Sunday, December 28, 2008

Some cool quotes.

Quote from Goethe.

All too often ( well in New Zealand anyway) well intentioned teachers provide so much guidance ( or 'scaffolding'), and define too closely the criteria, that the resulting work shows impressive consistency, even quality, but misses out on creativity. Teachers would be well advised to heed Goethe's advice.

Today my daughter, who is currently working in the UK, send me a handful of quotes she copied from a friends book that she thought I would enjoy.

'All you have to do educate a child is leave them alone and teach them to read! The rest is brainwashing' Ellen Gilecrist

I wish it were so easy. The way reading is all too often taught could itself be seen as 'brainwashing' by emphasizing literacy above other equally important ways of gaining and expressing meaning. A lot of schooling is 'brainwashing' - educating the brain by an academic approach that is all but irrelevant for many students.

'Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears,and never regrets'. Leonardo da Vinci.

Coming from a person who was excluded from from schooling, because of the circumstances of his birth, it is pertinent today when so many who go to school leave with their desire to learn in tatters. Da Vinci's curriculum was based on an intense curiosity, the ability to make use of all his senses, and drawing and describing what he observed; an artist and a scientist. Modern education would be well advised to follow this creative de-schooler!

'Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing.Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance'. Will Durant

All real learners discover new ideas at the very edge of their competence - the edge of ignorance. They understand that as they learn there is always more to learn. Appreciating the role of ignorance in learning is an interesting idea. Teachers who teach with pre planned confidence are not really educators, helping students discover idea for themselves, but merely tellers.

'Education has produced a vast population able to read but unable distinguish what is worth reading'. G M Trevelyan

This brings us back to the first quote.

It is purpose - something yet to discover, that drives all learning, and this includes reading.

And it is personal purpose that is missing in our schools today.

If you want some more quotes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas


Couldn't resist.
Posted by Picasa

Best wishes

Kia ora
I hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year where ever in the World you are. Check the map on the site to see who visits.
I am away for a few days so I am taking a short break.
Be great to hear from some of you if you have time. I love feedback.
Ka kite ano
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Testing our way into the 19th C!

Those with their minds firmly fixed in a patronising, mechanistic, or technocratic approach, always see measurement as the ultimate way of guaranteeing progress.Like any simple solution to a complex problem it is wrong -and has been proved so. Standard based teaching was the approach of education in Victorian times - each class was called a standard ( standard one etc) that you progressed to if you passed the test. In the early days, in the UK, teachers were paid by results their students gained in the tests. Maybe that is next on our 'new' governments agenda?

The National Government has rushed through its National Testing Legislation.According to the Prime Minister ' all students will face testing against national standards in literacy and numeracy from next year'.

What exactly this populist and reactionary legislation means in action will be discovered next year. It is hard to believe that this was seen as a priority when the real issue is to equip students with the dispositions they will need thrive in an uncertain and potentially exciting future. Not that literacy and numeracy aren't important - they are - but they are best seen as vital 'foundation skills' to be in place for students to use to further their learning and not an end in themselves. The new Government made no reference to the liberating intent of the 2007 curriculum as they head back to the past.

And it is not to say that primary schools do not currently test their students. Far from it
. As Kelvin Smythe says ,' schools are already assessed up to the gunwales...the last thing they need is more pressure from the Review Office for even more assessment'. National Party policy statements say that new tests won't be required as teachers already use AsTTle and PAT etc but they will be establishing benchmarks setting out minimum skills. This might not be such a concern as many school already do this and, if it were simplified, it might cut out the need for so many tests. Some of the tests schools are 'encouraged' to use , according to Kelvin Smythe, are overblown providing lots of data and little information, and I agree with him.

We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime in the UK has shown that national testing, although providing initial improvements,are now plateauing and trending down. In the UK results are published in 'league table' ( without reference to decile rating) creating 'winner and loser' schools. Ironically punishing, in the process, the very students who make up the 'achievement tail'. And standardised tests always have an 'achievement tail!

The same situation occurs with President Bush's 'No Child Left Behind' ( NCLB) standardised testing.

Both in the UK and the USA teachers teach to the test aiming their attention to those students not quite making the grade to improve their graphs. Such a narrow approach, in both countries, has led to the undermining of creative teaching, less time spent on other important areas of the curriculum, all leading to shallow learning. UK educator Guy Claxton writes that a side product of measurable improved achievement results is creating anxiety in both students and their parents, let alone killing the creativity of teachers, and is resulting in students losing the joy of reading and maths. 'The assessment tail is wagging the dog', or as they say, 'you can't fatten a pig by measuring it'!

National testing comes with a cost.

Canadian educationist Michael Fullan believes New Zealand in coasting on past success ( Education Gazette Nov 08) and believes we need to focus on 'capacity building' ( the 'will and skill') of teachers before accountability so as to implement successful practices. Reflecting back to the literacy programmes before Tomorrow's Schools might indicate where we have gone wrong.

All the imposed 'best practice' literacy and numeracy programmes of the past decades has not shown the improvement promised. As well this emphasis has all but squeezed out inquiry learning and the creative arts. If anything literacy and numeracy needs to be 're framed' to ensure students have the information gathering and expressive skills to ensure students gain both deep understanding and the important key competencies, or future learning dispositions.

The worst effects of the imposition of this 'Big Brother' national testing ( by a Government that believes in freedom, initiative and individual enterprise) will be on the enthusiasm, morale and creativity of teachers. Such a testing regime will create conformist teaching - the very thing we don't want if we are to really face up to the 'achievement tail'.

Kelvin Squire the former president of the New Zealand Principal's Federation , is quoted by Kelvin Smthe, saying, ' We could be moving to Worst Evidence Stupidity.We know that punitive, high stakes testing doesn't work....I've travelled all over the world with the Principal's Federation and I have seen it doesn't work.I'd resist national testing, do civil disobedience, if I had to!'

In Australia the same testing agenda is being implemented
and, according to a past Director General of Education Queensland Phil Cullen, this measurement obsessed hierarchy is destroying the purpose of true education. He quotes Alfie Kohn one of Americas most outspoken critic of testing. Kohn writes, ' A plague has been sweeping through schools wiping out the most innovative instruction and beating down some of the best teachers....ironically this plague has been released in the name of improving schools.Invoking such terms as "tougher standards" people with little understanding of how children learn have imposed a heavy handed, top down , test driven version of school reform that is lowering the quality of education in this country...Turning schools into giant test-prep centres, effectively closing off intellectual inquiry and undermining enthusiasm for learning ( and teaching).It has taken longer to realize that this is a ...political movement that must be opposed'.

Lester Flockton echoes thoughts in this blog in his article in the November Principal Magazine. He has expanded his views in an article in December's excellent Education Today magazine. He states that it is 'nonsensical and unfair to expect that schools alone should be accountable for the educational malaise'. He continues 'school are good for children but they cannot overcome deep deficits'. Lets not kid ourselves' he says.

These thoughts of Lester's about the wider responsibility of society to underachieving schools relates to ideas that Kelvin Squires has also written about. It is all to a easy to fix blame on school and then only to offer simplistic populist solutions.

What is required is broader bolder approach to education. Schools must play their part by providing opportunities for all students to reach their full potential. However there is no evidence that schools alone, no matter how good, can close worrying educational achievement gaps.

A broader school approach would not only focus on basic skills but also to develop the whole person including physical health, character, social development and non academic skills - the 'key competencies'.

A broader approach would also need to focus on the total environment the students come from, the importance of high quality early childhood, the encouraging of at least one parent to be able to look after children for the first three years with all the support possible, and developing integrated relationships between schools and other community organisations.

Testing just doesn't cut it!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Leadership for what?

Winston Churchill, as with any true leader, was able to deliver, through his oratory, a powerful story to provide his people hope of better things to come. Leadership is about creating powerful future images through myth and story - and it is rare commodity.

I am critical of leadership courses run for school principals for, so far, I have not been able to discern any new story, or powerful vision for the future, they have provided for those who might be followers. Considering those providing the information are at best timid leaders or, worse still academics, it is no wonder. It sounds like a case of , 'Stick to your seats and never go to sea and you will be rulers of the Queen's navy'. Such leaders will be as effective as the peace time generals who are equipped to fight previous centuries wars. In war time true creative leaders 'emerge' often to be dispensed with when peace breaks out.

Developing lists of 'best practices' will never be good enough when times demand new questions and answers that can only come from future, or 'next practices'. And politicians are no better. As Michael Fullan writes 'politicians always get it wrong' .Look , for example of the easy answer of national testing. Mind you Fullan has done quite well out of such simplistic initiatives - busy measuring the wrong things. As Guy Claxton writes, 'most far reaching ideas and changes come from the outside'; think of Nelson Mandela.

As social commentator Eric Hoffer wrote, 'In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists'. 'The status quo' , as some one said, 'is Latin for the mess we are in'.

The world as we used to know it, following 9/11 , the ongoing financial crisis, the worsening environmental problems, and any number of social issues is on the verge of transformation but into what is the question. Current hierarchical organisations simply cannot cope and are failing, and this includes our outdated industrial age education system.

Little has really changed since Tomorrows Schools.The most innovative period, in my memory, was in the late 60s and 70s led by creative teachers assisted by a progressive advisory service. It is to their ideas that we must return to for inspiration if developing the creativity and 'learning power' of every student is the vision we want to aim for.

To combat the restrictive forces being imposed on schools. We need courageous leadership to create the conditions and the inspiration for teachers and schools to unlock the repressed creative capabilities of both teachers and students.

Such leaders must reach beyond the narrow conception of eduction based on literacy and numeracy achievement. Initiatives that have failed to work in other countries, distorting and subverting teaching. In the process of schools complying to such initiatives the enthusiasm and love of learning of the students is being put at risk, students who continue to 'disengage' from schooling.

If we want, as Jerome Bruner wrote in the 60s, for 'each man ( to be) his own artist, his own scientist, his own historian, his own navigator' then things have to change. Or, as Guy Claxton wrote in 2008, to ensure all students 'develop the ability to pay attention, to wonder, to construct imaginative explanations, and to develop the love of learning.'

'We need a new narrative for education' , Claxton writes, 'that can engage and inspire children and their families- a tale of adventure, of learning derring- do and learning heroism. Let's us fire up the kids with deep satisfaction of discovery and exploration. They are born with learning zeal; let us recognise, celebrate and protect it, but also stretch, strengthen and diversify it'.

That we need real leaders is a matter of urgency , it is, as HG Wells wrote decades ago, 'a race between education and catastrophe' We need leaders who can express the true purpose of education. Such a purpose will need to 'emerge' out of local explorations and the networking and sharing of ideas those at the centre no longer know, or never did! All new learning comes from the edge.

There are no road maps to the future. Leaders will need to have the courage to look towards distant horizons and make their own tracks for others to follow. They will have to learn to rock the boat without falling out. They need to be provocateurs strong enough to criticize the failings and constraints ( including the imposition of simplistic 'national' testing) of the current system, even if such views will at first be unpopular.

Leaders need to pose questions and enter into dialogue with all involved. We have had enough of the corrosion of compliance and passiveness and solving endless day to day, often imposed, problems. Creativity not compliance is required.

Principal leaders will have to be inspirational models of the 'seekers, users and creators' of their own learning that the new curriculum asks teachers to develop of their students.

There is no other way.

These are moral choices.

Are there any real leaders out there?

Monday, December 08, 2008

What do the learners think?

If we are to 'personalise' learning to 'engage' all learners to develop their 'learning power' and talents ought we not take the time to listen to their views?

The people who know best about what attracts student's curiosity, or things that worry them, are the students themselves. A visit to even the most child-centred classrooms will find very little reference to students' questions, views and theories. All too often students are required to respond to what their teachers feel is important for them to learn.

A good idea, at the beginning of a school year, is to survey students' views and to compare what changes have eventuated over the period of the year as a result of the years learning.

It is not to late to undertake such a survey so as to suggest ideas for changes for the next year.

Teachers could get together to list all the topics that students could give their views on using a 1 to 5 scale ( 5 representing great). Such a list should look random, interspersing children views about subject areas ( and aspects within each) with school grounds, buildings, bullying, friendliness of staff, sports and playground facilities

It is a good idea for the teacher to run through their views of the items from when they were at school
to give students 'permission' to give honest responses and to show students that their teachers are 'human'. Some teachers might express they were not very good at something but have done their best to improve.

Items could be selected out of the list for yearly comparison, for example, student attitudes towards maths or bullying.

Another end of year activity could be to list the 'key competencies' ( in 'student friendly' language) and for students to draft out their own assessment of how well they have developed these vital learning dispositions. After dialogue with the teacher finished copies could be added to their end of year report. This would be an excellent way to share with parents the importance of such future learning attributes.

Another suggestion is for teachers to ask their students to write a note to next years students to share with them the kind of things that they will need to do to thrive in your classroom.This can provide some very interesting insights!

The ideas ( or mindsets', or metaphors)) students have about school can be gained by asking them to finish the following sentences:

What is a school? A school is a place where...
What is a student
? A student is a person who....
What is a teacher? A teacher is a person who...

Is a school a place where you do as the teachers says, or a place where you come to learn? Is a student a person who does as he or she is told, or a person who learns how to do new things? Is a teacher a person who tells students what to do, or a person who helps you learn?

Finally teachers could ask their students some of the following;

What do they like about school?
What would they like to learn more of?
What are the three best things about school?
What don't you like about school?
What would you like to learn less of?
What are the three worst things about school?
If you could change one thing what would it be?
What makes a good teacher?
What makes a good learner?

What are the things that interest, or concern them,that they would they like to study next year? Most likely students ideas will reflect important aspects of the current Learning Areas what were the best things they studied this year and why?

Any of the above activities would indicate to students that their ideas count and, equally importantly, might show areas for schools to acknowledge and improve?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Self managing learners

Students working together know what to do and how to go about it even if they don't know exactly what they will discover; they are exhibiting the attributes of 'self-managing learners'. Although a science 'lesson' it equally could have been undertaken during literacy or maths time as a means to introduce scientific recording for later use in a p.m. inquiry time?

Self managing is a 'key competency' both for the smooth running of a inquiry based classroom and to develop vital life long learning capabilities. As such it is highly related to future success. When students are 'self managing' it allows teachers the time to work with students who need help.

If students are to become 'active seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' then self managing skills need to be 'taught' deliberately as an important goal of any classroom. The best way to see if students are self-managing is when the teacher leaves the room . As Art Costa says, if you do , on your return, 'what intelligent behaviours would you hope to see?'

What we want are students with a 'can do' attitude who are 'resourceful, reliable, resilient' and responsible. Or as the Placemakers ad goes, students with, 'Know how. Can do' plus additional phrases , 'Don't know how.Will give it a go'.

When teachers observe students exhibiting self-managing skills they ought to give students, or the class, credit for being such great learners.

For students to be able to develop this competency they need to know: what, when , why and how they are to go about the task -and the task ought to be one that is meaningful to them.

As time is limited for afternoon Inquiry study many of the skills need to be taught in the literacy or numeracy blocks.

This obvious solution is not often seen as these blocks are all too often taught as self contained programmes.

The 'new' curriculum makes it clear that English is all about 'making meaning' of ideas and 'creating meaning' for themselves - all teachers need to do is to use the inquiry topic as the context to do so.

Teachers need to ask themselves what independent activities can their students do by themselves?

Can they work without your presence .Leave the room for a while and see if they can.If not why, and what needs to be done.

Do they know what to do when they do not know what to do, or do they mess around until told? Do they have the attitude that there is aways work to go on with when finished -even just reading their library book?

Can they read quietly by themselves?

Are the tasks on the blackboard/task boards clear enough for students to work with minimal help?

Have they learnt the importance of not rushing their work to be first finished; that quality is more important than quantity? That they need aways to focus on personal excellence and be able to show improvement.

Do they have the co-operative learning/ discussion/listening skills to work together on a task?

Do they have the research skills ( comprehension skills) to gather information from a range of sources ( including the Internet) using key questions?

Are they able to draft out their observations, or notes, from experiments. If not teach these in the literacy block as required. Do they know how to proof read for errors of thought and for spelling? Do they know how to attempt a word they can't spell or read?

Do they have the design and presentation skills to ensure their work has aesthetic value and will be noticed? This includes use of ICT.
Do they know how to lay out their work to best effect. Such skills need to be taught in the literacy block.

Have they work , drafted in the literacy block, to make finished copies of independently in the afternoon inquiry time?

Do they have the skills of observational drawing, are they able to make graphs or diagrams if needed? Are they skilled in the ability to express their thoughts poetically if required?

Are they able to work outside without losing concentration?

By term 3 or 4 are the students able to plan and complete an inquiry topic of their own choosing making use of all the inquiry learning skills that have been introduced during the year during class and group studies? This activity is an ideal task to assess student inquiry and self managing skills.

If teachers want their students to exhibit self manging competencies then they need to consider what skills and attitudes need to be in place before students undertake any piece of learning. If students do not have the skills to do what is asked of them this is the teachers problem.

The teachers role is to develop the competencies in their students required to become 'confident,actively involved, life long learners'.

Teachers need to focus all their teaching on helping every student become a 'seeker, user, and creator of their own learning'.

Monday, December 01, 2008

2009 National testing or Inquiry learning?

When governments impose targets on schools it is not what you hit that counts it is what you miss because you weren't looking! Literacy and numeracy or life long learners?

The 'new' New Zealand curriculum provides a real opportunity for schools to develop a 21stC education. The imposition of national testing could well put this 'at risk' if what has happened in other countries is anything to go by.

National testing in Victoria - lets hope this is not the new government's intentions!

From a NZ teacher teaching in Melbourne – is this what is in the future for us? Not so much the ‘nanny state’ but the ‘big brother’ state!

‘We are right into national testing over here. There is now national testing of all year 3, 5, 7, and 9 students. It just used to be in the other states. Victoria used to be told that we were lagging behind the other states but now, low and behold, after national teaching we are one of the top states. We also have online testing in Numeracy and Maths with the results going to the Department. This is done 3x a year. Our reports are also put directly into the Department. Accountability is everything, don't worry about the teaching. We are told that it does not matter where the students start our job is to get them up to national average and they are trying to bring in performance based pay as well. Also pay incentives for expert teachers and principals to work in disadvantaged areas.

An agenda for 2009: a focus on Inquiry Learning

1. The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum is all about students being: 'creative energetic and enterprising’ able to ‘make sense of their information, experiences and ideas’ so as to become ‘ confident , connected and actively involved life long learners.’

2. It asks schools to develop students who ‘are competent thinkers and problem solvers who actively seek, use, and create knowledge’. This involves giving students more choice and responsibility over their learning leading to a more ‘personalized’ approach.

3. The NZC is asking schools to develop an inquiry approach to all learning; to develop schools as ‘communities of inquiry’. An inquiry approach is about engaging students in difficult questions and issues that are meaningful to them. It is about placing ‘learnacy’ above literacy and numeracy. This would be a major change of focus for schools.

4. The need is to present learning contexts to challenge students
(‘rich topics’) to be able to research and ‘reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.’

5. Schools need to sort out an inquiry model for students to make use of. This model needs to move beyond the mere gathering of information to the deep construction of thoughtful understandings and, at the same time, develop the ‘key competencies’ or future attributes, or attitudes, or dispositions, required for ‘life long learning’.

6. Class inquiries ought to provide the ‘energy’ to focus the greater part of the school day
and include the teaching of information research and presentation as part of the literacy programme, as well as mathematical ideas, that may be required as part of any inquiries. The NZC suggests ‘doing fewer topics in greater depth’.

7. Such inquires may feature one Learning Area in particular but will most likely involve aspects (strands) of other learning Areas as well. The curriculum is to be seen as ‘deep’ ‘connected’ and integrated. Teachers may need to plan collaboratively.

8. Teachers will need to develop focused independent group work in all learning blocks including dedicated inquiry time. Groups, or individuals, may research individual aspects and then to share findings, with a wider audience through exhibitions, publications, demonstrations, performances, information media, or posting on web. Such findings are powerful means of assessing depth of understanding and knowledge of process.

9. By covering a range of inquiry topics (covering the full range of learning Areas Strands) students will also be given the opportunity to uncover hidden gifts, talents and interests that might become life-long passions, or vocations.

10. Lack of dedicated inquiry time is an issue so the idea of ‘re framing’ the literacy and numeracy blocks to develop appropriate research skills would seem an obvious answer. This would also include integrating use of ICT.

Be interested in any thoughts. An imposition of narrowly based national testing will provide a moral challenge for school leaders.