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Barbara's Blog: In the beginning...

Barbara Murray - Wednesday, July 10, 2019

I wanted to be a primary school teacher for as long as I can remember. At family gatherings I was the one who organised all the kids into games. Consequently, at the end of high school, I accepted a government scholarship to train as a primary teacher for two years.

In the first five years I taught all class levels including one class of 39 students in Years 3, 4 and 5!
In my fourth year of teaching, an advisory teacher visited the school and introduced me to discovery learning which opened up a whole new teaching approach that I continued for the rest of my teaching career Even my text book writing was influenced by this. I brought games and hands-on activities into the classroom. I was teaching Years 1 and 2 in a small country town in a three-teacher school. The children and I had so much fun while we accomplished some amazing discovery learning.
There was nothing like cardboard, a laminating machine, a photocopier or any other similar aids available. And we, the teachers, used our own money for items to make resources. Teaching was mostly done from the blackboard while the children sat in rows of desks and listened. Well, that was the plan! I had so many ideas for making hands-on games and other activities but no money to buy a single item.
That situation prompted me to apply for an Innovations Grant of $1000 as part of a scheme organised by the Gough Whitlam Labor Government. The grant allowed applicants as much money as they wanted as long as the project was innovative. This had never been before done in any Australian schools.
Back then, students were all taught at the same level. My program of games and hands-on activities, and teaching students according their learning needs, was still very new so I asked for $1000 worth of cardboard, contact, pens, a jigsaw tool and plywood to make jigsaws, toys cars, plastic flowers, balance scales and weights and other stationery items.
I had to describe in detail what I would do and account for every item I bought. At the end, I had to write a report for a journal that was published and sent to all Australian schools. I was also required to invite teachers from other schools to come and see what I had achieved. That equipment was used in many Year 1 classes. After I left, I gave it all, a truck load of stuff, to a very happy teacher friend.
I thought phonics was magic. My students gobbled up words as we played card games and team games. I actually dreamed, 40 years ago, of writing about the success I was having in my classroom with phonics. Little did I know what was in store and that my dream would come true.

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