Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Quality learning: William Glasser - 'Schools without Failure' ; and Jerome Bruner - solving 'learning blocks'.

A number of years ago many schools implemented the ideas of Dr William Glasser . Glasser had written a number of books  all with a focus on achieving quality work for all students  without teachers using coercion.

There is a New Zealand Glasser Association for anyone interested.

Glasser's belief is that  , with the appropriate conditions, all students can do quality work but, it would be fair to say, many teachers find this hard to believe.

 Currently schools focus on students achieving imposed standards which sadly labels a number of students as 'not achieving the standards ( or in the students and parent's eyes failing).  The currents government's dogma is that 1 in 5 students fail while at the same time ignoring the  effect of poverty on achievement; that the students from poor socio-economic backgrounds lack the 'social capital' of their more well off classmates.

This lack of 'social capital' does not mean the teachers cannot assist such students.

 Glasser's writings provide practical ways to help all students. Glasser's basic premise is that 'no one can make anyone do anything' and that it is the teacher's role to help students see the point in expending the effort to do quality work by satisfying their basic needs of  'survival, power, fun and freedom'.

Glasser writes that teaching may be the hardest job there is.

 Glasser defines an effective 'as one who is able to convince all his or her students to do quality work'. This is made difficult when teachers have to face up to students who , due to their previous unsuccessful experiences, are resistant to learning. Almost all teachers inherit students who have developed negative attitudes towards learning; students who often satisfy their needs by being disruptive. Continual measuring of achievement ( or lack of it) will not solve the problem; nor will being placed in low ability groups. Such moves to objectify and standardize teaching will prove to be counterproductive. Failing students will simply opt out while students from 'good homes' will do well.

The current approach to measure fragmented achievement has little to do with all students achieving quality education and will make the achievement of quality learning for all impossible. And equally such an achievement based system imposed on teachers will restrict the teachers ability to do quality work - teachers , like their students , have to learn to comply.

What is required, instead of coercion, are rich experiential curriculum experiences , creativity and the opportunity for all students to 'feel' success; what we have in our schools is not an 'achievement gap' but more an 'opportunity gap'.

Our current model of teaching.

It is only when students ( who may have previously failed in their own eyes)  surprise themselves by doing something beyond their expectations that they begin to believe they can do quality work.

Success will depend on the artistry of the teacher. It will take a long time to persuade some students but with appropriate help it can be done; the students must make the choice to put the effort in - 'choice theory'. If what the students do satisfies one or more of their basic needs a great deal of work get done.

Choice theory is based on the ideas that we all make choices to satisfy our needs - and any choice we make is always our best attempt at the time to make us feel good even if it is counterproductive to quality learning; many students choice to stop working at school and satisfy their needs in counterproductive ways.. School ought to be about helping students make better choices and through such experiences feel better about school learning.

Glasser writes that students from affluent homes do most of the quality work in public schools. For students from less fortunate homes  from the start they do less well at school even though they are inherently just as capable - with age  such students ,who fail to feel success, become increasingly antagonistic. For one student achieving a sense of power is doing well in maths - for another by disrupting the class.

A rich experiential curriculum

Teachers need to keep basic needs continually in their minds and from day one create stimulating room environments; room environments that are warm friendly and totally non coercive. Such rooms would feature authentic learning challenges with students working in cooperative groups and with the teachers continually looking for better ways to help all students gain success,  Personalized learning.

The key to success for students who haven't achieved the need for quality learning is to accept any small improvement. Frustrated students are very difficult to manage. Until they can be helped to see what they do as pleasurable  then then such learning will never enter their 'quality world'. As we go through life we collect need -satisfying memories that contain our 'best of highest quality pictures or perceptions of the people, things, and situations that we have learned feel especially good.

'If something is not pictured', Glasser writes, ' in this quality world we will not expend much effort pursuing it'. The reason that many students do not work hard in schools is that they do not have a picture of school work in their quality world.' This means 'that a teacher ...must continually encourage the students to express themselves and then listen carefully to what they have to say.'

Slowly and carefully teachers must help their struggling students gain 'learning power'  by valuing any small improvement , helping students at first gain short-term satisfaction  eventually  leading to long term feelings of success. Students will begin to put in the effort if they feel what they are doing will lead to success;  with success students will slowly begin to make better choices and even to accept frustration as part of the process and not just give up.

When  students begin to do quality work they learn to hold themselves to their own standards. and feel the need to continually improve - to better their personal best.

 As students grow in confidence they should always be asked how they might improve 'next time. Teachers must always give the message that all students can always do better if they see the point of learning; if they persist; and if they choose to put in the effort.

Once the need to achieve quality work becomes implicit in the classroom culture students will be continually surprising themselves by what they achieve; students get better at what they get good at. Quality is contagious. Teachers need to come alongside learners to help their students figure out how to do things better. The message 'we care' is the foundation of quality education.  Glasser writes,the success or failure of our lives is greatly dependent on our willingness to judge the quality of what we do and then to improve it if we find it wanting'.

Jerome Bruner

 Another educationalist ,Jerome Bruner, has written that 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'. Teachers have to find exciting ways to 'sell' what it is they are teaching so that students will see that it is worth making the effort to learn.

In an earlier blog I shared ideas about how to help students achieve beyond their expectations; the importance of 'slowing the pace of work'.

 'Too many students spoil what they do by rushing through their tasks working on the principle that 'first finished is best'. When teachers allow this 'mindset' to be an implicit part of the school culture students are not encouraged to stop and think ( or reflect) about whatever they are undertaking and , as a result, a frenetic atmosphere can result. Slowing the pace  allows no time for teachers to give students ( particularly those struggling) appropriate help'

 Jerome Bruner, another of my favourite educationalists,  spend a lot of his time studying 'learning blocks' in students, possibly the same students that Dr Glasser writes about - students who have not out areas of learning into their 'quality worlds'.

Bruner studied why it is that some students avoid learning such things as learning to read or do maths and how to help such students get through their 'learning blocks' so as to recover their 'learning power'.

When assisting a learner with difficulties ( or any learner) Bruner writes,  the 'danger is that the learner may become permanently dependent on the tutors correction. The tutor must correct the learner in a fashion that makes it possible for the learner to take over the corrective function himself'.

'The first task 'was to gain and hold the child's interest and lead him to problem solving activity'. 'The greatest problem is to prevent oneself from becoming a perennial source of information, interfering with the child's ability to take over the role of being his own corrector'. 'If we do nothing else , we should somehow give to children a respect for their own power to generate good questions, to come up with interesting informed guesses'.

Bruner writes, 'it is more than a little troubling to me that so many of our students dislike two of the major tools of thought - mathematics and written language.' And, echoing Glasser , he writes, there is a need to 'making these tools lovable'. 'Perhaps the best way is to make them more powerful in the hands of their users'.

All humans are born a 'will to learn'. 'All children possess  what have come to be intrinsic motives for learning'.

The reward for intrinsic motivation  'inheres in the successful termination of that activity or even in the activity itself'. 'Our attention is attracted to something that is unclear, unfinished, or uncertain. We sustain our attention until the matter at hand becomes clear, finished, or certain.'

'Curiosity is only one of the intrinsic motives for learning. The drive for competence is another'. The key Bruner writes  is 'we get interested in what we get good at'.

Schools, Bruner writes,  have not begun to tap into this enormous reservoir of zest' to keep alive this innate curiosity and the drive for competence.; the need to sustain a sense of pleasure and achievement in mastering things for their own sake. 'What the
school imposes often fails to enlist the natural energies that sustain spontaneous learning - curiosity, a desire for competence, aspiration to emulate a model, and a deep- sensed commitment to the web of social reciprocity.'

Bruner and Glasser are both encouraging problem finding schools. Schools where it is all right to entertain and express highly subjective ideas, to treat a task as a problem where you invent an answer rather than finding ones out there in the book.

Such ideas are about the personalisation of learning; that knowledge ought to be related to the child's own experiences.

All this is a long way from the audit and surveillance, test orientated , formulaic teaching of our current schools.

And too many students still fail.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Noam Chomsky/ technology/ behaviour management/ art education/ Power of reading/ Howard Gardner and James Beane...

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

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

Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Testing
“The assessment itself is completely artificial. It’s not ranking teachers in accordance with their ability to help develop children who will reach their potential, explore their creative interests. Those things you’re not testing.. it’s a rank that’s mostly meaningless. And the very ranking itself is harmful. It’s turning us into individuals who devote our lives to achieving a rank. Not into doing things that are valuable and important.”

'Schools must appoint teacher coaches to keep staff up to speed with rapid changes in technology’
‘Probably the biggest problem teachers have is the rapid rate of change that occurs in our computer-driven culture. Things change so fast, that we are now faced with “data obsolescence”. That which we believe to be true today, may not be true, or might be replaced by another fact or improvement in the upcoming year. Unless the very system that educates our population keeps up with these changes in a timely fashion it will itself in time become irrelevant. The model of professional development that the system relies on most heavily is the same system that has been in place for at least century.’

How to Become and Remain a Transformational Teacher
‘However talented, no one is a natural-born teacher. Honing the craft takes significant care and effort, not just by the individual, but also by the school at large. Though experience does matter, it matters only to the extent that a teacher -- regardless of how long he or she has been in the classroom -- commits to continued professional development to refresh his or her status as a transformational teacher.’

This viral video perfectly sums up what’s wrong with education today, and how we can change it
‘Here, he’s pointing to the lack of freedom that teachers often have to adapt classes in the most effective way for their individual students. Teachers, he says, “have the most important job on the planet” and “should earn just as much as doctors”. But far from appreciating their expertise and efforts, politicians force them into restrictive boxes.’

The dark side of classroom behavior management charts
‘With each new school year come shiny new behavior management systems decorating the walls of elementary classrooms. From sticker charts to clip charts to color cards, teachers choose bright and engaging systems with the hope that a little incentive might lead to improved student behavior. The thing is, these systems rarely work for any extended period of time.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

#DSXOAK: A prototype school comes to life
‘If you could completely re-design the school experience, giving students the greatest possible creative agency, how would you do it?That’s what edu fellow David Clifford is prototyping in West Oakland this weekend during his design sprint. David is a self-described “agitator” who “love[s] to mess with old ideas.”“The thing that we’re trying to do is redesign high school for the 21st century kid to help them navigate and affect change in the 21st century,” said David.“The current school model is still building kids to navigate the 19th and 20th century.” That model is meant to “manage humanity instead of inspire it.”’

Arts-Infused Project-Based Learning: Crafting Beautiful Work
"I would argue that the arts is project-based learning," says Emily Crowhurst, a music teacher. "In every music lesson, whether it's a project lesson or what you might deem a typical lesson, there areproject-based learning techniques going on naturally in the way that students are constantly critiquing and rehearsing what they're creating; and they're always working towards an end project that will have an authentic audience.”

Embracing Failure: Building a Growth Mindset Through the Arts
Teach your students the recipe for success: taking risks, making mistakes, and integrating critical feedback.
‘At New Mexico School for the Arts (NMSA) -- a dual arts and academic curriculum -- failure is taught as an important part of the journey toward success. Understanding that mistakes are indicators for areas of growth, freshmen learn to give and receive feedback. By senior year, students welcome tough, critical feedback -- and even insist on it.’

Rainstorms and Symphonies: Performing Arts Bring Abstract Concepts to Life

‘When early elementary teachers integrate music and theater, student learning improves in reading, math, and science as they become better critical thinkers and problem solvers.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Power through reading!
‘Reading, and writing, are not just processes to be 'achieved' but are all about power - power of the imagination, power of gaining messages through literature, and power to gain and share ideas that can change how you think. Unless students, particularly those from from families who lack 'cultural capital', appreciate this power why would they bother to read or write?.Arguments about literacy never seem to go away. Phonics or whole language arguments occupy literacy critics. Like the nature/ nurture argument the answer is both. Either or arguments only force proponents into corners; the future is always the best of both.’

Developing a democratic curriculum
‘Relating back to the ideas of John Dewey James Beane  believes that if people are to live democratic lives they must have the opportunity to learn what that way of life means. His ideas are based on the ability of students to participate in their own education. Democratic schools share a child centred approach but their larger goal is to change the undemocratic conditions of school themselves and in turn to reach out to the wider community.’

Five Minds for the Future
Howard Gardner, renowned worldwide for for his theory of multiple intelligences, shares his latest ideas in his new new book 'Five Minds for the Future'.Based on the premise that students are entering an accelerating world of change in every area of life Gardner believes that such changes call for new ways of learning and thinking in schools if students are to thrive in the world during the eras to come. The directions our society is taking and the future of our planet demands such 'new minds' able to explore creative alternatives for problems that cannot be anticipated.’

Friday, October 14, 2016

Teachable moments/ for profit education/ paying attention to attention/digital biographies/ creative schools and ability grouping

Escape the audit surveillance culture

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

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

The problem of perfectionism: five tips to help your students
Pressure to be perfect
‘As well as affecting general well-being, perfectionism can lead to fear of failure. When your whole self-worth and identity are tied to your success, mistakes and setbacks are seen as a threat and you avoid taking risks.
We need to talk about these issues – but where to begin? Here are some tips for helping students manage and overcome perfectionism.’

Why For-Profit Education Fails
‘Indeed, over the past couple of decades, a veritable who’s who of investors and entrepreneurs has seen an opportunity to apply market discipline or new technology to a sector that often seems to shun both on principle. Yet as attractive and intuitive as these opportunities seemed, those who pursued them have, with surprising regularity, lost their shirts.’

Teachable Moment
What is a Teachable Moment?
Difficult to achieve in an education environment dominated by accountability/standards/raising achievement etc.
‘A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom where a teacher has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her students. A teachable moment is not something that you can plan for; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized by the teacher. Often it will require a brief digression that temporarily sidetracks the original lesson plan so that the teacher can explain a concept that has inadvertently captured the students' collective interest.’

Privatizing schools for profit

Education in Africa
The Uberfication of Education by Bridge International Academies.
How a US for-profit, data-driven, education experiment is failing children from poor African families and homogenising culture.’
‘So bottom line. No reliable evidence of efficacy supported by independent academic research conducting randomised school trials.’
We live in a sick world…

Why do parents take such different approaches to their kids’ education?
Tiger mums
Thanks to Phil Cullen for this article.
‘While some children spend the school holidays studying in tutoring centres, enrolled in sports camps or other structured activities, others are left to do their own thing.
So why is it that parents take such different approaches to education and how their children spend their time?

Getting Curious (Not Furious) With Students
When their students act out, I propose the novice teachers do the following: Get curious, not furious. Let's explore what that means. Rather than a teacher resorting to traditional discipline measures, it behooves the student greatly for the teacher to realize classroom outbursts, verbal defiance, or volatile anger can be symptomatic of repeated exposure to neglect, abuse, or violence. Traumatic stress can also manifest as withdrawal or self-injury.’
Bruce the teacher - best days ever

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

One best piece of advice to ensure students achieve quality learning and teachers time to teach: 'Slow the Pace of Work’.
Bruce's latest article:
‘Too many students spoil what they do by rushing through their tasks working on the principle that 'first finished is best'. When teachers allow this 'mindset' to be an implicit part of the school culture students are not encouraged to stop and think (or reflect) about whatever they are undertaking and, as a result, a frenetic atmosphere can result. Slowing the pace  allows no time for teachers to give students (particularly those struggling) appropriate help.’

‘Makerspaces are environments that foster passion for projects of all stripes and sizes. If you can dream it, a makerspace will help you breathe life into it.  I christened the makerspace the

Solder station
STEAMworks. The STEAM, as I told anyone who would listen, stood for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. The “works” came from what we accomplished there. Even though I was a science and math teacher, I realized a needed to integrate the arts into the science curriculum. The arts play a crucial role in child/learner development and can benefit the STEM classroom and workplace.’

Ten Tips for Mentoring a Student Teacher
If you have a student teacher in your room here is some good advice.
‘I remember the first time I was asked if I would be willing to have a student teacher. Looking back, I was totally unprepared, both by my experience and by the university, to know what to do as a cooperating teacher. I relied on the experience I had just a few years earlier and tried to model after the cooperating teacher I had—sort of the way some teachers teach today.If you are in the same boat I was in back then, I have a few tips that I hope will be useful.’

Students Use Phones, iPads to Create Digital Biographies for Senior Citizens
A simple but powerful idea:
Interviewing seniors
‘A group of Orange County fifth-graders isn’t only reading about history, they’re documenting it.
As part of the Fullerton School District’s narrative writing and listening curriculum, 100 students taking part in the “Story Angels” program have begun interviewing seniors and using technology to create digital biographies of their lives.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Creative Schools – an impossible dream?
‘If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses’ said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.It is hard to believe that something that starts so well results in so
many students leaving school with little to show for their experience – and even those deemed successful still have talents and gifts unrealised.’

What’s wrong with Ability Grouping?
‘New areas of research started to focus what was happening in classrooms which showed that teachers themselves are implicated and maintaining persistent patterns of differential achievement; that ability grouping helps create the very disparities it purports to solve. It does this in subtle and unintended ways through the ways it has on teacher’s thinking and through the impact it has on self-image for children in the ‘lower’ ability groups. It is obvious that teachers do not set out to do their children harm but they also know that children live up or down to what is expected of them.’

All students can 'grow' given the right conditions

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Quality learning through paying attention to attention

'Paying attention to attention'

Seems a simple idea but  a powerful one. 

Too many students spoil what they do by rushing through their tasks working on the principle that 'first finished is best'. When teachers allow this 'mindset' to be an implicit part of the school culture students are not encouraged to stop and think ( or
Ten year old observation
reflect) about whatever they are undertaking and , as a result, a frenetic atmosphere can result. Slowing the pace  allows no time for teachers to give students ( particularly those struggling) appropriate help.

One wise old teacher ( long retired) once told me, as a result of this many students never get to finish most tasks they undertake . He called them the 'three quarters of a page kids'. If teachers were to look closely at the work their students 'complete' they will find many students who have achieved very little.

One solution is to have different expectation for every students and to make sure every student is able to  exceed their previous 'personal best'. Any book , or research work, language work or
Quality book work
piece of art  should show qualitative improvement but, all too often, it is hard to see any improvement - particularly for children having difficulty

The traditional answer to this problem is to place students into ability grouping - a strategy that research shows  does more harm than good.. Students inability to do reasonable work is more the result of an 'opportunity' rather than an 'achievement gap.

What is required are teachers dedicated to ensuring all students are able to show growth and to do this requires 'personalized ' teaching .

This brings us back to my one piece of advice - the need to 'slow
Scientific observation 10 yr old
the pace' of students work and the need to develop a learning culture that values quality over speed.

Every task can be 'slowed down'  but it requires teachers to provide ways to help students to develop a sense of craftsmanship. This of course will take time but if quality learning is the end point it will be worth it.

One easy way to develop this sense of quality learning through slowing the pace is through drawing.

Many years ago I read that in the future learners will need to be helped 'to pay attention to attention'; to the act of observing. Many students (and adults) look but do not see.

This was the point of 'observational drawing'.

 Before you begin  a drawing activity ask the class who are the best artists - students will have internalised who are the artists and why ( usually those who can draw 'real'). As a teacher the aim is for students to believe they are all artists. Teaching is the business to changing minds - to develop positive attitudes in any area of learning.

 Try it out with a simple leaf ( or photo of an insect).. Get the students to draw with no instruction. It will take students a few seconds to complete. Put the drawing away and get students to do a new drawing but this time tell students to take their time, to go really slowly, and to draw every thing they can see. For students attuned to rushing get them to look harder and to add details the might have
Science drawing 8yr old

When the second drawing is finished get them to compare their 'before and after' drawings and to consider what they have learnt.  And , as a teacher, give credit to the variety of interpretations from the real to the 'interpretative' so as to break down stereotypes about what makes a good drawing.

Simple stuff but it is the core of scientific observation and the basis for  imaginative interpretation through art. Drawing, it has been said, is the act of asking questions and drawing answers. Evidently  surgeons, through slow drawing, learn much about organs of the body.

The slowing of the process of learning is valuable in all areas of learning.

Whenever  students present their findings, including the thinking as part of process, there are ways 'slow the pace' so as to elaborate and extend their thinking. This includes aesthetic and design aspects. The best examples are students' completed exhibits for science, technology or art fairs. The same thoughtful presentation of student inquiry should be reflected on the classroom walls.

Several writers have written about this need to 'slow the pace of work' so as to achieve quality work and in the process provide the the time to come alongside the learner to provide sensitive help bur always leaving final decisions with the learner. The need to avoid this dependence has been well written about by Jerome Bruner.

Kingfisher 10yr old
Guy Claxton is another who has written about this need for reflective thinking in his book 'Hare Brain Tortoise Mind'.

Carl Honare has written a book 'In Praise of Slow' - about doing 'fewer things well'

Another writer Professor Maurice Holt has called for a slow school movement' - a  educational
movement  relating to the 'slow food movement'.

I personally like the phrase the 'haiku curriculum' - a curriculum based on the value of simplicity and depth of thinking. And I like the quote from 1930s film star  Mae West who said 'anything worth doing is worth doing slowly' but I don't think she was talking about teaching and learning.

The virtual world is 'trumping' the real world.
Drawing in the museum

I had the occasion to watch a five year old so busy on his i-pad that he couldn't be encouraged to watch some fireworks being set off!  All too often the virtual world trumps the real world. In contrast, the same five year old, was later photographed doing a drawing of a dinosaur at the Auckland museum oblivious to museum visitors walking past him. That's the power of focused attention - a lesson Leonardo da Vinci taught us centuries ago.

Kawa kawa
Computer scientist Clifford Still has written that for every hour in front of a screen a person need he equivalent time sitting by a tree or river to compensate; there is little time for 'wired' students to 'stand and stare'.

I believe that in this age of distraction ( and the associated ADHD students) that helping students 'slow the pace' by encouraging the elaboration of what they are asked to do is important and worth the effort.

.So 'slowing the pace of work'  to do 'fewer things in depth' is powerful advice

Check out these links

The power of observation More Power of Observation

Observation a basic learning skill

Observation and learning styles

Observation and imagination

Teacher's role in observation Bill Guild

Simple but Deep

The Power of Observation - Bill Clarkson

Guy Claxton's' Hare Brain Tortoise Mind' More Zen less Zest

The thoughts of Jerome Bruner

Carl Honare's  'In Praise of Slow'

Maurice Holt's 'slow education movement'

Slow food - slow teaching

Slow learning for fast times - Andy Hargreaves

Is this the future?

Friday, October 07, 2016

New Zealand education at risk/ Arts education/ Rubrics? Exemplars? Charters Schools? Modern Learning Environments and Bruner

At risk by politicians!

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

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

If I Were Secretary of Education – A Classroom Teacher’s Fantasy
If only teachers were given the chance to run education.
Steven Singer:
‘I’m only a classroom teacher. The powers that be don’t trust someone like me with that kind of responsibility. It’s okay to give me a roomful of impressionable children everyday, but there’s no confidence I can make sound policy decisions. For that we need someone with experience in management – not schools, pedagogy, children or psychology.’

Creativity and Academics: The Power of an Arts Education
‘The arts are as important as academics, and they should be treated that way in school curriculum. This is what we believe and practice at New Mexico School for the Arts (NMSA). While the positive impact of the arts on academic achievement is worthwhile in itself, it's also the tip of the iceberg when looking at the whole child. Learning art goes beyond creating more successful students. We believe that it creates more successful human beings.

Government hell-bent on dismantling public education, says Auckland professor
Hekia Parata 
New Zealand education is also under attack, as the government follows the overseas rule book.
‘Make no mistake, Minister of Education Hekia Parata is on a mission to systematically dismantle public education. Changes already in place and those planned will radically alter the education landscape in New Zealand. Public education serves many purposes. It prepares young people for a life of work, teaching basic skills in literacy and numeracy. This is seen as its primary purpose by the minister.’

Why I Threw Away My Rubrics
‘It was only when I was on the receiving end of a rubric, while taking a graduate-level education class, that I had my first critical thought about rubrics. After looking at the rubric the professor had completed for me, I wondered, where is the human response in all of this?’

The Problem with Exemplars
‘While I believe showing examples of quality work can be useful, many students immediately shut down when they perceive too great a gap between their current ability and what is deemed exemplary. I’m certainly not against the use of high quality exemplars but caution against too few examples as well as a lack of scaffolding to see where incremental success can be found. In addition, the power comes when the student decides what they want their work to be.’

Charters and Choice: Research Shows Negative Impact
So much for the ‘school choice’ ideology:
‘The press continually gets eye-fulls of graphics indicating that accountability and charter schools can increase student performance. Rarely are these studies peer reviewed and almost none ask the questions that policy researchers should investigate. Few ask what will be the most likely results of reforms.  These papers shout out the supposed benefits of favored policies while ignoring their inherent costs.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) - pedagogy from Jerome Bruner
Bruce’s latest blog posting:
‘Bruner's ideas are in opposition to the standardized direction being imposed on our schools but are surely the essence of what a modern learning environment is all about? 'Towards a Theory of Instruction'  is the book, first published 1969, I want to share today..’

Finnish education: a system based on equity, trust & responsibility
Yet another article on Finland for the reformers to ignore. Why is this? Maybe this is the answer:
‘Teaching is a respected profession In Finland, and teachers have a great deal of autonomy in the delivery of the curriculum and caring for their students’ welfare and learning.

Getting Restless At The Head Of The Class
‘They read a book quietly under their desks, pester the teacher for extra credit, or, perhaps, they simply check out and act up. Every classroom has a few overachievers who perform above their grade level and don't feel challenged by the status quo. A new report suggests they are surprisingly common — in some cases, nearly half of all students in a given grade.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Why are teachers so reluctant to change?
‘Changing entrenched mindsets is a difficult task even for those in charge. Leaders are more conditioned that those lesser mortal working at the fringes. The idea of getting to the top to change things is a myth. Creative ideas are always watered down by what is possible – the art of compromise.’

An amoeba - a model for future change!
‘It seems strange to think of one of natures most simplistic animals as metaphor for an organizational model for the future but the amoeba is a good choice, as it has survived almost as
long as life has been on the planet. It is able to sense environmental threats through its semi permeable membrane and move away from threats – it is also able to equally sense the opportunity to move to a better environment or to seek out food which it simply engulfs. The intelligence of the organism is centred in its nucleus and a deeper look indicates it is not as simple as it first looks.’

The killing of creativity by the technocrats.
The killing of creativity by John Hattie
As I visit classrooms I have become increasingly concerned about the use of a number of strategies as defined by John Hattie and promulgated by the contracted advisers spreading the word about his 'best practices'.Somehow, just because Hattie has amalgamated every piece of 'school effectiveness' research available ( mainly it seems from the USA) his findings, it seems, ought to be
A false guru
taken for read. The opposite ought to be the case - we need to be very wary of such so called 'meta research.'. More worrying however is that the approaches he is peddling is pushing into the background the home grown innovative creative learning centred philosophy that was once an important element in many classrooms. Overseas experts always seem to know best - or those that return with their carpet bag full of snake oil.’

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) - pedagogy from Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner 

Pedagogy for  21stC flexible learning environments

Jerome Bruner has a always  been a favourite of mine. I have previously written a blog about one of his bis books that  I have read several times ( because one reading is not enough to  fully comprehend - some essays are still beyond me)

Bruner's ideas are in opposition to the standardized direction being imposed on our schools but are surely the essence of what a modern learning environment is all about?

'Towards a Theory of Instruction' 

is the book, first published 1969, I want to share today..

'The will to learn is an intrinsic motive, one that finds both its source and its reward in its own exercise. The will to learn becomes
a "problem" only under specialized circumstances like those of school......what the school imposes often fails to enlist the natural energies that sustain spontaneous learning - curiosity, a desire for competence, aspiration to emulate a model, and a deep-sensed commitment to the web of social reciprocity.'

Bruner's concern has been with how these energies may be cultivated in support of school learning. The book's theme is dual: how children learn, and how they can be helped to learn - how than be brought to the fullest realization of their capacities.

Developing this sense of a learning community, Bruner believes, is somehow overlooked but it is surely the challenge of a modern learning environment.

Children get interested in waht they get good at
Bruner spent his early research  studying the nature of learning blocks - students whose behavior 'is designed to defend against entry into the problem'. A problem that is still with us today. We all tend to avoid activities that we feel we can't do. Bruner was also concerned how successful individuals 'reach their high water mark'. One thought he shares is that much of what is to be learnt  is 'wordlessness'- for an example  learning a sport, skiing or riding a bike. Such things are learnt by experience if a desire to achieve such things is important.

Children', he writes, ' are born into a culture and formed by it', an idea that has both negative and positive consequences. Consider why, after years of 'education' many students still leave with a dislike of mathematics and writing.. What kind of culture would need to be established to ensure all students develop a positive attitudes to two such important areas. This goes well beyond simplistic National Standards ideas that negates a rich curriculum

Creating a learning community for all is a challenge for those teaching in a modern learning environment. Such an environment might look nothing like a traditional school. Such a community would not include  current ability grouping  and obsessive testing.

Bruner writes by the age of three  'the child has become a paragon of sensory distractablliity. He is the victim of vividness...a creature of the moment'. How to help children learn to focus and extend their curiosity is a 'process that goes on throughout childhood' and the language and the arts provide the means to deepen knowledge, ' dialogue can lead people to discover things of great depth and wisdom'. and later  'notation of one sort or another surely becomes enormously important whether bu models, pictures, words or mathematical symbols' He comments 'we know too little about the use of the notebook, the sketch, the outline, i reflective work.

Modern learning environments need to provide motivational challenges ( through provocative displays?) and need to consider how students should record their questions, ideas and procedures. maybe in learning journals?

The learning environment need to help students get over distractability and to focus on the task i
Currently sidelined
n hand
.. One thought ( from my own experience) is to help students 'slow the pace of their work' as many students have a mindset that first finished is best.; developing this reflective approach allows adults to come alongside the learner to provide the necessary help leading to, what Bruner says, 'translating experiences into more powerful systems of notation and ordering' - 'the patient pursuit of the possible'. Every domain has skills to learn and acquiring these Bruner writes  'through the subtle interaction of parent and child'.

The spiral curriculum

It was Bruner who introduced the idea of the 'spiral curriculum' but in this book he makes the point that learning is not about gradual accretion but more' a staircase with sharp riders, more a mater of spurts and rests'. First sages in learning are mainly manipulative - learning how to do something, but with age and experience it becomes more reflective and explainable through language - the high point for this is between five and seven.

This process cant be rushed and students having time to perceptually experience things is important and rushing students only leads to students beginning to feel they can't cope. This would point to the need for personalized help or learning 'quickly becomes out of reach'.

Teaching is more about providing opportunities rather than measuring achievement; a modern learning environment is all about providing the opportunities to learn.

Bruner writes powerfully about 'the power of learning' which comes from mastery of a task. Such mastery leads to the power to 'go on to to something that is out of reach'. 'The principle emphasis in education should be placed on skills - skills in handling, in seeing and imagining and in This relates well to the 'seeking, using and developing ones own knowledge' of the New Zealand Curriculum.
A flexible learning environment

Visual education

Visual education, how people analyse and sort their environment, Bruner thinks is very important, 'I do not think we have begun the to scratch the surface of training in visualization - whether related to the arts, to science, or simply to the pleasures of viewing our environment more richly. Sounds so much like the work of pioneer New Zealand teacher Elwyn Richardson.

Power through mastery

Bruner sees the curriculum  as something 'that should involve the mastery of skills that in turn lead to the mastery of still more powerful ones, the establishment of self -reward sequences'. This, he believes, can be done in mathematics and science and also such things as poetry. This relates to Bruner's 'spiral curriculum' ; 'that there is an appropriate version of any skill or knowledge at whatever age one wishes to begin teaching'. This he writes is about 'deepening and enrichment of earlier understanding' and the reward of achievement and is the development development of personal style.
An earlier Bruner book

Amplifying learning power

An innovative learning environment is all about 'optimizing learning' - exploring the limits of each individual's learning; to amplify 'learning power'.. As for the teacher Bruner writes 'discovering how to make something comprehensible to the young is only a continuation of making something comprehensible to ourselves in the first place - that understanding and aiding others to understand are both of a piece'.

Powerful learning experiences

Bruner's advice ( applicable for those teaching in an innovative/flexible learning environment)  is to be explicit about the ';experiences which most effectively implant in the individual a predisposition towards learning'. And , he continues, that any structure to assist learning 'must be related to the status and gifts of the learner'. and that in any learning 'it is better to shift away from extrinsic the intrinsic rewards in solving  a complex problem for oneself'.

The artistry of the teacher

Teachers working with students must never put at risk the learner's disposition to learn. This is rewarded by the 'degree to which a learner develops an independent skill, the degree to which he is confident of his ability to perform on his own'. Teachers must be aware of helping stunts explore A major condition he writes is the 'presence of some optimal level of uncertainty' stating that 'curiosity is a response to to uncertainty and ambiguity'. Once something is learned with the help of an instructor further experiences 'should be less risky or painful'
Bruner would agree
alternatives and exploration of alternatives 'requires something to get started, something to keep it going, and something to keep it from being random' This is the artistry of a teacher.

Successful learning requires 'a sense of the goal or task' ; that the task 'must be known in some approximate fashion' - once again relating to Brunei's 'spiral curriculum' and that such learning can be expressed in a variety of ways. through ;actions, words,. pictures and symbols.

Success based on improving on previous personal best efforts.

When it comes to learning anything Bruner writes 'there is no unique sequence for all learners' and that this 'will depend upon a variety of factors, including past learning, stage of development, nature of the material, and individual differences'.

Education must be about providing the opportunities to discover the 'special power' of whatever one chooses to teach - art , science , music, maths or poetry.

Learning a 'form of trial and error, means end testing, trial and check, hypothesis testing and so on' ( I  like the phrase 'enlightened trial and error') and learners need to be able to learn to assess his or her own progress and  be open to ask for help when required. Any instruction has  has to 'make the learner or problem self sufficient' and to avoid 'the learner becoming permanently dependent' on the tutor. If students remain dependent the will 'rely upon the perpetual presence of a teacher'.

A favourite Bruner quote is  'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'.

The first task of a teacher 'is to gain and hold the child's interest and to lead  the learner to
Inquiry learning
problem solving activity.
'perhaps the greatest problem( for the teachers) is prevent oneself from becoming a perpetual source of information, interfering with the child's ability to take over the role of being his own corrector'. Teaching is a form of 'enlightened opportunism'. - a creative act.

Knowing is a process

Students need to be involved in creating their own curriculum  so that that they ''participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge.' .'We teach a subject get a student to think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge getting. Knowing is a process not a product'. Ideas that sound very modern, very 21st C  - the idea that knowledge is a 'doing word' - a verb. Very much in line with the intent of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

Intellectual substance - depth and passion

The substance of what is taught  provides the 'intellectual substance' and shapes the 'curiosity of of the student'. forming the 'intellectual power of those whom it serves'. 'We can make every effort at the outset to tell children where we hope to travel with them. Yet little understanding gets through. Much more useful get questions from the students themselves 'so that their own views can be brought into the open'. 'If we can activate a passion for bringing order into what has been studied, the task is well started.' The best approach is through mastering the art of getting and using information- learning what is involved in going beyond the information given',

Respect for student's thinking

Students need to be encouraged to 'pause and review in order to recognize the connections within what they have learned......for if we do nothing else , we should somehow give to children a respect for their own power of thinking, for their power to generate good questions, to come up with interesting informed guesses.'

Bruner writes 'it is more than a little troubling to me that so many of our students dislike the two major tools of thought - mathematics.... and language inn its written form, both of them devices for ordering thoughts about things and thoughts about thoughts'. Bruner hops that 'in the new era ahead we will ..make make these tools more lovable.' Something we have yet to achieve.

The will to learn.

'The single most characteristic thing about human being is that they learn' yet we still are faced with students who leave school feeling failures  with negative attitudes to wards learning. This cannot be their fault. As mentioned earlier we are conditioned by our environment.

'School demands an orderliness and neatness beyond what the child has known before; it requires restraint and immobility never asked of him before; and t often puts him in a spot where he does not know ...whether he is on the right track,' For many students this provides a challenge and for some anxiety..

The big question
In a school situation 'the will to learn' becomes important. Almost all students enter school  with 'intrinsic motives for learning that does not depend upon reward that lies outside the activity it impels, Reward inheres in the the successful termination of that activity or even in the activity itself.'

'Little is known about how to help a child become master of his own attention, to sustain it over a long connected sequence'. One possibility is help the learner move 'from more surfacy forms of curiosity and attention, and then cultivating curiosity to more subtle and active expression'. By helping the students achieve beyond expectation provides 'astonishing results'.

The drive for competence

'Curiosity is only one of the intrinsic motives for learning. The drive to achieve competence is another'. Teachers can emphasize competence helping focus their energy 'when they get into a subject they like'. 'Unless there is some meaningful unity in what we are doing, and some ways of telling how well we are doing, we are not likely to strive to excel ourselves.' and Bruner adds 'everybody does not want to be competent in the same activities'.

We get interested in what we get good at'.

Once an activity has been 'approved' by the learner requires 'some meaningful structure to it if it requires skill that is a little bit beyond that now possessed by the person - that it be learned by the exercise of effort.'

This requires an 'ability to understand the the material' and the need  to understand  delving into 'a topic in some depth, of going somewhere in a subject. It is this that is the heart of competence motives, and surely our schools have not begun to tap this enormous reservoir of zest'.

'How can education  keeps alive  and nourish  a drive to competence? What sustains a sense of pleasure and achievement in mastering things for their own sake? This believes Bruner is 'an instinct for workmanship'.
Current standardization

Bruner is writing about 'creating a community of learners' a phrase echoing Elwyn Richardson who wrote that he 'wanted to create a community of scientists and artists '.

The problem, writes Bruner, is 'how to stimulate thought in school, how to personalise learning, and how to evaluate what one is doing.

'There is nothing more important in teaching ( any discipline)  than to provide the child the earliest opportunity to learn that way of thinking - the forms of connection, the attitude, hopes, joke, and frustrations that go with it.At the very first breathe, the young learner, we think, be given the chance to solve problems, to conjecture, to quarrel, as these are done at the heart of any discipline'.

'Children in school can quickly be led to such problem finding by encouragement and instruction.' 'Children, like adults, need reassurance that it is all right to entertain and express highly subjective ideas, to treat a task as a problem where you invent an answer rather than finding one out there'in a book', or today on the internet.

Valuing the student's 'voice'.

'We need to reestablish in the child's mind not only to have his own private ideas but to express them in the public setting of a classroom.'

One difficulty Bruner writes is that 'young children in school expend extraordinary time and effort figuring out what it is that the teacher wants - and usually coming to the conclusion that she or he
wants tidiness or remembering or doing things at a certain time in a certain way.'

Content and process  inseparable

Problem solving - problem finding.

One way to achieve stimulating problem solving is 'to train teachers to want it' and by providing 'them and their children with materials ...that permit legitimate problem solving'.Teachers can make or break learning by their attitudes

This requires the 'personalization of knowledge' ; knowledge that is related to the child's own experience. We need to value students feelings and preconception - their prior knowledge of the learning being undertaken.

Success for all students..

Teachers in modern learning environment is all 'about assisting the development of  (all) human beings so that they can use their potential powers to achieve a good lie and make an effective contribution to their society'.

This is something we have not achieved yet in New Zealand. but one thing is sure the answer is not narrowing the curriculum through National Standards and obsessive testing.

New Zealand was well on the way under Dr Beeby

One school I admire is New Science Tech School

Pioneer New Zealand teacher was ahead of his time!

Inspirational New Zealand schools well on the way

Taranaki teachers in the 70s and 80s implemented Bruner's ideas.

John Dewey - inspiration from the past.

Basing learning around student inquiry

What the Western World has forgotten about learning that Modern Learning EnvironmentS should implement

Pedagogy fro a MLE/ ILE /FLE