Saturday, December 20, 2014

Education Readings - Reflections/last reading for 2014

By Allan Alach

This will be last list of readings for this year. Ill be taking a break until the end of January, but then will return, fully refreshed, to the fray.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Forget about education, schooling, GERM, etc and focus on what really matters - on yourself and those near and dear to you.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This weeks homework!

Whats Lost as Handwriting Fades
A couple of weeks back I posted a link to an article about Finlands intention to downplay the teaching of handwriting. Heres another perspective.
But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

This weeks contributions from

Dan Pink: How Teachers Can Sell Love of Learning to Students
Bruces comment: An interesting look at education from Daniel Pink. Selling the love of learning. Since learning is the inborn default mode you have to wonder where it went!
In his new book To Sell is Human, author Daniel Pink reports that education is one of the fastest growing job categories in the country. And with this growth comes the opportunity to change the way educators envision their roles and their classrooms. Guided by findings in educational research and neuroscience, the emphasis on cognitive skills like computation and memorization is evolving to include less tangible, non-cognitive skills, like collaboration and improvisation.

Igniting Student Writer Voice With Writing Process Strategies
Bruces comment: Help students discover the power of writing.
Learning how to write can be further challenging when a student lacks confidence in his or her skills as a writer. How we mediate student perception of writing is as important as teaching the skills. Using diverse strategies via the writing process, any teacher can ensure that when a student struggles to write, a different approach is readily available.

7 Ways to Use Technology With Purpose
Bruces comment: Using technology with purpose is technology still oversold and underused?
In order to make sure you are using technology the right way, you must first start with why. If your students understand the whybehind your technology use, then the class will have a purpose and technological glitches and issues can be worked through. If they dont understand the whythen any small issue could turn into a major problem.

Outlook on instruction: Class around the clock
Bruces comment: An interesting overview of educational trends for 2015. Worth reading to see how things might unfold in the US.
Some exciting advancements are on the horizon for classrooms in 2015. While they sound technical, the biggest changes arent going to be driven by an app, a computer program or a new kind of tabletthey will come from new theories about how to engage both students and teachers in the classroom.

Provocations for Early Childhood Education
Bruces comment: Just read a few of the postings on this blog to remind us of the kind of childhood we used to have and what the young need today an exploratory childhood  based on play - that some characterise as benign neglect.
 Just today I really started to piece more things together, to see the connections to who I was as a child and who I am now as an early childhood education practitioner.  My passion for envisioning, creating and enhancing spaces for children is most definitely genetic first, then fueled by my studies and work with children, and set ablaze by 16+ years of exploring/applying lessons from the Reggio Approach - that whole nature versus nurture thing.

Declaring your incompetence
Bruces comment: Some good advice if you really want to be a learner.
What I find time and time again in my work with people is that the hardest part of the learning journey or of making changes is the admission of the inability to do something or of the struggle. Once that step has been taken the process is usually simple, if not easy. Surrendering to the learning journey by declaring ones incompetence is the doorway to beginning to change.

Tinkering Is Serious Play
Bruces comment: Making things is very serious play back to the real basics of learning.
The maker movement celebrates creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship through the design and construction of physical objects. Maker activities may come across as playful, even slightly wacky, explosions of inventiveness. But in education contexts like schools, museums, libraries, and after-school programs, research shows that if the invitation to creativity is accompanied by intentional structure and guidance, maker activities can be channeled to support deep student learning.

Passion-based learning in the 21st century: An interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
Bruces comment: This article/interview with Sheryl Nussbaum- Beach really resonates with me.  Really good advice for teachers who want to equip their students for the future.
In this interview, Sheryl describes the shiftshe believes must take place in teaching and learning practices if elementary and secondary schools expect to remain relevant in an era when information and communication technologies will continue to expand exponentially.

To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society
Contributed by Bruces colleague Wayne Morris.
Because disaffection with the education system reflects a much deeper societal malaise, its imperative that we first figure out what kind of world we really want: a world populated by responsible adults who thrive on interdependence and community, or a world of customerswho feel dependent on products, services, and authority figures, and dont take full responsibility for their actions?

Practices to Engage All Learners
Bruces comment: How to engage learners a more important issue than  current obsession testing and a narrow orientated accountability.
Teaching students who are at risk requires energy, dedication, talent, and commitment. These exemplary educators consistently and continuously remain connected and engaged with their students. By keeping their students' needs, interests, talents, and learning styles in the forefront, these teachers successfully reach and educate the students who need them most.

From Bruces oldies but goodiesfile:

Environmental awareness for pre-schoolers - from 'On Looking' by Alexandra Horowitz
Bruces comment: The above article made me think of this excellent book about exploring your environment through a range of perspectives.
For many of us our experience walking is un-remembered because we  fail to pay attention and we miss the possibility of seeing what is in plain sight of us.

Learning from outdoor play
Water play
Following on, Bruce draws attention to this oldy but goodyblog about creating in early education an environment for the young to learn through play.
Young children are programmed by evolution to learn from their experiences. By the time they arrive at school they have already developed the ability to walk, talk, draw, ask questions and develop theories about everything.Teachers need to build on such achievements and do nothing to blunt the amazing curiosity young children bring with them. Classroom environments, at all levels, should celebrate studentsinterests, questions, and their theories.

We have lost so much over the past 50 years. We need to return leadership back to creative teachers.
In recent years the myth of the principal as the key to school transformation became persuasive and as result the principal's status has gone up commensurably. Crowther questions this myth, believing that the reality has not lived up to the rhetoric. The so called 'heroic leader' may effect short term change but all too often this is a temporary transformation.

Reflection on my teaching beliefs
Bruces comment: unfortunately we still havent escaped the surveillance and audit culture!
Recently I read an article by educationalist Andy Hargreaves who wrote about 'Four Ways' of educational change since the 1960s. His thoughts reflected many of the thoughts about educational changes that have concerned me over the years. It is obvious that what 'officially counts' in education is driven by forces beyond the classroom. The creativity of the 60s that 'emerged' out of the decade of security following the Second World War, is a good example and was when my education journey, or story, began.

Criteria for a quality Classroom.
Bruces comment: Its a bit late for Southern Hemisphere teachers to do much about the ideas in the blog as most schools have closed for the year but it might be worthwhile reflecting about the ideas about criteria for a quality classroom and maybe keep in mind for the new year? The only things I would add to the list of quality learning criteria is that
Artwork represents endpoint of student research - year 5/6
quality classrooms have moved away from the use of demeaning ability grouping and have
reframedliteracy and numeracy as an integral component of class inquiry studies.

Fundamentals in education
Bruces comment: 
 On re-reading this I  was struck by how little my basic beliefs have remained unchanged over the decades –  at the core of my beliefs is the simple idea of the importance of the creative mind continually responding to experience - continually reshaping itself as it goes. It is strange how ideas re-emerge as today I wrote a blog which had the same message that how the brain ( ones
1970s booklet
identity) is unconsciously shaped by the culture it is exposed to
and that we ought to be focussing on the culture we create as teachers rather than being side-tracked by accountability demands. Earlier today
  I re-discovered a booklet I put together  in 1970 about the kind of creative teaching of a group of teachers I worked  had developed. Once again  this booklet still reflects my current beliefs.  It is almost that, over the decades, in the process of coping with imposed compliance demands, I have been forced to dance to others tunes and in the process compromised my beliefs.  I have the feeling I have come full circle. Let the others comply if they wish lets stick to what we really believe in.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

End of year survey – tapping the wisdom of your class/school/community

At the end of the school year it is a good idea to gather information from the students you are passing on.

Not only is this a chance for you to get some insight about your teaching but it is also a great way to value the ‘voice’ of your students.
What are your students’ attitudes towards areas of learning?
 You might also like to think about developing a similar survey for the beginning of next year to give some insight into student’s attitudes that they bring with them to your class. You could include the various learning areas, what they are expecting to gain from the year with you, and what questions they would like to find out more about. You might be able to work the later into a negotiated curriculum?  For each area chosen provide a 1 (don’t like at all) to 10 (love it) scale.
How much have their attitudes  changed?
If you had completed such an attitudinal survey of students’ attitudes at the beginning of the year the same survey at the end of the year will indicate positive or negative changes in the students attitudes to the various learning areas. Attitudes about an area of learning are as important as achievement.

 For the students at the end of the year:
 1. What have been the three best things you have done this year? Why?
 2. What would you have liked to have done more of this year?
 3. What didn’t we do that I wish we had?
 4. In what way have I changed this year? What areas have I improved in, or grown to like more?
 5. What were the things I didn’t like most this year?
 6. What would you change about how I teach so the class would be better?
 7. If you were giving advice for next year’s students of how to survive in style in my room, what would you say to them?

 Below are some interesting sentences for students to finish that will give you some idea of how they see schools, teachers and themselves? 
The students’ answers will provide insightful responses, similes, or metaphors for the class teacher to give attention to.
 A school is a place where……………..
Answers could range from: ….’You have to go’ to…. ‘A place where teachers help students learn’.
A teacher is a person who…………………
Answers could range from: …’tells me/kids what to do’ to…’A person who helps me/kids learn’.
A student is a person who………………
Answers could range from: ‘Does as he/she is told’ to…. Likes learning about new things’.
It is interesting to see what ideas/ metaphors students come up with and if they see themselves as learners or someone who is taught things.
 Try it. You might be surprised. You might even learn something!

Something similar could be devised by principals to gather ideas for their own professional development – or something devised by the Board of Trustees to get feedback from the parents/caregivers?

The responses to such questions show how the culture of the school or class is seen.
Culture Counts!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Educational Readings - student centred inquiry learning and the importance of making things

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This weeks homework!

Jamie McKenzie
Just say no! Questioning the value of topical research

Jamie McKenzie is always worth reading.
Schools should outlaw topical research as being mind-numbing and substandard.
Around the globe goals have been raised to focus on imagination, invention, synthesis and problem-solving. Topical research is an ancient, outmoded practice that should join many other unworthy rituals in the dustbin of history.
The Need to Address Noncognitive Skills in the Education Policy Agenda

This paper contends that noncognitive skills should be an explicit pillar of education policy. It contributes to the growing interest in these skills by reviewing what we know about noncognitive skills, including what they are, why they matter, and how they enter into the education process.

For some students art is everything
Arts Education Matters: We Know, We Measured It

"Arts experiences boost critical thinking, teaching students to take the time to be more careful and thorough in how they observe the world.

This Will Revolutionize Education

Set aside 7.22 minutes to watch this powerful video - is technology going to be the holy grail of education? Khan Academy?
I think it is instructive that each new technology has appeared to be so transformative. You can imagine, for example, that motion pictures must have seemed like a revolutionary learning technology. After all they did revolutionize entertainment, yet failed to make significant inroads into the classroom. TV and video seem like a cheaper, scaled back film, but they too failed to live up to expectations. Now there is a glut of information and video on the internet so should we expect it to revolutionize education?

What Aristotle Knew

The distinction between those who can solve a problem and work their way out of a situation is in the ability to ask the right, critical questions to identify the problem, and then ask what it takes to solve it.
Even in our digital age, early parental writing support is key to children's literacy

"We have found that scaffolding is a particularly beneficial activity, because the parent guides the child. And, if that parent guides the child and also demands precision in a sensitive and thoughtful way -- i.e. 'what did you mean to write here? Let me help you' -- this definitely develops the child's literary skill set.

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Tanith Carey: Tiger Parents - and Tiger Schools! Relax and have more fun!
Don't   push - find what your kids love
It is obviously important, Tanith writes, that we must help children reach their potential but that this ought to be based on their individual strengths and not be set by 'the standards of schools intent on boosting their reputations on league tables - or the economic goals of governments.

Are we on the verge of an end to test-based accountability?

Learning how to take tests is not learning
Bruces comment: All this test based accountability is under attack but what is the alternative?
In short, weve seen dissatisfaction with the status quo of education reform, and weve seen acknowledgement of that dissatisfaction. But what weve not seen is a widespread, deeper rethinking of school improvement or an embrace of an alternative and theres the rub. Its highly unlikely that the nation will move away from the status quo until it has a different pathway forward.

Project-Based Learning Through a Maker's Lens

Bruces comment: The importance of makingin project based learning. This ought to be the emphasis in our schools not judging achievement on things many students are not interested in. Its what the progressive teachers of the past believed in.

A 'maker' is true learner
A Maker is an individual who communicates, collaborates, tinkers, fixes, breaks, rebuilds, and constructs projects for the world around him or her. A Maker, re-cast into a classroom, has a namethat we all love: a learner. A Maker, just like a true learner, values the process of making as much as the product. In the classroom, the act of Making is an avenue for a teacher to unlock the learning potential of her or his students in a way that represents many of the best practices of educational pedagogy. A Makerspace classroom has the potential to create life-long learners through exciting, real-world projects.

Both process and product important
Makers in the Classroom: A How-To Guide
Following on

We all construct our own meaning of the world around us; Making just gives us a context to construct our understanding in. It engages studentshands in the work of their minds in order to help them construct deep conceptual understandings.

Design Thinking: A Lesson That Connects Classmates
Bruces comment: Teaching design thinking and the dispositions encouraged in the process.
Pride of achievement

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving process that calls for thoughtful solutions to real-world situations. Design thinking in the classroom provides a motivating and engaging learning experience for students. Within the design thinking model, individual learning styles can be validated through a project based learning experience.

New Teachers: Creating a Shiny, Happy Classroom
Bruces comment: The real oilon classroom management well worth the read.
Engaged kids don't misbehave

What I prefer instead is to develop a classroom that does not require a system to handle misbehavior because it so rarely occurs. No checkmarks on the board, no list of consequences, no rewards. Just engaged, productive, friendly students.

Five Fun Ways to Spark Self-Discovery in Youth
Art display of portraits
Bruces comment: The power of the teacher to spark learning some practical ideas.
A sparkis the inner light that gives us energy, motivation, purpose and focus. It makes us feel alive when were doing what we love. Sparks are expressed as talents, qualities or passions. And when we operate from our sparks, we shine and offer something good, beautiful and useful to the world.

Art 'sparks' many students!

From Bruces oldies but goodiesfile:

Who am I ?
Do we focus enough on developing in every learner a positive sense of self?
From NZ film 'Boy'

A positive sense of self provides a role in making future decisions, and positive memories allow us to imagine possible futures. The past and our memories are the making of who we are. Our classrooms ought to reflect such students' stories past and present. It helps students answer the question 'How do I know who I am?’”

Inquiry Learning; an educational agenda for a future era.
Prof Brian Cox
Inquiry learning the default way students learn except at school?

Inquiry education has a long history going back to John Dewey (learning through experience) and was, and still is, in conflict with traditional content transmission teaching which still underpins much of current practice. Until this dilemma is faced inquiry education will not be successful.

Prof Brian Cox - 'science is being comfortable with the unknown' This is contrast to teaches who pre-determine students learning!

Driving into an exciting future!
Bruces comment: the future demands new organisations and this includes schools.

Set our schools free from the past!
In a future that will demand collaborative teamwork, networking, individual initiative and creativity and to prove such qualities we need to urgently re-imagine our schools. We will need a new 'educational vehicle, new driving skills' and a whole new sense of direction. The key will be for schools to see future discontinuity as opportunity and to develop new flexible educational organizations to thrive in such times.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tanith Carey;Tiger Parents - and Tiger Schools! Relax and have more fun!

Great book for anxious parents
I happened to listen to an interview on National Radio with Tanith Carey about the negative effects rise of the 'tiger parent'.

I couldn't resist buying her book   'Taming the Tiger Parent' via  NZ internet suppliers Fishpond.

The book, although primarily aimed at parents, has a strong message for schools as well. Although written with the UK market in mind as we move along similar educational  ( more political) approaches it provides a warning for us in New Zealand.. In the UK children are not helped by  the 'increasingly narrow focus on targets and league tables in schools'.

As part of the current 'winner takes all society' , Tanith writes, there is less opportunity for children to learn through play and creative activities. Children are now 'constantly measured to assess their chances of success in every area'. Children in the UK are now  the most tested on earth and as a result many feel stress and anxiety ( as do their patents) they might fail worrying that in  a 'toxic' competitive environment not all can win..

Tanith and daughters
Although  society has created this self centered environment Tanith writes  that this is not helped by 'pushy education ministers'. Couldn't but not think of our own minister in this respect!

Ambitious middle class parents feel the stress to ensure their children are 'winners' while at the same time children from economically deprived families has even less chance of success, through no fault of their own, - the 'achievement tail.'  At one end of the social scale  high- stakes testing is turbo charging an elite class of alpha children who have been on the hamster wheel from birth'  and at the other extreme children who have no chance of catching up. In the UK this has resulted in a 'two-tier education system with a huge achievement gap.' Sounds familiar?

The tiger mum
It is obviously important, Tanith writes, that we must help children reach their potential but that this ought to be based on their individual strengths and not be set by 'the standards of schools intent on boosting their reputations on league tables - or the economic goals of governments'.

The competitive society is changing childhood.  Children are increasingly being seen as consumers of education  and in the process we are depriving 'kids of the experiences that create resilience and emotional balance'. Tanith  is asking parents ( and schools ) to   value childrens'  individual strengths and talents. Parents ( and schools) 'must tread the line between supporting our children and stifling them.'

In her book Tanith explains how children have been seen over the ages.  In recent times it has been the influence of Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget  that had made the most impact, According to Piaget ideas children should be viewed as 'little scientists' learning through open ended play but this has been supplanted  by an overriding need to get ahead - as seen by achievement on tests.

The beginning of this need to compete was sparked at first by the Japanese and later other Asian success in seen in international testing results.

 The first 'tiger parents' were the 'kyoika mama'  - Japanese mothers who based their own worth by their children's success. Tanith  describes the downside of such intense pressure. It is now China that scares the West these days. Ironically both Japan, and later China , realising the  negative effect of the intense pressure to succeed,  are now encouraging their schools to focus on sparking children's curiosity.

The tiger mum
Shanghai ( not China) in 2009 topped the PISA tests; Shanghai is an affluent city where 80% of the children go on to university but this has not been without its costs and like the Japanese the Chinese are calling their education system a failure.. They have found their children are lacking in initiative, self discipline,  a passion for learning for intrinsic reasons, and are looking to the West for answers. At the time we are moving into a standardized test  driven culture  sidelining  talent development and  creativity. in the process.

 Finland:A better model
Tanith favours  another country that does well in international league tables - Finland.

Finland is a country where  schooling does not start until seven children are thirsty for knowledge and where there are no formal tests until the age of 16. It has taken Finland forty years to transform their system In the process they scrapped private education, streaming and school inspections. and  now students
work cooperatively in mixed sets in the classroom and,as a result, they have a culture which puts high value on the independence and individuality of pupils. As a result they have no 'achievement tail'.

In contrast in the West children have no time to work out their own strengths and, instead, are judged in  comparative contests ( literacy and numeracy) they didn't ask to compete in.  Parents  now try to give their children every opportunity to succeed after school leaving no room for children to play. At primary schools  children are tested and schools told that their reputation of teachers and schools rides on the results.
children need real play to learn

In the UK children's stress levels, anxiety and mental health is increasingly put at risk.

 Parents are overly concerned with 'how their children do rather who their children are'. Children ( parents) now compete to gain access to kindergarten and  their children's progress is tracked by checklists and documented 'learning journeys'.

Here in New Zealand we haven't yet had official league tables as in the UK.

 In the UK the schools are as pushy as parents. Sadly, writes Tanith,,' there is no a box to tick for learning for the sake of it' as schools become more about testing than teaching'. When children first enter school they are happily unaware of how they compare with their classmates' but , kids soon learn to measure their achievements not in their own right, but in comparison to others. The more the winners win they get rewarded and conversely the more the losers lose they get dispirited and give up.

Schools are turning up the temperature in this competitive winner/loser society.

 Even when teachers disguise their ability groups with various colours, or names of animals, children soon become aware who are the winners and losers.. What schools value is measured and as personal qualities and individual talents are not as measured the wrong values are passed on to the learners.

Tanith provides several chapters to help parents resist the pressure, both at home and at school, and recommends a 'benign neglect' style of parenting giving  children time to play/learn and to explore ' - encouraging their children to compare their progress with their previews efforts not with others. She suggests encouraging things of interest to them.   She also recommends the ideas of valuing effort and perseverance as against intelligence or talent -   psychology  professor Carol Dweck's 'growth mindset'.

Tanitb advises parents ( and I would add teachers)  to help children to 'find their spark - a skill, a talent or interest which your child is naturally good at, and which genuine excites them'....  'A spark always draws on an innate talent because kids naturally like to do what they are good at.' I can think of many creative teachers who would like the freedom to do exactly this. 'If a child cannot do something it is usually because they haven't had the chance to learn or practice'. We are talking about an 'opportunity' not an 'achievement gap!'

Tanith concludes her book with a plea for parents( and schools)  to resist herding children into two camps - academic and non academic and introduces readers to the multiple ideas intelligence of Howard Gardner; that there are multiple ways of 'being smart'.

She also reconnecting children with nature and give them plenty of opportunities for unstructured play and makes the important point that play and learning are not two different things. 'Studies show  that all subjects are best taught through real life experiences'.

She recommends that parents find  schools with 'truly progressive teaching in place'  Difficult in am
Success at all costs
environment where schools are  increasingly obsessed with developing reputations based on their achievement levels in literacy and numeracy. Tanith worries that in schools continually assessing students that, for many, 'confidence in learning is easily shattered and can take a long time to rebuild'.

For teachers in New Zealand , where schools have not yet gone down the 'league table' path, it is not too late.

 There was a time when New Zealand  primary schools had a lot in common with the developments now seem in Finnish schools 'where there is a commitment to think, not just what to learn'.

The real challenge!
We have a curriculum that will do the trick for New Zealand schools but to be implemented National Standards need to seen in perspective. Time to get the curriculum of the shelf and start heading in the right direction again.

'We need to return to a childhood where children are  allowed to find the time to develop at their own pace through play and self discovery; and to move away  an education based on constant comparisons based on a narrow conception of intelligence.

It is not the parents fault  that society is organised along winner and loser lines nor 'the teachers fault  that they have to feed a monster
of an education system with high -flying exam results- or be considered failing themselves'. 'We must set standards', Tanith
writes, ' but they should be for effort and originality, not just attainment. Yes , we must help them reach their potential, but one that is consistent with their innate skills and personality.....there is point in seeking the same one size fits all.'.

Our future depends on developing the talents of all our children/students - not dividing them into winners and losers.

'We must set side our ideas of what our children are supposed to be- and let them be what they are' - or could be if we , both parents and teachers, gave them the opportunities.