Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An eye catching study topic!

A quick trip to any classroom if you have had a lot of experience visiting schools will soon indicate the quality of the learning in the classroom - the 'messages' of the room can be seen in a 'blink'. As they say you don't have to drink a whole bottle of wine to decide it is quality wine.One of the criteria is the depth of learning exhibited on the display walls.

It is interesting taking visiting teachers around classrooms in other schools, something I have been doing for decades.

I have aways believed that the best professional development comes from visiting and talking to other teachers but, to be successful, those visiting have to be open to what they are seeing.This, of course, is easiest if the visitors are already heading in a similar direction as the mind seems to want to confirm itself and resists disruptions.

However it is when the mind is challenged that real learning begins, particularly if you are unhappy with your current directions. If not, I note, teachers who feel happiest when they see rooms that more reflect, or confirm, their own teaching beliefs.

Anyway I am a great believer in studies that result in informative exhibitions for visitors to learn from what they have been studying. And I am a great believer in an active inquiry approach to learning across the curriculum. Iam really enthusiastic when I see the language arts (I dislike the narrow term literacy) and mathematics programme 're framed' so they contribute to developing research and expressive skills and in-depth content.These are programmes that reflect the New Zealand Curriculum's statement that students are to be seen as 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

Back to the classroom display illustrated. I guess it was the result of a maths study around statistics but involved researching information about that unpopular vegetable Brussell Sprouts. The display of the work of an inventive teacher. Often these small studies reflect the best thinking.

A quick look around the room also showed a range of studies the students had explored.It was a room where the 'inquiries' were the important thing. Real content had been 'constructed' by the students but the vital thing was the attitude of students about learning that had gained by being in the room. It is this 'tacit' learning that remains and will inform students' future learning.

It is a shame that the emphasis on literacy and numeracy means that this tacit learning is undervalued - teachers and outside authorities judging success on qualitative data in these two areas.

Limited thinking.

Our kids deserve better.

Give them more Brussell Sprouts.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fraser Smith :Authentic Education -"Hallelujah".

Last year I had the opportunity to visit Oturu School to see what Fraser Smith was up to! And what a great visit it was -and evening! Fraser is a 'one off teacher' who is an inspiration to others so it was great to see him and his students featuring on TV One Close Up recently. Fraser's enthusiasm is endless and his organic inquiry approach to learning provides a fertile environment for the students at Oturu. The school has hens, bees, herb gardens, a citrus orchard and an olive grove. The children in all classes run things and they propagate their own flowers, process their own honey, olive oil, lip balm and beauty cream, Fraser hasn't ways been appreciated by authorities and at one point left to return ten years later to teach in rural schools. He was was appointed to Oturu in 2ooo - a decile One school that punches well above its weight. The school also features Hunterwasser inspired art.

The four 'bee' girl problem solvers are : Manaaki, Ayvran, Annaleah and Teina. are traveling to the US with their coach Deputy Principal Heater Greaves. I wish you all the best.

When the system loses the creativity of such teachers as Fraser education is at risk.

Read what Fraser and his four "bee girls" students ( who have won a trip) to the US for their bee problem solving ability have to say:

Interviewer: Oturu School - where they do things a bit different.

Fraser: Oturu School is a low decile school - it really means it is a low socio economic area.Our kids are good at first hand learning.

And there is a lot of stuff to see. Lip balm made from kawakawa leaves, olive oil and beeswax. Olive oil. Honey. Soap.Beauty cream ... hens, vege gardens, herb gardens, citrus fruit and the bee hives.

Fraser: We are allowed to to do what we are doing, it is called authentic learning, and it is wrapped up in the New Zealand Curriculum - Hallelujah!

Interviewer: And the hands on approach can be seen to be working having cleaned up their New Zealand opposition four year eight girls have earned themselves a spot in the World Problem Solving Competitions in Wisconsin USA.

Fraser: It's life changing for them.I think it is really, really important, they're somebody.

Interviewer: You could say the opportunities are being created by school principal Fraser Smith.

Fraser: We came because we believed in the dream. When I came it was a very unrestful place, we'd started a lot of planting and gardening..if we failed we did it again until we got it right.When kids pulled up all the trees we replanted them.Now the kids don't pull up trees anymore!

Interviewer: Fraser and his colleagues have created an enviro school - chickens, bees, vegetable, flower gardens and hundreds of olive trees and citrus.

Fraser: Our kids needed to make connections to everything they learn.They could read about something but it didn't make the connections.They need to get out and experience it.

And the students explained that they integrate maths and other areas as well.

Fraser: The process of learning building on learning experiences goes from one experience to the next- it grows and grows. You are not bored- you don't have time to be bored.We are aways thinking of something new to do.

And how he felt if the girls didn't win in the USA

Fraser replied: It doesn't matter, they will have done all the stuff - they are virtually invincible!

How long do schools take this nonsense- Orwell strikes again

On May 18TH Karen Sewell gave a speech at a graduation ceremony in Wellington that both impressed a listener - and left him wondering. ' I was impressed with your speech. It's liberal, curiosity-based characteristics of New Zealand system have made it, as you mentioned, world class.
I cannot imagine, then, why you would want,as your tenure in the Ministry to dismantle everything that has made education in this country so successful......I do not know how you can praise the song bird and shoot it cold dead. Were your sentiments "mere words".

Or do you know of as yet unpublicised initiative to rid New Zealand classrooms of the anti -educational fixation with endless quantitative analysis and " little boxes" ideology that day by day robs our citizenry of the right to a genuinely liberal education?

Should the present imperatives remain in place I fear that my own education, and that of my children, will prove inferior to that of my grandchildren?....

I hold you -along with dimwitted education ministers we have all had to endure in recent years - fully responsible....

I merely wish to give expression my despair and heartbreak I am forced to live everyday.... ( as the) Ministry edict to squeeze the wonder and curiosity out of each precious life I encounter.At least their decline will be well measured, recorded, and reported I suppose.Pity that in so doing there's so little time left for teaching, let alone thinking, exploring,discovering, nurturing, inspiring, mentoring,discussing and creating.

It is not a good time to be involved in New Zealand education.'

There is nothing liberal or democratic about the following orders!

Subject: Attn: The Board Chair - School charters for 2011
The Board Chairperson
25 May 2011

Tēnā koutou katoa

School charters for 2011

On 8 October 2010, I wrote to year 1-8 schools setting an expectation that you would submit your 2011 charter at the beginning of this school year. I’d like to extend my thanks to the schools that have provided their 2011 charters.

This is the first time you have been required to include National Standards targets in your charters, and I acknowledge and appreciate the effort that you have put into this work.

Charters are an important part of your school’s annual planning and self-review process and provide valuable information for you and your community.Given that they are your plans for the school year, it makes sense to have them in place before the school year gets underway.

They also help the Ministry work with you to identify what additional support the students or your school may need in that year. This could be Professional Learning and Development for teachers or resources for students.

Charters, like your school’s annual report, are also a legal requirement and form part of your accountability to your community and the Crown. Therefore, if you haven’t provided your 2011 charter please note the deadline and processes below.

All schools that have not submitted a charter (except those in the Christchurch City, Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts)

Our regional staff have been in regular contact with schools that have not yet provided charters to offer support in preparing and submitting a charter and to remind them of the requirement to do so.

This support is ongoing and our regional staff will continue to be available to work with you and discuss what support you may need to submit your charter. I would like outstanding charters to be submitted to the Ministry by Thursday 9 June 2011.

If your school has not submitted your 2011 charter by 9 June, I will write to you and formally request documents relating to your charter, which will need to be supplied by 1 July.

I will make this request under the Education Act 1989, Section 144A, which allows me as Secretary for Education to request information that I reasonably need to administer the Education Act.

Schools in the Christchurch City, Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts that have not submitted a charter.I understand that many schools in the Christchurch City, Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts are still dealing with the significant disruption caused by the 22 February earthquake.

If your school has not yet provided your 2011 charter and will be unable to do so by the end of term two, please contact your regional Ministry office to discuss support options that are available.

If your school needs support preparing your charter, please contact your regional Ministry office.

I thank you all for your ongoing commitment to improving the educational progress and achievement of all our children and young people.

Nāku noa, nā
Karen Sewell
Secretary for Education

Orwellian double speak at it best.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Time for schools to wake up -advice from a senior principal

George Orwell would be impressed with all the double speak coming out of Ministry 'sleeve tuggers'. 'Big brother' is now in charge - high trust indeed! - we have moved well beyond the 'nanny state'.

Geoff Lovegrove a Past President of the New Zealand Primary Principals' Federation has given me permission to share his thoughts below. I believe it is a call to arms for school to start the fight back about Ministry bureaucratic nonsense they have suffered since 1989. This is election year - let's use the opportunity well. If you haven't read the March edition of the NZPPF Magazine please do so. Great stuff on the National Standards fiasco.

One day school might see past their own school gates to see that serious collective action is requited to ensure our education system delivers what is best for our students.

Is this Déjà vu ? Or have we been here before?

Why don't we focus our attention on the big question: Why are these things being done to us?

Think about this:

1 A few RTLB Clusters are seen (in a ridiculously small sampling in a narrow ERO review) to be under-performing, so the whole country's RTLB system has to be turned upside down.

Who decided this and where is the real debate?

2 Someone also decided that the country's Support Services (Advisers mainly) were less than ideal, so the entire system has been dismantled, there are no advisory services available for large sections of our wonderful NZ Curriculum (The Arts, Sciences, Health, PE...), and we are faced with a new model where someone comes to help us decide what our PLD needs are, and accesses the money.

3 Some worrying messages about the RTLit Service. What plots are being hatched now, to centralise, streamline, and pull back control?

4 Similar alarm bells ringing about the TRUANCY SERVICES. "Centralise. Merge Clusters. Make them more effective", despite some wonderful work going on out here in reality land.

5 CHARTERS: Schools are being threatened, bullied and coerced into writing charters that must comply with a political direction.
Some of us were around when Tomorrow's Schools were being set up. We are seeing the total dismantling of Self Managing Schools, and much greater control in the centre (and this from a centre-right government that espouses choice, trust and devolution of resources)

6 Where is the publicly accessible STRATEGY that determines these changes?
Why are we hearing about them, only after the big decisions have already been made? The Ministry's (government's?) strategy seems to be "If it ain't broke, then break it".

7 Despite all the evidence, the government is pressing ahead with its fatally flawed National Standards agenda, pouring even more dollars (nearly $17M added to the $36M they are already wasting). At a time of financial restraint, this money could buy a lot of Teacher Aides

8 A big worry is the decline in morale that has become much more evident in the past two years.

We need a Minister FOR Education. We are hearing that morale in the ministry itself is at an all-time low, with two sub-species of officials: One that is going through the motions, getting their fortnightly pay, heads down, carrying out the orders they must. They are the drones; and another that is the new breed of go-getting, sleeve-tugging, fad-chasing, new agenda-following, gung-ho, new-life solution providers. They believe the absolute nonsense that the bottom 20% (14%?) can be totally eliminated, and they can provide the WAY. They are the disciples.

Out in school-land, we also have different sub species: The principals and experienced teachers who lead great schools, helping a country punch above its weight (just read the OECD reports), the committed people who have a passion for teaching, and for helping kids learn.

The new breed, many of whom willingly comply with instructions from above because they don't know anything else.

Principals are trying to protect teachers from the bureaucratic nonsense, but it is getting harder.

The big issue is not just the reorganisation of RTLBs. It is a much, much bigger agenda, and we should be extremely worried.

The term "bureaucratic bullying" has emerged recently. Ministry officials must carry out orders. It was bad a year ago. It is even badder now. How bad will it be after the election?

Do we just accept this? Lie down and comply? Or is there another way?

And the greatest irony? The sickest joke of all? The Minister's direct email address starts with "hightrust..."

Thanks to
Geoff Lovegrove

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Boy! Has Kelvin Smythe got it right! He woke up with the nightmare clear in his head. Time for us all to wake up!

For too long we have submitted to the Ministry C.R.A.P. ( continuously revising all polices/procedures) and taken their untested advice, usually picked from other countries, while ignoring the ideas we know have worked in creative schools - or more to the point, in creative classrooms. Time to change the wheels and run over the false leadership of self serving politicianS and bureaucrats with their neo liberal ideology.

Education is all about providing students access to a better world. Current standardised state imposed approaches are destroying the possibilities of all students succeeding. Some schools , by amplifying the imposed surveillance culture, by going along to get along, have now become part of the problem.

We collectively know what is right - far better than politicians and the contracted educational mercenaries .We just need to sort our ideas out.

And it will only get worse unless schools have the moral courage to decide what is worth fighting for.

I haven't changed a single word OF Kelvin's - it is so good.

Ministry considering authoritarian post-election moves
By Kelvin Smythe

If you haven't signed up for Kelvin's posting do so now - just google him!

This posting is an addendum to the eclectic mix that was the last posting. In that posting I detailed how the government’s policy on national standards (based on information from ministry sources) is to proceed quietly pre-election, but post-election to move quickly into gear and legislate in authoritarian-style against stand-out schools. I also discussed how schools whether stand-out or participating are not ‘doing national standards’, they are doing national standards’ policy – national standards only become national standards when they are tightly moderated across the system, high stakes, competitive, with results publicly available. The posting then linked national standards to corporate authoritarianism which has as one of its aims removing poverty from the agenda in relation to educational outcomes, also scapegoating and humiliating public school teachers. One expression of corporate authoritarianism in education is a narrowing and impoverishment of the curriculum – it has a limiting effect, in particular, on the social, educational, and vocational opportunities of working class children (which given the make-up of the working class, means diminished opportunities for Maori children).

The posting then went on to discuss the curious meeting last Thursday of the NZPF executive with John Key. In a muffled way, Key offered to put the executive in touch with Anne Tolley which the executive later rejected. The tenor of the meeting, of course, is entirely consistent with my information that the government is trying to quieten things down.

But the main idea in the posting was a suggestion to local principal and teacher organisations to develop action groups to stand together against bureaucratic bullying. I suggested that when a school feels it is being bullied, being undermined bureaucratically, it should be able to appeal to the action groups for support. The support could come from senior principals visiting the school to check out the fairness and validity of bureaucratic actions and then for their findings to be expressed in a media release.

Interest in forming action groups within their local NZPF district has already been indicated.

I have been told that for the post-election moves everything is on the table, including removing funding from stand-out groups of integrated schools, stopping professional development funding to stand-out schools, and legislating to translate principals into state servants. This last one was explored last year – networkonnet readers will remember that Frances Nelson and Ernie Buutveld were hauled before the State Services Commission and warned that if principals continued with their protests they would be re-classified as state servants, a status that would compel them to follow instructions. Tolley then backed off and we had the charade of her requesting that this policy not be continued with. The ministry faces two difficulties in carrying out this policy, first, it changes the employment conditions for principals’ mid-employment term and, second, it interferes with the powers of boards of trustees.

In relation to the stopping of all professional development funding to stand-out schools I suggest a data base be organised by NZPF central office (fed into by the districts), listing principals, teachers, university staff, advisers made redundant, and retired educationists who would be willing to take professional development courses. These people would be available to take courses cost-free except for travel expenses. This would be a heartwarming way to allow a broader range of people to express in a positive form their admiration and support for stand-out schools. As well, it would deliver a powerful message about the issues involved in the campaign against national standards, including a protest about the devastation being wrought on the wider curriculum.

I see such an undertaking, along with the action committees suggested above, as being a rallying cry for the moral basis that underlies the campaign.

Yes – these are dark times for our education system, the corruption of idealism and ethicality of large swathes of our system will, when the light of decency shines brightly again, take years to restore to full health
: the behaviour of the education review office, based as it is on a narrow view of education and on fear; the behaviour of some in the ministry (we know who you are); those who take up many of the contacts at the cost, to us, of their silence; the way we have lost NEMP; the quantitatives – where are your voices against the diminution of the curriculum and the belittling of teachers (are you enjoying your contracts?); the research the government has bought; the universities we have lost – Otago, in my view, and Auckland; the way NZCER disgraced itself with its recent maths research; the way Learning Media has been swallowed up by corporatism; the membership of NSSAG; and now we have the disgraceful 50.

For three years national standards has wallowed as the government has tried to reconcile the irreconcilable. Now we have predictions by national standards’ protagonists (Gary Hawke, for instance) that it will take another five years to get right – in other words, never. And leaving aside all the array of technical contradictions (all symptoms of hopelessly awry process) there is one central problem pedagogical problem: when a teacher is working with a child, whether, for instance, running records, Six Year Net, or STAR, the teacher’s task is to concentrate on gathering in all the rich information made available, to gather all the rich information those normed and teacher- and child-friendly tests can provide, then to move the child on from there – national standards are not a natural part of this process, they are an obstructive artificiality – to force them onto the interaction between teacher and child is to intervene destructively in something very precious.

Do the disgraceful 50 understand this? Did you know that to become one of Tolley’s 50 was a moral issue; if you didn’t you really shouldn’t be around children.

Did you read what has been happening overseas with national standards?

Did you consider the way national standards is just the first step towards much more radical anti-teacher change?

Did you consider the way any right-wing change in education always ends up harming economically disadvantaged children?

Did you consider the effects of national standards on the wider curriculum?

Did you consider the deliberate policy of demeaning teachers that is part of national standards?

Did you consider the cost for some of making a stand against national standards?

If, however, you did consider these matters and the morality of them, and you still decided to become one of her 50, what is it you bring to national standards? Can we look to the position you just left for indications of a brilliant response to the matters raised? Do you have some answers to the multiplicity of confusions and distortions that are occurring? Or are you simply going to be an agent for the politicians? Oh – and did you honestly weigh up how your decision might have been affected by the chance for you to escape schools, exercise power, further your career?

Yes – you 50, you are going into schools to monitor them – would that be much different to spying on them do you think? You are going into schools armed with new software that will pick up everything that crosses the ministry screens about the schools you are monitoring. That information will be aggregated on the basis of that school. It will all be there: ERO reports, charters, statements of variance, statistics, tittle-tattle, rumours, and lies. Will schools have access to the information your software has collected? Will that information, in its grouping, be added to, and relayed back to the ministry? Of course it will be.

Of course, when they turn up at your school, it will not be about national standards, it will be about enlightened conversation about ‘achievement’, it will be all sweetness and light. Just a pity for this argument, though, that their budget allocation was tabbed for national standards. They take us for some kind of fools?

The schools don’t want you there: most of them detest you (nothing personal, of course). Don’t you see the Orwellian nature of your role: the information-gathering, information-aggregating, authoritarian, fear-based nature of your work? Oh, congratulations on your new job. When you entered teaching I’m sure you had in mind such a role for yourself. I hope schools make you feel wanted and at ease. Yes, you’re there ‘identifying schools for flexible response.’ Which, translated, means you are there to apply the full institutional weight of the government and bureaucracies to bully schools into submission. Charming.

And to think the money being paid to you was made available by the dumping of our wonderful advisers who functioned so inspiringly across the curriculum. I consider your salary is education blood money. As well, part of the campaign to demean teachers is to have low status people like you come into schools, relying on the bureaucratic weight you bring with you for protection – all unspoken, of course, we are supposed to believe it’s just little old you.

Yes – all schools the same, standardised, uniform, controlled, buttoned-up, button-downed, paralysed by testing, and obedient to the bureaucracies and the government. Yes – the politicians, bureaucrats know best. Yes – this is education for the 21st century –you’ll be so proud to be a flag-bearer for it. This is corporate authoritarianism, but then again for you national standards is just about national standards, and pigs do fly.

And you’ll be delighted with the PLD to be provided by the government. The government knows best, so the provision must be right. I have a regional list in front of me, you’ll love it. There’s no health, or physical education, or technology, or drama, or dance, or music, or visual arts, or science, or social studies, or anything on competencies, or values, or integration, or anything on the new curriculum.

Sympathies to all those in the education system because I know you would have fought long and hard for a rich encompassing PLD provision. Mary Chamberlain promised the new curriculum would not be neglected so, even though she’s left the ministry, I know we’ll find on file her vehement protestations. I know because she is an honourable person.

And Karen Sewell at the recent VUW graduation ceremony spoke of the ‘liberal, holistic, curiosity-based characteristics of New Zealand’s world class system.’ So she would have fought tooth and nail against such a miserable curriculum provision because she is an honourable person.

A teacher wrote the following: ‘I wish to give expression to the despair and heartbreak I am forced to live with every day. It is devastating to have passionate commitment to teaching and learning whilst, at the same time being required by ministry edict to squeeze the wonder and curiosity out of each precious life I encounter.

This is a sentiment that most of us share. This expression was not written as a public statement, it was written out of deep personal sadness. Our concern for education is not just for those we teach, but also for those closest to us. Nothing could be more revealing, more troubling, or more a spur to action. We know the chances of our children and grandchildren coming across a brilliant and inspiring teacher have greatly lengthened because we agree – it is a system designed ‘to squeeze the wonder and curiosity out of each precious life’.

Not all principals are in a position to line their schools up against national standards, but all principals as individuals are in a position to line themselves up in support of their fellow principals and in support of a variety-based education system. I urge all principals to do this. We must stand together. National standards are not of a nature that allows compromise because it is not about us, it is about the children, and it is not in our moral compass to compromise on their behalf.

I urge principals to stand firm, for principals to support their colleagues. I have read Karen Sewell’s media release about the charter – it is bluster. Stand firm and stand together.

Ko te mea nui kia tutea, kia korurerurehia nga whakaaro ki te matauranga e whakamatika nei, e whakapuioio nei tatou.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What is this thing called Inquiry Learning?

While visiting local intermediate school the principal wanted to show me examples of what he called "inquiry learning" - but, to be honest, he wasn't happy with the term because his opinion of what goes on under the term is more about the inquiry process (as important as it is) and not enough about the real learning that results from it.It is the old process/content argument again. I too feel much of what is called "inquiry learning" is more about the process than real in-depth understanding of the content involved.

The illustration shows students using a microscope linked to a computer to observe what has happened to the bacteria they have placed in the petre dish of agar jelly. In this example the "inquiry process" is a means to an end, to find out what has happened - to learn about bacteria growth and later to apply it to issues of cleanliness. This is " productive inquiry" or applied science ( investigation)

Inquiry learning seems to be flavour of the year but what is inquiry learning- and is it anything new?

While the emphasis on inquiry learning is valuable it is all too easy for schools to think it is some sort of process that all children should know about - that the process of finding out is more important than the depth of understanding, or the product, being created. And, of course, it is not new - it is the default mode of humans from birth until it is, all too often crushed by the formal education system. Inquiry is a messy business and teachers, all too often, find it easier to tell , or to guide children ( using teaching intentions, goal, predetermined success criteria, and WALTS) to what they think students should know.

Inquiry learning, I presume, is a means of re-introducing students to their lost birthright and to ensure that, armed with the process, they will become life long learners.

Good intentions but from my observation primary teachers using defined inquiry approaches seem more interested in the process than the outcome.

Scientists often despair at educators attempts to define the scientific process ( inquiry learning) preferring to call it 'enlightened trial and error' -and for scientists ( and artists using the more or less similar creative process) it is driven by a need to know. And it is the knowing ( and facing up to even more questions to follow up) that it is all about.

And all too often, in real life, the process is anything like a prescribed journey as it is full of false trails ( that later may well be important) and the process is only visible at the end of the journey, when it written up.

Schools that claim to be using an "inquiry approach" need to be able to show examples of the in-depth thinking of their students that have resulted from the process - like real scientists, and not just talk about the inquiry process and show all the various thinking skills that the children have used. They ought to show how students concepts, ideas, theories and understandings have developed.

There are a number of models of inquiry learning available for schools. One that is popular seems to exhibit all the faults I have mentioned - the Kath Murdock model. Schools who use this model can show the various stages and examples of children's thinking .Along with this such schools introduce of a range of 'thinking tools' that are felt valuable. The sad thing is that there is nothing wrong with either the process, or the thinking tools, but they must result in worthwhile content learning and application and not seen as important in themselves. What I have seen leaves me wondering about the model's success

From my visits to schools such things as venn diagrams, PMIs, thinking maps, habits of mind, thinking hats, multiple intelligences tec are seen as important aspects but they all ought to be seen only as a means to an end - some real in depth thinking by the children. Too many examples I have seen seem to be diversions, used to show schools know about them, rather than to develop some real solid learning.

Some of the best inquiry learning I have seen mimics the ways real scientists work. In my opinion the best use of inquiry learning ( or whatever it is called) is in the process of developing exhibits for a science, technology, or maths fair. In such situations the focus is clear - to develop something that demonstrates real learning. Other excellent examples are when students dig deeply into their unique gifts and talents driven to learn as much as they can.

Schools must ensure their students learn in powerful ways to achieve meaningful learning; active meaning orientated learning. The inquiry process does not guarantee this.

Elwyn Richardson, New Zealand's pioneer creative teacher ( a scientist with an art bent), used to say a "study without content is study at risk" - his thoughts still ring true today.

Jane Gilbert, from the NZCER, author of the "Knowledge Wave", has written that primary teachers like the inquiry process because their content knowledge in scientific areas is weak and that secondary teachers find the inquiry process too time consuming in their desire to cover the curriculum.
Like most things it is neither either or, but the best of both.

Real inquiry requires meaningful tasks/challenges; it involves active learning; it requires valuing student's prior knowledge; and as the inquiry get underway teachers need to continuously interact providing feedback and assistance as required. As a results of such learning students internalise tacitly an inquiry disposition.

Real 'inquiry ' learning results in a realistic product, performance, exhibition, or public event; it is driven by real questions; it is focused on constructive investigations that involve inquiry and knowledge building; students should drive the choices if they are to feel responsible for their own learning; and the best problems are authentic ones that occur in the real world.

This is the key to real inquiry.

And it has been the basis of creative teaching and learning for pioneer teachers for decades; ironically, by teachers who rarely mentioned the inquiry process believing simply in 'learning by doing'. Such teachers were, unknowingly, implementing the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum Vision which asks of teachers to envision their students as 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge.'

And that is the essence of the inquiry process.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Electronic Whiteboards -a waste of money?

The illustration is part of a wonderful mural put together by year one and two students as part of a school jubilee celebrations . It seems to sum up the educational beliefs of the time. The green lipped blackboard is the number one piece of technology with all children sitting in rows ready to receive teacher determined information. The clock controls the day, literacy and numeracy are the main fare, the laptops ( teaching tablets) are around the wall, and the special needs area is in the corner. In a way not that much has changed - basic assumptions have not really been challenged. Teachers still 'deliver' what has to be learnt.

A couple of errors in the mural - the children are facing the wrong way and the teacher ( bottom right) ought to be enormous.

For the students involved making the mural was a powerful learning experience - making anything is better than sitting and listening to a teacher 'transmit' what they ought to be learning.

I am sick of being shown electronic blackboards as I visit school as examples of how modern and up to date the school is. I am not saying that they aren't useful but they are no silver bullet considering the tremendous amount of money spent to buy them - money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Mind you the same could be said for the computers that every class must have to learn. Both are a case of 'oversold and underused' - or badly used. They just seem to have been 'added on' to current teaching approaches when they have the power to transform learning ( and the teacher's role) - particularly the computers.

I always look, when visiting schools, to see how they are being used and am mostly disappointed. Before such electronic wonders can be used properly the approach to learning (and teaching) needs to be changed. Sometimes I think the most important thing is just to have them - a sign the school is on the ball. When I was a principal ( last century!) one of our Board of Trustees was always at me to get computers for the classrooms. I resisted but eventually gave in - it is tough being seen as a Luddite . I thought the Board member concerned would be keen to see how we were using them but, it seemed, the important thing was just to have them -after all every other school had them. A case , it seems, of keeping up with the Jones. And parents who visit see them and think wow! this must be a good school.

With learner centred education the computer , with their access to unlimited information, are wonderful assets. But while we remain with teacher determined learning compounded with the current fixation on literacy and numeracy them this realisation will have to wait.

Next time you are in classroom read the products of the children's research arising out of their 'inquiry' programme and you will see that few students are able to develop anything that might be called research writing. This is ironic because students spend most of their time being instructed in literacy; little seems to transfer.

Back to whiteboards.

Currently they seem to be seen as the great step toward 21stC learning - well worth the thousand of dollars they cost each. Principals proudly show them off as if they will solve all educational problems.

Of course teachers and students love them but one expert ,after a years experimenting, gave his away. There was nothing unique, he said, they could do. Instead, he said, he would've use the wasted money to buy a number of more useful pieces of technology that students could use to personalise their learning and to create range of presentations of their findings. His conclusion. That, without time and training, they were no more than expensive overhead projectors.

More than that he continues they are 'an under-informed and irresponsible purchase.

He writes that they do little more than reinforce a teacher-centric model of learning' simply 'replicating traditional instructional practices' - 'digital dinosaurs'., and asks do we really want to spend thousands of dollars on a tool that makes stand-and-delver instruction easier?'

His biggest concern (and mine) is that they are poorly aligned with vision of education that many people claim to believe in.

He describes a great classroom as:

'In the best classrooms , students are involved in creating knowledge together.They're studying topics, designing experiments, collaborating with peers, and challenging one another preconceived notions.While the teacher is always present to guide and to facilitate, the students are empowered to discover and grow independently.'

He writes that that sounds great but it requires turning control over to the learners.If we did this, he says, we would see engagement and motivation grow and classrooms would be come innovative places.'

And in such learning communities we would see the power of computer technology in full flight solving problem that have attracted the students attention.

Ironically it is only by changing teachers minds first that will see the power of modern technology realised. Not the other way around. For this to happen teachers ought to place their focus on realising the vision of the New Zealand curriculum which asks teachers to develop their students as 'seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge'.

They , however, do suit the current emphasis on literary and numeracy, and the regressive attempt to introduce National Standards into our schools.

He concludes ,'why are we waisting money on interactive whiteboards - tools that do little to promote independent discovery and collaborative work?

I couldn't agree more.
If ,as a teacher, you were given eight thousand dollars where would you spent it?
See what our blogger would do.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Right to Learn - an agenda for the 21stC; challenging the status quo.

Jackson Pollock's paintings preempted the messiness of the future and could be seen as a metaphor for the interconnected Internet. The school's role is to ensure all students leave school with the attributes to thrive in such an ambiguous, exciting and challenging future. Current traditional education is equipped for slower times when knowledge was to be found in teachers heads and textbooks to be transmitted to students. Now learning is anywhere ,anytime; 'just in time' not 'just in case' - it is all about life long learning.

One of the best resources I have seen is the Right to Learn Report the result of conversations held between a powerful collection of individuals at the Big Ideas Global Summit held in 2010. Download it for your self -about 20 pages.

I have not been that enthusiastic about the use of computers in schools as I have rarely seen them well used - oversold and under used - but they still hold the power to transform schools as we know them. They have the power to subvert and challenge the status quo and to unleash a deeper more rigorous education.

As we enter the second decade of the 'new' millennium what has changed in education? Not much.We can do a lot better. What is needed are fresh perspectives.So far reforms have not changed the basic assumptions of traditional schooling. A new vision is required. We need, the report states, to let go of what has gone on before and think of how to use technology to re-imagine the experience for learners.

New Conversations are required.

The authors believe 'the current school focus is not right' saying it is 'more about delivery rather than empowerment and opportunity'. Schools have aligned computers with what they currently do rather than use their power to re-imaging and re-define schooling. Students do not need a 'right to education' but rather a 'right to learn' - and this learning is not new it is something that is set in motion at their time of birth.

The report is not asking for the chaos of students doing what they like, as in the 60s, believing real rigorous learning require nurturing and the wisdom and guidance of great teachers who, from the time of Socrates, anchored thinking back to the learner. Not 'delivering' content but 'empowering' learners.

Traditional education, they believe, has reached the limits of its capacity; cracks are starting to show with the rise of disengaged and alienated students. What is required is a educational 'renaissance' requiring a completely different perspective.

Alternatives are emerging where schools are helping individual students set their own learning pathways and personal learning goals. These developments are the antithesis of 'one size fits all' education; so far schools are scratching the surface. And, to date, computers have been fitted into traditional schooling and the results are disappointing. What is required is to dramatically change the way in which teachers teach and children learn - technology will be the key to this transformation.Technology makes personalisation of learning, and child-centred learning, ideals of earlier days, possible.

Technology provides the opportunity to 'leapfrog' into the future. The report states, ' we need to recognise and explore without fear the new world and, in many ways, more profound pedagogical opportunities the virtual space opens; opportunities that will challenge and undermine our traditional perspectives around effective teaching and learning'. We are beginning to challenge the idea that all learning happens in schools; schools are only 20% of students waking hours. Out of school learning is rarely recognised even trivialised. All this will change. As will the idea that learning is about content. The learning process will become equally, if not more, important driven by students interests, talents and passions.

Technology places learning in the hands of the students; the emphasis is more who controls the learning than about content.'It is about learners learning through the lens of topics and issues that are of interest, relevant and purposeful to them; it about constructing knowledge; it's about connecting to an unlimited resources of people, ideas,and conversations that give all learners unique insight; insights that underpin deeper understandings about the world, and how they might act collectively to influence their world and their lives...it's about acknowledging a learner's' innate drive to learn.'

It all sounds like the essence of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum and light years away from National Standards!

The key lies not in learning being 'delivered', assessed, and tested, but all about student empowerment - all about who controls the learning, who determines what, when, and how the learning takes place. It is all about students constructing their own learning , or as it says in the New Zealand Curriculum ,every student 'seeking using and creating their own knowledge'. It is all about the competencies students will need to continue on their life long learning journey .

It is about ensuring students take more responsibility their own learning - about students being responsible for their own choices. And it requires the changing of the perspectives of teachers. It is about students leading the learning while teachers mentor, acting as learning coaches provoking insights, challenging thinking , questioning students views, and authentically monitoring progress.

And it is all about proper collaboration not what currently passes as teacher determined group work. It is about students together constructing their own knowledge ; knowledge that is not possible to predict before hand; knowledge that unfolds as part of the process; knowledge 'owned' by all. Such learning requires 'greater sophistication around what might be called collaboration literacies'.

Teachers need to help students identify their talents, their passions and then to structure their schools accordingly. And it is not letting students do whatever they like rather it is about ensuring students pursue their interests and talents in depth. Teachers need to help students identify possible future career aspirations that match their talents.

Technology allows students to reach beyond first hand experiences and, in the process, contribute to the development of an authentic love of learning for all students. To do this schools need ensure students see purpose, relevance and meaning in all they do It also means teachers need to value students' prior ideas, skills, questions and then to provide appropriate feedback and assistance as required.

And teachers need to provide a wide audience for the results of their students learning to be demonstrated, and this is best achieved by seeing the results of real life tasks.

Providing the right to learn is the ultimate future obligation and through technology we now have the means to provide an extraordinary diversity of opportunities for our equally diverse students.

The report appreciates that it won't be easy. Transforming traditional education will require a tremendous amount of conscious effort and courageous leadership. People will have to be helped to see anew.

The report concludes:'At birth there is a clear path and boundless arena in which to learn.Yet this path is littered with obstacles....we find ourselves in the bind of having to be constantly fixing when we could be building. We spend great time and money repairing a system based on delivery and 'fix-it' model rather than on a buid and grow model.

Those interested in authentic educational change, and not tinkering ( or heading back to a failed past with National Standards), need to read the full document.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Educational change and leadership - bottom up!

All too often in recent decades schools are dictated to by the political whim of politicians with their eyes firmly fixed on popular approval - this is certainly the case with the imposition of National Standards which have gained little education support or international success. What is required is for schools to begin to share their beliefs about teaching and learning by building on the innate strengths of their students, their teachers, the school principal and finally groups of schools to develop a vision that all can work with in diverse ways.

Recently at a local school the Education Review team asked the principal how he was ‘growing’ his teachers –I think the inference was that the teachers were not being given enough ‘voice’ in the school. All pretty ironic as it is the ERO office and Ministry compliance requirements that limit the ‘voice’ of all involved in schools. Compliance and conformity to imposed expectations, not creativity, is the order of the day. One only has to think of the imposition of the populist and politically inspired National Standards.

It is the Ministry (and their thought police ERO) that are not providing the conditions to grow principal leadership in our schools.

It may be better to start in creative classrooms and work up?

A visit to any classroom will soon illustrate that in every class there are students who bring with them the leadership qualities as expressed in the vision of the New Zealand Curriculum , students who are ‘confident , connected, active life-long learners’. The introduction of this curriculum was the last real leadership shown by the Ministry but with the change of government it has unfortunately been sidelined as school are now distracted by the ambiguous challenges the National Standards.

The teachers’ role is to develop the leadership qualities in all his, or her, students through a focus on developing every learner’s unique passions, gifts and talents. By this means teachers develop their classroom as learning communities.

Similarly in every school there are teachers who equally exhibit their own special leadership talents. Like the class teacher the principal’s role is to ensure such gifts are affirmed and shared with other teachers. The principal’s role is to create the conditions for the expertise of teachers to be shared and to develop an overarching vision and agreed teaching beliefs for all to hold themselves accountable. A with a creative class teacher the principal’s job is to ensure all teachers do not move away from what they have agreed to – that is unless new ideas are developed that need to be included. A vision, or the implementation of it, ought to be a living thing.

Principals who follow this organic approach do not have to be hero like leaders – they just have to listen and help all involved develop a shared sense of purpose. This is far preferable to principals always responding to curriculum initiatives from distant ‘experts’.

At the centre of such creative leadership are relationships. Principals have a vital role to provide continuity of experience for the school and to ensure all staff gets all the help they need to appreciate the actions required to achieve the school vision or purpose; that all staff are able to contribute to the community of teachers. Where there is a genuine community based on an agreed vision, values and teaching beliefs all teachers become fully involved in the affairs of the school – shared leadership.

Creative principals are concerned with influencing positive changes within the school. Once again personal mutual relationship and trust between all are vital. To be able to influence others the staff must see the principal as part of the working community not isolated worrying about achievement data. In this respect a successful principal is not unlike a sensitive class teacher.

Ensuring a positive learning community is the ultimate role of the principal-a community where all take responsibility for helping those in need. This is the essence of democracy – a concept that seems foreign to Ministry technocrats.

To achieve this shared sense of direction, and the freedom to try out new ideas, requires the need for personal group discussions where all can share their concerns and ideas openly. Through such dialogue develops a shared language and sense of community – a true professional learning culture. Such discussions allow every member to examine feelings and share insights.

It is only through such a process that the principal is able to evolve, or crystallize, an overall vision, teaching beliefs, and leadership, that all buy into.

The beliefs of each principal will determine how successful this process is. Successful principals will appreciate that the importance to value, as with each teacher and their students, the uniqueness and individuality of each teacher. This is the opposite of the current press for uniformity and consistency. A degree of consistency is obviously important (as in a class) but so is valuing individual teacher creativity. Both teachers and principals should be focusing on ‘growth points’ to develop learning capacity.

The final stage of leadership growth is for groups of school principals to work together to provide inters school affirmation and assistance - and mutual protection. Such inter-school collaboration is a weak but growing area. There clusters of school (some using the Internet) already developing such supportive groups.

All schools need to belong to their own supportive learning communities. Such groups, if geographically close, can find means (a website) to share their gifts and needs. In this way schools can take advantage of teacher leadership in a range of fields making creative teachers the most important source of ideas rather that the end of the line for top down initiatives.

This approach to leadership at all levels develops, what Carol Dweck calls, a ‘growth mindset’ –a mindset always open to new learning. A mindset based on trust and teacher professionalism. This mindset is the opposite of the ‘command and control’ compliance mentality culture that reaches down from the Ministry to every classroom teacher destroying creativity in the process.

If this process were developed we would develop a creative leadership culture rather than the current surveillance culture which forces principals and teachers to be managers and not leaders.

PS In the time before Tomorrows Schools stand alone and competitive approach there was almost such a sharing system in place.

Local Education Department School Inspectors identified potential school leaders and brought principals together to share the ideas of school leaders with other schools. Inspectors also were also available to identify certain teachers worth visiting by teachers from other schools.

The Education Department and Education Boards were dismantled along with a range of subject advisers and schools were 'returned to their communities'. Some cynic, at the time, wrote that the big Wellington Dragon has been killed and in its place will arise thousands of small dragons all dedicated to looking after themselves. This has come to pass. And unfortunately many of these little dragons are ineffectual , timid, overly compliant and easily slayed by the ERO Jesuits. And the Ministry and Ero ironically now determine far more of what goes in schools than in the early days.

A lot has been lost.

Just before the demise of the old system our local Senior Inspector set up a system where all schools contributed their areas of strengths and needs ( on one A4 page)and this collated and sent to all schools to help with the sharing process.

All too late.

With the power of the Internet, and the development of a local website, this could easily be replicated. There might be no need to even develop a system of collaboration as outlined in the blog - all schools could take it upon themselves to put their energy into implementing the vision of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum. All sorts of links and , more importantly, local resources ( mainly teachers with expertise) could be included on such a website. Such a site could also express collaborative position papers on such things as National Standards and also link with similar sites.

Such an idea would depend on some individuals with real leadership to see beyond their own schools to start the ball rolling.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Henry Pluckrose - creative educator

'Henry Pluckrose, who has just died at the age of 79, was one of the most inspiring teachers of his generation.He believed that children have intellectual, emotional and aesthetic capacities that few adults realise and too few schools exploit'. From Guardian Newspaper obituary.As a teacher 'his classroom resembled an artist's stdio, buzzing with activity and creative energy.Arts in the broadest sense formed the basis of his curriculum;not just art and craft, but also drama, music , poetry and dance. He gave particular emphasis to direct personal experience, taking children to museums, art galleries, churches, historic buildings, woods, fields and parks.'

Henry's obituary made me reflect on the educational influences in my life. Something we all need to do now and then.

I visited Henry's school, Prior Weston, in the late 60s and my impression of the school remain. I was shown around by a well informed 8 year old

My journey to Henry's school was a long one. It started when,as a nature study ( and later science and art) adviser, I had the opportunity to visit almost all classrooms in our province. These visits pointed out to me the importance of the ideas of a few wonderful creative teachers. Many have remained close friends of mine over forty years. The importance of an education based on personal experience and the arts was highlighted by my association with the art advisers who led, or contributed, the way to the development of a creative approach to education -and this in the days of a very formal standardized approach. One teachers became our 'guru' - Elwyn Richardson whom I was later to share ideas with but my first 'meeting' of his ideas was through his wonderful book 'In The Early World' still available to this day.

As a science adviser I became enthusiastic about the UK Junior Nuffield Science programme and arranged to teach in a UK school to find out more about it. It was an approach where the curriculum evolved from student's interests and questions in an organic way. While in England I became aware of the Plowden Report -a report which emphasized the need to see children as individuals and the need to build on, and strengthen, children's intrinsic interest in learning and lead them to learn for themselves. Ironically the publication of the report gave rise to doubtful practices as teachers 'jumped onto the bandwagon' and then criticism, as the UK economy faltered, and then to the National Curriculum which replaced the emphasis on the individual child on to a testable defined curriculum. Official approval, it seems, can be the kiss of death to good ideas.

In England I was lucky enough to get a position in very creative school with teachers who have inspired me to this day. I was uncertain though, at the time, by the total freedom schools and teachers had - unlike the accountability of the New Zealand system. Teachers I met at the time have since appreciated the need for greater curriculum definition and accountability measures. Once again official approval and implementation of a prescribed National curriculum has resulted in doubtful practices leading to such un-educational things as teaching to tests, an over concentration on literacy and numeracy unrelated to context, a narrowing of the curriculum, and demeaning 'League Tables'. Henry , in his later writings, thought it had all gone too far. While in England I visited schools in Oxfordshire, Leicestershire that remain in my mind to this day as wonderful schools featuring disciplined child centred inquiry - true examples of the Plowden approach.

Back to Henry. All my experiences in the selected schools I visited (I now appreciate that they were a minority ) inspired me to return to our province to apply them. The teachers I involved were a small but enthusiastic group. We read everything we could about student centred learning and we saw ourselves as the Henry Pluckroses of the South Pacific!

Today in England another well researched report, the Cambridge Report, is viewing the current Standards agenda less favourably with all the associated targets, intrusive accountability measures, and performance tables believing that they have distorted education for questionable returns. The Cambridge Report is asking for something very similar to the New Zealand 2007 National Curriculum. All ironic as, with our new conservative government emphasis, we are heading down the failing Standards Agenda - leading to the possibility of our own League Tables.

Henry knew that the means to solve the problem of the long tail of underachievement by facing up to underlying poverty of the 'failing' children and the need to develop and share the creative capacity of schools and teachers.

He would be keen, as I am, to replace the 'state theory of learning' with an emphasis on sharing the ways we know how children learn; powerful pedagogy rather than recipe and prescription. He would want teachers to move away from mere 'delivery' and compliance and to place more attention to engaging students in realistic contexts. And I, for one, do not see that this cannot involve resources being developed to assist teachers - as long as teacher's creativity and discretion remains. We need a curriculum based on open questions that involve the in-depth exploration of relevant content.We need to do fewer things well to develop future oriented dispositions; and we need to make use of all the various means of expression available through the new media environment our children are at home with - even if their teachers aren't. Top down control, and seeing schools as a market place through League tables, needs to be replaced by personal empowerment, mutual accountability and proper respect for teacher experience.

UK educator Derek Guillard has written:

'When politicians realise that what is measurable is not all that is valuable, when teachers notice that children learn nothing by testing, when parents are sick of their young children suffering from exam induced stress, when the public begin to realise that the results of national tests can always be manipulated to achieve politicians' targets and when decent people decide to stand up against the shame and name culture of failure then someone, somewhere, is going to remember that "at the heart of the educational process lies the child"' (Plowden Report)

We need, as someone wrote, to do the 60s again but this time properly. This time it is the politicians who need to be sorted out - as Fullan has written 'politicians always get it wrong'.

And we need new Henry Pluckroses to inspire us. He may represent a voice from the past but it is one that urgently needs hearing again today.

Somehow I don't think Henry will be forgotten.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Being Positive Isn't Easy!

This painting by Munch may be taking negativity too far but for creative teachers it may resonate.

Recently I read a blog from America that I thought resonated with thoughts I have when I look at all the formulaic 'best practice' and accountability measures being pushed on teachers in New Zealand.

The author of the blog began by writing 'I'm bringing the pessimism ( unfortunately truth?) to the party here y'all. If you want warm fuzzies about the joys of teaching, navigate away immediately'.

'And if you work beyond the classroom and get your feelings hurt easily, you might not want to read this either.'

You have been forewarned!

The writer was responding to another blogger who wrote about teachers being negative and as guy who is often labelled as negative by educational leaders ( in New Zealand the Minister and her technocrats) the message caught his attention as it has attracted mine.

It is all too common for those in power to feed in the belief that " negative" teachers( read: anyone who pushes back or questions the choices made by those with power) are to blame for education's woes.

Those in power goes so far as to label resistant teachers as not able to cope with change and to blame for education's woes. If only they would do as they are told.

The blogger was wondering if it is just plain easier to be optimistic about life of a classroom teacher when you're working beyond the classroom. This reflects my thoughts about all the Ministry contracted advisers who 'deliver' expert 'best practices' to schools that they have never introduced in real classrooms themselves.

The blogger is writing 'through the lens of a guy who still works in the classroom and there are tons of things that make it difficult to stay positive as a teacher'

He continues:

'Perhaps most importantly we have little real control over our work even as outsiders scream about holding us accountable for results that they're yet to carefully define'

'We're expected to march our students through impossibly large curricula even as well respected researchers claim that there is too much to cover in the time we're given'.

'We walk moral tightrope making difficult choices every day implementing test-centric classrooms or preparing kids for an increasingly complex future.'

'We're on the receiving end of under informed policies that even recognised experts on organisation leadership and change don't believe in'.

'We've seen experimentation and play squeezed out of everything that we do in schools - and we've watched our classrooms become places that reward automatons and crushing the spirit of the quirky kid.'

'Our profession provides no opportunities for differentiation. We do the same work - and are afforded the same professional respect and credibility no matter what we accomplish in our schools.'

'Our work has been bulldozed. We're buried under initiatives that never seem to make sense. Our schools have no clear direction. Cliches and slogans substitute for leadership in our schools.'

'We watch our peers leave year after year.Our professional development opportunities stink. We're forced to watch our students be defined by a number.'

'Our elected leaders declare war on us. News commentators mock us. Whacks and hacks start organisations that suggest that we have failed to put students first.'

He writes: 'should I go on?' ( Sadly I could .)

'My point is a simple one: People working beyond the classroom like to believe that if teachers would just buck up - work a little harder, think a little longer, give a bit more - our schools would be sunshine and daffodils.'

'The sad reality is that no matter how hard teachers work to find solutions to dozens of problems plaguing our schools, final decisions are made by people working beyond the classroom'.

'We had little control over creating these problems and we'll have little control over fixing them.Instead we'll be expected to implement the solutions that others dream up, no matter how half baked they are.'

'That's discouraging.'

'And it is the reason why I'm pretty darn sure that our schools will never be able to recruit enough accomplished teachers to ever really be successful.'

'We need more than optimism to solve problems'.

'We need authority.'

'And that's something we'll never have because the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of life as a teacher remains impossibly large.'

All this is something our Minister and her technocrats ought to listen too before it is too late.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

If only Mrs Tolley - A vision for education from Singapore

Singapore - from a left over British colony in 1945 to a vibrant Asian Tiger. The power of Vision.

While Mrs Tolley is busy taking New Zealand down the testing agenda other countries are heading for creativity and innovation as the answer. It is ironic that Mrs Tolley, a believer in the testing agenda, is following the two countries, the US and the UK, that have followed this path both who are well down the list of successful schools on international testing. The accountability testing agenda ( for all the money spent on it) has not shown any improvement in such countries and, worse still, has distorted the education process of both countries. Equally ironically is that New Zealand has, for decades, been in the top group of performing countries. Mrs Tolley harps on about the 'achievement gap' ( the 'one in five children failing' ) happily ignoring all the uncomfortable research that points to the failing being a bi- product of poverty.

Back to Singapore.

Just note the difference between Mrs Tolley limited rhetoric and Ms Ho Peng's, the Director General of Education of Singapore, vision .

Here are some quotes from a speech she gave in 2009.
She begins by saying Singapore's educational journey 'is at an inflexion point.'

Singapore she begins, 'is recognised for our strong education system with high standards of of achievement and pockets of innovation, So certainly we have come some way'.

Ms Peng outlined significant milestones in the journey saying that the 'Thinking School, Learning Nation' of 1997 stands out an initiative that 'gave school leaders greater autonomy in terms of school management.We moved away from a top down approach.'

'An inspection system gave way to a cluster system under the guidance of Superintendents who served as mentors...On of the outcomes which exceeded expectations was the rapid professional growth through sharing by teachers across schools'.

'In 2005 the Teach Less, Learn More was another significant initiative which saw innovation entering the classroom.Teachers were encouraged to innovate in teaching and learning.The purpose was to make sure that learning was meaningful and enjoyable to all our students'.

Ms Peng outlined that top down support, workshops, and resources assisted the professional growth of principals and teachers in curriculum development, research, and pedagogical skills.

This brought her to the present.

'I see the growing confidence of teachers: teachers taking ownership in designing learning for students'. She sees emerging teacher leadership as encouraging and that this is all about 'mobilising the still largely untapped attributes of teachers'.

'With the rapid professional growth of our teachers, I see Singapore teachers as beginning to chart the future of our profession.'

'So' , she continues, 'where do we want to go as a teaching fraternity?'

'In 2010 , we are entering a new decade in the 21stC, the next lap of our education journey. It is therefore timely to have a Vision for the Teaching Service which would express the aspirations of the professionals and points the way forwards for us, as a teaching fraternity.'

To achieve this vision a team was set up whose role was to enter into dialogue with groups of principals and teachers to draw from them 'the core of teaching beliefs, as well as their aspirations'.

Zonal conversations were set up involving thousands of teachers. These conversations involved asking teachers, 'how that saw themselves, what was meaningful to them, what gave then fulfillment, and what they wanted to see of the teaching service?' All together 20000 teachers were involved and resulted in certain key thoughts being expressed.

These thoughts were put into three baskets.

The first basket revolved around the word "Care".
'We teach because we care'. 'We believe in the child'. We want 'teachers to go the extra mile'.'Every child is important'.

The second basket of phrases revolved around the word "Inspire".

Teachers inspire by 'touching lives', by 'making a difference' and by believing 'I am the one who can change the student for the better'.

The third cluster of phrases surrounded the word "professional".

By appreciating the 'mentor in me', by 'building each other up', by 'continuous learning' and 'professional exchange' and by 'being a community of learners'.

In their conversation teachers also expressed the wish that 'We need the support and understanding of parents and community.We need parents to work alongside us, to weave a web of support for each and every child we teach.'

Ms Peng thanked her teachers for 'launching the Vision' and said that it was a challenge to distill all that had been said.

Ms Peng then went on unpack the three elements: Lead, Care, Inspire.

'The word eduction originates from the Latin word " educere" which means, "to lead out, to draw out from the learner". There is a quote that says. 'One mark of a great educator is the ability to lead students out to new places that even the educator has never been". 'The starting point is how we relate to the learners, drawing them out of their shell, and drawing out the potential in all of them through the opportunities we provide them. Teachers, she said, need to work in Professional Learning Communities to learn from one another - for teachers 'to be leading teachers'. There is a need to nurture teacher leaders.

The second element, Care, 'is the core to what we do every day as teachers...it is about teachers who go the extra mile to dhow kindness and care for their children..for the well being of of the child in holistic way.Physical safety, moral character - being able to do the right thing at the right time and at the right place - as well as being well adjusted socially and emotionally.'

Ms Peng said "Inspire", the third element is about great teachers inspiring through the love of the subject , teaching skills, the care of students, or because it simply personifies certain time honoured values. 'The greatest satisfaction to many of us teachers that you know you have made it, is when many students go on to take the subject to a higher level'.

Ms Peng summed up the full explanation of the 'Lead, Care, Inspire' vision:

'By word and deed, through the care we give, we touch the lives of our students.We make a difference- leading and inspiring our students to believe in themselves and to be the best they can be.As individuals and as a community of professionals, we seek continually to deepen our expertise.Respectful of fellow educators, we collaborate to build a strong fraternity, taking pride in our work and profession.We forge trusting partnerships with families and the community for the growth and well being of each students.

Concluding she asked 'how can we take this vision forward?'

Her advice was to 'take some time to reflect on the Vision and also the explanation.Think about the professional values that you hold dear and see how these ae aligned to the Vision.Share this from time to time in school with your colleagues.Record your own journey in a log... continue your conversations about the Vision so we can refine it'

'In conclusion , it is together as a fraternity - teacher to lead, care and inspire - that we can continue to do the best for Singapore'.

Cannot see Mrs Tolley ever being so wise!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Quality presentation requires explicit teaching of a range of skills - use them or lose them!

A very simple format for students to present their research - a half cartridge piece of paper folded to make a four page booklet. Suitable for all ages. To complete such a simple task requires a number of skills to be in place -and once in place students can then innovate and develop their own creativity.

Teachers will begin the second term with a new inquiry study, one hopefully negotiated with the students to develop ownership. Better still would be an inquiry based on what the students want to know. At the very least any study should be based on the student's questions and, to ensure question are valuable, a good idea is to introduce the topic with a motivating experience or display.

To ensure the students develop an in depth understanding of the content chosen teachers need to consider the 'big ideas' , or concepts, they want their students to come to understand through undertaking a range of activities or tasks.

Wise teachers will use the literacy time ( literacy in its widest interpretation to include the various media and design/presentation/mathematical skills) to introduce students to the content and to challenge their current 'prior views'. Uncovering these 'prior views' is itself an important literacy/inquiry task.

One way to focus students is to consider what formats they want their students to celebrate their ideas.

Once decided on a format teachers need then to consider what sets of skills will be required and then to arrange for these to be developed , using content from the study, to do so.

One simple way to focus students thinking, and to decide on skills to be introduced, is to develop a simple four page booklet. There are many other alternatives but it is best to start simple.

What skills are involved? Remember any finished product should show the reader the students' ability to 'seek, use, and create their own knowledge'( NZ Curriculum 07).

Literacy time ought to teach students how to 'seek' knowledge from a range of sources; to 'use' this knowledge critically; and then to 'create' their finding in a way that illustrates their own thoughts, ideas and understandings.

A quick read of past studies will show if these skills are in place.In my experience they are lacking - proof that stand alone literacy tasks have not been transferred.

What skills are required for a quality four page booklet?

To attract attention an interesting cover needs to be designed. Students need to study a range of book covers to get ideas. They also need to look hard at illustrations relevant to their study - copying ones that are relevant to their study and useful to include in their booklet. Such 'hard' looking is a useful way to develop questions and also as a basis for descriptive or imaginative writing. Such activities develop visual literacy.

The remaining pages should be used to write our their findings to the three or four research questions they have chosen. This research should have been drafted out during the literacy time and, when added to their booklet, ought to illustrate their 'voice', their queries, their answers to their questions, and their web or book references. If digital images, or graphs, or diagrams, are to be included, these too need to be drafted during literacy time. All students writing should have been read by the teacher who needs to challenge some of the students findings.

The booklet might include a piece of imaginative writing based on the topic and, if so, such thoughts need to be drafted out, and read by the teacher, before inclusion. And it might be useful for students to include an evaluation of the study and even questions that they would like to explore further.

To ensure booklets are well presented students need to be aware of the use of margins, how to include illustrations,and how to make attractive headings. All these can be part of literacy time. Computers have 'wizards' to provide models

As students learn to appreciate the importance of the process of 'creating' their ideas they will be keen to develop more interesting ways to express their ideas with more individuality.

A quick read of current students' booklets, charts, or study booklets, illustrates clearly the quality of their thinking - or lack of it!

Having an end point in mind provides students the point to the skills they need to develop and also gives point to teachers actions.

Simple stuff but , done well, a powerful means to focus teaching and learning.