Thursday, February 25, 2010

The push for standards continues!

A satirical story from a guest writer. See his Sione story

National Standards Extended

In a press conference at which she appeared today the Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, announced the extension of the Government’s National Standards’ policy. Anne Tolley was without the support of the Prime Minister, John Key, when providing the details of the soon to be introduced policy.

The Minister referred to the outstanding success, and the universal acceptance, of the introduction of National Standards into New Zealand primary schools and described the improvement already apparent in the achievement of students in the nation’s schools. She noted that the embracing of this key initiative by teachers, parents and boards of trustees members was only surpassed by that of leading editorial writers across the country. In spite of the narrowing of the curriculum Anne Tolley said it was quite clear that if we wanted to catch up economically with Australia it was important that students were able to read, write and do maths at the levels expected by the national standards. When asked about the need for students to be able to undertake thinking type activities and to be able to build on their talents to become life long learners Ms Tolley stated that it was this type of woolly thinking that had seen New Zealand students only performing in the top 10% of school’s world wide when they could have been doing even better.

The new standards will be applied to pre-school children where the Government will set up a range of assessment criteria to check that all children are walking and talking by an age appropriate time. When questioned about the criteria to be used to undertake the required national testing process the Minister said that the leading New Zealand academic Professor John Hattie, who already advises the Government, will be developing the necessary criteria and has in fact already set up a team of academics to assist him in this process. The Minister noted that this group had all the required qualifications to guide the pre-school sector and that none of those involved were in fact practicing pre-school teachers as this type of reference group had proved to be so effective in the primary sector.

It is intended that all pre-school facilities, excluding kohanga reo, will implement the required testing next term and that the plain English reporting of results will be given to parents once testing is completed. For those children not attending a pre-school facility the Government has signalled that Plunket Nurses will visit homes on a regular basis to undertake the testing and ensure that children are meeting the relevant walking/ talking objectives at the appropriate age. When questioned about those parents who do not support this policy the minister stated that she has had talks with the Minister of Social Welfare and that it was possible that the Government would examine all cases where parents refused to co-operate and would consider stopping any benefit payment or Working for Families supplements should this be necessary.

“The importance of children walking and talking by the correct age cannot be over- emphasised,” said Anne Tolley, “and we as a Government intend that this shall be the case.”

When asked about other developmental skills such as running and catching a ball and social skills such as politeness and co-operation the Minister said she had no plans yet for these to be assessed however it was clear from the work being done by the academic group that these areas could be included in the future. The community’s support for this policy was overwhelming stated the Minister and she was determined to address the achievement tail which sees children entering our primary schools still unable to undertake quality physical education and/or talk clearly and confidently. “These standards and the related testing will solve these problems,” said Anne Tolley.

“The on going change implemented by the Government and its driving of this change through appointed groups who have no immediate involvement in the day-to day educational provision of education continues to reflect the enlightened policy for which this Government will be remembered,” said Anne Tolley.

At the time of publication no response had been received from the NZEI, the union representing a large number of pre-school teachers, nor from any other pre -school organisation although it is expected that these groups will oppose the proposed changes purely on a philosophical basis as they threaten the protected status these teachers enjoy.

press release ends

Monday, February 22, 2010

The suprising truth about what motivates us.

Daniel Pink, author of the New York Times best seller 'A Whole New Mind', latest book 'Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us' is a must read for educators who want to ensure all their students learn. This is a book that focuses on the importance of respectful relationships between the adult and the learner. Not only is it a powerful book it is written in an entertaining way.

Daniel Pink’s latest book, ‘A whole New Mind: Drive’, subtitled ‘the surprising truth about what motivates us’, is truly exciting. He writes that for too long school have relied on an extrinsic ‘carrot and stick approach’ (or ‘name and blame’).

The three things, he writes, that motivate us all are: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Real learning is achieved when the joy of learning is its own reward

We need to help our students ‘direct their own lives’, to ‘learn and create new things’ and to continually ‘better themselves’ and his challenge to us is apply this to education. Students need clear purposes, immediate feedback and challenges well matched to their abilities Creative teachers, like Elwyn Richardson, have long appreciated the power of personal purpose.

Pink writes to develop creativity teachers need to focus on introducing their students to interesting, challenging and absorbing tasks that, by deepening learning and by doing ones best, are reward in themselves. An obsession with goals ( implicit in our governments standards) and extrinsic rewards are problematic to Pink as they narrow focus, reduce risk taking, encourage dependency, replace intrinsic motivation, and crush creativity.

Quoting Deci and Ryan (experts on intrinsic motivation) Pink writes that, ‘If there is anything fundamental about our nature it’s the capacity for interest. Some things facilitate it. Some things undermine it.’ It is this inner drive to follow interests that must be protected all costs. As Jerome Bruner wisely wrote many years ago, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.’

What creates failure is something as simple as what Pink calls lack of ‘grit’ – the ability to persist and not give up. Young children, he says, are born curious and self directed but all too often this is lost because formal schooling has ‘flipped their default setting’.

Students need to learn to make choices over what they do and how they do it .We are all born to be players not pawns and we all resent compliance.

Pink writes enthusiastically about the research of psychology professor Carol Dweck who believes that the ability to learn or fail is in our heads. What we think shapes what we learn, or fail to learn. If kids believe they are born ‘smart’ (or ‘dumb’) learning is difficult. Smart people don’t like new learning that involves risk and ‘dumb’ kids just don’t even try. In contrast, if students see learning (working towards mastery) as a result of their continual effort, they find learning easier and take setbacks in their stride.

Developing positive mindsets in our students would be preferable to wasting time and energy implementing doubtful standards.

Principals ought to keep these well researched ideas about teaching and learning in mind and focus on creating motivating environments for both teachers and students to achieve autonomy, personal mastery and a sense of purpose.

We must not let the distraction of ‘new’ standards ( or even that technocrats who have made us worry about literacy and numeracy details) cause us to forget what education for a creative age is all about.

Learning is about personal meaning making; developing Pink's autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose for all students.

Schools, with their genesis in a mass produced industrial age, are not good at this.

Personalising learning is the real challenge. One that creative teachers have always tied to do against the 'scientific' best practice tide.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Personalising the school experience to gain success for all learners

Personalising the High School Experience for Each Student by Joseph DiMartino and John Clarke, published by ASCD 2008, is a highly recommended book for schools with year 7 to 13 students who want to ensure all students succeed.

Well worth a study by any Intermediate or Secondary school concerned with disengaged or unmotivated students.

It is not be possible to give a full picture of all the ways various schools mentioned in this book have personalised learning for their students.

Everyone , it seems, is concerned with students ( some 20%) who leave our schools failing to gain much for their time. Conservatives seem to think the answer is to focus on basic skills ( literacy and numeracy) by establishing standards and measuring progress against them.

The current emphasis of the standards approach is to lay the blame for failure on students early primary schooling ( ignoring the factor of difficult home circumstances and the three or four years of secondary teaching).

This is all too simplistic and as approach has little evidence to show it works
- quite the opposite. It is a reactionary, populist and political answer to the wrong problem - unmotivated students.

When it comes to attitudes toward learning it seems that disengagement occurs with greater intensity from years 7 to 10 - those who 'survive' are those would've succeeded no matter the schooling.

DiMartino and Clarke's book takes a different stance.

Rather than standardizing learning they see the answer as personalizing learning experiences for all learners.
Although the book focuses on high schools personalising learning starts from birth and is only interrupted by formal schooling creating, from an early age, the seeds of failure.

The authors believe that high schools, as structured, are obsolete; that the basic design is over a century old and is no longer apprpriate to educate all students. They however are not critical of high school teachers and say it is only the dedication and superhuman effort of teachers that schools, originally designed to meet the needs of 5%, work reasonably well for about one third of current students.

The philosophy of the authors is that schooling needs to put students at the centre of their learning. This is the premise of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum which is currently at risk of being sidelined by the standards agenda.

To meet the needs of all students teachers need to work towards designing new high schools. How schools have gone about this is covered in the book. To try to fix a broken system, the authors state, is just not possible if all students are to gain success. Too many students, the writers, say are bored, feel invisible, are isolated, or see little relevance in what they are asked to do.

The vision they write about seems simple but for anyone involved in secondary school change knows it is profoundly difficult.This book provides evidence of success and inspiration for schools really concerned about disengaged learners -at any level.

Chapters in the book are full of examples based on six promising practices which contribute to a new vision for schooling. Together they allow students to plan and develop their own pathways through school based on their talents, interests and aspirations.

Guided Personalised learning; teacher as advisers.

Teachers act as advisers to small groups of students over two to six years to review personal learning plans,assist in course selection and discover learning opportunities to suit individuals. Students, through 'advisories', feel that they aways have someone in their corner. Learning to be an adviser is a challenge for some teacher but is a vital aspect of personalising learning. Such 'advisory' teachers help students with their choices and keep them informed about how they are going and what they need to do next. Advice is given to assist teachers develop skill in this new role.

Personal Learning Plans.

Students meet regularly with parents advisers, mentors to plan and review progress. Few students have compelling vision of the own learning needs.Many students have learnt ways to avoid involvement. Students have to be helped to appreciate that it their responsibility to learn; to develop their own Personal Learning Plans (PLPS). PLPs need to value, recognise and celebrate their own voice and content learning.

Personalised Teaching.

Teachers work with students tailoring learning to allow students to explore different aspects of subjects and to produce unique authentic work that shows their understanding. This is an antidote for student disengagement.Personalising learning changing the power structure between teacher and students and is not easy for both teachers and students. To succeed it requires authentic learning projects that require teachers and students to work together - how to give and take advice or feedback. Personalising learning is an inquiry approach to learning, it is about valuing students voice,choice and freedom to succeed or fail as in real life. There are a range of competencies that need to be in place for personalised learning to succeed. As experience is gained , by both teacher and students, greater responsibility can be passed over to the students. Personalisation is dynamic process. Respectful relationships are vital.Several examples are provided for schools to consider as well as ideas about how to cope with inevitable problems.

Community Based Learning.

Helping students become actively involved in the community to assist them gain appreciation of possible successful adult roles.

Personalised Assessment.

Rather than tests and exams students are assessed by their performances, portfolios and student led conferences about what they have learnt. Assessments are based on quality of questions , research, understanding and presentation of ideas. A range of rubrics are provided to assist teachers with authentic assessment.

Personalising School Systems.

Moving away from set subject teaching to various forms of 'block' timetabling and team teaching. Changing to personalised school is a gradual and evolutionary process one one that requires 'buy in' and leadership at all levels. The authors believe you can't reform schools you have to rebuild them. Once again examples are provided.

Personalised learning is essentially active learning where students research and present answers to their own questions. Students will need skills to 'seek , use and create their won knowledge' ( NZC) and teachers interactive skills to help students achieve their personal best.

With a shared vision and all wiling to try it can be done. All students can be engaged and succeed. As progress is made, and problem solved, a shared language is developed. Smaller schools,it seems, have the best chance to succeed - or for bigger schools to develop schools within schools.

Personalising learning is a creative 21stC way to solve the problem of school failure. It is a better answer than reaching back to the standardisation of a past industrial age that politicians favour.

Creativity or compliance that is the issue. Students future success depends on teachers' intellectual courage combined with a new vision of what education could be.

It is an exciting educational answer to the problem of 'school' failure.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Creative education for the 21stC.

A collection of ideas for creative education - somethings old and somethings new.

As our government has it eyes firmly fixed on the past standardized ideas it is important to reflect on what could be
. And the amazing thing is that the alternative, creative teaching, is not new.

In the early 1900s writers like John Dewey were writing about that children learn from the environment they are exposed to and through worthwhile experiences they have. It was Dewey who said 'childen grow into people as they live today'.

The environment ( or culture) teachers create is vitally important. As Russell Bishop says, writing about the experiences Maori students in the Kotahitanga Project , 'culture counts'. Many students, in low decile schools, enter school ill equipped to cope with formalised impersonal education they experience - no matter how friendly it all looks. At school it is the teachers world that 'counts'.

What teachers need to do, from the earliest years, is to create an environment that captures children's interests; students need to be seen as active agents not recipients of teacher's curriculums. Students' interests, and their immediate environment, should be capitalised on. As Jerome Bruner wrote 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'. Bruner saw children as 'scientists working at the edge of their competence'. The current idea of pre-planning students activities is all too often counterproductive.

How teachers 'see' students is important.

In America Dewey's ideas were widespread but were eventually supplanted by an approach owing its genesis to scientific management -an approach being found successful in 'modern' factories as they introduced mass production. Schools today,particularly secondary schools, owe more to Henry Ford than John Dewey. Standardisation replaced potential diversity and individuality.

After World War Two in the UK and later in New Zealand child centred education regained centre stage at the primary levels. Elwyn Richardson's inspirational book, 'In the Early World ' was published during this time.In the 1970 an 'open education movement' continued the trend but eventually, by the 1980S, they were all replaced by more traditional programmes.

It seemed, with the introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum in 2007 student centred learning things were changing.

Then along came the standards and creativity once again is now at risk.

Standardisation is to replace personalisation.

Creative educators place great emphasis on assisting students to interpret their own and class experiences through their senses and their imagination and, following any experience, to express what they have discovered. The concept of valuing student's 'voice' and identity is vital - standardisation asks the opposite as students are measured against imposed standards.

Such creative teaching is already rare in our primary schools.

In creative schools students learn how to interpret any experience through a range of frameworks ( learning areas) - as in their preschool years all learning is integrated.

Literacy and numeracy are seen as important but as a means to an end. Today Primary classrooms focus almost all their energy on these two areas and the introduction of standards will just cement this bias. Any idea of multiple intelligences is bi and large ignored. Students succeed or fail on their ability in literacy and numeracy only .

How to interpret experiences using a range of frameworks - to see as an artist, a scientist, a poet, a writer , a mathematician, a musician, a dancer, a historian - all must be taught. It is such areas that students will find their passions ; area of exploration that those involved feel deeply.

By doing 'fewer things well', with the assistance of 'teachers as creative coaches', students learn the importance of effort and perseverance, the to and fro of the creative process, and the intrinsic satisfaction of 'doing things well'. Creative teachers believe that through such intrinsic success students attitudes can be transformed - with sensitive teaching all students can gain a 'feeling for' whatever they are doing.

Standards will tell teachers nothing about students' attitudes -and they are to be limited to reading, writing and mathematics. Learning cannot be limited to water tight compartments.

Creative teacher value imagination over conformity and the work on display illustrates this idiosyncrasy. Many classrooms celebrate formulaic conformity -even in such a creative area as art. All too often 'best practice ' teaching has trumped student creativity. Students are limited to working at the edge of the teachers competence. Students need to be helped to judge how successful they have been by referring to past efforts not teacher tests or standards.

This illusion of certainty is no way to equip students for an evolutionary future. Students need to develop faith in their own ideas, to value their intuition, to be spontaneous and to see possibilities, not to looking over their shoulder for teacher approval.

This dealing with uncertainty is the essence of creativity and it at odds with the misguided certainty of standards. Learners are boundary breakers.

Creative teachers see, when students are truly engaged, students inventing their learning identities through the tasks they undertake. The tasks we involve our students in must be chosen with care if we want to avoid students disengaging from their own learning and be coming part of the 'achievement tail' of lost learners.

It this vision of creative education that has inspired me over the decades. When creative teachers network with each other such creativity will become contagious. Standards may be having their turn in the sun but they are too fragile to last as they will destroy the creative spirit which is the basis of learning and life.

Each student desires to be recognised as an individual because of their own unique backgrounds and each student needs to learn how to contribute to their community - this is what teaching is all about. Or ought to be. We don't want 30 plus identical products - school are not factories.

Learning is process of discovery for both teachers and their students and it is as much about feeling and relationship as it is about thinking or knowing.

John Dewey had it right all those years ago. It time for Henry Ford and his modern day 'one size fits all' standard followers to move over. Students have amazing potential if placed in nurturing and challenging environments.

It is a respectful environment and quality experiences, not standards, that are needed, if the joy of learning is not to be crushed.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

National's Standards - 'to be or not to be'?

'Good golly' says Mrs Tolley, '150000 failing children are asking us to save them by testing them to oblivion and branding them as below average'. Sir John Charmalot believes that, 'with big business and Auntie Herald on our side we can replace the nanny state with big brother know best. Working together we can destroy creative education once and for all'.

The truth of what is happening in schools to help all children achieve is being lost in by a cynical publicity campaign led by the government and assisted by the Auckland Herald and editors throughout the country. Read Kelvin Smythe's latest for more detail. Teachers are being told to do as they are told or else and are being unfairly scapegoated for school failure of students who enter school with little 'social capital' to take advantage of what is being offered. Teachers do their best. The system is the problem and standards are not the answer.

For an excellent crit of Auckland Herald see this blog by Russell Brown
The argument is really about if schools should be personalised to help all students achieve their talents and gifts, in the process of self realisation developing the competencies that they will require to thrive no matter what life throws at them, or should our system become more standardised so the products can be measured and blame apportioned for any failure.

The sad thing is that for two decades the powers that be have imposed formulaic 'best practices' on schools and required more and more testing. Creativity is already at risk. Managerialism has all but crushed teachers initiative and independence. National standards are the last straw.

Even testing guru John Hattie ( is for or against standards?) writes that 'applied uniformity across every school is a hopelessly crude way of raising student achievement and will result in teaching to the standards and narrowing of the curriculum'. What he says is the important thing 'is for children to be able to self assess their own progress and for teachers to give focused feedback. Most of all, he writes, 'students need a level of trust in classroom to admit out loud that they don't misunderstand something.'

It is respect and trust that is missing in the Minister's hard lined attitude as she happily discounts any contrary advice as 'mischievous' or 'taken into account'. Education is about working together and results in the building of 'social capital' of all involved - students, teachers and parents. Creative education builds on and extends the interests of the students and cannot be limited to success in literacy and numeracy as important as they are.

You get the impression it is either impose national standards or put up with no decent teaching of literacy and numeracy. Anyone who has visited a primary school would see the falseness of this position. Creative education is already being squeezed out by the current emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

The question we ought to ask about 'failing students' ( we know who they are) is why they can't read write and do maths at 15? Simply put they can't see the point of what is being offered. Why is this? How can we engage them? How can we make schooling more relevant? Why do so many children start so far behind at 5? When do students disengage? How important is the distressing home circumstances of the failing students? National's standards are a distraction to solving such issues and are more about a return to 'market forces' ideology.

Solving such problems requires a whole system approach not simplistic standards and blaming and shaming ideas that have already failed in other countries. Although New Zealand does have a a long 'achievement tail' it is important to appreciate that this is also the case in socially unequal countries particularly those that went down the market forces approach to politics and schooling.

It seems John Key see education as putting things into kids heads and then measuring what sticks - this is a 'banking' metaphor and appropriate for person who sees capital as something that can be accounted for. As for Ms Tolley she only has two or three programmed standardised answers which she repeats predictably. The complexity of teaching and learning is beyond her. Teaching is to be reduced to simplistic standardised ‘plunket’ graphs but with no farex available to fatten up kids only measuring them twice year. Maybe she should get management advice from McDonald's to assist her in developing this uniformity?

It does seem strange that the government happily overlooks the connections between the 20% of children living in poverty, the 20% failing in schools and the 20% ending up in prison?

This unfairness is where we ought to be paying attention?

If we follow the imported failed standards agenda we will see our school disintegrating under the triviality of measuring what we already know - akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And, like the Titanic the rich and poor alike will pay the price if we don't place some real innovative thinking into the debate.

We need some real future thinking not a return to past failed ideas.

National's standards are well below average if judged educationally and not by populist politics!.

Who will want to a teacher in such a standardized future?

And an excellent contribution by Alfie Kohn debunking standards

Read this story about the damage of national testing.

And a short story about national standards from NZ

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Treaty of Waitangi - what do your students' know?

This weekend we celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. This is a great chance to learn more about the Treaty, to develop an inquiry attitude and how such a Treaty might work in the class.

A wise teacher should take advantage of important events in New Zealand history such as the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

As the celebration comes early in the year it is a good opportunity to introduce the students to how they will be expected to learn in the class; how to work together to develop critical thinking; how to value their own ideas; how to deepen their understandings and how to apply lessons learnt to their own class.

The message teachers need to give is that in all learning students need to follow up their own questions, to learn how to make use of whatever resources are available and, as a result of their efforts, to gain a deeper understanding.

Such a study could begin before the day and conclude the days following.

The first thing is to ask the students what important New Zealand event is happening over the weekend. Some students will be aware of the Treaty.

When the Treaty is in their minds the next thing is to ask them what they know about the Treaty.This can be done individually, in small groups ( that could report their combined ideas back to the class) or done as a whole class discussion (with the teacher writing up their thoughts). From such activities the teacher can then help the class write up all their 'prior' knowledge , misunderstandings included. Older students could write out their own 'prior' ideas - when such ideas are read by the teacher the range of understandings will be apparent.

At this stage teachers need to introduce some resource material for the students to study - most schools have facsimile copies of the Treaty to display and there is a range of pictorial and written resources that can be studied as part of the literacy programme as guided reading. A map of Northland would valuable to introduce focusing on the Bay of Islands. A chronolical tiem line of events might be drawn up to clarify the happening before and during the signing. This is the time for some old fashioned teaching about the facts about the Treaty.

During the afternoon inquiry time the information gained from resources available can be used for students to answer key questions. Early in the year it is possibly best for teachers to help students define a small range of 'thinking' questions. Question should encourage comparisons and ask for students' opinions and feelings and not just be copied out as is often the case. It is a good idea to encourage students to list the resources they have made use of.

A range of outcomes could be negotiated with and developed by the students.

The teacher might take the opportunity for the class to develop a set of class rules and this could be written out on a suitable piece of paper to look like the original Treaty.

Students could study some of the main characters in and observers to the signing of the Treaty and write accounts from different peoples' perspectives - how such people might be feeling about the Treaty. Students would need to call on the knowledge gained during literacy time.

Junior teacher could write a 'big book' by scribing students thoughts about the Treaty.

Older students could complete a study chart or booklet following guidelines from the teacher.

The whole scene of signing the Treaty could be acted out with students dressed in suitable clothing ( which will involve condesable rearch). Students could compose some thought poems about the happenings of the day. Perps thay could compose dary enrty for the day -as no doubt people would have done ( thosewho could write that is)>

Each student could choose an element of the signing that appeals to draw and later enlarge to paint or crayon. Once again this requires visual research and assistance from teachers to ensure the painting has some dramatic focus. In such times artists would have recorded the events by drawing - students could consider how such event would be recorded today.

To conclude the study parents might be invited to look at the work at the end of a school day or students ideas gained written out and sent home.

At the least students could copy into their study books their prior thoughts and what they now know with suitable illustrations.

An event such as the signing of the Treaty provides an opportunity to bring history alive for the students as well as introducing ideas about how they will be expected to learn in the class.

Worth a try?