources

I adore these beautiful posters. I think they would work well as a year long display in Australian upper-primary or social studies classrooms - a reminder that government (and Prime Ministers) are an important part of our life in Australia.

As well as being lovely to look at - you know these will be updated if (when) we get a new Prime Minister. I believe the turn around to get Scott Morrison included was about a week - an amazing turn around on a event no one really saw coming!

3. Word Building and Phonics Activity Cards from Aussie Waves

A hands on, engaging word building resource which can be used in a variety of ways with readers at a wide range of levels? Count me in!

This is such a lovely resource for lower primary students and can be combined with reading, writing and hands on fine motor resources. Imagine combining it with writing in sand or to make nonsense words which build on current word knowledge! I can see it being a really valuable addition to Prep, 1 and 2 classrooms and being used to build phonics, reading and spelling knowledge.

 
6 fabulous resources from Teachers Pay Teachers creators. With everything from geography to dramatic play to certificates, this is a must read list of great teaching and learning resources available through TeachersPayTeachers. Perfect for your classroom! A Galarious Goods blog post
 

My kids have recently been engaging in a lot of dramatic play (my poor sister was their hospital patient yesterday. She says she’s now vaccinated for everything!) so I’ve been watching Little Lifelong Learners intently for inspiration. There’s a wide range of dramatic play resources available, but I especially love this Post Office set which I think would be brilliant to use in lower primary (and some parts might stretch into older grades as well).

5. Student Awards and Certificates from A Plus Learning

Another range of resources rather than individual product, these certificates are a must have for the classroom. With students of the month and end of the year options, these would be wonderful to have available to recognise the amazing work done by your students in your classroom.

6. Clip Art from Green Grubs

Just look how beautiful this all is! I adore this beautiful work and it looks stunning on the screen and printed out.

While clip art is usually bought by resource creators, it can be a handy thing to have in the classroom. Most clip art creators have no limitations on personal, classroom use - so these images can be used in posters, classwork, art lessons, to make your slides and presentations fancy and more. I used the Australian symbols art work on menus for our school carnival (to go with a Possum Magic theme!) and they looked so professional and really drew customers into our stall!

Are you a TpT browser? What have you found lately? Leave a comment below to share your finds!

8 Free Resources for Classrooms Reading Boy Overboard

Providing students with high quality background information for Boy Overboard can be a little bit of a challenge. Many resources are older and out of date and many links are sadly broken. Here, I’ve collected a range of free resources to assist you in providing background information for Boy Overboard and teaching the novel more effectively to your students.

 
8 Free Resources for Classrooms Reading Boy Overboard - a collection of links and ideas for the Morris Gleitzman novel and some ways to use them in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post.

8 Free Resources for Classrooms Reading Boy Overboard - a collection of links and ideas for the Morris Gleitzman novel and some ways to use them in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post.

 

(While all efforts are made to make sure these links are accurate - the nature of the web means they may be ‘broken’. Sometimes searching will help you access the material, but - sadly - some information may be taken from the web permanently)

On Refugees

National Geographic: Refugee Week

To access this resource, you need a login (which is quick and easy to get). This one page primary resource introduces students to a range of concepts, vocabulary terms and ideas around refugees. The page also includes teaching ideas.

This would be good to use before students read Boy Overboard or right after. It would also be a useful resource if students were researching refugees.

BTN: Refugee Day

This BTN video provides background information on refugees in a range of situations and provides images for students to put with the story. BTN has broadcast a wide range of stories on refugees over the years and many are available. This story, like many of the others, also includes teacher notes and further links for students to explore.

UNHCR Teaching Materials for 9-12 Year Olds

This teaching resource from the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) offers a range of teaching ideas and lesson ideas about refugees. One of the most useful resources is the teacher’s guide to integrating teaching about refugees and asylum into a range of classroom subjects.

On Afghanistan

The Pulitzer Centre: Lesson Plan on Afghanistan

This is a complete lesson plan on Afghanistan and its history, based around resources from news organisations. The lesson plan may be a little complex for your students, but there are a range of teacher questions and activities and some good news links (though some links are no longer available)

Royal Geographical Society

The Royal Geographical Society page is good for some background information on Afghanistan. Some of the links are broken, but the documents at the bottom provide a timeline and a number of fact sheets with extra information about Afghanistan.

On the Pacific Solution

Australian Catholic Social Justice Council - Discussion Paper - The Pacific Solution
Australian Parliament House - Parliamentary Library - Pacific Solution

These two pages are aimed at an older audience, but provide background information to The Pacific Solution and arguments around it. These would be good for teachers to use when preparing discussions or further reading information for students.

On Boy Overboard

Morris Gleitzman’s Author Notes

This is a thoughtful reflection on why Morris Gleitzman wrote Boy Overboard and would be especially good to read while considering author intention. Students should wait until they have finished reading the book to read this.

Boy Overboard Novel Study - Sample Pack

This Galarious Goods free resource allows teachers and students to take a closer look at several aspects of Boy Overboard. This is a great resource if you have limited time to explore the novel or you are just looking for a few supplementary resources