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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Background Information about Northcote & Victorian Education System

Hello again!

Over the course of the academic semester we had five 2+ hour sessions with the program coordinator, during which we learned a lot about the Australian educational system, specifically the Victorian system (the state that Melbourne is located in). I thought that it would be worthwhile to pass along some of the general information I learned- especially with regards to classroom structure as the classroom that I am teaching does not follow what most Americans would consider a “traditional” classroom structure.

From speaking with our program coordinator and visiting two schools around Melbourne Uni (one primary and one secondary), it became very apparent that the educational philosophies and aims of the Australian education system are different than the system that I have come to know in the US. For example, most of the schools that I have seen in the US use the straight-grading classroom structure; usually broken down into Kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, etc. In Victoria, on the other hand, there are two other classroom structures that are frequently employed: composite and multi-age. In a composite classroom there are student of two grade levels in the same class (i.e. 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, etc). while a multi-age classroom will be composed of students from multiple grade levels (i.e. P/1/2, 2/3/4, 3/4/5/6, or 4/5/6, etc).

The idea of a composite classroom absolutely fascinates me—in fact, I think in theory it sounds like the ideal classroom structure. According to my program coordinator, the major reason behind these classroom structures is for the emotional development of the child—I think an example (unfortunately, in this case fictional) is probably the best way to explain how this system works.

Say that there are two girls who are just finishing their year in a 2/3/4 class—if they were a part of the composite system they both would just be finishing Year 3: Sarah and Emily. Sarah is the youngest of four siblings, this was her first year in the 2/3/4 class but she has been in the same physical classroom for the past two years. Emily is a middle child and although this is only her second year in the 2/3/4 class she does not get along very well with a lot of the girls (they say she is bossy). At the end of the year when the teachers get together to create their classes for the upcoming year, they take both Sarah and Emily’s personal situations into account. The teachers might decide that Sarah should remain in the 2/3/4 classroom because as the youngest child, it will good for her to see what it is like to be the oldest in a classroom. At the same time, they might decide to change the physical classroom that the 2/3/4 class will be in so that Sarah does not have to be in the same physical room for three years in a row. Emily, on the other hand, might be placed in the 3/4/5/6 classroom so that she has the opportunity to be around a different group of students. They might reason that she might be able to model the behavior of some of the older children while also having the opportunity to model behavior for the younger students, which perhaps will help her to learn to be less bossy.

As you can see, the focus in these decisions is based much less on academic abilities and much more on what the teachers feel is better for the students socio-emotional development.

Immediately after learning about the different classroom types during one of our sessions with our program coordinator, I asked if I could be placed in either a composite or multi-age classroom. A few days later, my program coordinator told me that I would be teaching in a composite 1/2 classroom at Northcote Primary School. When I walked into my classroom on the first day of class I found out that I was in an even more unique situation that I thought. Technically the classroom that I am student teaching in is a composite 1/2 classroom but it is also sort of a multi-aged Prep/1/2 classroom as well. You see, my CT is a mentor for the P/1 teacher and since the beginning of the year they have found ways for both of the classes to work together. Now that the classes have moved into their newly renovated classroom, they even share one large room—so I am really getting experience in both a composite and multi-aged classroom!

Let me give you a little bit of background on Northcote Primary School. Northcote is a suburb of Melbourne, it takes me about 30 min (1 tram and 1 bus and some walking) to get to the school from where I live. The school is nestled in the middle of a neighborhood right near the center of town. The school has been in existence for over 100 years but many of the buildings have recently, or are currently being, renovated. There is a lot of open space around the buildings, which has been converted into a few gardens, an Astroturf field, two playgrounds, blacktop, and some grass. The socio-economic make-up of the school is primarily middle to upper class. Unlike many schools in Australia, this public school does not have a mandatory uniform but it does have a dress code. The school day runs from 9- 3:30 with a play lunch break (about 25min) and a lunch break (about 30min).

As I have said before, I am student teaching in the P/1/2 class that is taught by Linda and Dane. There are 47 students in the classroom; 24 in the 1/2 class and 23 in the P/1—the age range is 6-8 years old.

I think that is enough for now! Hopefully this background information helped to give you a better picture of how Australian schools are structured! I’ll continue to give you more information about my school and my class as the days go on!



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