Monday, February 28, 2005
The myth of objectivity
The NZCEA dilemma is in the news these days and won’t go away. The trouble is it is diverting attention away from questioning schools about their real task – that of providing personalized education to every learner. Personalized learning is an exciting but hardly a new idea.
The first country to be able to personalize learning will reserve a place for itself in the future. Traditionally schools have fulfilled a role of sorting out students. The NZCEA is just a better way of doing it than the old pass/fail exam system- better, but all too complex and time consuming to be successful. The education system has always been dictated to by distant experts who believe that they know what students need; they are always too full of their own importance to listen to the voices of the students and their teachers. Tapping into student’s talents seems a too obvious answer to engage all students for ‘experts’ to consider; it would mean valuing students as individuals.
Professor Ivan Snook, along time critic of the current system, believes the problem of the NZCEA is that it is based on a faulty dogma of objectivity. The belief system underlying standard based curriculums has long history reaching back to the 1920’s ‘scientific management’ of Frederick Taylor which transformed craft industries into mass production. His idea was to break everything into fragmented measurable tasks. It had advantages but at a price. The designers of NZCEA had the same intentions but forgot to consider that no two students or school circumstances are alike. Hence the disparity being shown in current NZCEA marks. This disparity was hidden in previous exam system by ‘scaling’ for those who think the answer is to return to the past!
People are messy and will always upset the technocrat’s tidy minds – and no number of moderators will fix the situation. It is a classic ‘Humpty Dumpty’ scenario! Some sort of manipulation will be needed to even pretend it is working.
Professor Warwick Elley, an international expert on educational assessment, has long argued against the imposition of standardized curriculums. One other critic calls them ‘the KFC Curriculum’; I call it ‘death by strands’.
There seems little acceptable defense of the NZCEA except that we have gone too far to turn back now. The current government is now turning the blame back to the technocrats but this is playing politics.
A compromise, Elley suggests, is to develop some sort of ‘hybrid’ system by grouping academic or core subjects (that are difficult to measure by the ‘bits process’) to be assessed in one way and for the more practical and vocational to be assessed using standards. To avoid a two tier system he suggests that all students need to take core subjects and then add their own choices of the other more vocational or practical subjects.
This division was part of the original overseas model ‘copied’ by Ministry technocrats, then part of a National Government!
Such changes would at best be only cosmetics as many schools are now ‘wedded’ to the NZCEA system but it would be a start.
What we really need is a non political group of ‘experts’ to assess what has happened in secondary schools, to identify elements to keep and then to suggest a range of possible scenarios. If this were to be done then a ‘national conversation’ about future education could be undertaken.
Quite possibly in a ‘post industrial age’ there would be no one best way, and it might be best to develop a range of flexible alternatives. There a number of excellent models to base ideas on once ‘we’ take off the standardized blinkers and move into personalized learning.
In every other aspect of life personalization and customization are the norm. As for assessment of learning it should be based on what students can demonstrate, exhibit, or perform what they have learnt. Teams of people, known for their expertise, should accredited to assess whole tasks not tick of countless little bits.
At the moment it seems we ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’
Sunday, February 27, 2005
So what has changed?
Return School to their communities.
All over the world politicians are trying to impose simplistic solutions to improve education. All too often they are supplying the answers to the wrong questions.
Ted Sizer, the founder of The Coalition Of essential Schools, believes that the concern about educational provision is proper.
He has written that, ‘too many of our schools are stuck in practices going back almost a hundred ears, have failed many children, especially the poor. ‘We’ deliver the programmes; if the kids do not learn, it must be their fault.’
Although he writes in an American context his comments apply equally to New Zealand.
Current attempts by government to reform schools still remain extensions of an existing bureaucratic system. Imposed political answers have simply added further burdens on schools and have taken the real issue away from teaching and learning. In New Zealand we have suffered from imposed standardized curriculums, targets, strategy plans and cumbersome models of assessment – and it is never ending. All these attempts give no hint that there may be a better, more interesting way of organizing schools.
Sizer reminds us that bureaucrats do not seem to understand that no two students or schools are ever quite the same as they impose their ‘one size fits all’ thinking.
He continues that the ‘system is stuck’ and something ‘has to give’. The answer, he believes, is not more government regulation but, on the contrary, returning power to families, communities and individual schools.
Sizer reintroduces the emotional concept of vouchers to families as a solution. Critics call it ‘privatization’ and the 'end of progressivism’ but he believes it is neither. Vouchers or not, schools need to be returned to their communities.
Critics will also say that ‘parents don’t know what their kids want’, or that ‘we know best’ but the idea would provide for school choice and an incentive for each school to be sensitive to the needs and expectations of both students and their parents.
Naturally central government has a vital role and needs a means to assure some sort of quality control. In New Zealand we are small enough for an enlightened government to set up a nationwide ‘conversation’ out of which national guidelines could be drawn up. Each school would then need to be able to demonstrate accountability to its mission and values within national guidelines. School values would need to be drawn up following community consultation. A number of national or even international models might be customized by individual or groups of schools. We have one such model on our site. Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools is another.
This will sound familiar to those who were at the beginning of ‘Tomorrows Schools’!
Even if the concept of different schools were to be established, and only offered as an alternative, it would still be valuable idea. There are one or two such schools already existing in New Zealand.
Even if some schools were not to survive more successful schools could provide inspiration to others and their ideas would spread naturally throughout the system. This would be transformation by evolution not compliance.
Most of all such a development would represent a real expression of democracy by passing authority down to the lowest level, as well as providing a sense of choice for both parents and students. It would also help attract and retain creative teachers who want to help shape their own work places.
Sizer believes that these ideas will ‘provoke instant and furious opposition’ because it would expose ‘vunerable nerves’ of those whom the 'status quo' currently suits.
It would certainly be an alternative to current central government's moves to regulate every aspect of education.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Best book an educational change!
All the pressure these days about schools seems to be directed at the New Zealand Educational Achievement qualifications. I believe the NZCEA is a step (if a rather complicated one) in the right direction.
All this concern is diverting thought away from the real issue, ‘Our Secondary Schools Don’t Work Anymore.’
The answer is, as illustrated above,’ If you are Riding A Dead Horse get Off’.
We seem to have a half finished revolution. Early education and primary schools do their best to create customized learning centred environments while secondary school continue with their ‘procrustean’ one size fits all model.
Traditional secondary schools are well organized to resist innovation and creativity with their hierarchical culture, timetables, uniforms, bells and isolated subject teaching. Not a great environment to try out new ideas but they still remain dominant in the community’s admiration like successful dinosaurs.
There are two alternatives for them. They can tinker their way timidly into the future or cling on to their past power and glory supported by change averse old boys associations.
The best solution is to add a further choice for enlightened parents. A government truly dedicated to develop the talents of all students could encourage the establishment of a range of community ‘discovery’ schools to cater for the talented, gifted, discontented, or even alienated students.
There would be plenty of students who would fit into the above categories. No doubt there would be similar number of secondary teachers who have had enough of compromising their beliefs who, if supported, would like to try something better? There would also be plenty of community expertise to make use of if the conception of schooling was change to one of customizing learning to suit the learner.
To develop such 21stC schools the government need to face up to the reality that we still have 30% of students leaving with little to show for their time at school and to use these figures to create a sense of urgency in the general population about the need for new thinking. No sign of this as yet. I guess all the energy is focused on defending the NZCEA rather than taking advantage of its flexibility to be innovative about school structures.
If you are riding a dead horse the best thing is to get off and try something new!
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Author : David Hood
Educationalist Michael Fullan once wrote ‘that there is nothing like a hopeless cause’. I guess all revolutionaries, or people dedicated to change, must know the feeling but they still keep up the fight. Sometimes there is nothing rational about human behavior and over the centuries many good people have sacrificed their lives for the benefit of those that follow.
It does seems a hopeless cause to re-imagine or reinvent an education system for the 21stC?
David Hood wrote his book ‘our Secondary Schools Don’t Work Anymore’ after 35 year in education. In these 35 years there have been dramatic changes in world history as the world has changed from an Industrial Age into an Information Era. Knowledge is the new capital of the new century replacing coal, oil and human labour. It is important to appreciate it is not just about knowledge but more about talent, wisdom, ideas and initiative.
We would expect schools to have changed dramatically in this time. Almost everything else has. Primary schools may well have changed in this period but secondary schools still remain monuments to the factory era from where they had their genesis; mass production /mass education.
If a doctor from the early 1900s were to be placed in a hospital theatre today he ( it would be a male) would be completely useless and confused but a teacher from a similar era would be at home in many secondary classes. Such a teacher would still find timetables, bells, age separated classes, isolated subjects and top down 'do as you are told' leadership. Even the uniforms would be similar! Caning students would be out of course – some ideas have been accepted.
It doesn’t have to be like this. David Hood says there is nothing natural or given about ways schools are organized. Schools are historical products of earlier times, designed for a world that no longer exists. Even with new assessment systems in place it is still essentially about sorting people into ‘winner and losers’ and today we still fail about 30% of all students.
Ironically we now know enough about how people learn that no one need fail, but only if we changed our minds first. The trouble is schools are bound by tradition and a conservative parent body that are apprehensive about any changes. Politicians, being essentially pragmatic and poll driven, are in no position to make real changes and prefer to tinker around the edges leaving basic old fashioned structures in place. All the current reform efforts have ignored the real issues, up until the last year or two, of how students learn and how teachers teach.
As a result the old fashioned schools are increasingly dysfunctional.
What we need is a courageous government to develop a national ‘conversation’ about the shape and form of education for a knowledge era. Courageous because it would mean really questioning current educational provision but little will change until the public appreciate the real urgency of the challenge.
There are no shortage of innovative idea and creative teachers to call upon if politicians took the lead.
It still seems like a hopeless cause to me but, as Fullan said, there is nothing as powerful as a hopeless cause. David Hood’s book was largely ignored but the time will come.
Monday, February 21, 2005
What's the rush?
The ideas of Carl Honore, in his book ‘In Praise of Slow’, are a real antidote to our current obsession with productivity, speed, consumerism and ‘workaholism’, which has filtered its way into all we do – including education. It seems that to shop is to be!
Carl Honore believes too many of us are living our lives on ‘fast forward’ and as a result our health and relationships are paying a heavy price. Obese children are but the most recent symptom of this fast life.
Carl writes that we are to ‘over stimulated and overworked and struggle to relax to enjoy things properly, to spend time with family and friends’.
His ideas are not a reactionary Luddite plot to shun or retreat from technology but all about ‘living better in a modern world by striking a balance between fast and slow’. Honore believes that slowing down can pay dividends in every walk of life. There are ‘slow food’ movements (a reaction against a KFC mentality), ‘slow cities’ (to allow citizens to find places of peace and tranquility) and ‘slow sex’!
The new manta is to ‘do less better’ rather than ‘first finished is best’. Honore believes we are entering a genuine slow revolution, a culture of pleasure, of doing things at the right speed and less skimming over the surface of life. It is not about opting out but being able to ‘shift gears’ now and then to enjoy experiences.
Our culture is raising the ‘hurried child’ with parents trying to give their children everything. He believes children need slowness and should not become obsessed with achievement at any cost. We are in the process of developing a ‘me first’ culture. Children he believes need unscheduled time; time for imagination, day dreaming and exploring deeply their interests. Even TV, the major form of relaxation for many children, is a paradox with children relaxing in front of a hyper active medium. It has, he says, ‘become a black hole gobbling up children’s time’.
All this applies directly to schools which are suffering from a hyper rational attention deficit culture; trying to do too much they seem to do little well. Teachers rush their students through countless learning tasks, strands and objectives; the curriculum has become ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’ In the words of one educator they are in the throws of a ‘KFC curriculum’; or ‘death by strands.’ Children are encouraged to consume as many credits as they can – it has little to do with developing a joy of learning.
In education we need also to do less better and allow students time to savor learning experiences and in the process have the time to do things well so as to develop a sense of personal excellence. They need time to reflect on learning to ask and answer their own questions.
Teachers I used to work with believed in the need for students to ‘slow the pace of their work’ so as to allow both quality teacher/learner conversations and for them to produce work they are truly proud of. Such classrooms are full of quality art, language and personal research.. Teachers believed strongly in an aesthetic dimension to learning – a dimension that requires time to do things well.
One reviewer of Honore’s book says he is ‘slow thinker ahead of his time’, another that ‘life in the slow lane is more enjoyable, more pleasurable and more humane.’ Aristotle’s adage that ‘the purpose of work is the attainment of leisure’ has been transformed into ‘I work in order to consume and posses’. We have become a society centred around the possession of things; when we forget people we begin to lose our culture.
Sunday, February 20, 2005
The Empire it seems is striking back! Kelvin Squires, principal of Stratford Primary and past president of the New Zealand Primary Principals Association, interviewed for our local paper, was speaking from the heart about primary education as we currently know it. Forget all the endless compliance requirements he says, it all comes down to ‘hearts and minds’.
‘It is the hearts and minds that the ‘blue suited bureaucrats who are molding the counties education system have forgotten about’. ‘What we have is a left wing government that generally has this one size fits all mentality.’ This is not working says Kelvin because, ‘if people don’t connect with what you’re asking them to do…then they bloody well won’t do it!’
At last a principal with the courage to say what is on all our minds .Kelvin reminds us all forcefully that the real passion for education comes from the classroom not from distant ‘experts’ from Wellington.
Leadership, he continues, is vital if we are to add a voice of realism to the educational debate. Principals need to be supported to do what is right for their pupils. He asks the question, is the system about listening to the voices of the local community, or is it about a system continually dictating compliance requirements that makes the job of those running schools difficult? ‘Compliance is an ugly word in an increasingly regulated New Zealand society.’ Schools are constrained by constant accountability and distracted from developing in students a love of learning for its own sake.
Kelvin believes it is time we ‘led the government’ because ‘there are a lot of causalities as a result of political whims’ as politicians decide schools can solve all societies’ problems by dictate. The latest is the worry about obesity which, important as it is, must be more that a school problem. Of greater concern Kelvin, suggests, is the issue of the development of self centred students, and students ‘at risk’, resulting from the individualistic and competitive ‘market forces’ ideology we have had imposed on us.
Students, Kelvin says, need assistance with emotional intelligence and learning to live with others. Parenting is another issue that is of concern to Kelvin and the suggestion that mothers should get back into the workforce may help the economy but parents need to see their vital role as ‘their children’s first teachers and that the school just adds value’
What worries Kelvin is the ‘lack of thought about what really matters’. As for Ministry consultation, ‘there is consultation and consultation’. It is time for all the government departments that impinge on schools to work together to ‘provide unflinching support networks’ for those working at the front line. The government’s role is about providing ‘synergy’ between all the providers. At present, ‘it is like a lot of chooks running around with their heads chopped off – there doesn’t seem to be a hell of lot of talking to one another’.
If we don’t improve the situation we will face problems attracting high caliber principals in the future. Too many principals with much needed wisdom are leaving and there is no rush to for senior teachers to take on their roles. Attracting principals is more than about salary; ‘people need connectedness; they need to have their hearts and minds valued’.
There are real strengths in our system Kelvin says but, ‘if you are always striving to catch up’ with the latest compliance requirements it is difficult. People need affirmation; ‘it is important that people know they are doing a good job’.
Education is about developing citizens who will leave the world a better place. This underpins Kevin’s philosophy. ‘Politicians are calling the tune ‘but as Kelvin wisely reminds us that it is the children’s ‘hearts and minds that count’ in the future.
We have been to busy jumping through political hoops for too long. It is not about compliance and Kelvin concludes the interview by saying, ‘I’m not a great believer in rules. I have set of values,’ education is ‘about connecting with the hearts and minds of teachers and students’. Helping all students develop a positive sense of values is vitally important task of both home and school.
All I can add is that it time to stop and collectively say ‘enuf is enuf’ and add our voice to the debate. Kelvin has made as start it is now up to the rest of us!
The last word from me comes from Spike Milligan, who wrote in his book ‘The Looney’, that 'a bureaucrat is a man who obeys orders from above and ignore complaints from below.’
It is worth remembering though, that in a election year, someone might be listening.
Friday, February 18, 2005
Some times you need a bit of distance to see the big picture with relation to education. Those involved are just too committed to a task to see past their immediate concerns while others, locked into some romantic golden era of education, cannot see any good in what is currently happening. And then of course there are politicians.
With this in mind it was great to read Chris Trotter’s column in today’s Daily News.
Chris Totter reminds us we would never want to go back to the ruthless ‘pass and ‘fail’ which left thousands of New Zealanders emotionally scarred for life. It was, as Chris writes, ‘an outrageous exercise in social engineering.’ In the 40s and 50s, when we had full employment, it may have been logical with plenty of jobs, to fail half our students. The failed students became steady if unimaginative workers and the successful the ‘movers and shakers’; the ‘failures’ were provided with trade apprenticeships.
Things have changed since the 90s. All schools now compete as ‘stand alone self managing ’schools with‘ direction’ being provided by a highly technocratic National Curriculum. Primary schools, being more flexible, have managed to ‘colonize ‘most of the imposed constraints but secondary schools have not been so adaptable. Still trapped in antiquated industrial age structures and mindsets they have found new the requirements all but impossible.
Chris mentions that there always have been two mutually antagonistic education reform agendas. On one side the liberal inheritors of the sixties (Chris calls them the ‘Summerhill Generation’) and on the other technocratic efficiency of the market forces revolution.
It isn’t quite as simple as this. Although there were excesses of liberalism, creative primary teachers believed strongly in creativity and excellence and not, as he indicates, everybody has to be seen as equal. As well secondary schools were never taken over by liberal philosophies and to this day remain as monuments to an industrial era. For many students enrolling in a secondary school must belike visiting a foreign country. No wonder many students fail. So there is also a traditional agenda as well represented by those who want to go back to pass/fail exams
The controversial NZCEA was an attempt to ensure all students gained qualifications from their secondary experience. It was not a ‘progressive educational initiative’ but rather an imposed business concept of defining standards for students to achieve so school could be held accountable and learning measured.
It has been as Chris indicates a disaster, not because as Chris states it is a compromise between ‘Summerhillers’ and the employers but more because it had design faults. With its concept of breaking up education into endless measurable objectives it has almost been impossible to realize.
David Hood, who introduced early NZCEA ideas, has written a book simply called ‘Our Secondary Schools Do Not Work Anymore.’ I can but agree.
It would’ve been preferable to‘re-imagine’ schools for a new millennium. Such schools would need new structures and cultures and would require new roles for teachers. Such a system would need to focus on helping each student develop whatever talents they might have and in the process equip them with the life long learning attributes required to live in a world that will be marked by continual change. It is entirely possible but only if we changed our minds first about education.
Instead we seem to have developed the worst of both worlds. Traditional schools, and some politicians, want schools to revert to the old fashioned ‘pass/ fail’ exams under the banner of high standards and competition. Secondary schools, it seems, haven’t had the wit, creativity and intelligence to colonize the NZEA requirements by developing holistic meaningful tasks that integrate traditional subject areas with teachers working in teams to assist each learner. In this scenario appropriate achievement standards could be imbedded into the tasks.
In the meantime the debate continues with more heat than light. New thinking is required Secondary schools are almost collapsing with what Chris calls the ‘hyper-bureaucratizing of our schools and teachers.’ Learning he writes, ‘has been reduced to require the great feast of human knowledge to an unappetizing pile of bite sized morsels.’ One other writer calls it the KFC curriculum!
Chris continues his article by saying, ‘schools have been reduced into educational warrant of fitness stations and our teachers into testers.’ It is he says about training not education; ‘we are producing people who understand the world’s parts but who can tell us nothing about the whole.’ Schools are producing students ‘who are prepared to work diligently for others but who are singularly ill equipped to think for themselves.’
It didn’t have to be this way. There are alternative ideas around that could have transformed education as we know it but this would have taken courage and intelligence from politicians and school leaders.
Chris concludes that we have sacrificed educated holistic thinkers and instead have settled for producing ‘serfs of scholarship’.
Little it seems has really changed?
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
In a few hours a very good friend of mine and her husband are coming to stay with me for a few days.
The last time I saw Marion and Chris was in 1980 when I stayed with them in the UK but we had all originally met in 1969. In the sixties in our town in New Zealand a number of us were very interested in ‘open education’ and, in particular, the English junior school approach. As a result in 69 I decided to spend a year in the UK to see for myself. It was to change my life and, as it turned out, many others back in NZ. 1969 was also to be my first year of teaching having been an adviser since leaving training college.
I eventually ended up at a wonderful school Kings Farm situated in a building estate in a large industrial city on the Thames. Coming from rural New Zealand this was quite a shock to me and I began my teaching career with some apprehension.
I had chosen Kings Farm because it was a well known ‘progressive school’. My experience there was to be mind changing. The school couldn’t have been more different than a equivalent size school in NZ.
The Head teacher Irene was, as I soon discovered, a real educational leader and she had gathered around her a team of teachers the like I had never seen before. In NZ at the time teachers were sent to school by distant authorities. Marion and Chris were two of these teachers. Both are currently touring the world after retiring from teaching having completing their careers as successful head teachers.
Right from entering the Kings Farm things were different. The foyer was full of beautifully displayed students work; there were displays of flowers and interesting objects to look at and think about and comfortable chairs to sit in. Wonderful messages for the young children and their parents from the estate and for visitors like myself. Before my interview Irene took me on a tour of the school and at the end of this I knew that this is where I wanted to be. Each classroom seemed more impressive than the last. There were aesthetically pleasing displays in each room to motivate student curiosity and the walls were covered with impressive student research, language, maths and art.
I had never seen a whole school aligned behind a shared philosophy. There are few to be seen today.
Marion was one of the teachers that Irene was most proud of and it was obvious why; her room must have been a paradise for the children from the estate. Chris’s also. Chris turned out to be a real enthusiast for real life mathematics. I had never met anyone before with such a passion for the subject; his enthusiasm was infectious.
I had great year educationally ( and socially) and was able to visit a number of progressive school with the deputy principal Peter, who was part of a post graduate university course. His course was based on visiting schools and then discussing what had been observed and I was happy to tag along. To this day I believe visiting other schools is the best way to learn.
When I returned to New Zealand I couldn’t wait to share the ideas I had seen with a group of creative teachers I had worked with before leaving. This group of New Zealand teachers added their own dynamic ideas and the combined influences have continued to be felt in our local schools to this day. Well those of us who were involved still recognize the influences if others have long forgotten. All of the original teachers have long since retired.
Today Marion returns. She had spent a term teaching in NZ in the 1970 and is remembered fondly by all. Tomorrow might we are having a party with about twenty people who had an association with her in 1970. We are all very excited.
I share this story because to me it represents how creative ideas in any area are spread. Ideas have to be experienced first hand and by meeting people who share a passion for them; they cannot be imposed. If the ideas are worthwhile they will spread by themselves. The ideas I picked up, both in England and from my friends in New Plymouth, have formed the basis of the educational philosophy I share today.
I am sure you all have people in your own lives that have inspired you.
It will be certainly great for us all to meet up again. It has been a long time since we all got together and we will have a lot to catch up on!
Monday, February 14, 2005
The 'Magic' of teaching.
I have just returned from a wonderful experience – attending the Magic of Teaching Conference held over the weekend in Ashburton.
It was a roaring success in every way. Great food, great company, great entertainment and great ideas shared both by invited speakers and local teachers. I was lucky to have been invited to present a workshop and a keynote. I am hoping that other areas will follow Ashburton lead.
It was special also because every teacher in the area was invited to attend and the number tasking advantage of the offer surprised even the organizers with over a 180 attending both days. Conferences without class teachers are only a partial answer.
All the keynote speakers focused on the power of magic of the classroom teacher. To add a touch of classroom reality two sessions of workshops shared idea from schools. These schools demonstrated in their own ways that, if teachers work together, sharing their visions, then all teachers grow in confidence.
The Conference meal and entertainment was spectacular. The committee really wanted to make the days worthwhile to those who had given up their time. Few who attended will never forget the droll but magic talent of ‘Len the Loser’!
The real magic however was the feeling, that at long last, real teachers are being seen as the focus for real educational change; not because of ‘research’ but because of common sense. The key to the future, as expressed by all keynote speakers, is to clarify ‘our’ beliefs and not to listen and meekly comply with those who appear to judge us.
Humour and the associated laughter was a feature of the weekend.
As an aside a Ministry Curriculum ‘official’ outlined the sad history of curriculum development since 1992 which has been one of trying to adapt ideas from outside of NZ. The Ministry is catching up with creative teachers at last! Now it seems we: need to clarify what is important and do less better; to focus on quality teaching; to strengthen school ownership; and develop partnership between schools, parents and the wider community.
Nothing new to those who remained true to the faith during the years of compliance, policies and clear folders!
The Ministry as well now has memorandum to talk to ERO!
Now if the Ministry could just provide directions and establish high trust conditions they could step back and let schools be the creative talent development centres they ought to be. That would indeed be magic!!!
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Continual quality improvement
By now all teachers should have some idea of what their students can do. I am not talking about data passed on from the previous class, as valuable as this may be, but examples of student's real work.
For a creative teacher achieving qualitative improvement begins slowly as he or she sets about to develop a desire in each student to make their 'work' better. The best assessment of any learner is what he or she can do, not just what test scores say.
Teachers should set their students the task of being able to see visible improvement by mid first term. With these expectations in mind the teachers task is clear: to help every learner , using focused teaching, to improve in specific areas.
The work of a ten year old illustrated above shows growth over a year both in the quality of the personal writing and in design graphics. This hasn't happened by accident. The class teacher involved helped the student focus on an important weekly event and then to write in depth about how she felt at the time and, as well, provided design guidance, including how to develop focused illustrations.
Students soon learnt what makes a good piece of writing (as well as presentation) through 'learning conversations' and were encouraged to be able to say what was better in their current piece of work and what they might improve next time.
This is quality learning and teaching. It takes time. Today far too many students are being rushed through a curriculum that is 'a mile wide and an inch deep'. Creative teachers know the importance of valuing the students 'voice' and doing fewer things well.
For ideas about the writing process and ideas for writing topics and examples of quality work visit our site.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Usage by country February 2005
It is always interesting to see the usage of our site which is posted every day just after midnight. Like a lot of data that schools seem obliged to collect it is more interesting than useful to us. One thing we are amazed about is how popular our educational quotes are; 40% of all hits. Just place the term in a search machine and our site comes well up on the first page.
As at 8th February the daily average 'hits' for our site is about 2300 with 3793 hits ( 480 visits) recorded yesterday.
Last month the daily average was 2381 ( 312 visits) which was the most 'hit' month since we established our site in 2001. In those early days we received about 500 hits a month ( 50 visits).
The highest daily hits was 30th December 2004 when we received 7025 hits. This was unexpected as we usually get the highest hits/visits after we send out an e-zine. Our free e-zine currently goes out to 2300 people.
15% of visits are a direct request the remainder are from a variety of search machines.
As for countries, in the above pie graph, 20% are from New Zealand, 4% from the UK, 4% from Australia , 2% from Canada, 60% are unknown or network or US commercial and there is a long list of countries that visit that are less than 1%.
Interesting to us but not very useful. Like a lot of data.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Great time for a rocky shore study.
If your school is near a rocky shore this is a great time to take your class out to undertake a small ecological study. If the seashore is too far away apply the ideas to a patch of bush or even some long grass. Ecology is everywhere! You can even study one tree in the playground or monarch butterflies and swan plants.
Before they go outdoors ask the students what they think they might find or what they currently know about the topic and what they would like to find out. It is always a good idea to tap into their prior knowledge in any area of learning; you may even find an expert or two to make use of.
Observational drawing is a valuable skill but to save the animal life get the students to draw from a photo or an illustration. If they do a drawing before hand, without reference to material, it will let you ( and them) know how little they really know!
While outdoors encourage the students to sit still ( preferably in the shade) and write how they feel being in such an environment. It works best if you have practiced using the senses first back at school!
In the illustration above ten year olds have drawn crabs carefully, have completed research on crabs ( not shown) and have used their new knowledge to invent imaginative or 'magic' crabs. This process, going from prior knowledge, to observation and research and then into the imagination can be used with any study.
Whatever you choose to do , do it well. Early in the year is the time to 'teach' your students the importance of personal excellence. Too many students seem to think first finished is best!
Display fished work with a suitable heading, key questions, researched answers, graphs of animals etc, poetic language and expressive art. Or put in all on your class website. The depth of the work will depend on the age of the students.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
A part of my wilderness garden!
Currently we are experiencing in New Zealand some really hot weather. Great timing, as students have gone back to school after a less than wonderful summer!
With this in mind I thought I would share a few environmental education ideas.
One activity that is fun is to take the class out side and space them out of personal touching distance along a fence or preferably a shady path. Get them to either just sit or reflect using their senses. Discuss the senses before they go outside. They could then write a few thought about whatever catches their mind or the teacher could direct them to think about something in particular – clouds, the heat, or trees. We call this activity ‘going solo’. Only go for a few minutes until students develop the necessary self discipline. Drawing could replace writing.
‘Finding Poems’ is another activity. After modeling the format in class go outside and write three thoughts. At first guide the children by asking them to write one thought looking up ( say into a tree or the sky), one thought looking closer ( at the trunk ), and finally one thought about leaves on the ground, or whatever comes to mind. These are simple haikus. Remember you are after phrases not single words.
For young students go on an ‘I Saw’ walk and collect interesting phrases from students as they walk along. Once again encourage phrases rather than words and encourage them also to make use of their senses. With experience students will come up with perceptive idea, similes and metaphors. Use ideas for shared language back in class.
For students who are reluctant use a question and answer technique with the teachers scribing student’s thoughts. Teachers need to help students expand their ideas by asking what happened next? How did you feel? What were you thinking? What did it remind you of?
Taking the digital or video camera is another idea. Back in class students could write descriptive captions and even metaphors. These could be made into PowerPoint’s or loops for the video screen. Another idea is to fold a piece of paper into eight or so rectangles and students could fill in shapes with textures they have seen. Get them to fill in all the white spaces so it is best to keep the shapes small!
All these awareness activates can lead into students understanding the power and fun of language.
Beats sweating in class but possibly not a swim in the school pool; now there is another language experience to take advantage of.
The curriculum for learning lies within any experience for a creative teacher
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
'a big piece of paper signed by the Maori and the British...to share the land...'
Waitangi Day is an important and often controversial day which celebrates an important occasion in New Zealand history. It offers a great opportunity for teachers beginning the school year to, not only learn about the Treaty, but also to develop their own set of ‘rules’ with their students for their classroom
First teachers should gather resources on the Treaty that the school will have and brush up their background knowledge so they can help their students develop a better understanding of the history and implications of the Treaty.
This needn’t become major study and many teachers make use of the Waitangi Day and the Treaty as a ‘mini’ unit’ to introduce some important ideas to the class.
Some ideas to assist:
1. Ask the children to give you their ideas of what they know or questions they have about Waitangi Day. This will provide the teacher with the students ‘prior ideas’. These will be valuable to compare with what they have learnt after the study. Display them with the heading, ‘What we think we know about Waitangi Day’. If it vague or full of misconceptions all the better.
2. From the questions students have (display as ‘What we want to find out’) get them to research answers using material you have gathered. Display these under the heading. ‘What we now know’. One way to motivate questions is to get the student to copy figures fom one of the illustration about the Treaty and then to ask them what they were thinking.
3. As a teacher you might teach your class about some of the background material about the Treaty. A good old fashioned lesson.
4. You may want to have a discussion about the varying view about the Treaty and help them see positive factors or at least see that there are other views.
The above activities introduce the students to a learning process they can use in all studies they will undertake. First find out what they know, sort out key questions and then do research. This approach is often called constructivism as students learn to construct their own knowledge – if teachers help to clarify misconceptions it is better called co-constructivism.
A summary on the blackboard might be copied into their Studies Book. This would be an ideal opportunity to introduce some simple graphic and design skills. Many students have no idea of how to lay out an attractive page.If you do this expect their work to improve as the year unfolds.
As part of the ‘lesson’ discuss the behaviors they want of each other, and of you as the teacher, so as to develop an ideal classroom. Using whatever artistic skill you can muster draw idea up into a class Treaty and get all to sign.
A new life begins
By now new teachers will have survived their first few days. I wonder how they are feeling? I remember well my first few days of teaching. I still remember how tired and emotionally drained I was. Overwhelmed and bleary eyed would some it all up for me.
Life in real classroom no doubt seems greatly different from what was imagined? Beliefs and expectations will have been challenged by the reality of trying to keep a class of very different children busy, as well as living up to the real or imagined expectations of fellow teachers who appear to have it all under control.
I think it is important for beginning teachers to appreciate that other beginning teachers are facing up the same challenges and, if they were honest, even the most experienced teachers! Teaching is an emotional business with its ups and downs. When things work out it is a real buzz but equally it can be the opposite. All teachers have bad days.
Teachers enter the profession with a mix of enthusiasm and apprehension. Their experiences in the first year will determine their future success. This to a large extent depends on the collegial support that mentor teachers provide them and the beginning teacher’s openness to asking for help.
Hopefully many of the questions will have been sorted before entering the classroom. It is worth remembering that many new teachers leave the profession within the first few years so supportive help in the early strategies is vital to build up confidence.
Beginning teaching is very much a transition period when the teacher has to face up to real demanding changes in lifestyle. With supportive help of a designated fellow teacher they will survive to look back and wonder why it was all so difficult.
At first help should be specific and directive and focus on setting up classroom management procedures and setting expectations. As with beginning learners new teachers will need to be given ‘scaffolds’ to assist them until they catch their breath and work out ways that suit themselves better. The supporting teacher needs to act as ‘learning coach’ giving focused help targeted to specific needs.
During the first few weeks most new teachers are simply trying to stay afloat being more concerned with feeling in control rather than what is being learnt. Time will change this ratio. As things settle down confidence will grow.
If the beginning teachers develops an openness towards new ideas and continues to ask questions of others then there is every chance it will be the beginning of an enjoyable career.
Those who assist such new teachers on their journey will be an important variable.
There is excellent practical advice to be found on our site.
Beginning Teacher advice one
Beginning Teacher advice two
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Clearing out space for new ideas!
I get regular ascd e-newsletters from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Leadership, ascd for short. They are always worth a 'lurk' through to see what is happening educationally worldwide and in particular in the USA. Mostly it makes me think we are lucky to be in New Zealand where teacher creativity has not yet been side-lined! As well I am ascd member and get their great magazines and free books. Great professional reading for those who have the time.
Anyway in a recent ascd conference report there was a small article about 'thwarting student boredom' by Richard Strong. I have long admired his writings.
My image above doesn't quite fit his article as it is all about clearing out old ideas to make way for the new. His article was reflecting that 'boredom hurts'. He was referring to the origins of the word boredom. Evidently it comes from an 18th Century medical practice of boring holes in peoples heads of those deemed mentally ill; 'Boredom hurts'!
Reducing boredom, Strong writes, is about increasing student engagement. When you are bored you are not having fun and you are not doing anything about it. Reducing boredom, Strong goes on to say, is about getting reluctant learners to become interested in their own ideas. It is about relating learning to student's lives; it's about tapping into students interests and dreams; about holding students attention because if there is no attention then there is no learning.
Read the article on the ascd website or the September 2003 Magazine. You can find Strong and his associate Silver on their website.
Just thought it was worth sharing. Learning in the olden days was always pictured by an image of a teacher pouring knowledge with a funnel into a learners brain. Now that was boredom!
From what I hear from many older students boredom is still a major problem for many learners! Today it is more about letting students ideas out of their heads than teachers pouring them in. I wonder where the word 'drill' comes from? It is funny that two year olds are never bored! Why is this?
An unfolding ever changing universe
Schools are facing increasing demands for change to ensure all students succeed. We really need to develop the talents of all students if they are to thrive in an unpredictable future. The problem is school weren't 'designed' for all to succeed!
I work in the area of school and teacher change and have to admit to a notable lack of success. Ironically schools are not as good at learning as you would expect of organizations that have the prime role of preparing young people to be life long learners.
Why do schools and teachers find change so difficult? There has been too much badly thought change asked by those divorced from the reality of schools. Trying to implement imposed, badly resourced and often contradictory changes of recent years has been draining for schools and teachers. And as well the community seems to prefer retreating to some past traditional myth of a 'golden age' when all students learnt! The ‘status quo’ it seems has a powerful hold from within and without! It is a lot easier for schools not to change, particularly at the secondary level.
Even schools with the best of intentions, after trying to implement imposed changes, find that it’s easier to revert to past practices.
Why is it that school transformation is so difficult? Why do schools find it so hard to become ‘learning organizations’ able to continually adapt and evolve?
There seems to be a set of unwritten rules that govern the way teachers work in schools:
1. Don’t tread on other teacher’s territory.
2. Find efficient routines and stick with them and avoid change.
3. Be wary of changes in curriculum and teaching practice: ‘This too will pass.’
4. Put down any one who shows interest in new ideas.
Too often schools exist in an environment of isolation and privatisation sometimes disguised by ‘professionalism’. As well the competitive ethos of the past decade hasn't helped. Departments, that in big schools often act as independent ‘Balkan States’, do not help develop a shared sense of vision. Imposed accountabilty demands and an 'top down' audit culture has led to the development of a 'low trust' environment. All these factors contribute to making school change problematic.
The questions leaders have to ask are: ‘What conditions are required to encourage an innovative attitude towards new ideas?’; ‘How can teachers be encouraged to collaborate?’; ‘How can good ideas be shared?’; ‘What support and assistance do they need?’; ‘How can everyone be involved to develop ownership?’;'How do will we know we are succeeding?'
First of all there needs to be a sense of urgency about the need to change. When there is a realization the old ways are not working then change can begin. Facing up to current reality is vital, often painful, and is rarely done. With a third of students leaving school with little to show for their time it would seem obvious but it is not.
The journey of change begins with the development of a new sense of direction. The process begins by discussing the attributes future learners will need, by clarifying the values or behaviors required by all, and by defining the teaching beliefs needed to realize the vision.
Once these have been clarified the real work begins.
Commitments need to be made. Actions need to be planned. Feedback built in to ensure progress is being made, and necessary support and coaching provided where needed.
Teachers will have to work together in teams and put aside personal agendas and doubts to give the change a ‘fair go’. The change process, it needs to be understood, is ‘messy’, and will have its low points. And it will take time: change it is said is ‘journey of a 1000 days.
Nothing can be achieved in isolation. Teachers can only grow collegially if the purpose is worth the effort. Schools need to work with each other and their communities. All these require courageous leadership.
In the few schools that I have worked with that have succeeded these are the messages we have learnt. We have all had our minds changed in the process; education is synonymous with change. And although difficult at the time pressure to deliver has proved to be valuable.
Change is never easy but it is worth remembering it is the ‘transitions that kill people’ not the changes themselves. The feeling of pride and sense of achievement is well worth the pain.
Anyway it would seem we have no choice if we want to solve the issue of school failure that the current 'system' creates.
For practical ideas and examples visit the vision page on our site
Kawakawa - pepper tree
In the rush to cover all that is asked of them teachers often overlook the importance of the simple act of observation.
For many creative teachers, in contrast, it is the beginning of the development of a learners curiosity, understanding, and imagination.
In the collage above two of the drawings of the leaves were done by 10 year olds and the third by an adult.
The teacher of the ten year olds first asked the children to draw a leaf without instruction . The children took a few seconds to make a drawing, barely looking at the leaf. The teacher then asked the students to take a good look at the leaf to notice any markings or patterns ( they of course saw veins and wondered what they were for - the beginning of science) and then they were asked to draw the leaf carefully. The results you can see for yourself above. Later the drawings could have been colored in with equal care and displayed carefully for others to admire.
Simple stuff but with important messages for the learners. 'If you want to see you have to really look'; focused observation. To draw you need to 'slow the pace' to do your best work; too many children rush everything, thinking that first finished is best. By working slowly producing results beyond current expectations they begin to understand the importance of personal excellence. They also learn that, as they draw, questions and ideas emerge which can be tapped by a sensitive teacher for the basis of a science study, or for a creative or descriptive language task . The plant itself has an interesting Maori history to be researched. Later, with teachers encouragement, more imaginative interpretations can be developed by moving from observation into imagination, by drawing /painting 'magic leaves'.
Observation is the basis of all learning but it takes time and effort to do it well.
Not such a simple thing after all!