Welcome! ~ Sonia Hankova ~ Education/Art/Science ~ E-Mail: sonia.hankova@gmail.com ~ Phone: +61 425 703 860

Edu Blog

Case – Professional Knowledge

Practice Described
Will is a 13 year old kid who attends Grade 7 at a local secondary school in a small, low socioeconomic town in rural Victoria. His literacy and numeracy skills are very low, he is on a behavioural management plan and is marked ‘at risk from disengagement’ by the school.

Will is disruptive in the classroom, making loud inappropriate noises, comments and remarks. When asked a question he simply yells out: ‘I don't know, I’m dumb’. He sits away from the rest of the students so that he would not interrupt others. The teacher does not pay much attention to his antics but typically awards him with detention at the end of the class. Will gets even more angry and agitated when he gets detention because he has to write meaningless sentences during lunchtime. He says he hates school.

Practice Explained
As part of the SWiRL Program, main aim of which is to engage students in meaningful literacy learning, I was about to spend my week intensively working with Will. From what I gathered, his home situation is complex – divorced parents, neglect, verbal abuse. Based on my observations I was greatly concerned that I would face many challenges whist working with him. I approached the task with an open mind and a positive attitude. I was delighted to find that although his literacy skills were very low, and any form of writing was a slow and difficult process, his behaviour was not all that bad and improved throughout the week. By the end of the week, Will produced a book about his holidays – a great achievement for a student that generally doesn't participate in any activities and hates school. To celebrate success all students then presented their projects to the rest of their peers – joy, pride, sense of accomplishment, empowerment, positive attitude and smiles were palpable all around. Certainly not the Will I first saw in the classroom. 

Practice Theorised
Dweck’s (2010) self-theory on mindset describes two ways of thinking. People in a fixed mindset believe basic qualities such as intelligence are unchangeable. Those with a growth mindset understand that their basic abilities can be developed. According to Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of learning and development, mental intelligence is highly dependent on social and cultural interactions (McCormack 2007) i.e. cognitive development of a child is an outcome of interaction between the child and his carers, environment and culture. Influenced by lack of encouragement in a unstable home environment, with parents that do not understand and appreciate the true value of education as well as the importance of their involvement in their child’s learning, no wonder Will is thinking with a fixed mindset – he says ‘I don't know’, ‘I’m dumb’ – he has low self esteem, he sees himself incapable of doing anything that is good and appreciated. Additionally, his classroom teacher’s actions are not helping.

Key to success? – Building relationships and rapport, getting to know our students, who they are and where they come from, pinning the task to something tangible and experiential, something they are genuinely interested in, showing care and understanding, praising effort and positive behaviour – changing one’s mindset.

Practice Changed
Whist working with Will I gave him a platform to show me who he is and where his interests are. The deal was that he had to write a book, but he could write about anything he wanted to. It turned out he greatly benefited from this democratic approach. According to Cleary and Zimmerman (2004) offering students personal choices in learning is a vital ingredient for student engagement (PoLT 3) – it promotes questioning and curiosity in connection to the real world, with outcomes responsive to their sociocultural backgrounds. Will was encouraged to work on tasks he normally wouldn’t be able to do on his own. Through modeling and scaffolding, providing ongoing reassurance and support, through reinforcing effort and praising his achievements Will was given more opportunities for taking risks without failure. This promoted independence and self-motivation (PoLT 2). He slowly began being more positive. These were baby steps, one cannot expect miracles in a week; nonetheless, they were steps, small yet visible.

As for me, this was an eye opening experience, one that touched me on both a professional an emotional level. I realised that teachers face many dilemmas in the classroom, but these have to be dealt with appropriately and effectively. Sweeping things under the rug won’t do. We have a responsibility to engage and improve knowledge and skills of each and every student in our classroom. Not just of the smart ones. It is the troubled, struggling kids that need our help more than anyone else. These children, who do not have the privilege of receiving support in their homes, that is so important for learning and development, should be given equal if not greater attention in schools. I believe it is our moral duty to help and support all students inclusively.

See below the card my colleague Britt and I gave to Will to commend his accomplishments:


I believe this case demonstrates my intentions to know my students and how they learn, differentiate teaching to meet specific needs of my students and support their full participation, take into account students socioeconomic background, manage challenging behaviour, effectively use communication strategies and relevant teaching strategies to improve learning outcomes. It relates to professional knowledge, as well a professional practice. The following VIT standards support my case:

1.1 Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students: use teaching strategies based on knowledge of students' physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics to improve student learning.

1.3 Students with diverse linguistic, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds: design and implement teaching strategies that are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities: Develop teaching activities that incorporate differentiated strategies to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities.

4.1 Support student participation: establish and implement inclusive and positive interactions to engage and support all students in classroom activities.

One Comment

  • Dr Sandra McKechnie on Oct 29, 2015 Reply

    A great example of how personalising the curriculum can re-engage students and provide them with opportunities for developing confidence and the motivation to succeed. Well done Sonia, it is you that ‘rocks’!

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