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Dr Robert Vanderburg wins national excellence award

Robert Vanderburg
Pre-service teacher resilience program earns national excellence honour for CQU Bundaberg innovator Dr Robert Vanderburg.

CQU Bundaberg innovator Dr Robert Vanderburg has been awarded a national excellence honour for his pre-service teacher resilience program.

Imagine successfully completing every part of your degree, but never being able to graduate.

This is reality for nearly one in ten of Australia’s student teachers, who fail the government-mandated Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE) at the end of their studies.

But award-winning CQUniversity Educational Psychologist Dr Vanderburg believes much of the fail rate comes down to students’ stress and lack of standardised testing experience, rather than their knowledge gaps.

And the Bundaberg lecturer has proved the theory with his innovative program to prepare CQUniversity Education students for LANTITE, achieving a 100 per cent certification rate since 2020.

The resilience-building approach has most recently seen Dr Vanderburg recognised with a 2021 Australian Award for University Teaching, announced in February 2022.

The annual awards recognise educators who contribute to systemic change in learning and teaching, and outcomes for students.

Nearly 3000 students who completed Dr Vanderburg’s online curriculum have gone on to pass the LANTITE before their three attempts were exhausted, putting CQUniversity in the top three for university results nationally.

Dr Vandenburg says he set out to reduce immense fear and anxiety around the LANTITE.

“If you fail the LANTITE three times, that’s it, you never get another chance to graduate and enter the teaching profession,” he said.

“So, students do need specific skills to manage that stress.

“Because students get three attempts, there had been an attitude of ‘see how you go’ without preparation on the first attempt – but that actually added to anxiety and self-doubt, and the main reason people fail twice is because of the stress of failing the first time.

“Preparing students to feel confident on the first attempt is vital.”

Dr Vanderburg had previously won teaching awards in the United States for his programs to teach content, ability and resilience to prepare for standardised testing.

He is passionate about equipping students from low-socioeconomic and minority backgrounds, who statistically do worse in tests like the LANTITE and NAPLAN.

“I knew how to do it in person, but I’ve got students in Gladstone, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, and online, so I needed to develop an online program – which became a three-part program for prepping CQUniversity students,” he said.

Dr Vanderburg also realised his Australian students had never taken standardised testing prior to the LANTITE, as they completed their primary schooling prior to the roll-out of NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy, taken by all Australian school students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9).

He said this lack of experience added to their fear.

“It will be another few years before we see Australian university students who have gone through their pre-tertiary education completing regular standardised testing, so supporting Education students to succeed with LANTITE remains a challenge – and one that impacts the whole education system,” he said.

Dr Vanderburg has also researched how primary schools could develop student resilience around NAPLAN testing.

“You hear a lot of negativity about the impacts of NAPLAN, and the discomfort it creates for students – but schools and teachers can use that experience to help students face fears, grow and track their abilities, learn from their failures, and develop the mindset they take to their next test,” he explained.

Dr Vanderburg’s study was recently published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education.

Last year, national LANTITE results showed the fail rate for literacy was at 8.3 per cent (1716 candidates) and 9.3 per cent (1925 candidates) for numeracy.

The fail rate has almost doubled since the benchmark was set in 2016.

To learn more about CQUniversity’s education courses click here.

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