Friday, June 24, 2016

Creative teacher readings : politics/ maths, dance and handwriting/ MLEs/ bring back the jesters and tapping into the students' world

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

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

Jo Cox - great loss
Politics at its worst and best
This article by Robin Alexander (Cambridge Primary Review Trust) discusses the situation in UK as the vote to stay in or leave the European Union reached the crunch point. There’s much in this article that is applicable in many other countries and I’m sure the points he makes will resonate with you.
Sir Robin Alexander
‘What has this to do with primary education? Everything. Most schools espouse a vision of human relations which is diametrically opposed to the divisive and inflammatory rhetoric to which we’ve been treated during the past few months. Somehow they must hold the line against that rhetoric’s malign pervasiveness and champion with children the possibility of a more generous and inclusive world.  Most schools – at least we hope this is so – make the quest for truth and understanding paramount in their shaping of children’s curriculum experiences, yet myths, lies and obfuscation have been rather more prominent of late in the public sphere.’

Seeing Struggling Math Learners as ‘Sense Makers,’ Not ‘Mistake Makers’
‘In discussions of progressive and constructivist teaching practices, math is often the odd subject out. Teachers and schools that are capable of creating real-world, contextualized, project-based learning activities in every other area of school often struggle to do the same for mathematics, even as prospective employers and universities put more emphasis on its importance. This struggle may come from a fundamental misunderstanding about the discipline and how it should be taught.’

What Educators and Parents Should Know About Neuroplasticity, Learning and Dance
Apart from anything else the children will love it. What else do you need?
Talking, writing, and numbers are the media of knowledge. However, we now know that dance is a language, brain-driven art, and also, a fuel for learning subjects other than dance. In short, dance is an avenue to thinking, translating, interpreting, communicating, feeling, and creat­ing. As a multimedia communication that generates new brain cells and their connections, dance at any age enriches our cognitive, emotional, and physical development beyond the exercise itself and extends to most facets of life.’

The #1 Reason for Poor Student Performance
‘His answer is clear: stress. Students from non-supportive and even violent households and environments—which is where, at least in some cases, economics does come into play—are unable to develop higher-order thinking skills.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Design Thinking and PBL
‘With the development of Modern Learning Environments schools need to consider cross curricular project based learning and design thinking.While project-based learning has existed for decades, design thinking has recently entered the education lexicon, even though its history can be traced back to Herbert A. Simon's 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial. So why the resurgence of these ideas?’

Art the 4th R
What the Common Core Missed 
‘Art and design work together to form a foundational language that allows us to "speak transmedia" with meaning and articulation. It is a highly portable language that translates well across curricular areas, cultures and the universe of diverse ideas. Above all, it is a language that helps us develop new perspectives, skills and habits of mind for solving problems, mining opportunities,  and "seeing" in its most compelling sense. It is time for Art to take its rightful place along side reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. Art isn't just good for the soul. It is a language we all need to be able to speak.’

Building a Nation of Makers
‘Makers, builders and doers – of all ages and backgrounds – always have had a vital role in pushing our country to develop creative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. As President Barack Obama has noted, during this week, "We celebrate the tinkerers and dreamers whose talent and drive have brought new ideas to life, and we recommit to cultivating the next generation of problem solvers.".The term "making" refers to both traditional outlets for creativity such as metalworking, woodworking and drawing, as well as to digital fabrication made possible by computer design tools, robotics, laser cutters, 3D printers and other tools.’

Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age
Do children in a keyboard world need to learn old-fashioned handwriting? There is a tendency to dismiss handwriting as a nonessential skill, even though researchers have warned that learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write. And beyond the emotional connection adults may feel to the way we learned to write, there is a growing body of research on what the normally developing brain learns by forming letters on the page, in printed or manuscript format as well as in cursive.

How to Design the Perfect Modern Learning Assessment
It seems developing your school as a MLE is the big thing these days! How does one design the perfect modern learning assessment?
‘In good modern learning assessment:
   students gain instant feedback;
   they are not penalized for mistakes, and;
   they are given a chance to apply changes as needed.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Fundamentals in education
The creation of the mind
‘In recent years education has become more and more cognitive or rational; learning that can be seen and measured so as to prove evidence of growth. In the process real fundamentals have been overlooked.The creation of the mind is more than simply cognitive. The mind is a unified, active, constructive, self creating, and symbol making organ; it feels as well as thinks – feelings and emotions are a kind of thought. Attitudes are created from feelings and emotions.’

Bring back the Jesters!
‘The idea is worth spreading throughout all organizations to combat the blindness created by past success. It is one way to counteract the conformity which pervades top down management. Telling the truth is difficult in too many environments and as a result organizations fail to adapt to changing environments. As Oscar Wilde wrote, ‘Telling the truth makes you unpopular at the club’

Tapping into the student's world
‘The stance taken about how children learn is vital. Those who think they know more than the child work out prescribed curriculums and, as part of this, develop elaborate systems to see thing as are being learnt - including National testing. This is the 'jug and mug' theory of learning where the teacher is the full jug and the teachers job is to pour knowledge from the full jug to the empty mug.For others the aim is to do everything to keep alive those innate desire to learn - or to 'recover' it if it has been subverted by prior experiences.’

Friday, June 17, 2016

President Obama and education/ creativity/literacy/ rote learning and Rip van Winkle

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

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

Diane Ravitch to Obama: ‘I will never understand why you decided to align your education policy with that of George W. Bush’
Diana Ravitch
Much of this article is applicable all over.
‘I quite bluntly admit in the book that the pursuit of national standards, national curriculum and national tests is a dead-end. There seems to be an assumption that if every child is exposed to exactly the same material at the same time, achievement gaps between children from rich homes and poor homes will close. If the curriculum is over the heads of the students, and if the tests are made harder, achievement will rise. I now think all of this is nonsense.

First Comes Achievement. Then Comes Confidence.
Bill Ferriter:
The confidence o grow
‘A few weeks back, I wrote a bit here on the Radical titled Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid.  In it, I shared the story of my daughter -- who came home broken one day because her progress report wasn't what she expected it to be.  Her peers were earning threes and fours, but her report was covered in twos -- and while she knows little about what those numbers really mean, she felt like a failure.  That broke my heart.’

Reading: It's Not Always Fun-damental
Linda Neilsen
‘Parents and teachers work hard to instill a love of reading in young people. In fact, most consider that the love of reading is absolutely essential to a happy, successful, and fulfilling life. They are on an endless pursuit to find ways to cultivate readers or ignite a love of reading.  But what about individuals who prefer not to get their information that way?’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

9 creativity myths you should stop believing
‘Creativity is a relative subject. Some perceive creativity as an art that can be trained and some think of it as an innate talent. Creativity is associated with many such myths that make people form different opinions of this subject But what defines creativity” in its true sense?Creativity is anything that stimulates thinking and gives new directions to our thoughts. Keeping into the essence of its definition, any person can be creative in his own way. So, we can say that there is nothing called born talent” or innate creativity” in the real world.’

‘Teaching to the test means schools are meeting literacy targets but failing to cultivate a love of reading’
‘It is difficult to work out a balanced view of the role and influence that testing has on the
experience of pupils and the quality of their education. Numerous policymakers insist that national testing provides an effective instrument for raising standards and rely on exam results as evidence of achievement in education.Opponents of testing deploy the language of emotional deficit to condemn testing. During the past three decades, a continuous stream of reports have claimed that testing has fostered a climate of stress and anxiety in schools.’

What I Worry About When I Worry About STEM
Author Jane
The bias toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as the subjects for more intelligent, or more productive people is nothing new. It’s easier to see that they instil skills that are useful to industry, and that makes perfect sense, but only if we think education is all about a direct path to employment.We should encourage more young people into STEM, and do much more to demystify these subjects, but are we so worried about the economy that we’re willing to accept that education is simply a path to being an employee or entrepreneur.’

8 Myths That Undermine Educational Effectiveness
Eight myths
‘Certain widely-shared myths and lies about education are destructive for all of us as educators, and destructive for our educational institutions. This is the subject of 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education, a new book by David Berliner and Gene Glass, two of the country’s most highly respected educational researchers. Although the book deserves to be read in its entirety, I want to focus on eight of the myths that I think are relevant to most teachers, administrators, and parents.

Classroom Aesthetics: Not the Art of Teaching” - Teaching As Art
‘Sometimes the magic and beauty of the classroom, the soaring beyond simple skills and content, happens in the most unexpected ways. At these moments, we are experiencing a kind of performance art in the classroom. Take the following example.’

'Rote learning: the pantomime villain in education’
In one corner (shall we call it the blue one?) we have Dickensian school-masters in gowns and mortar boards forcing cowed and passive pupils to learn their tables by heart and recite them
perfectly at the point of a cane, or these days a stop-watch.
And in the other corner, we have caring, modern-day teachers gently leading their pupils on a journey of understanding where they discover for themselves that three fours are twelve and, because of that intimate and personal experience of learning, they never forget that fact for the rest of their lives.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

30 Years ago - so what has changed?
My class in 1978
‘Recently I received an e-mail from a student I hadn't heard of since she was in my class in 1978. She wrote about how great it was to experience the class and how much all that we did has stayed with her over the years. With this in mind I searched out something I wrote, at the time, for the team of teachers I was leading. I was curious to see how much my ideas had changed since then. What follows are extracts I wrote to clarify my thoughts and to share with the team followed by some reflective comments.’

Rip van Winkle and schools
‘A recent Time Magazine lead story begins with what it calls ‘a dark little joke exchanged by teachers with a dissident streak: Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred year snooze and is of course utterly bewildered by what he sees’. ‘Every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when finally he walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. This is a school”, he declares. We used to have these back in 1906”’

We need a new story for our future.
‘What we need, as we make our way into the new millennium, is a new way of thinking to align our thoughts behind. We need a new story , myth, narrative, or metaphor, to
Darwin changed our story
replace current thinking
- thinking based on a mechanistic emphasis on economic progress, exploitation and short term thinking.
It is obvious that current thinking is unable to solve the problems of inequality in our society - the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow.’

Friday, June 10, 2016

Jerome Bruner Educationalist 1915- 2016 / the importance of visual education in a digital age.

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

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

This week we lost the extremely influential Jerome Bruner. Here are some tributes to him.

Jerome Bruner (1915 - 2016)
University of Harvard:
‘In the course of his three decades at Harvard, Bruner published works on perceptual organization, cognition, and learning theory, all of which departed dramatically from the deliberate mind-blindness of behaviorism, by emphasizing the importance of strategies and mental representations in the processing of real-world phenomena.

Scaffolds and spirals
Steve Wheeler:
‘Bruner was one of the founding fathers of the theory of social constructivism, an approach that pervades many of the daily activities in schools across the world. Bruner will perhaps be best remembered for two important contributions to our understanding of learning.’

An Unfinished Quest in Education
‘Bruner resolved to study what he called cognitive psychology”—how people think and reason, not just how they react and respond. For education, especially, the implications were enormous. Bruner found that even very young children constructed their own knowledge—that is, they made sense of new information based on prior experience and understanding. The job of the teacher was to help students build upon what they already knew.

Inspiring Educators 3: Jerome Bruner
‘His contribution to understanding learning has been wide, deep, rich and powerful. He was a giant of educational giants. His voice was and remains strong, and his thinking as relevant as ever. Chances are you referred to his work in an essay or project while learning your classroom craft, and with a little excavation you'll find his ideas underpinning your day-to-day practice.

On Knowing -Essays for the left hand by Jerome Bruner ( from Bruce's oldies)

The themes Jerome Bruner covers in his book concern the process of knowing, how knowing is shaped and how it in turn gives form to language science, literature and art. The symbolism of the left hand is that of the dreamer - the right that of the practical doer.The areas of hunches and intuition, Bruner writes, has been all too often overwhelmed by an 'imposed fetish of objectivity'...'The lock step of learning theory in this country has been broken, though it is still the standard village dance'.

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Bruce’s comment: I really value the importance of art in education and in particular the importance of observation in the learning process. Too many children look but do not see and thus do not remember. I believe, in this age of fast and often superficial digital learning, the ‘slow’ learning involved in drawing is an important antidote. Visual education ought to be an important element of a modern education.

Schematic stage 7-9
Why is teaching kids to draw not a more important part of the curriculum?
‘Drawing plays a big role in our cognitive development. It can help us learn to write and think creatively, develop hand-eye co-ordination, hone analytic skills, and conceptualise ideas.But drawing is rarely used as a tool for learning in schools. Generally teachers aren’t trained in visual education.Drawing is not something that should be confined to art lessons – it’s a skill that can play a role in many different subject areas in school education, and later on in the workplace.’

Artists Share "Before and After" Evolution of Their Drawing Skills with Years of Practice

‘Drawing, like all things, requires dedicated practice to master the craft and create amazing works that wow a wide audience. Although many people dabble in art when they’re younger, few people choose to hone their skills into their teens and adulthood. Those that do work on improving themselves have had impressive results—especially when comparing their refined techniques to their early work.Several artists have been sharing the evolution of their work online and the difference in the quality of their drawings is staggering—you’d never realize two particular pieces were made by the same person. An artist’s simple line drawing, created during their early teens, has since become much more detailed with just a few years of practice’

More Before And After Drawings That Show Remarkable Progress In Artists’ Skills

Showing students visual improvement is one way of developing confidence in learning – old fashioned perhaps but important in this digital era of fast but often superficial learning. Observation may well be the most important basic skill of all.
‘In a previous posting we featured impressive drawings that unveiled the striking evolution of artists’ drawing skills following years of practice. This posting  shows more artists have taken to showcasing their improvement  inspiring growth as artists with these before and after sketches.’

Drawing May Be Your Brain's Best Way to Secure a Memory
A new study shows that drawing a picture helps you remember something better than writing it down. Something for teachers to consider.  Drawing gives the brain time to gather information –  important in current digital fast learning environments?
‘A new study out of the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo (UW) shows that drawing a picture helps you remember something better than writing it down. The idea that pictures spark memory better than words is not new -- researchers have been trying to get to the bottom of what activities or mnemonics are most helpful in boosting memory since the 1960s.’

11-Year-Old Artist Creates Amazingly Detailed Drawings of Wildlife
The wildlife drawings of an extremely talented 11 year old.
Meet Dušan Krtolica, one of the most talented 11-year-olds ever. The Serbian child prodigy is a master artist who creates stunningly detailed, nature-inspired drawings with a skill level that is far beyond his years. Using just pen or pencil, Krtolica draws anatomically correct flora and fauna, piling together aquatic life, dinosaurs, insects, birds, and other creatures in dense illustrations that burst with life.’

How drawing focuses the mind
Sketching something close up and looking at it from afar are approached in quite different ways by the brain. When you see something familiar, the higher-order parts of the visual system quickly piece together information from the eyes to help you to understand what you’re looking at.’

Art and Math and Science, Oh My!
I think that the unifying thing about all of your interests is that you really like creating and making things, whether that’s a painting or a program.” It was at that moment that I stopped feeling weird about loving both engineering and art, & embraced it, and explored how art and technology were connected. And that’s what I’d like to talk about in this post.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Observation - a basic learning skill
‘Schools need to tap into student's curiosity and need to express ideas. It is this sensory resource of impressions that is called upon by learners when they come to read. Better still such experiences inspire students to talk, draw, write and then to read their own ideas. Before the word the experience is a simple enough idea - the more you notice the more words and ideas you will develop.

Importance of observation.
‘Drawing is an ideal way to break through habitual ways of thinking. All too often our students see but they do not look. Observational drawing has long been an important means for some teachers to develop deeper consciousness in students - to assist students see through their habitual ways of seeing and to develop new awareness.’

Beginning the school year - the importance of observation in learning
‘Observation is an important skill in all areas of learning - all too often students look but don't see. Close observation encourages a slower pace of work which assists student memory. Once the skill of observation is in place it can be used throughout the year in all learning areas.’

Friday, June 03, 2016

iPads in education ?/ technology/ Literacy / the power of interest / Howard Gardner's 5 minds/ and more about Finland

To develop the gifts and talents of ALL students.

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

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

Why the tablets in schools debacle is over
I’ll leave it to you to form your own opinions….   however I know I couldn’t handle my life using just my iPad.
‘To be exact, 88.5% of teachers and 74% of grade 7-12 students wanted laptops, not iPads. The observations were clear, that while iPads may be appropriate for young children, they are not suitable for older children who need to acquire writing and other more sophisticated skills using tools that don’t work on iPads.’

Overlapping arguments: Why we love to hate technology
On the other hand…
‘So there you have it. Those who say technology doesn’t work are right. And so are those who say it does.’

Is ‘pedagogical love’ the secret to Finland’s educational success?
Finland, again
The author
‘Teachers and teacher educators in Finland are well aware that Finnish schoolchildren perform well in academic metrics such as PISA, but they seem much more concerned that their children are happy. It was something that impressed me immensely when I visited the country.
The wellbeing of children is central to Finnish society and culture and underpins their approach to education. Relationships between students, teachers, parents and even educational administrators are based on trust, which I believe is their defining motivation.’

Wild things: how ditching the classroom boosts children's mental health
Not rocket science, is it?
‘Importantly, students are encouraged to take ownership of their own learning during outdoor learning sessions and teachers ask the children to set personal targets such as improving resilience, problem solving and working with others.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

The empty brain: Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer.
What are the implications of this in the classroom?
‘But here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons,
The empty brain
representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them – ever.’

The Official” Theory of Learning
Will Richardson interpreting Frank Smith’s ‘The Book of Learning and Forgetting’ (an excellent read, by the way):
‘Smith counters that, however, with what he calls the official” view of learning, which he calls preeminent, coercive, manipulative, discriminatory — and wrong.”

Reading with intention can change your life
‘A random sampling of the world’s most successful people will show one common trait: a love of reading. Reading is the easiest way to continue the learning process, increase empathy, boost creativity, and even just unwind from a long day. But books can also change the way we think and live.’

How the Power of Interest Drives Learning
Annie Murphy Paul:
‘In recent years researchers have begun to build a science of interest, investigating what interest is, how interest develops, what makes things interesting, and how we can cultivate interest in ourselves and others. They are finding that interest can help us think more clearly, understand more deeply, and remember more accurately. Interest has the power to transform struggling performers, and to lift high achievers to a new plane.’

Thriving in a modern world
Derek Weymouth’s blog : Five human skills for the future. Great must see short video
‘These five things Curiosity, Creativity, Initiative, Multi-disciplinary thinking and Empathy have been the engine of innovation and survival since the beginning of civilisation.

 We're at a point in history where our human skills are just as important as our knowledge. The challenge for schools and educators is to maintain a focus on these things amidst the pressure to also ensure we are addressing those fundamental pre-requisites of literacy and numeracy 

Thanks to Derek Weymouth
We're fortunate in NZ that our National Curriculum has at its primary focus the Key Competencies around which the curriculum in our schools should be designed. New Zealand schools have the scope, flexibility, and authority they need to design and shape their curriculum so that teaching and learning is meaningful and beneficial to their particular communities of students. So one would imagine that in such an environment we'd see amazing things happening in terms of the development of 'an adaptable mind' as this clip celebrates – and we do, but often in pockets rather than in a systemic way.

 The constant pressure to recognise and measure achievement in terms of the traditional subject areas can mitigate against efforts to develop a curriculum that will truly inspire and develop things like curiosity, creativity and initiative among our students.’

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?’

Standardization of America and democratic Finland.
‘Rigor in the American scene is cutting recess and replace with instruction. Cut the frills., cut art, cut music, cut everything except reading and math. And then turn the school day into a reading and maths drill and reading and math exercises, and get those scores up.’

Five Minds for the Future
Howard Gardner
‘Based on the premise that students are entering an accelerating world of change in every area of life Gardner, renowned worldwide for for his theory of multiple intelligences , 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.Gardner's 'five minds' have much in common with the 'key competencies' that underpin the recently published 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.