Friday, October 30, 2015

Let the fight back begin - educational readings for creative teachers. The role of computers in education.

Lets use information technology to fight back against standardization of education  - 
share this blog posting with 5 other teachers who care!!
By Allan Alach

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

These two articles by Kelvin Smythe have rattled a few cages in New Zealand:

For goodness sake let’s get computer use in perspective
“No matter how sophisticated the current understanding of computers and school education, no-one can sensibly predict the various directions computer use in education will take. What we
should know, and we should hold on to as something real and solid amidst the ephemeral and flux, is that the fundamentals of children’s learning – if purposes are humanistic and democratic – remain substantially the same.”

A response to the criticism of my criticism of the school that saw art as a distraction to computer work
“The promise was that computers would be tools, but now rooms are being built for those tools, indeed, whole schools, to devastating effect; computers have become central, and programmes, rooms and schools are being built around them.”

Bruce Hammonds also joined in:

For and against computers in schools - Kelvin Smythe inspires an important debate.
“I have to agree with Kelvin that the ‘heart, vivacity and substance of curriculum areas’ are all too often missing in classrooms replaced by an emphasis on technology. It does seem to me that some teachers are captured by technology and, if this is the case, such technology is itself a distraction from real learning.”

The following two articles reinforce many points that Kelvin and Bruce have made:

David Greene: Teachers or Technology?
“The result? Instead of technology creating great teaching tools for teachers, teachers become the tools of technology!”

Technology Alone Won't Save Poor Kids in Struggling Schools
“Roughly one in four children in the United States lives in a home without a computer or Internet access, and this digital divide is often cited as a factor in the intractable achievement gap between poor students and their well-off peers. Give these kids a computer, the logic goes, and you may increase their chances of succeeding in school. Entire philanthropies are built on this idea. But a jarring new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper concludes that all of this hardware may have no effect, at least in the short term, on educational outcomes.”

Moving on:

A big problem with the Common Core that keeps getting ignored
Marion Brady’s latest article for the Washington Post. His comment:
“Many unexamined assumptions prop up the standards-and-accountability education "reform"
campaign. A major one is that the "core" curriculum in place since 1893 is a solid foundation for instruction and testing. Below, I explain why I disagree, and in the last sentence provide a link to others' perception of the problem.”

Current school start times damaging learning and health of students
“Scientists have found that current school and university start times are damaging the learning and health of students. Drawing on the latest sleep research, the authors conclude students start times should be 8:30 or later at age 10; 10:00 or later at 16; and 11:00 or later at 18. Implementing these start times should protect students from short sleep duration and chronic sleep deprivation, which are linked to poor learning and health problems.”

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Establishing a Culture of Student Voice
What do students' think?
“What firmly establishes a culture of student voice is giving them charge of how they learn, including development of assessments and products for learning outcomes.”

Teach Your Child to Love Learning: Keys to Kids’ Motivation
There are few things more aggravating to parents than a kid who doesn’t try.” Whether it’s math homework, dance class or those guitar lessons they begged for but now never practice, we want our children to be eager learners who embrace effort, relish challenges and understand the value of persistence. Too often, what we see instead is foot-dragging avoidance and whiny complaints of This is boring!”

How to separate learning myths from reality
“Bridging the gap between popular neuromyths and the scientific insights gathered in the past few
decades is a growing challenge. As modern brain-imaging techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), have advanced scientific knowledge, these misleading lay interpretations by business practitioners have advanced as well. Unless such misconceptions are eliminated, they will continue to undermine both personal- and organizational-learning efforts.”

An open letter to all educators…
“There is a vicious epidemic that has been spreading and continues to spread unchecked across the globe. The achievement gap that is so often spoken of is merely a cover for what is really happening.
We don't have an achievement gap, we have an opportunity gap…”

Why the conventional wisdom on schooling is all wrong
I thought I’d posted this article by Marion Brady before but apparently not.
“Delivering information isn’t the problem. Kids are drowning in information, and oceans more of it is at their fingertips ready to be downloaded. What they need that traditional schooling has never
 given them and isn’t giving them now isn’t information, but information processing skills. They need to know how to think—how to select, sort, organize, evaluate, relate, and integrate information to turn it into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom.”

When Did 19th Century Learning Become So Trendy? (8 Old Ideas That Are Actually Pretty Innovative)
“People mocked non-techie projects and now it's "we really need hands-on Maker Spaces." Five years ago, I watched techies on Twitter saying, "Note taking is dumb when you can just Google it." Now everyone is posting about the power of sketch-noting. Suddenly mural projects and theater productions are okay again, since we added an A into STEM; or as I like to call it "MEATS." I want a MEATS Lab. Maybe it's time we abandon the idea that certain education practices are outdated and realize that learning is timeless and sometimes some of the best ideas are buried under the industrial carpet of factory schools.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Group work and learning styles
“…if we want all students to realise their full potential ( usually written into every school's
charter) then their individual talents and styles need to be recognised. A standardized system 'one size fits all' does not fit anyone. All too often school failures are students whose learning styles have been ignored or neglected.”

Time to escape our  top down standardized boxes!
Lets value and share ideas of creative teachers.
Share this blog with five others.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

For and against computers in schools - Kelvin Smythe inspires an important debate.


I was motivated to read the information on the school website and to view all the class blogs to see for myself.  I have   also had the occasion to drive past the school the past year and have often thought what a wonderful environment Tairua is for the children to explore – with or without the use
of technology.

It would seem to me that technology is being seen by most/many schools as the ‘silver bullet’ essential to ensuring success for students in the future –  so called ‘future proofing’ .

There are a number of phrases I  agree with in the Stuff article about the school but I don’t see technology as ‘centre stage’. It is, if used properly, a powerful tool for students to deepen their learning; conversely it is all too easy for the use of such technology for shallow learning. I don’t think students being ‘plugged in’ any guarantee of real learning. Students these days are 'plugged i almost all their waking time; the virtual world is taking over from the real.

The success with using technology is the interpretation of Tairua’s phrase - a ‘genuine process of discovery’. I wasn’t able, looking through the class blogs to ascertain this. I would need to visit and read /view what the students have produced.

When I visit classrooms I like to read some of the inquiry learning research on show. Ideally the classroom walls (and individual student work) should replicate the in depth thinking seen in the best of Science Fair exhibits. In such research the challenge, or research questions should be on display, the process of inquiry  obvious and the findings made clear and often   include further things to explore from unanswered questions arising throughout the study - all knowledge is tentative. And for all this learning to be assisted by the use of technology.

I am usually disappointed. Cutting and pasting – learning via Google is more often the case. 

Student research, if it is genuine, ought to feature markers such as ‘I used to think’,’ I now think’,’ I am still confused about this’ to indicate the changing of students’ minds as they ‘construct’ their own knowledge.  And ideally students need to be able to defend their conclusions and teachers need to challenge students to do so. This is beyond ‘facilitation’.

I have no idea if this is the case at Tairua.

As for the comment that Tairua has  removed   art from classroom environments because it 'distracts ' students I have mixed feelings.

 An attractive room environment featuring current research/inquiry studies and students ideas expressed through art and language is vital. Some call the room environment the ‘fourth teacher’ (after the teacher, the material to be learnt, and the ideas of other within the classroom and online).

A teacher’s classroom is an important ‘message system’. If it is full of teacher distractions, posters etc   it is the teacher’s class. If it is full of well displayed inquiry, language and art work , all featuring the students identity and ‘voice’, then such an environment is not a distraction, it is a celebration of student thinking

I have to agree with Kelvin that the ‘heart, vivacity and substance of curriculum areas’ are all too often missing in classrooms replaced by an emphasis on technology.

It does seem to me that some teachers are captured by technology and, if this is the case, such technology is itself a distraction from real learning.

A futurist has stated in a world when students are connected almost every minute of their waking hours that now the ‘offline is the new luxury’ and that humanistic schools should cultivate the offline – the real world almost as an antidote to be ‘plugged in’ all the time.

Any new technology has both positive and negative consequences - the most obvious example atomic power. Even the humble book, as a result of the printing press,  allowed ideas to spread but  caused   the loss of oral language and story telling. As Sophocles wrote, ‘Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse’.

What does it mean to be human in an increasingly digital world?  What might be lost?

Einstein has written, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’ and it is imagination that is at stake our education system today. We must be careful not to throw out creativity with our obsession with technology. We need to protect at all costs a humanistic education – the holistic Kelvin believes so strongly in.

We must be suspicious of people who look to technology as the solution to everything.

We must fight against the standardised teaching that computer power is introducing into our schools. 

We must be careful not to be captured by those selling ‘Silicon Valley snake oil’. Technology is a tool, a powerful one, and one all the more dangerous if used unquestionably.

Elwyn Richardson
When I had the occasion to drive past Tairua School I thought what a rich environment to create a 21st C learning environment it would be.  An environment with its genesis in the kind ofcreative work that Elwyn Richardson put into practice in his small rural schoolin the 1950s but with the added advantage of the sensible use of modern technology.

This holistic learning has all but been lost - not helped by the introduction of National Standards, the continuing use of demeaning ability grouping and formulaic  'nest practices'. This emphasis on standarisation is not providing the necessary personalisation required to 'future proof' students.

A school ought to be community of scientists and artists, as in Elwyn's school, with students exploring their immediate world and the wider world students’ now have access to.

What does it mean to be human in a digital world? Maybe ‘offline is now the new luxury’?

 Maybe this is the really important question. 

The comments to Kelvin's critique about the use of computers show this is an issue worth debating.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Creative teaching readings - for teachers who want to fight back

By Allan Alach

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

What Parents Can Gain From Learning the Science of Talking to Kids
“The widening education gap between the rich and the poor is not news to those who work in education, many of whom have been struggling to close the gap beginning the day poor children enter kindergarten or preschool. But one unlikely soldier has joined the fight: a pediatric surgeon who wants to get started way before kindergarten. She wants to start closing the gap the day babies are born.”

What The Martian Teaches Us About Scientific Literacy
“I see scientific literacy as a set of basic rules about how the world works, a student can apply to a novel situation in order to derive insights, make predictions and better decisions. The
Martian’, although he had never grown potatoes before, now had to do so in an alien environment. His understanding of these basic rules (e.g. manure contains valuable nutrients, plants need earth-like atmospheric pressure, water can be extracted from the air) allowed him to plan his survival. Most of these basic rules are not confined to a single discipline, but span across.”

An introduction to Mindful Teaching
‘The mindful teaching approach is slightly different and it does start with a question, but a question of a different kind. The mindful teaching question would be Tell me what you do understand?”’

Is Anybody Listening? Research finds no advantage in learning to read from age five
“A University of Otago researcher has uncovered for the first time quantitative evidence that teaching children to read from age five is not likely to make that child any more successful at reading than a child who learns reading later, from age seven.

How People Learn: An Evidence-Based Approach
Teachers will always need to use their knowledge of students and content to make professional judgments about classroom practice. However, we believe the art of teaching should also be informed by a robust understanding of the learning sciences so that teachers can align their decisions with our profession's best understanding of how students learn.

What if we radically changed the way high schools work and exist?
It's that schools were designed to crank out future workers at a time when the Industrial Revolution was in high gear. Most of us don't realize that our education system hasn't really changed since then, when it was designed to crank out factory workers. The whole goal was get people ready for repetition, routine, and defined tasks. Factory education, if you will.”

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Could Rubric-Based Grading Be the Assessment of the Future?
Institutions of higher education are under pressure from students and employers to prove that graduates are gaining the cross-cutting skills — such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and quantitative analysis — necessary for success in the real world. Now, a consortium of 59 universities and community colleges in nine states is working to develop a rubric-based assessment system that would allow them to measure these crucial skills within ongoing coursework that students produce.

More schools are working to integrate the arts into classroom learning
For creative teachers worldwide it would seem; stating the obvious!
The arts also do so much more.They engage kids in school, motivate them to learn, develop critical thinking, and equip them to be creative.”

Questioning for learning, Questioning for life.
This is the ultimate responsibility of education – one that all too often not realised and one that underpins the philosophy of creative teachers..
Rachel Carson
“Esteemed biologist Rachael Carson once stated , ‘If a child is to keep their inborn sense of wonder alive he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, mystery and excitement of the world around him.’”

Am I Failing the Introverts in My Classroom?
Bill Ferriter:
“The way in which certain instructional trends—education buzzwords like collaborative learning” and project-based learning” and flipped classrooms”—are applied often neglect the needs of introverts.”

Nonacademic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them?
“More and more people in education agree on the importance of learning stuff other than academics. But no one agrees on what to call that “stuff”."

School Is Bad For Children
John Holt:
“Almost every child on the first day he sets foot in a school building, is smarter, more curious, less afraid of what he doesn't know, better at finding and figuring things out, more confident, resourceful, persistent and independent than he will ever be again in his schooling – or, unless he is very unusual and very lucky, for the rest of his life. Already, by paying close attention to and interacting with the world and people around him, and without any school-type formal instruc­tion, he has done a task far more difficult, complicated and abstract than anything he will be asked to do in school, or than any of his teachers has done for years.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Education at a crossroad - while many teachers seem confused in educational no mans' land
“There is a battle being fought for the minds of our future citizens between those who see
education as a means to achieve narrow political or economic ends and those who see education as developing the full potential, or gifts and talents, of all students.  In the centre of this battle are teachers distracted by defending the status quo.”

An amoeba - a model for future change!
Lessons on learning and change from an amoeba.
“It seems strange to think of one of natures most simplistic animals as metaphor for an organizational model for the future but the amoeba is a good choice, as it has survived almost as long as life has been on the planet.”

Rip van Winkle and schools
‘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”’

Friday, October 16, 2015

Creative education.Education Readings for teachers fighting for what's worth fighting for. Ideas to develop a school vision.

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

14 June  1985- 4th October 2015
Some of you may have noticed that I didnt send out a readings list last week.
Sadly this was because Bruce Hammondsdaughter Kathy, a nurse, lost her life in an accident following a days snowboarding on the mountain.

If you want to express your condolences to Bruce his email address is

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

For New Zealand readers:

Peggy Burrows, highly regarded principal of Rangiora High School, has been victimised in what seems to be a Ministry of Education hatchet job. Kelvin Smythe has taken up his keyboard to write the following two articles exposing this travesty. A very active Facebook page has also been set up to fight for justice for Peggy.

Another huge bureaucratic injustice
It is another case of the education bureaucracy listening to the wrong people; believing them to be the worth listening to because, it seems, they want to believe teaching professionals arent. The government and education bureaucrats are doing inhumane things to professional educators as an expression, it is suggested, of a kind of perverted education policy.
Support Peggy Burrows

You are urged to sign the petition to support Peggy Burrows, principal, Rangiora High School
From the response to an earlier posting by two people supporting the intervention two worrying but not uncommon themes made an appearance: anti-women (not capable of handling complex finances) and Peggy being too pro-Maori…”


How to Master the Art of Effective Surpriseand the 6 Essential Conditions for Creativity
The great Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner had his 100th birthday last week. Heres a Brainpickings article that discusses his thinking about creativity.
Happy 100th
There is something antic about creating, although the enterprise be serious. And there is a matching antic spirit that goes with writing about it, for if ever there was a silent process, it is the creative one. Antic and serious and silent. Yet there is good reason to inquire about creativity, a reason beyond practicality, for practicality is not a reason but a justification after the fact. The reason is the ancient search of the humanist for the excellence of man: the next creative act may bring man to a new dignity.

Following on, heres another Brainpickings article:

Happy 100th Birthday, Jerome Bruner: The Pioneering Psychologist on the Act of Discovery and the Key to True Learning
Discovery is in its essence a matter of rearranging or transforming evidence in such a way that one is enabled to go beyond the evidence so reassembled to new insights. It may well be that an additional fact or shred of evidence makes this larger transformation possible. But it is often not even dependent on new information.

School Autonomy Is Not The Same as Teacher Autonomy
One for Australians
In the debate over school autonomy, what frequently gets lost is that school autonomy is different from teacher autonomy and that it is teacher autonomy that is the more important factor for classroom learning. Teacher autonomy means collective professional autonomy.

Why story time is better when dads reading the book
Watching a father read to his child sends a very strong message that he is interested in spending time with his child and engages his child in one of the most rewarding and beneficial activities for children's development.

The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland
Havent had a Finland story for a while so
The word joy caught me off guardIm certainly not used to hearing the word in conversations about education in America, where I received my training and taught for several years. But Holappa, detecting my surprise, reiterated that the countrys early-childhood education program indeed places a heavy emphasis on joy, which along with play is explicitly written into the curriculum as a learning concept.

Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction
Many so-called reformers have downgraded fiction and instead set standards for reading non-fiction books, on the basis that these will be more use to children as they enter the workforce.
Researchers calculated emotional transportation by having participants express how a story they read affected them emotionally on a five-point scale for example, how the main character's success made them feel, and how sorry they felt for the characters. 
In the study, empathy was only apparent in the groups of people who read fiction and who were emotionally transported. Meanwhile, those who were not transported demonstrated a decrease in empathy.

Teacher Agency: Educators Moving from a Fixed to a Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck
Educational psychology has focused on the concepts of learned helplessness and more currently growth-fixed mindsets as a way to explain how and why students give up in the classroom setting.  These ideas can also be applied to educators in this day of forced standardization, testing, scripted curriculum, and school initiatives.

Life-long, life-deep and life-wide learning
In  a classroom, or within any group of learners, the reality is that each individual has a different learning experience, even while they all are instructed the same way. Fascinating, isn't it? We all bring into the learning situation our own learning history and cultural background, our life-long, life-wide and life-deep understanding what learning is. What we all need is support for our individual development, and empowering learning facilitation that helps us to learn even more.

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

The Importance of Recreational Math
In his final article for Scientific American, in 1998, Mr. Gardner lamented the glacial progress resulting from his efforts to have recreational math introduced into school curriculums as a way to
interest young students in the wonders of mathematics. Indeed, a paper this year in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics points out that recreational math can be used to awaken mathematics-related joy, satisfaction, excitement and curiosity in students, which the educational policies of several countries (including China, India, Finland, Sweden, England, Singapore and Japan) call for in writing.

The rural postman ?
Measuring lifelong learning skills
New jobs are being created all the time. For educators, this means equipping students with the skills they need to learn and adapt to a changing world. Lifelong learning skills are hard to measure, so we have to use proxies.

Secret Teacher: brilliant eccentrics are a dying breed in education
At  risk - creative teachers
Over my 10 years in teaching, I have seen eccentric colleagues pushed, blinking and disorientated, into a new world of lesson observations, targets, data and appraisals. There are undoubtedly those who, as well as being eccentric, are rather lazy and probably not up to the job. But the problem is that many of these mavericks, who wouldnt recognise a lesson plan if it bit them on the behind and couldnt care less about student data or targets, are brilliant.

Sir Anthony Seldon
'An education in the arts is limited to the economically privileged. It is an unjust waste of national talent
This is so true.
A good education should be a preparation for life. It requires the development of the whole child, not merely their intellect. It necessitates students becoming intrinsic learners with self-discipline and a genuine thirst for knowledge, rather than being goaded or corralled, which is what students may become with a single-minded focus on exam results. The value of arts and culture is important for all students.

Process and... art journaling?
There's no better feeling that seeing design concepts and sketches come to life before your eyes.  This is an idea schools could make use of? Real personalised portfolios of students ideas.
I believe that the process of a project is just as important as the final product; it shows a journey and a connection between an initial idea and the physical design it ends up becoming. It's a transformation and a visual representation of the ability to do none other than create. The design process is a beautiful thing, and it's always been something that I've prided myself on in my work.
From Bruces goldie oldies file:

The power of visiting other schools
Focused school visits are a powerful means to gain professional development and, in particular, to gain insights in to what other schools/teachers feel important. This is all the more necessary as schools are increasingly under pressure to distort their teaching programmes by the need to respond to the reactionary and politically inspired introduction of National Standards.
Vision gives ditection

A process to develop a School Vision
The following is a simple but powerful process to 'tap the wisdom' of all involved but one that demands shared leadership, particularly by key people in the school and of course total commitment by the principal. All involved must see the benefit of developing such a vision and be determined to see that it is reflected in the: values the school believes in (as seen by behaviours of students, teachers and parents); and the agreed teaching beliefs of the school.

Balloons released at end of Kathy's service