Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Developing all students' talents or imposing conformist standards

Our education system, with its genesis in industrial age thinking, was never designed to educate all students. At best it was a way of sorting out students who might progress. That they have succeeded with so many students is to their credit but today they are well past their use by date. New thinking is required. The age of standardisation is over but the government seems to be unaware of this.

We have a problem in our schools - it is one of disengagement which is at a worrying level at years 7 to 10.

The government with its popular mandate believes the answer is to do with poor teaching of literacy and numeracy in primary schools and intends to introduce the failed concept of standards against the wisdom of highly respected educationalists, the Primary Principal's Federation and the primary teacher union.

I had hoped that common sense would prevail and that at least a trial would be set up but it seems not. Yesterday the Prime Minister made it clear the standards are to be imposed this year and that school Boards that did not comply would be sacked.

And this from a political party that believes in initiative, freedom and individual responsibility. As I see it it is the the worst case of political interference ( social engineering) or a government imposing a centralized agenda on schools. State socialism of the worst kind - free market Stalinism.

Students are failing, there is no doubt about this; we do not need national standards to find out who that are and we know that the worrying problem of student disengagement increases between the ages of 12 and 15 or so. Imposing literacy and numeracy standards in primary schools will not solve this problem - it will make it even worse by distorting the learning experiences of students and distracting the time and energy of teachers.

What is really required is some rethinking of the school system which is just not possible to educate all the students in its present arrangement. The joy of learning, which all students are born with, is lost as students 'progress' through the system.

Standardisation might have worked in an industrial age but the world has changed dramatically and what is now required is the develop the creativity and initiative and individuality of all students. We need a school system that centres on helping each student develop their unique talents - naturally this has to include literacy and numeracy.

What is required is a personalised approach to learning from an earl;y age.Even primary schools the past decades have lost the creativity and have fallen into the trap of standardized or formulaic 'best practice' learning. The problem comes to a head in early secondary school when non academic students begin to lose interest.

Retaining all students interest in and joy of learning is the real challenge.

A recent survey in the UK slams schools

'Many British adults say they did not realise their true potential until years after they had left school. A survey of 2000 people found on that, on average, they cited 22 as the age they found their niche in life.Nearly half of those surveyed felt they were regarded as average or poor students while they were at school. Of those, 15 percent they never really got the chance to discover their talent in the classroom because their teacher had written them off as failures.'

How will imposing national standards fix this?

Standards will mean that all students will be assessed twice a year and recorded as below, average or above average. As is is not possible for everyone to be above average students will continue to disengage from their own learning. This will be made worse by the ignoring of their special talents in the process. This is what has happened in the two countries that have developed such an approach - the UK and the US - both performing far worse that NZ!

If schools accept the imposition of the conformist standards then I am out of helping such schools but will remain as an advocate for teacher creativity.

For educators there is a choice to be made that will require leadership and courage.

Already those in the Ministry have learnt to dance to the tune of the new masters selling their integrity in the process as have those who deliver contracts for the Ministry.

Are schools next to cave in in this brave new 'big brother knows best' standardized world?

Friday, January 22, 2010

National Standards Debate .- let's follow Scotland!

Chris Hipkins labour member for Rimataka speech in Parliament against National Standards.

I had trouble uploading the video but you can check out the video on the ASCD Express newsletter.

'This bill is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the new National Government to come up to the fact that they have no new ideas on how to address underachievement in our schools', says Hipkins.'This bill will narrowly focus the education system on teaching kids a very, very narrow range of knowledge. The teachers will have to teach to the tests rather than teaching to the curriculum, it will grow the gap between the achievement rates of students of rich schools and the students of poor schools.'

The video is well worth a listen to.

To add a little more to the debate read what a New Zealand teacher sent me as a comment to my Alfie Kohns blog.

We should be following the role of Scotland not the backward paths of the UK and the US both who do worse than NZ in international tests. 'I am currently visiting my home town of Edinburgh and as I did my degree at Edinburgh University and was educated in Scotland I have been very interested to catch up with friends and discuss the revised Scottish Curriculum and the general stance here regarding National Testing.

I have been very interested to learn that National Tests are being abandonned in Edinburgh at the end of this school year so next year there will be no more National Testing here. I have had informal discussions about the stress that National Testing places on teachers, students and parents and have observed that there is huge pressure to prepare children for these tests and at times children can be put in for a test before all learning at a level is consolidated or even covered because the program is prescriptive and there is such pressure to achieve good results.

I am so pleased that National Tests are on their way out here and think that Scotland is demonstrating their understanding of the need for change in education through the Curriculum for Excellence and how this kind of curriculum cannot function effectively with imposed National Standards'.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Debunking National Standards -Alfie Kohn

This slightly edited article by Alfie Kohn has permission to be reprinted as long as it is acknowledged and not sold for profit.Published in Education Week January 14th 2010. It could have been written about the situation in NZ. Visit Alfie Kohn's site.

Debunking the Case for National Standards
One-Size-Fits-All Mandates and Their Dangers
By Alfie Kohn

I keep thinking it can’t get much worse, and then it does. Throughout the 1990s, one state after another adopted prescriptive education standards enforced by frequent standardized testing, often of the high-stakes variety. A top-down, get-tough movement to impose “accountability”– driven more by political than educational considerations – began to squeeze the life out of classrooms, doing the most damage in the poorest areas.

By the time the century ended, many of us thought we had hit bottom – until the floor gave way and we found ourselves in a basement we didn’t know existed. I’m referring, of course, to what should have been called the Many Children Left Behind Act, which requires every state to test every student every year, judging students and schools almost exclusively by their scores on those tests, and hurting the schools that need the most help. Ludicrously unrealistic proficiency targets suggest that the law was actually intended to sabotage rather than improve public education.

Today we survey the wreckage. Talented teachers have abandoned the profession after having been turned into glorified test-prep technicians. Low-income teenagers have been forced out of school by do-or-die graduation exams. Countless inventive learning activities have been eliminated in favor of prefabricated lessons pegged to numbingly specific state standards.And now we’re informed that what we really need . . . is to standardize this whole operation from coast to coast.

Have we lost our minds? Because we’re certainly in the process of losing our children’s minds.

To politicians, corporate CEOs, or companies that produce standardized tests, this prescription may seem to make sense. (Notice that this is exactly the cast of characters leading the initiative for national standards.) But if you spend your days with real kids in real classrooms, you’re more likely to find yourself wondering how much longer those kids -- and the institution of public education -- can survive this accountability fad.

Let’s be clear about the latest development. First, what they’re trying to sell us are national standards. It may be politically expedient to insist that the effort isn’t driven by the federal government, but if all, or nearly all, states end up adopting the same mandates, that distinction doesn’t amount to much.

Second, these core standards will inevitably be accompanied by a national standardized test. When asked, during an on-line chat last September, whether that was true, Dane Linn of the National Governors’ Association (a key player in this initiative) didn’t deny it. “Standards alone,” he replied, “will not drive teaching and learning” – meaning, of course, the specific type of teaching and learning that the authorities require. Even if we took the advice of the late Harold Howe II, former U.S. Commissioner of Education, and made the standards “as vague as possible,” a national test creates a de facto national curriculum, particularly if high stakes are attached.

Third, a relatively small group of experts will be designing standards, test questions, and curricula for the rest of us based on their personal assumptions about what it means to be well educated. The official Core Standards website tries to deny this, insisting that the items all teachers are going to have to teach will be “based on evidence” rather than reflecting “individual beliefs about what is important.” It would be charitable to describe this claim as disingenuous. Evidence can tell us whether a certain method is effective for reaching a certain objective – for example, how instruction aligned to this standard will affect a score on that test. But the selection of the goal itself – what our children will be taught and tested on – unavoidably reflects values and beliefs. Should those of a single group of individuals determine what happens in every public school in the country?

Advocates of national standards tell us they want all students (by which they mean only American students) to attain excellence, no matter where (in our country) they happen to live. The problem is that excellence is being confused with entirely different attributes, such as uniformity, rigor, specificity, and victory. Let’s consider each in turn.

Are all kids entitled to a great education? Of course. But that doesn’t mean all kids should get the same education. High standards don’t require common standards. Uniformity is not the same thing as excellence – or equity. (In fact, one-size-fits-all demands may offer the illusion of fairness, setting back the cause of genuine equity.) To acknowledge these simple truths is to watch the rationale for national standards – or uniform state standards -- collapse into a heap of intellectual rubble.

To be sure, excellence and uniformity might turn out to be empirically correlated even if they’re theoretically distinct. But I know of no evidence that students in countries as diverse as ours with national standards or curricula engage in unusually deep thinking or are particularly excited about learning. Even standardized test results, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), provide no support for the nationalizers. On eighth-grade math and science tests, eight of the 10 top-scoring countries had centralized education systems, but so did nine of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in math and eight of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in science.

So if students don’t benefit from uniformity, who does? Presumably corporations that sell curriculum materials and tests can reduce their costs if one text fits all. And then there are the policy makers who confuse doing well with beating others. If you’re determined to evaluate students or schools in relative terms, it helps if they’re all doing the same thing. But why would we want to turn learning into a competitive sport?

Apart from the fact that they’re unnecessary, a key premise of national standards, as the University of Chicago’s Zalman Usiskin observed, is that “our teachers cannot be trusted to make decisions about which curriculum is best for their schools.” Moreover, uniformity doesn’t just happen – and continue – on its own. To get everyone to apply the same standards, you need top-down control. What happens, then, to educators who disagree with some of the mandates, or with the premise that teaching should be broken into separate disciplines, or with the whole idea of national standards? What are the implications of accepting a system characterized by what Deborah Meier called “centralized power over ideas”?

The reasonable-sounding adjectives used to defend an agenda of specificity -- “focused,” “coherent,” “precise,” “clear” – ought to make us nervous. If standards comprise narrowly defined facts and skills, then we have accepted a controversial model of education, one that consists of transmitting vast quantities of material to students, material that even the most successful may not remember, care about, or be able to use.

Finally, what’s the purpose of demanding that every kid in every school in every state must be able to do the same thing in the same year, with teachers pressured to “align” their instruction to a master curriculum and a standardized test?
I once imagined a drinking game in which a few of those education reform papers from corporate groups and politicians were read aloud: You take a shot every time you hear “rigorous,” “measurable,” “accountable,” “competitive,” “world-class,” “high(er) expectations,” or “raising the bar.” Within a few minutes, everyone would be so inebriated that they’d no longer be able to recall a time when discussions about schooling weren’t studded with these macho managerial buzzwords.

But it took me awhile to figure out that not all jargon is meaningless. Those words actually have very real implications for what classrooms should look like and what education is (and isn’t) all about. The goal clearly isn’t to nourish children’s curiosity, to help them fall in love with reading and thinking, to promote both the ability and the disposition to think critically, or to support a democratic society. Rather, a prescription for uniform, specific, rigorous standards is made to order for those whose chief concern is to pump up the American economy and make sure that we triumph over people who live in other countries.

If you read the FAQ page on the common core standards website, don’t bother looking for words like “exploration,” “intrinsic motivation,” “developmentally appropriate,” or “democracy.” Instead, the very first sentence contains the phrase “success in the global economy,” followed immediately by “America’s competitive edge.”

If these bright new digitally enhanced national standards are more economic than educational in their inspiration, more about winning than learning, devoted more to serving the interests of business than to meeting the needs of kids, then we’ve merely painted a 21st-century fa├žade on a hoary, dreary model of school as employee training. Anyone who recoils from that vision should be doing everything possible to resist a proposal for national standards that embodies it.

Yes, we want excellent teaching and learning for all -- although our emphasis should be less on student achievement (read: test scores) than on students’ achievements. Offered a list of standards, we should scrutinize each one but also ask who came up with them and for what purpose. Is there room for discussion and disagreement -- and not just by experts -- regarding what, and how, we’re teaching and how authentic our criteria are for judging success? Or is this a matter of “obey or else,” with tests to enforce compliance?

The standards movement, sad to say, morphed long ago into a push for standardization. The last thing we need is more of the same.

Let's get mad as hell about standards

This blog has been contributed by someone who responded to one of blogs from last year. It was too good not to share. How schools face up to standards is a pivotal issue. Creativity and imagination are at stake. My blog was based on a review of a book called 'Wounded By School' by Kirsten Olsen. I now have the book and will share it later - it is excellent. Dysfunctional schools are part of the failure problem!

They say no real change comes without a crisis, Perhaps the issue of "national Standards"(On blue paper no less !)will provide the impetus for Teachers to stand up and Fight against what is Universally a crime against the sovereignty of human consciousness.(Schooling)

This unsustainable practice was always going to come to a head and it appears that "Folly" has provided us with the perfect Tipping point.

For such a long time i've Danced about the fringes of what passes for Education in this world, plying my creative craft, despite the glazed ignorance of some of my peers.

I have come through my Teaching frustrations all the stronger and now realize why I was born into this teaching world. We are here to witness the beginning of the collapse of the Matrix....

So I say- bring on the National standards ! And let our Teaching Brothers and sisters cry out...The Emperor has no clothes !

I suggest teachers research the political and economic ideology behind the concept of national standards-Forget Tolly, go for the KEY Target...Educate your peers and parent community, Subvert the criminal Process and light the way toward a new path !

If we don't fight this....,it is the end of sovereign consciousness.

Sorry bout the rant, I have boiled over !

Friday, January 15, 2010

A short story : Why isn't Sione in the dance group.

This short story was sent to me by a 'teachers' friend' from the North. It poetically illustrates the dangers of imposing a narrow standards based approach to learning. Schools need to tap into the interests, culture and motivations that students bring with them and not try to fit them into middle class boxes.

“Isn’t Sione in the dance group?” asked Margaret, as her class from Term 1 filed onto the stage for the assembly item on the final day of Term 2.

Margaret had been the new entrant teacher in Room 1 for the first term of the year and had taken maternity leave over Term 2 so I was rather surprised to see her at assembly. None the less I remembered that she was really committed to her class and those kids who she had started in Term 1 and had a particular fondness for those who needed rather more encouragement in their start to school.

In fact it would be true to say that on many days walking past Margaret’s room in the mornings you could hear lots of laughter, music and happy voices as she provided a programme that encouraged the kids to act, to experiment and to demonstrate their talents. Unfortunately this happening in the Literacy block meant that the principal also heard the noise and often questioned at senior teacher meetings whether all teachers were aware of the fact that the first block of the day was for Literacy based activities and the afternoon could be used for dance, drama, music etc.

What was also obvious was that Margaret had a particular affinity for Sione and the other kids who came to school with little pre-school education yet lots of natural talents. It was at dance that Sione shone and Margaret encouraged him to show off this talent to his classmates. When I spoke to Margaret about this she was always adamant that Sione would begin learning to read when he was ready and he needed more time to develop vocabulary and to share his successes with his classmates. So the laughter continued and the children continued to be encouraged to experiment, to play, to use concrete materials and to learn to read.

At the start of Term 2, when Margaret had been replaced by a relieving teacher, it was clear that things would be different in the room. The noise stopped and the class was able to work through the Literacy and Numeracy blocks as expected with the expected Success Criteria being met by most children. It wasn’t until assessment data was collected though that we realized Sione and two others in the room were not meeting National Standards and so it was decided that they would work in a Reading booster programme on three afternoons a week. The times for this booster programme fitted well as it would operate when the rest of the syndicate was covering The Arts strands in a syndicate wide cross class grouping format that allowed for Visual Art, Dance , Drama and Music to be undertaken so that curriculum requirements were met. This all worked well and we were able to show the necessary coverage as well as the progress, mainly, in Reading that the booster group had achieved.

Except for Sione!

I found it difficult telling Margaret that her special student has become somewhat of a problem in the school and had been in trouble frequently with unacceptable behaviour such that his parents had been called in on more than one occasion. This always seemed to be worse after lunch and particularly after his attendance at the Reading booster programme. Yet the rest of the group were fine and had made progress in Reading and the Teacher Aide taking the group was very good with the children. We never did discover what the problem was though because Sione’s parents took him out of the school and enrolled him in the other school in our area. In some ways that was good because our National Standards’ results look better now and we are still ticking all the curriculum boxes. We have heard too that Sione’s parents are helping the other school on a regular basis with their cultural group so perhaps that was a good move for them all.

It was hard to explain all of this to Margaret and I was quite moved that she had tears in her eyes as the dance group concluded their item. She didn’t seem too bothered though when I talked to her about the assessment results for the end of the term and the fact that our achievement tail was slightly better than it had been and that those in the booster programme across the school would be able to benefit from another term of assistance.

I was also quite surprised to learn later on that day that Margaret is not returning to our school next term as planned and has left us with the problem of finding another teacher to fill her place until the end of the year. Secretly though I think the principal is quite relieved about her change of plans and is currently looking for a new teacher strong in The Arts and able to document a school wide programme.

We all hope Margaret is happy with her change.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Creativity or compliance - to be or not to be that is the question.

2010 is shaping up to be year when schools have to face up to choosing between developing creative teaching beliefs or implementing imposed reactionary politically inspired ideology. The other alternative is to unthinkingly to go along to get along. If this tuns out to be the case it will be sad day for creative education and the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

As soon as primary teachers get themselves back to school in a couple of weeks they will have to face up to the issue of National Standards.

If the National Standards are accepted without even a trial then teachers will be aligning themselves with a system that will distort the education of their students. It will mean developing schools as being un-educational; a source of mis-education contributing to the growing school school failure rate.

The new government has nailed its banner to a standardised approach replacing the move towards personalisation and 21st Century thinking of the previous administration.

It is a clear choice between measurable efficiency of narrow range of targets and an education focusing on developing the attributes, talents and gifts of all students required to equip them to thrive in what will be a challenging future.

The Governments standards approach will alienate students who already find school difficult.All too often schools blame their students backgrounds as an excuse for school failure happily ignoring the role school have played in creating failure.

With an emphasis on standards the schools role in failure will become obvious. While standards focus on primary schools student alienation becomes obvious in years 7 to 10. This was the conclusion of Russell Bishop's Kotahitanga project ( University of Waikato) who, while writing about the experience of Maori students, found that school did not acknowledge student's culture and largely ignored their voice and identity. This alienation for many students begins the day school starts.

It is such students that American writer Kirsten Olsen identifies in her powerful book 'Wounded by School'. She writes that 'shouldn't the joy of learning, creativity and recognising the differences of students be more important than trying to push all students into a middle of the road mold and teaching for standardized testing?' She believes our current school system harms everyone and that there is a need to challenge the industrial age assumptions behind the institution of school that damages so many of our children.

Schooling, she writes, is itself the single most important component to destroying the joy of learning.

School that comply to the government's standardisation approach will be contributing to such wounding and neglect of student's intrinsic learning.

Simple as that.

We need to look at school failure with fresh eyes. For those who would like to gain a greater depth of understanding of the issue of school ought to visit at risk advocate Bill Pages at risk students site

Page believes that the process of failure begins when they are born into impoverished home experiences that cause initial entrance into compulsory schooling to be difficult. These multiple causes ( 'deficit theory') are well known but what is not acknowledged is that educators deny their own culpability in the failure process.

All students have an inbuilt desire to learn and all require encouragement, acceptance, achievement and satisfaction but all too often by our use of peer comparisons (ability grouping) fragile self images of such students are eroded. All students need to have their questions, queries and ideas valued but all too often such desires are replaced by the teacher's planned curriculum. All students need to have their individuality and idiosyncrasy valued but all too often , through teachers influence, students products ( art, writing , research) all illustrate blandness.

After years of such invisibility and frustration a sense of school failure results. When students experience years of not achieving school standards ( many of little interest to them) all the associated behaviour associated with failure results.

Children , writes Page, who begin school behind may never catch up. We need to develop a more creative and personalised approach. Recognizing the futility of it all they readily become kids who quit trying, learning, co-operating , following procedures, or behaving. With their 'loser' image students discover disobedience is preferable to showing stupidity.

School do everything but accept responsibility for the mismatch of students with their imposed curriculum. Educational powers that be created the problem of dysfunctional schooling and only they can solve it system wide.

The sad thing the answer to all this school induced failure is with us. Creative teachers have always known the way to ensure all students retain their joy of learning and it to such teachers we need to look to rather than imposing narrow standards.

Creative teacher know the importance of establishing a non judgemental respectful relationships with all their learners. They know the vital importance of valuing the thoughts, questions, talents and queries of all their students. They understand the importance of students culture and the importance of exploring the immediate environment as as a learning resource. They see their rooms as learning communities and their role as supporting and challenging their students to do their personal best. They appreciate for students to see the need for effort and practice. They encourage their students to do fewer things well and to, in the process, acquire the lifelong attributes and disposition the future will require. In all this they need to ensure that literacy and numeracy are developed in the context of real learning.

For many of our current schools this would turn the process of teaching upside down. Imposed 'best practice' teaching in literacy and numeracy has all but squeezed real learning out the window.

Teacher have chance to fight for creative teaching rather than selling their souls by accepting standards uncritically.

Creative teaching is worth fighting for - I for one will be happy to do my best.

Monday, January 11, 2010

From a true friend of creative schools

 Illustration  copy-write
Time for schools and teachers to put faith in their own ideas! This blog was sent to me as an e-mail but I thought it worth sharing. Written by a highly respected ex principal who still works with schools.

Hi Bruce

Yes I have read your last two blogs and I like the way you are continuing to show opposition to the ridiculous implementation of National Standards. I also like the way you are putting it on teachers and principals to hold firm to their beliefs and provide creative programmes.

My concerns around this are many and one of the first is that I don't believe a large number of teachers today have a philosophical belief about teaching as it has been assessed and appraised out of them. That's if they had a belief about creative teaching in the first place. There are so many teachers I see who are quite happy to have programmes that are determined by a timetable that is Literacy and Numeracy until lunch time and a little bit of topic after lunch. This is generally not linked to the morning programme. This is then called integration.

For what it's worth I believe the overriding problems in education came about through the introduction of Tomorrows Schools. This change created a climate where anyone who felt they would like to be on a board of trustees did so and then were led to believe they could direct what happened in schools. Just like taking the car to the garage and then telling the mechanic what to do. Or having an operation and telling the surgeon how to do the job. I truly believe STA and the present nonsense with boards has led to the achievement tail!!!! Where were we as a country prior to 1989? Right up at the top in International studies and since then we have failed. I continually hear of the benefits that have come about since the introduction of Tomorrows Schools and are then shown the new gymnasium, auditorium or assembly hall. Rarely does a principal say the ability to manage our own funding has allowed us to implement creative and innovative programmes. It's all bricks and mortar.

A couple of other things that bug me currently are- firstly the latest editorial in the STA magazine where their President is saying how good for schools National Standards will be. This is a nonsense as it flies in the face of research and the views of our highly regarded and leading academics. So how dare STA make such claims when they know little about the reality. Another reason why I believe Tomorrow Schools is a crock. STA and its obvious bias against principals and teachers.

The other ludicrous thing that has happened over the last year is the ERO review process of how ready schools are to implement the NZ Curriculum. This has been an Area of National Importance and each of those schools I supported last year as a Friend of the School had put in hours of meetings etc to ensure they were ready to implement these requirements in 2010. So where will they be now with the requirement to implement National Standards? Up shitters creek because the National Standards thing is completely contradictory to the intent of the NZ Curriculum which in effect was poised to improve the lot of so many of our kids. Not now. Those poor little guys who are good at Art and Dance and PE and Music and are not ready to start Reading or Writing at 5 or even 6 are going to have a truly miserable time. Extra lessons on those things they enjoy least so that the school results look good - but that's another post.

So have I become a grumpy old educator or was I always one? Don't know the answer so will continue to visit a few schools and try to encourage principals and teachers to be brave, give the kids a chance and perhaps the results will speak for themselves.


Friday, January 08, 2010

'Carrots and Sticks are so Last Century' - Dan Pink

Dan Pink has written several best selling book on the future of work.His most latest book is Drive in which he Explores what motivates us to do our best work. Ideal remedial holiday reading for our limited Minister of Education and her tame lackeys who insist on waving big sticks at teachers to do as they're told. Pink would say, 'they are locked into the wrong century!'

As it turns out I ordered the book through Amazon and it arrived today but until I read it I will rely on an interview with Pink where he was asked to relate his ideas to education.

Pink's ideas reinforces my view that education, as it is currently structured, is past it 'use by date' being far too teacher dominated. Even the most liberal of our so called 'child centred ' primary schools spend inordinate time on the 'three Rs'. The reforms imposed on school the past decades have all but destroyed creative teaching and now teachers default mode has been influenced by standardized 'best practice' teaching. National Standard might well be the last straw causing teachers to say 'enuf is enuf'. I hold my breath. I worry that teachers have been habituated by all the pressure to be accountable , to measure and compare achievement, to narrow their curriculum and, in the process, are developing a bland McMac 'one size fit all' system unable to promote creative alternatives.

Pink explores what motivates us to do our best work and believes that the current carrot and stick approach will does more harm than good. The time has come, he says, 'To to tap into the deeply human need to direct our own lives to learn and create new things and to do better by ourselves and the world.... The 21stC requires us to upgrade autonomy, mastery and purpose'.

Pink book has a metaphor at the centre of it. It is the metaphor of the computer operating system. Pink says that businesses (and schools) and cultures have operating system too. Our first system ( Motivation 1) was built largely on our biological drive to satisfy our hunger and our survival. With the development of cooperative complex societies this basic system had to be modified (motivation 2) to restrain simply satisfying basic drives.

Motivation 2 was built around rewards and punishments -around 'carrots and sticks'. This was an ingenious system and Pink says it fueled the Industrial Revolution.

This system is now crashing because the kind of work asked of people today has changed - new dispositions are required to cope with greater complexity.

Motivation 3 is based on the drive to direct our own lives. The drive to get better at stuff that matters.The drive to connect ourselves to a cause larger than ourselves.

Running organisation using rewards and punishments is no longer enough and can actually do harm by distorting and narrowing activities - c.f National testing in schools.

Research, Pink says, shows that carrots and sticks work in a narrow band of circumstances and that if you want high performance on more creative tasks you have to have a different operating system built more on our internal drive to do interesting things and to do things that matters.

This bring us back to schools with their genesis in the industrial age -schools that by and large run on a 'carrot and stick mentality' (while trying to channel basic biological drives!).

'Schools', Pinks says, 'are still at 2.0 , they maybe haven't gotten all the updates'. He compares schools to some business that have experimented with flexible schedules giving people more autonomy.

Schools have been, and are still being, constantly reformed but all the talk seems to revolve around 'carrot and stick' motivation. Schools, Pink says' ought to know more about the differences between intrinsic motivation than almost anyone else.'

Students need to learn not for short term reward but that to do something worthwhile is the reward itself. All this performance pay talk for teachers is the wrong approach as is rewarding students or naming and shaming schools with standardized testing.

And Pink says extrinsic and intrinsic motivation cannot co-exist - the science , he says, that just isn't right.Kids who work for extrinsic rewards lose interest after gaining the reward - or get hooked on getting more rewards. This 'if you do this you will get this' has devastating effects on creativity.

Answering the question that if 'carrots and sticks' are removed from schools how would accounatbility be assured Pink believes that if people have autonomy they will use it well - it depends on the theory of human behaviour ( their operating system ) you believe in. People who believe in creativity and autonomy will actually do better work and actually want to be held accountable. It is all about creating the conditions of trust, respect and positive relationships.

Tell that to our current 'carrots and sticks' minister of education and far too many of our current managaement oriented principals.

Judging by standardized testing is a disaster waiting to happen Pink says. Teachers, he believes, need to be paid well and encouraged to focus on their jobs - most teachers he says 'just want to teach and do right by kids' but he does say principals need the power 'to get rid teachers who are duds'.

As for students who come from dire socio economic circumstances ( making up the so called 'achievement tail') where basic skills and the concept of being intrinsically motivated are often absent such students will need a bit of structure and some scaffolding to get there but unless such students achieve responsibility and autonomy they will still not be prepared for the world.

It is such ideas a true minister of education should be pursuing - ideas implicit in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum rather than the reactionary 'carrot and stick approach' of her 'do it or else' National Standards. Her operating system believes in surveillance, measuring by numbers, imposed targets, comparisons, rewards and punishments. She is blithely unaware of the importance of the internal world of students and the importance of respectful relationships for all involved.

Our minister's approach is insulting to creative teachers. She needs to create learning cultures that respect both teachers and their students.

We can't mindlessly put up with a failing and flawed system based on outdated motivational theories forever?
A system predicated on a desire and genuine success for all would involve a sweeping change in mindset for all involved so as to develop the individual gifts of all.

Teachers, it seems, are at a 'turning point' - will they have the confidence to fight for what is right and turn it into a 'tipping point'?

I wait to see.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Students need to play whole games

David Perkins ( Harvard Graduate School of Education) is aways worth reading and I have written earlier about his books. His ideas contribute to seeing education in a fresh way - and supports those creative teachers who have always believed in an holistic approach to learning.

It is unfortunate that most teachers, even primary teachers who think they are child centred, still work from traditional teacher determined approach; literacy and numeracy reign supreme. Implementing National Standards will further reinforce outdated approaches. To make it worse over the past decades schools have become obsessed with endless testing that changes little the learning experiences of the students.

Back to Perkins. Perkins writes about developing learning around the ideas of playing whole games based on the metaphor of playing baseball.Not that he was any good himself at baseball but when young he learnt to play the 'junior' game and during this playing was happy enough to get extra help at thing he wasn't so good at.

His message is for teachers to play 'whole games' with the students, so that they see the point of their learning and then to provide special help to those who need it to play as well as they can.

Most students lose interest in maths ( and other areas of learning ) because they can make no connection with their own lives. It is as if they spend all their times practicing isolated skills without ever playing the game.

For most students the only time the play the 'whole game' in school is in athletics, art, music and drama where skills are introduce as required.

Introducing 'real learning', requiring appropriate skills in any area of learning, is the challenge for a 21stC teacher. The traditional approach where teachers teach 'bits and pieces' of learning, where students are expected to put them together later, might be sensible for the teachers but is confusing for too many students. As students move through the school system the 'bits and pieces' are taught as separate subjects and more students 'fall through the cracks' as a result.

Such teaching, Perkins states, is a failure of imagination and he calls the approach 'elementitis' or 'aboutitis'; learning 'elements' of things and learning 'about' things. Breaking down the topic or skill into elements and then to teach them separately. Learning for students becomes a game of solving puzzles without any big picture to guide them as a result students are unable to use the skills taught in real situations.

As for 'aboutitis' this where we teach information, say about science concepts, rather than teaching students how to look at the world around them with those concepts, which supposedly comes later.Once again information is meaningless with out realistic content and later never happens.

'Elementitis' and 'aboutitis' might make learning superficially easier ( for teachers) but young learners find it dull and don't develop the active understandings they need.

Perkin's sports metaphor offers an answer.

Most people , he says,have an early sports learning experience they enjoyed and can relate to and it aways involves learning the whole game at some level. For difficult areas of learning, or for young children, Perkins suggests teachers develop 'Junior' or 'backyard' games. Such games have the advantage of involving all students.

The sports metaphor can be transferred to learning experiences in the arts, music, drama, maths and the sciences. Many 'rich' experiences will involve using skills from a variety of learning areas. Even going fishing could involve a wide variety of rich learning across a range of learning areas!

Simple ideas but if implemented would develop the critical thinking and creativity of all our students and, in the process, develop their gifts and talents.

Isn't this what schooling ought to be about?

The trouble is our school weren't designed for such integrated and creative teaching and too many of our teachers are 'trapped' with faulty 'default mindsets'.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Right wing bile - disguised as journalism.

'It is beyond me', writes ex Act politician and self styled commentator Deborah Coddington in her article in the Sunday Times 3/1/10, 'how those...teachers..and their mulish principals can deliberately falsify test results just because they don't want national standards reflecting badly on their schools'. 'Denying children the chance to to read', she continues, 'is child molestation of the mind. The perpetrators should be incarcerated.'

She concludes, 'like the real pedophiles they see no harm in their behaviour. They are simply doing what they think is right- it is the authorities who are out of step and should change their policies.'

How do editors let such unsubstantiated drivel get through the editorial process?

If I remember correctly one principal was reported as unwisely saying that there might be a possibility of falsifying test results to look good. It was hardly the view of most principals but the truth is that overseas schools do attempt to make their results look good. Schools in the UK have been reported as placing an over emphasis on students who are almost up to standard while ignoring those who have little chance of passing. And in both the USA and the UK teachers , for their school's reputation spend endless hours teaching to the tests ignoring other important areas of learning.

Principals who point out problems with national testing are hardly being 'mulish'.

This desire to make school accountable is the result of a political ideology that wants schools to be able to present data to parents to help them make the best choice of school for their children. Nothing wrong with this desire but national standards are the wrong way and will instead limit educational opportunities for students as schools increasingly narrow their curriculum for their own survival. The standards will simply distort teaching.

And as for teachers, by refusing to ensure students learn to read, being seen as 'molesters' and 'pedophiles' is writing of the worst sort. Coddington is totally misinformed or is being deliberately economical with the truth.

If she were to visit any primary classroom she would see that schools currently spend almost all morning ( and often the afternoon) focusing on literacy and numeracy. That there is a reading problem can be sheeted home to the appalling home circumstances that far too many children have to live with. And, if we want to share the blame, the growing number of these 'underclass' children ( making up the so called 'achievement tail') are the result of privatisation policies of previous politicians of Coddington's persuasion

Coddington amazingly calls those who imposed these failed polices 'authorities'.

That our current 'authority', the Minister of Education, totally ignores the considered view of her teachers and their principals ( 'they will do as they are told!') is sad enough but that she happily demeans the views of those who are highly regarded as assessment authorities is truly sad.

So teachers, according to Coddington, will have to bow down unquestionably to the latest 'authority' and do as they are told; politician always know best; yeah right!

Time will show that it is Coddington and her like who are be the 'asses'.

The real question is will teachers be brave enough to stand their ground against such journalistic nonsense?

Courage will be required - true learning requires risk taking to break out of faulty political thinking