What is OTISA, anyway?

Have you tried out the OTISA online literacy resource yet?

We’ve designed OTISA – Online tutoring: improving student achievement – to support the Australian Curriculum in English.  This table shows what is covered by the resource and how it links to the AC.

In particular, we believe it provides excellent support for the teaching and learning of grammar.

We acknowledge that grammar is best taught and learned in the context of reading and writing, but we also believe that learning needs consolidation.

Which is what this resource provides.

Before each set of activities, students can read or listen to a brief revision of the main points. And the activities themselves are self-correcting, with explanations.  You could follow up on classroom work, for  example, by setting in-class or homework activities for students to confirm their understanding.  Importantly, your online access allows you to view how your students have performed, and will tell you whether or not learning has taken place. This information, of  course, will help you to decide on your next teaching steps with groups or individual students.

OTISA also provides focussed and concise professional learning for teachers.  If you would like to brush up on your grammar knowledge, and read practical suggestions related to the teaching of parts of grammar in context, you can do this quickly and easily. With your colleagues, you could use some of the suggestions as a basis for planning.

Available on subscription, OTISA provides students with access both at school and at home.

If you would like to explore the resource, please email info at otisa dot com dot au (email address written like this to avoid spam!)   to receive your one week trial teacher subscription.



Gamification: using game design to encourage learning and provide motivation for students.

Why is it that I feel so uneasy about the claims made for gamification?

Perhaps it’s because some of the curriculum-specific resources that claim to use gamification, and ride on the back of the (fairly scarce) research, in fact are little more than a number of activities whose completion leads to a series of ‘rewards’.  They have not been designed to meet specific learning outcomes, and often  rely on the tag of ‘problem-based learning’ to give them credibility.

Are children really learning?  Certainly they’re engaged, there’s no doubt about that – and that’s definitely a positive.

My problem is that I simply don’t believe that learning happens by stealth.  I don’t think we can ‘trick’ children into learning.

Being engaged, playing a game and getting results doesn’t necessarily result in the transference of any learning into another situation .  Not unless the learning is made specific.  Significant research into learning talks about the importance of sharing learning intentions with children, making sure that they know what it is that they’re learning and helping them to assess later whether or not they have been successful.  Research supports ‘visible’ learning and involving students in the learning process.

Rewards systems are problematic. Yes, I know children like them.  Well, actually, I know that they are liked by children who are likely to be successful. I’m not so sure about the others. Ranking systems are also problematic.  Again, great for the successful children, but not very motivating for those who aren’t successful at high levels.  Any focus on learning is necessarily undermined by this approach.

And we’ve all read the research about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  We know that intrinsic motivation is much more conducive to learning.  But gamification is all about extrinsic motivation … Those rewards again.

When curriculum-specific gamification resources do more than simply offer superficial instant gratification to students, they can be highly effective – especially when used thoughtfully by teachers who have selected them for sound educational purposes that are transparent to the children.

Aware of the pitfalls associated with gamification, when developing our online literacy resource (www.otisa.com.au) we deliberately stayed away from gamification elements. Instead we use pedagogical strategies that make clear to children what it is that they are learning and encourage multiple attempts to complete the activity before they access an explanation.  After engaging in activities that are intended to consolidate the learning, children are asked to apply that learning in other situations.  Finally they are encouraged to reflect on what they have learned, and how successfully.

Check us out at www.otisa.com.au

Helping your child to prepare for a return to school

For parents

It might seem a little early to be talking about this topic, but actually the beginning of the new school year is now fewer than three weeks away. 

How can you help your children to get ready to go back to school, to start on the ‘right foot’ and set themselves up for successful learning in 2013? Here are some suggestions:

  • Consider involving your children in the practical aspects of getting back to school  – making stationery and textbook purchases,  organising their uniform, schoolbag, lunchbox, drink container etc. Children can make and check lists and investigate relative costs online.  By involving them in these activities you encourage independence and acceptance of responsibility – both of which are qualities that you want them to have when they’re at school.
  • If you haven’t already done so, set up a learning zone at home – somewhere that your children can use when they do their homework.  Involve them in planning what needs to be in the learning zone – for example, a wall calendar on which they can note when schoolwork needs to be completed, perhaps a computer, pens and pencils, adequate lighting and shelving and a display board. (If your child is older and has a school diary, emphasise how this is an important tool to help them to organise their learning.  Explain that you want to work with them to check their diary each day and help them to use it efficiently. This is not a punitive exercise.  Rather it’s a way of developing the necessary self-management skills that assist learning.) 
  • Encourage your children to think about what they would like to achieve at school this year.  Use the SMART acronym to help them develop some goals: the goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-boundFor example, I will use the wall calendar to mark the dates of spelling tests or I will practise using reading strategies when I am reading. (The reading strategy should be named and a specific time allocated to practising it – perhaps a week or two.)  
    Display their goals somewhere in the learning zone so that they can be reminded of them and revisit these goals each week to revise as necessary.
    Avoid setting too many goals. You want to make it possible for your children to experience success.
  • Talk with your children about returning to school.  Sometimes there are certain anxieties that need to be aired.  Discuss these and ask your children to suggest strategies that they might use to cope with certain situations.  Children can be reassured and empowered by this process.
  • Help your child to feel motivated and confident by talking positively about the return to school.  It’s a new year, full of new opportunities  – rather than an unfortunate end to a holiday period.
  • Resolve to be actively involved in your children’s learning.  A general question such as ‘How was your day?’ or ‘How was school today?’ will inevitability elicit a closed response such as ‘OK’ or ‘’Boring.’  Make your questions specific:  ‘What were you learning in your English/Maths lesson today?’ ‘Do you think you were successful in learning that?’  ‘Do you need more assistance to help you understand?’ Emphasise what they learned, rather than what they did.

OTISA and parents

We’re interested in all things educational, and if you’re reading this blog then you probably are, too.

Our first blogs will concentrate on telling you how to get the most out of your OTISA subscription.  (Check out the resource at http://www.otisa.com.au if you haven’t already.)

Subsequent blogs will bring you news from the world of education as well as classroom teaching tips and info for all those parents who are actively involved in their children’s learning.
If you’re a parent, here are some ways in which you can help your child use OTISA.

  • encourage your child to use the grid to select the element they want to learn about.  Make sure that they are the ones who choose, so that they are more engaged and interested.
  • when your child first begins to use OTISA, it would be helpful if you could be there while they read or listen to the Introduction screens.  This will give you the opportunity to make sure the child understands the instructional aspect before they start on the activities.
  • do a couple of the activities together.  (It may well be the case that your child shows you how it’s done, which is of course very good for their self-esteem.)
  • encourage your child to use the following process, which is designed to make them think about their answers and to fix the ones that are incorrect:
    a.  have a go at an activity
    b.  select How did I do?
    c.  If there are errors, go back and try again.  If there are no errors, read Check   the  Explanation.  It’s important to do this so that the learning is confirmed.  Getting correct answers doesn’t necessarily mean that understanding has occurred.
    d.  if there are still errors after a second attempt, select Which ones are correct?  This helps students to identify where they are wrong and to have a final go at getting the correct answer.
    f.  After this attempt, whether they still have errors or not, they select Check the Explanation.
    Because there are lots of activities of the same kind, students can always have more than one attempt at the learning.
  • if the child has difficulty with the activities, encourage them to go back to the Introduction and to listen to the instructional aspect.  You could also go through the Explanations with them.
  • use the resource frequently for short periods of time – say 10 minutes at a time – unless, of course, the child decides otherwise and wants to continue.