Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Garden 3

Garden 2


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My piece of paradise.


Best wishes for the festive season from me

2009 has been a kind year for me as I have had the opportunity to travel widely around New Zealand to share ideas about creative teaching - ideas that are being placed at risk by the Government's imposition of National Standards - so the challenge continues.

My thanks to all who have asked me to work with them. They have all helped me have my house painted!

Ka kite ano


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Testing times?

Mrs Tolley will go down as one of the disasters in education if her uninformed and simplistic views are imposed on teachers. The question is how strong will teachers be in resisting her reactionary ideas? We will find out next year.

‘May you live in interesting times’, the Chinese saying goes; or as Charles Dickens’s wrote about the Victorian Era, it is the ‘best of and the worst of times’.

Just as schools were becoming enthusiastic about implementing the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum the ‘new’ government is imposing its populist national standards in literacy and numeracy on schools; standards which have more than a whiff of the Victorian Era about them.

It all sounds simple enough. From next year all primary schools will have to test children against national standards in literacy and numeracy (reading writing and maths). Schools will have to report the results to parents in clear language, with suggestions on what each child needs to learn.

So what is the problem?

Well, like most simple solutions to complex problems, there is more to education than competency in the ‘three Rs’. And it is not that schools are currently neglecting them. Most primary schools already spend all morning on such skills leaving little time for other important learning areas. Those parents who assist in schools would attest to this but for many the cry of ‘back to basics’ makes equal sense and for populist politicians always a good vote catcher. Primary education suffers more than its fair share of scaremongering. Standards, it seems, are always falling without any real evidence. Many people feel there was a ‘golden era’ when all children learnt to read and write and do their sums but it is a hard era to pinpoint – particularly when you include the words ‘all children’.

It is time to move on from such polarization and name calling.Children deserve better from our nation’s leaders and shapers of opinion but it seems it is hard to shake off the legacy of Victorian thinking. Old habits of thought die hard. What we need are students ‘with the future in their bones’. As the Hebrew saying reminds us, ‘do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time.’

The Government claims parents are overwhelmingly in favour of their standards but the Ministry’s empty rituals of consultative meetings were more explanatory than democratic. A recent NZCER report indicted parental support was lacking.

Are New Zealand students failing?

International tests show that New Zealand students do well in the areas the national standards are focusing on. The Minister’s argument is that standards will further improve student achievement and help teachers solve the problem of the worrying ‘achievement tail’. The trouble is that there is little research or evidence to back up such claims and in the two countries that have gone down this testing line (the UK and the US) their students do worse than ‘kiwi kids’.

Creating a crisis to solve?

What this emphasis on the need for national standards is doing is creating a crisis to solve that does not exist and diverting valuable teacher energy and time from implementing our new exciting curriculum. As Francis Nelson, President of the NZEI writes, ”league tables driven by simplistic data and complied for the ‘titillation’ of the ‘blame the teacher’ adherents will see the highly regarded New Zealand Curriculum turned on its head.” Kelvin Squire, a past president of the NZPPF, has written that ‘Tolley’s folly’, the national standards, have ‘sown a political seed that somehow or other we can’t trust the profession.’

Editorials have been one sided in their view on teachers, accusing them of self interest and being frightened of what the tests might show. Even the president of the School Trustees Association writes, “that those who are scaremongering now need to get over it.” Scaremongering obviously has a better ring to it than saying ‘those with viable educational views that run counter to the Government’s intentions’.

Not all is lost – let the teachers teach.

The editor of the Sunday Herald got well beyond the Government’s press releases in its editorial of October 25 headed, ‘Let the teachers teach not count’. “Everybody knows best about education,” the editor writes, “by having been to school … no one claims that their experience of driving a car confers any specialist authority in automotive mechanics.” He says, the announcement of the education standards was calculated to induce warm and fuzzy feelings in parents by capitalizing on the anxiety parents feel about their children’s education, which can be relied on for a rich source of political capital. “For the widely trumpeted fulfillment of an election pledge,” he says, “it is a bad look.” Teachers, he believes, have a right to question things that are not in the best interest of their students. They are right to bring to parents’ attention that there is so much assessment of learning going on that there isn’t any time for teaching.

These are not the only concerns of educators.

New Zealand teachers have a proud reputation for being innovative and creative teachers; a reputation that has been put at risk since the imposition of the 1986 National Curriculum. The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum replaces this previously overcrowded and unmanageable curriculum. The new curriculum has been welcomed by teachers and widely acclaimed internationally.

It is ironic that just when teachers are becoming enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new curriculum the current emphasis on national standards will divert their efforts and the students will be the real losers in this confusion

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Mary Chamberlain's defense of National Standards.

Mary Chamberlain's new role seems to be defending the imposition of the Government's populist simplistic National Standards.After having observed her present 'her' ideas at a seminar held in Northland I am sure her heart is not in it. After her great work in developing the highly respected New Zealand Curriculum this diversion is a shame. This blog is in response to a letter she wrote to our local paper defending the standards.

It is sad to see Mary Chamberlain, a highly respected educator, in the role of the Government's 'spin doctor', defending the educationally unsound National Standards.

While Mary acknowledges that New Zealand students are among the best in the world in student achievement it is the worrying 'achievement tail' that requires the implementation of the National Standards to identify failing students. National Standards, she writes, are to be seen as 'signposts' for teachers and parents to indicate progress and suggest next steps.

Sounds sensible enough but she neglects to say that schools can already identify the children who are underachieving and also know that most of this underachievement relates to the considerable disadvantages in the circumstances of the children's lives. Anyone who has taught in low decile schools will understand this and parents, who do their best to get their children into high decile schools, obviously have good idea.

The introduction of National Standards in other countries have failed to make any lasting difference for such children. In the UK achievement at first lifted, then plateaued and now is trending down. Worse still children's attitudes and enjoyment of maths and reading is falling and teacher morale is at risk. Some price to pay for a politically imposed idea.

What is really required is to improve the home circumstances of the children 'at risk' and to provide schools some real resources and teachers professional assistance.

As for Mary saying that National Standards will not involve 'testing', children instead will be 'assessed', what does this mean? Standards, she assures, will also not result in 'teachers being pressurised to teach the tests'. In this she is being naive as this is exactly what has happened in countries that have introduced National Standards. In these countries other important areas, including the creative arts and science, have been sidelined as teachers focus on literacy and numeracy. Teachers have become snowed under collecting evidence and data taking them away from interacting with their students. Most parents know ,and research backs this up, that it is the quality of the teacher, and the relationship with their child, that really makes the difference. Under National Standards every learner will be assessed against the Standards as below, average, or above average twice a year. This will create winners and losers.

Mary concludes her letter by saying 'National Standards will improve teaching and learning in ALL areas of the curriculum and for ALL students'. This is being somewhat economical with the truth. She fails to mention that the current range of school advisers ( in physical eduction,art, music, science, technology, environmental education etc) will now be restricted to literacy and numeracy. For many students this will restrict their chances to shine in areas they love and, for teachers, reduce support for them to introduce the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum - one they are keen to implement.

Our children deserve better than being sacrificed by the hurried introduction of an idea that has been shown to fail in the countries where it has been introduced.

The best answer to National Standards would be to run proper trials to see if they do work with underachieving students before imposing them on all schools.

This is what Mary should be fighting for.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A chance to do some real inquiry: Harakeke study.

An environmentally alert teacher aways keep an eye open for interesting things to introduce to his, or her, students. November/December is an ideal time for environmental or ecological studies. My visits to schools this term indicates such awareness is a lost art.

By term four students should be fully equip ed with all the skills and strategies in place to undertake inquiry topics on their own or with minimum assistance. The ability to do this would indicate that students are able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge' as asked by the New Zealand Curriculum.

Driving around last month I couldn't help but note the untapped resources available for teachers to involve their class in exploring.

This is a great time to study harakeke or flax, one of New Zealand iconic plants. Students could visit to admire the shapes,patterns and movements and to observe the recent flower stalks and developing seed pods. Digital photos could record various aspects to later draw or write thought poems about. From such activities questions will arise for students to research. If you can find some last years pods count how many seed on an average flax bush - this will involve estimation.

Other interesting areas to explore are roadsides, lawns or wilderness grassy areas, to find out what plants thrive in such special conditions. There is no need to worry about naming plants - this will evolve with time.In the first instance take digital photos of plants and record how common they are on a scale the class can develop themselves. Individual plants an be studied, drawn , described and named where possible ( there will be experts in the community you could call on). If there are daisies on the lawn throw some PE rings and count out how many there are - or run a line across the lawn and count the daisies ( or any other plant) touched.This is a simple line transect - real maths in action.

Most schools have interesting plants ( annuals or shrubs) flowering at this time of the year.Take digital photos of some, do observational drawing of them, study them and display what has been found out. Vegetables and fruits make interesting studies - study them and research where they originated.

What birds inhabit the school grounds - once again take photos and descriptions and research back in class.

Some schools might be near the seashore with the possibilities of ecological studies of rocky shore or sand dunes but at this time of year time might not be available for such interesting studies. Same with the bush. However many schools have native plant gardens, what plants have been used. Take digital photos, draw and research.

Leaving natural science studies students could just develop artistic and aesthetic awareness. The digital camera is ideal. Send students out in small group to photograph, say six, interesting patterns, tree trunks, maths patterns, very small things, strange small plants..anything. Print and display. Add thought poems.

Classrooms should be full of such things.It is time for blue penguins, disaster studies, and save the rain forest studies to move over and let the real world in.

Mr popularity and Mrs simplicity but where are we going as a country?.

'While I am popular we can do whatever we like - just keep smiling'.

The new government is having a dream run.

Running up to the election they tapped into all the fears and prejudices of the public - crushing boy racer cars, locking up people forever in jail and, of course, introducing national standards in reading and mathematics.

This, plus a electorate grown increasingly tired of the previous government demeaned by those in opposition as leading us increasingly into a 'nanny state', has given them the mandate to put into action a range of simplistic solutions to complex problems.

The simplest solution to a complex problem is the governments answer to education and they couldn't have picked a better minister for the job! Our minister has small range of simplistic answers to any question asked of her.

Recently, in a amazing piece of 'spin' ( propaganda), our minister sorted out the facts from the fiction about national standards. 'Facts', it seems, are whatever the person in power wants them to be and 'fiction' is what other people believe to be facts.

So it boils down to the ministers opinions (and her unnamed lackeys*) versus the others with a wealth of experience who are happy to be identified.

Before the election the government spread ( shock horror) that one in five students leave school without reading, writing and maths skills and, worse still, these failing students made up a long low achievement tail 'robbing children of a bright future'.

The researched 'truth' ( Lester Flockton) shows this tail is not restricted to New Zealand and relates to children coming from disadvantaged socio economic situations. Before the election even our current Prime Minister had discovered that we have a growing underclass in New Zealand. How this underclass had been created is a question politicians would rather not discuss. Nor the relationship between economic hardship and failing learners.

Our minister wants to solve the problem of the failing students and 'her answer', is to impose national standards to find out what students need help and how much help they need. Parents will be told bluntly in 'plain english' using 'plunket' style graphs' where their child stands.

It seems we have exchanged the 'nanny state' for an autocratic 'big brother' knows best one. And we already know which students are failing and the schools they attend. The answer is not national standards, which have failed in the UK, but to improve the teachers capabilities in such schools and, even better, solving the problem of unemployment and hardship these children's parents suffer. The minister is going to get her tame technocrats to deliver better standards than were developed (and failed) in the UK - yeah right!

Our minister does not see national standards as labelling students - well I am pleased she does. I am not so sure that being told twice year, for eight years, that you are below average will be a positive experience for failing learners. And I am not so sure that being judged on a narrow ( if important ) range of traditional skills and in the process ignoring a child's special talents and strengths will do non-academic students any good.

The minister claims the 'their research' indicted parental support for their proposals but other research show almost the opposite - so much for 'truth'. It depends on what side of the political fence one stands.

This is all about political dogma not education - but that is an opinion. The minister counts such a views as mischievous!

She want professional support to implement her idea but she has no inclination to listen to their voices and concerns
- we are moving well a way from democracy in this respect. Professional integrity is of no concern to our minister. Dogma , it seems, trumps integrity.

Opposition to the Ministers dogmatic point of view ( her truth) is dismissed by her shrilly as 'hysterical' or 'threats' from 'naysayers'. She twists the truth to say the reason why other advisers are to be disbanded and replaced by more literacy and maths adviser was at the request of teachers because 'they' said they needed more help in these areas. In the USA such advisers are seen as 'literacy Nazis' enforcing central government orders.

The legislation was rushed through Parliament, there is to be no trial period, no concessions, the minister know best. The parents want them ( read the government wants them and some parents agree) they will be imposed.

For those who speak out against her views she say 'please get your facts straight and stop trying to mislead parents'.

Is she for real

This is the poorest education minister we have ever had - so much for Nationals standards - there are none.

* It seems Mary Chamberlain, Group Manager Ministry of Education, has been given this role - more a 'hospital pass'.It would be a shame if such a respected educationalist were to be finally remembered for the failing introduction of the imported concept of national standards!