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Graduate teachers: How Explicit Direct Instruction impacted my first year in the classroom

What’s it like to be a first year teacher implementing Explicit Direct Instruction in a remote school?  In this interview, filmed with our Virtual School Support technology, Good to Great Schools Australia Teaching Coach Helen Ferreira asks graduate teachers Taylah and Ebony about their experiences with EDI at Western Cape College in Mapoon.

Watch the video or read the transcript below.

Helen: Take 32!

My name is Helen Ferreira and I’m a teaching coach with Good to Great Schools and I’ve got two teachers from Mapoon School with me. They’re both graduates, both first time out in the big wide world of teaching up in a remote community – don’t know what they were thinking at the time – but they’ve almost survived their full year teaching EDI [Explicit Direct Instruction] in the classroom. So we’ve just organised a few questions to ask them to sort of get their idea on how EDI has or hasn’t helped them this year through their first year out in the field.

I guess you guys can just jump in whenever you want.

Were you familiar with Explicit Direct Instruction pedagogy when you first began teaching at the school?

Ebony: No, I was familiar with concepts like learning objectives and the paddle pop sticks, but I hadn’t seen it in a whole program, and I hadn’t seen it when you use the different norms, like your eyes front, back straight and all that kind of thing, I hadn’t seen it like that before. So yes, but no, not really.

Taylah: And then obviously from uni we learned a lot about the whole explicit delivery of lessons and concepts and stuff like that. But EDI does combine all of that in one. So no, I hadn’t seen it all combined together.

Ebony: You see a snippet here and there, but then to have it in a whole program you’re like, right.

Helen: What was your first reaction and how were you feeling when you were told that you would be using the EDI pedagogy in your classroom?

Taylah: At first I was thinking, ‘This is great that I don’t have to plan each individual lesson and that the whole units and the assessment and everything all links together.’

It was a little bit overwhelming to try and think, ‘Oh, there’s no room to wriggle on this. I don’t know how I’m going to fit all this into my teaching timetable. How can I do assessments?’ All that sort of stuff. But once I become familiar with the program, I was like ‘This is great!’

Helen: Now [Ebony] you started partway through, we sort of blended it as it came through in the year. So the last term was your first full term of doing it?

Ebony: Yeah, so I started the start of term three, and I think I was a bit more comfortable with it because Taylah had already been doing it all year. So I kind of had a general gist of what was coming. But I was also thinking, ‘Oh, like I have little kids and getting them to sit and do Explicit Direct Instruction, like, it feels like it’s just going to be really boring and I don’t get to do my fun early childhood stuff, and yeah, it’s not like that at all.

Helen: Have your feelings changed since you began using EDI in the classroom? And if so, how?

Ebony: Yes. I love it. It’s so good. I love that I don’t have to plan. And I think because you don’t have to plan, you get to spend more time actually catering to the needs of your kids, because you’ve got all the content ready to go and you’re like, ‘Okay, I’ve got all this content, now how do I actually get that content and teach it to my kid’s needs?’ Rather than spending, you know, hours planning and then hours differentiating, you’re just like, okay, planning’s done, now I can just worry about my kids. So all the background work is kind of done. You can just get up, do your show and yeah, it’s awesome. I love it.

Taylah: Yeah, definitely. And I’d probably just like to add that when you first looked at it and you think, oh, Explicit Direct Instruction, this is just a massive big script. I can’t change anything. I can’t adapt this to my teaching style. And then once everything’s planned for you, you can adapt it to just your kids and how you deliver it. And then it really just flows from there and you’re just like, ‘Oh yeah, you can put all your energy into just delivering it and not planning and thinking of examples and thinking of scenarios for the kids to learn through’. It’s just all there for you.

Ebony: I think it is what you make it. Like if you got up and were real robotic about it, you wouldn’t get anything out of it and the kids wouldn’t either. But if you get up and you just like you said, put on your big show, like then yeah. You’re good. It is what you make it I think.

Helen: What are some of the benefits of using EDI in the classroom? So you’ve mentioned that you’ve got the planning and things done for you. Are there any other benefits that you found using EDI in the classroom?

Taylah: In a small school like this I’ve definitely seen the benefits of it starting from the lower years in the Prep classroom. And then those norms and things like the concepts and the content that the children learn are changing, but the behaviours and how the program is delivered and everything is all the exact same. So there’s less and less behaviour issues and stuff like that. And the kids know the expectation and they know what time it starts and they know to get their books out, and it all just flows on from grade to grade and class to class.

Ebony: Yeah, I think so too. And also particularly with my little guys who came at the beginning of the year and the majority of them didn’t know their letters and sounds and all that kind of thing. Like they’ve come leaps and bounds, and you survive doing your own planning. And as a first year teacher you’re like, yep, this is what I’m doing and this is all good and it’ll be fine. But since doing EDI I’m like, this is amazing because the kids have just gone from like here to just, they’ve just jumped massively. So, yeah. It’s awesome.

Helen: What skills have you picked up or found most valuable through teaching an explicit program?

Ebony: I think it’s really helped me with learning objectives, like being really explicit. I found since using EDI myself, I started almost unintentionally matching the rest of my planning to that kind of thing. Like that really structured, explicit outline. It works so well with the kids. So yeah, I think that’s worked well, as far as pedagogy goes.

Taylah: Yeah, and the definitions and things and getting the kids to actually be able to read what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Ebony: Yeah, and it’s really helpful the norms, like the read with me, track with me, eyes front, backs straight. It’s not just in that hour and a half, two hours that you do EDI, it’s all day every day. You just use it all the time. So it’s good how it just flows on…

Helen: Are you not having to say that as much anymore now? You just read it and then they’re following?

Ebony: Yeah, and you’re not having to explain, okay, read with me, this is what this means. They just know this is what we’re doing.

Taylah: I think too though that it shows you how much the delivery of your lesson affects the learning and how everything flows from there. So when you’re kind of unprepared or you haven’t got everything all up and running, and then you’re all in a bit of a shamble, which happens. But when everything’s organized, everything is good to go. The learning is just bang, bang, bang. And the kids love it. Yeah.

Helen: What’s it like having a teacher coach supporting you in your first year?

Ebony: Amazing. It’s so good, I think especially being in a remote small school, your opportunity to be observed or to observe other teachers are like second to none kind of thing. So I think having the chance to have a professional come in and observe you, and then be able to model different parts of the lesson and bounce off each other so that, you know, if I do ten minutes of the lesson and then you go, oh well you could do it this way and then you can get up and show me straight away. And like that is just, that’s where the money’s at.

It’s just little things that you either don’t think of or because you don’t have someone as an extra set of eyes in your classroom. So you don’t know what you don’t know. There’s little things that you’re like, I didn’t even realise I did that or that I didn’t do that, I didn’t know that was a thing. And then, yeah. And then from there you just grow.

Taylah: And then it allows for, like, instant little changes or adjustments, it’s like, oh, just for the next part when they do the next example, try this or, yeah. And then it’s just like, it’s kind of fixed straight away or it’s tried something else straight away, and yeah.

Ebony: And I think it’s so good we have the frequent visits and talks with you too, because then it’s not this massive mountain of: this is everything you need to do. It’s like, yeah, change this and then you can work on this and work on that.

Taylah: And especially being new to the program when it kind of is overwhelming at the start, it’s like, oh, this works like this and this is what this means, or, and this is how you would do this. And then so everything’s like broken down and you’re like, okay, I can try that now.

Helen: How do you think your experience as a first year graduate would have been different without the support of a teacher coach?

Taylah: Very different I think.

Ebony: I think the program would have been a lot more overwhelming, and I think making it work so that it’s not robotic, would’ve felt like a massive task, but seeing you model it and then you’re like, oh, okay, I don’t have to get up and be a robot. I can still be me and have fun with the kids and be a teacher, and you know, the kids are actually learning from this.

Taylah: And then as we said, being in a small school, there’s not always the opportunity for observations or to chat to the other classrooms who already have implemented that. So there isn’t time for a quick like, oh hey, this is like falling apart. But when the coach is here it’s like, huh, what should I do here?

And I think definitely with the coaching, like as you said, you come different times of the year and things, so you’re not always watching the same lesson or the same concept. So we might have worked our way around some part of the delivery and then we’re like, okay, just want to try this a bit better. And then so we can focus on that as we grow and as our feedback and stuff changes and goals change. So that’s definitely been a good part is that like, oh I haven’t just ticked a few boxes and I’m good to go now. Like I’m still learning and I’m still, yeah, getting better.

Ebony: And I feel like even, you’ll never nail it. Like there’s always room to just get better.

Helen: So are there any other comments that you’d like to add in relation to EDI or being a graduate or working in the remote community or anything?

Taylah: I think EDI is just great.

Ebony: I wish every school had it. I really do.

Taylah: And on the whole, because it covers all of English, and that’s just like spelling and grammar and literacy and literature, phonics, like as a teacher, when you sit down and look at the Australian Curriculum, you’re just like, okay, where do I start? How do I combine all of that.

Helen: You think you could use it in your other subjects then?

Taylah: Oh yeah, yeah.

Ebony: Yeah, yeah.

Taylah: And then some things will pop up because it’s an example of something that we’re using a text to learn about compound sentences or something. And a word will come up that might be related to science or might be related to the seasons, or just something you’re learn. There might be a new, like unfamiliar word that we talk about the definition of, and then it would, yeah. Just leads to so many other things.

Helen: There we go. Thank you for joining in and yeah.

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