Monday, July 30, 2012

DNA of a Twenty First Century Teacher


This blog will be short and sweet - all I am doing is sharing slide programme I found on the web.

The slide share is well worth having a look at.

I found this slide presentation in a roundabout way but thought it worth sharing.
It comes from Zaid a blogger in Malaysia.
My advice to you is to flick through the slide programme noting interesting slides to return to and links provided to explore ideas that attracted your attention more deeply.

I enjoyed it immensely.Zaid has used impressive graphics. I recognised some of the educators Zaid refers to such as Howard Gardner ( 'five minds for the future') and Sir Ken Robinson ( there is a link to his excellent video presentation) but there were many other educational thinkers I was not aware of.

This is how Zaid introduces his presentation:

'During your lifetime you have probably experienced inspirational educators, or witnessed inspiring lectures. But, what about you? Are you such an educator? If not, why not? In this talk, I explored some of the ingredients top educators in the 21st century have, and how we can learn from them, and reinvent ourselves to reach our true potential as an educator'.

The above is an improved version sent to me by Said.

 Zaid's blog is called ZaidLearn. It is worth a look particularly if you are into e-learning.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Educational readings: Zong Zhao,Scott McLeod

Here is another excellent article by Yong Zhao

Weekend Readings

 By Allan Alach

If we look at developments around the world through the right set of spectacles, it is possible to pick out the beginnings of a trend where the anti-test/pro-child campaigns are making headway.  However the inevitable result of this will be an increase in the attacks in an effort to maintain the hegemony.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Doublethink: The Creativity-Testing Conflict

Here is another excellent article by Yong Zhao.The title says it all.

Bill Gates: Why ‘game-based learning’ is the future of education.

Continuing the theme from last week…..

The rat race of childhood: Why we need to balance students’ lives

Valerie Strauss’ column “The Answer Sheet’ in the Washington Post is a reliable source of quality educational articles, whether her own, or written by another person.

Chris Lehmann on educational colonialism

US academic Scott McLeod is well worth following. Here he references an article that he felt was very important.

News Corp Rebrands Its Education Division, But Is It Enough for Schools to Trust It?

Murdoch is one of the big players in the commercialisation of education, aided by his henchman, lawyer and self described expert on education, Joel Klein.

Reduce spelling, grammar, phonics, increase free voluntary reading

It’s not all doom and gloom- many voices keep pushing for quality education.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekend Readings:

Weekend Readings

By Allan Alach

A constant theme of many articles revolves around the deformers’ view of the future of schooling (I refuse to label this as education), which is heavily technology based. The fuss over the Khan Academy is an example, then there is the movement towards computer based instruction, with each child sitting at a terminal, connected to online instruction, which will teach and assess ‘achievement.’ (You wondered why Bill Gates is heavily involved in this?) No need for teachers - just think of the savings. Have you wondered why there is so much effort to get schools connected to ultra fast broadband? Just to top this off, I’ve included an article about robot teachers in South Korea.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Critique of Khan Academy Goes Viral

Following on from last week’s link about Sal Khan, here’s another one that arrived not long after I posted last week’s readings.

A Glimpse of the future for New Zealand

As we know, the Ministry of Education are working on a database where school details will be posted, so that parents may compare schools. In their usual copycat manner, they are following examples from overseas. Here are two, RAISEonline from England, and My School from Australia. I suggest New Zealand readers have a good look at these, because we’re next. Fancy having your school listed like this, especially with ‘data on school effectiveness in raising achievement?’

Why "Making" Matters: Kids want it. We learn when we create.

Self explanatory! Sadly, this is beyond the ken of deformers.

School camps in St. Louis area aim to give incoming kindergartners a leg up

Summer school for 5 year olds so they are ready to ‘achieve.’  What next?

The Teaching Revolution

After all the negative articles, here’s a blog article in a more positive vein, targeted more towards older children.

South Korea’s Robot Teachers To Test Telepresence Tools in the New Year

The ultimate neo-liberal solution to raising achievement? Don’t discount it!

What have teachers done to deserve this scorn?

Isn’t it intriguing how commentators in many countries use the same language about teachers’ performance? If anything illustrates that this is an organised movement, this does.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Learning Without Limits – personalised learning

 The future:Mondrian or Jackson Pollock

Education is caught in no mans land - between an education suited for a unpredictable  but potentially exciting future where students will need all their gifts and talents identified and all the learning power  they can muster to thrive or an ideology that seems determined to conform teachers and students by standardized approaches tied to National Standards and league tables.

Mass standardisation or transformational personalised learning? To be or not to be....

Towards the end of the previous government the then Minister Of Education was keen to share ideas about the need for personalised learning an obvious extension of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum. The new conservative government has another agenda – one determined by a corporate approach to learning (for more read about GERM). This new agenda is based around assessing children by ability against National Standards leading eventually to league tables and national testing. RecentlyNew Zealand educational academics came out strongly against such an approach. Read what Tapu Misa writes about league tables in the Herald
The issue is now a moral one for school leaders – to comply or to stand up for what is educationally right. One respected principal has already expressed his concerns.

Ability grouping has long been take for granted but it is time to question this practice – schools that continue with such an approach are already well on the way to the standards approach.

New Zealand has had a well-earned reputation for creative holistic teaching – schools need to consider if it is worth putting this at risk.

The book Learning Without Limits developed from the practice of teachers some practical pedagogical principles that give schools keen to fight for what is right  some guiding principles– to place inquiry learning central to their programmes as outlined in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

As teachers  taught in a way that set aside notions of fixed ability were studied  common principles emerged that contributed to the lifting all students’ capabilities.

Pedagogical principles to develop active learners:

1 The principle of co-agency- the power to transforming learning capacity of all students is to be seen as a joint enterprise between students and teachers. This principal includes co-constructivism; negotiating learning with students; the valuing of student’s questions, valuing the contribution of student’s prior ideas and respecting and challenging their theories. Students need to learn to make their own choices and take responsibility for the consequences.
2 Within common inquiry activities in any learning area there is scope for diversity in experience, activity, modes of recording through giving students choices so they can construct their own personal meaning. Connecting with learner’s hearts and minds.
3 To ensure all students developing a sense of trust and shared responsibility for their own learning and behaviour.   Developing the possibility all can be trusted to learn given appropriate conditions, help and time.
4 The principle of everybody. Choices must be made in the interests of everybody not for specific determined ability groups – some children will dig deeper into learning depending than other .Students working in diverse groups to solve problems and present ideas... The emphasis is on a common starting point not the stopping place rather than being limited by ability grouping.
5 The principal of trust. Teachers by negotiating with students a range of activities trust students to construct their own meanings and strategies The teacher’s role is to make certain the right conditions are in place and appropriate activities are available that connects with student’s concerns.
I am sure that the above principles will be similar to those held by creative teachers and they certainly align well with the intent of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum’s vision of creating ‘lifelong, engaged connected learners’ – learners able to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’.
It is obvious that the contexts for learning are vital. All teachers involved developed practices and learning experiences based around the core idea of transformability.
All teachers also found that this kind of teaching was made difficult by government policies. As one teacher wrote, ‘we were very constrained in what we can do …the government prescribing how one sets targets….about raising achievement in a completely measurable way…it’s a very limited view of achievement.’ Also damaging was the ‘narrowed focus on”standards” rather than achievement in the widest sense.’ Other constraints were the ‘Literacy and Numeracy Strategies; the amount of paperwork required of teachers; and all this in an environment of national testing and league tables!

Teachers had to to cope with the negative environment of imposed requirements as well as their own capacity building strategies – this made their work more difficult and demanding. Some of these constraints were mediated by the schools they worked in.

Ultimately teachers can only do what they can do within the contexts they work in. For the work of such teachers to be taken advantage of teachers need a political climate whereby teachers can be feed to make choices.

Teachers who want to follow a transformational (personalised) approach need to first free themselves from the constraints of fixed ability grouping – still the most common way to teach children in schools.
Once teachers are freed from the ability grouping mind-set they will be able to teach in a way that makes use of their full power as teachers to develop the untapped gifts of all their students.
There can be no standardised procedures but teachers can learn from one another – the theme of the Teaching Without Limits research. Such teaching has to be highly sensitive to the school context, the minds of individual teachers and with the mind of every student.
A whole school committed to enhancing the learning capacity of all students will have to work with its community to achieve success – and to network with other creative schools and their teachers. This is a bottom up transformation.  One model that comes to mind is the Reggio Emilia school of Milan – ‘ the image of children as rich, strong and powerful…They have the potential, plasticity, the desire to  grow, curiosity, the ability to be amazed and the desire to relate to other people and to communicate’.
The future is about a pedagogy of respectful relationships. The vision of the book was to contribute to realizing a vision of schooling that allows everyone to enjoy a full education – specifically the purpose of the book was to develop a model of education that would lead to the rejection of ability labelling.
The book was written to encourage others to think hard about the negative results of ability grouping and the need  to provide positive alternative – something within the grasp of all teachers; one that many teachers already are well on the way to such enlightenment.
The authors appreciate it is not an easy task.
Teachers need to campaign for national policies to ensure the vision of all students succeeding will be realized.
The choice is simple to work in schools being put under continuous surveillance and constant pressure by a succession of politically imposed initiatives and external accountability measures or resist the pressures and work for change based on educational principles. The worse thing would be to become conditioned and following external demands.
Remember people accomplish so much more working together than in isolation.
The idea of developing every learner’s capacity to continually grow and to develop all their talents and gifts is worth fighting for. It is within our grasp if we change our minds first about the limitations of ability grouping s first – it can be done.

Check out this alliance of schools choosing not to use ability grouping

Rosie the riveter poster - an image that encouraged US woman to join the work force in WW2

Monday, July 16, 2012

Core ideas to transform teaching so that all can learn; teaching without the demeaning use of ability grouping

Conditions can limit or encourage optimum growth

This is the fourth blog based on the book Teaching Without Limits based on the experiences of nine teachers teaching free of deterministic beliefs about ability.

 All the teachers involved had to work in an environment that will soon become commonplace for New Zealand teachers unless teachers make a stand – targets, an emphasis in literacy and numeracy, national testing and league tables.
In New Zealand, it is fair to say primary teachers do not see ability grouping as an issue but I believe in the long run it has destructive effect on the learning of those in the lower groups – contributing to the achievement tail of failing students and students who leave schooling  alienated from learning unable to read and write
All the teachers were guided by the belief in the transformability of learning. Through tasks and activities they provided, the learning contexts, their relationships with their students they were all seeking to enrich the learning opportunities to strengthen in all students the desire to learn.
The shared principles that evolved will all ring a bell with creative teachers were:

The importance of the impact of their teaching on their pupil’s emotions - that learning is determined by positive emotional wellbeing of individual learners.
Students need to feel positive about their learning – tasks need to make sense to them.
Feeling of competence, of success, and control of their learning is essential.
Classrooms need to be seen as a place where young people come because they find activities which they find engaging, interesting and enjoyable.
Positive student identities are gained through achievement not being judged by comparative ability
A guiding idea is the a view of young people’s future that is hopeful, open and in the making. Students need to appreciate their own growing learning power – that they can make a difference.
That learning depends on the support given by other students – learning is social.
Students need to feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and mutual - equal members in the learning community - all working towards shared goals. Relationships skills need to be developed.
Teachers need to be tough mined and passionate about intellectual life of the class.
All students need to feel success and engage in worthwhile learning - whether knowledge, understandings or skills.
Knowledge, understandings and skills are only powerful if they are relevant – learning is about making sense of the world- about making connections –able to transfer their learning in new contexts.
Teachers need to put a strong emphasis on the higher cognitive skills of explaining their thinking, their insights, their reasoning and their conclusions. Students need to develop a language for talking about their thinking – metacognition.

The above were the recurring themes expressed by the teachers and at first glance they seem to be the ones most teachers endorse but they are fundamentally incompatible with ability labelling. The teachers, by becoming aware of the limits of learning imposed by ability labelling, have gained greater insight about what needs to be done – or undone.
All teachers have a common belief in the power of transformability – that all can learn if the right conditions are in place.
They all believe that classroom conditions can change, and be changed to enrich and enhance learning and free learning from the limits ability grouping.
Power must be shared with students (co-agency) if students are to take full advantage of learning opportunities.
Choices must be made in the interests of everybody, that everybody must be equally respected and valued. That students ought not to see their classroom as divided into three groups with different needs.

All the above ideas contribute to a practical pedagogy that is informed by the belief in the transformability of the learning capacity of all students and in the process to bring about greater justice and fairness in education.
For me, all theabove, reflects the creative teaching that I have seen over the decades inprimary classrooms in New Zealand. Even though many of the teachers I have admired made use of ability grouping it was not the dominating feature as it is in classrooms today.
The whole issue of sorting and assessing students by ability is becoming dominant in classrooms today. Unlike the teachers in Learning Without Limits, teachers in New Zealand have not yet had to face up to national testing and league tables.
Such anti educational approaches are not far off – the time is now right if action is to be taken.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Teaching without using ablity grouping

Wait for new bad news from the Minister - league tables on theway?

As New Zealand schools become increasingly dominated by compliance requirements relating to National Standards reporting it is not hard to forecast that they will be eventually tightened up by the introduction of National Testing to allow more efficient school comparisons.
When this happens classifying students by ability will become more hardwired and creative, integrated and personalised teaching/learning will become at risk as school do their best to outperform other schools. Schools will feel they have no choice unless they can articulate an alternative.

Learning Without Limits’ provides an alternative – one that aligns well with the approaches of creative New Zealand teachers.
In the UK a number ofteachers were selected who rejected ability labelling. From their experiences common principles were developed for others to make use of.
All teachers involved were subject to OFSTED inspections (in New Zealand ERO Reviews), to the pressures of repeated testing, target settings and league tables. The research was to see how teachers reconciled their own values about ability learning with this agenda and the compromises they had to make on the way and ways of mediating external expectations, and how school contents supported them or acted as constraints. Teachers involved were becoming increasingly bothered by the degree children were being judged by doubtful data based on literacy and numeracy rather than demonstrating worthwhile achievement across the curriculum.
It seems an agenda teachers in New Zealand will have to face up to.
The challenge was to capture from the teachers involved experiences a distinctive pedagogy for Learning Without Limits.
Teachers selected have had little choice but to comply with both external and internal requirements but they all believed in the importance of spontaneous unpredictable acts of meaning making , the limiting aspects of ability grouping and the importance for students of valuing other aspects of learning not being measured such as love of learning, fascination with ideas and imaginative expression.
 The teachers selected wanted their classrooms to be more than targets to be met and boxes to be ticked – to develop their classrooms as learning communities. All teachers wanted their students to be trusted, seen as competent thinkers and recognised for their unique gifts and talents. Classrooms based on intrinsic learning, relevance, purpose, making connections and personal meaning. Classrooms where student’s learning is taken seriously- where their questions and ideas are valued; where students are helped to make choices; where teachers and students negotiate and evaluate learning. Classrooms where teachers learn from their students as students become involved in sustained engagement with their inquiries.
New Zealand teachers will see that such aims reflect the lifelong learning vision of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum – ‘students as seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’.
Good teaching is an art form where teachers work with students to ensure they take responsibility for their own learning, helping them value effort ,   and encouraging their students to surpass their previous personal best  - teaching student  skills and strategies  as required individually or in groups. All the teachers created classrooms where all students felt safe enough to keep asking questions until they are confident they understand.
The driving force for all the teachers involved they came to call transformational teaching – a conviction that all students can achieve once the limits of ability grouping is removed. That, in the right environment, all students can dramatically develop their innate learning potential.
All the teachers provided examples of what can be done to strengthen and enhance learning capacity in contrast to the limitations of the use of ability grouping and,  as a consequence, a narrowing of the curriculum.
 The bedrock task is to know how to create the conditions that will maximize the learning for all students – for all students to take increasing control for their own learning,  for them to make appropriate choices; to encourage them to sustain intellectual engagement; to give everybody the best start in life.
Next blog –principles of transformational learning. No surprises for creative New Zealand teachers

If you have time check out this video of teacher Francis Gilbert 'Escaping the Matrix' presented at the Jan 2012 Learning Without Frontiers Conference Starts slowly but ends on a high.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What’s wrong with Ability Grouping?

Education is about creating the conditions for all students to grow

The view of fixed ability originates from early theories of IQ – that there is a single central factor known as general intelligence. That young people are born with a given amount of intelligence. And this is the principal determinant of learning.
This view still has considerable currency even though it is largely discredited and determined by cultural factors and limited to language and mathematical aptitudes. The argument of TeachingWithout Limits is that there is a more empowering, complex and multifaceted view of learning. Most teachers of aware of the multiple intelligences research of Howard Gardner.
 Today there is an understanding of the relationship between socio economic background and school achievement and the cultural background of students. Ability grouping is unfair if it doesn’t take into account young people’s prior experiences and opportunities to learn. In the 70s researchers like Coleman (Coleman Report1996) seemed to indicate schools could do little to compensate such differences.
New areas of research started to focus what was happening in classrooms which showed that teachers themselves are implicated and maintaining persistent patterns of differential achievement; that ability grouping helps create the very disparities it purports to solve. It does this in subtle and unintended ways through the ways it has on teacher’s thinking and through the impact it has on self-image for children in the ‘lower’ ability groups. It is obvious that teachers do not set out to do their children harm but they also know that children live up or down to what is expected of them. The recent focus on literacy and numeracy standards  has resulted in a greater emphasis on ability grouping, narrowing the curriculum  and limiting the opportunities for students to shine in other areas.
Learning Without Limits builds a new agenda for school improvement around the development of effective pedagogies that are free from ability grouping.
Research has brought to our attention the ‘hidden curriculum’ and how important relationships are between the learner and the teacher. If teachers ‘see’ their students in terms of levels of ability the students will ‘pick up’ on this. Students live up or down to the expectations of their teachers (as expressed in Rosenthal and Jacobsen’s ‘Pygmalion in the Classroom’ 1968)
Although most teachers claim that students are moved up groups as they improve  research shows that once placed in a slow group this is where they stay: ’Once a weka always a weka’.  The achievement gap actually widens. Jackson (1964) found that ability placement at 7 was final –  and now such definite decisions are made at an even earlier age.
Hargreaves (82) writes that ability labelling leads to a ‘destruction of dignity so massive and persuasive that few subsequently recover from it’. He says that ability labelling, ‘strips young people of their sense of being worthy, competent, creative, inventive, critical human beings, and encourages them to find other ways of achieving dignity, often through oppositional means’. Sadly many students go through school accepting what happens to them without complaint. Gradually a polarizing effect occurs with pupils allocated to the slower steams becoming increasingly oppositional and resistant as any secondary teachers will know. Students are expert about picking up on messages about their perceived worth – their position in the hierarchy of power. We all do.
Hargreaves believes we need to understand the behaviours of such students and set up alternative means for such students to achieve success. Ironically those who end up in our prisons unable to read and write have had many hours of unsuccessful teaching. More of the same teaching will not help them.  
The answer lies in students being helped to take responsibly for their own learning(Dweck 200); through their own efforts – to see that learning is within their power and not determined negatively by others.
Schools are, according to Cummings (2000) ‘white, middle class, monolingual and mono-cultural’. Some students enter with all the ‘cultural capital’ to succeed. Through increasing constant evaluation by their teachers, through messages of greater or lesser worth, some students are made to feel incompetent leaving them ill placed to engage in curriculum experiences. John Holt has written persuasively about the negative effect of this ‘hidden curriculum’ – not so hidden in some schools. It is the culture from the dominant group that is valued.
The acceptance of the ability mind-set makes it normal for teachers to use such groupings. This acceptance makes it difficult to question its use and denies teachers the creative opportunities to explore alternatives. Ability grouping acts on a constraint on teachers thinking and creativity. .
The acceptance of ability grouping also makes teachers believe they cannot effectively teach students of different abilities together leading to differentiation of programmes for different levels of ability instead of assisting all students dig as deeply as they can into common experiences.
In the UK the political decision to introduce literacy and numeracy hours has led to more deterministic use of ability grouping and setting –and this is happening in New Zealand as schools clamber to demonstrate success against learning targets. Wait until National Testing is introduced along with League Tables!
That all students can learn with appropriate time and help was demonstrated by Benjamin Bloom (1976) with his mastery learning approach. Unfortunately Bloom was fixated on improving traditional learning not in developing more creative alternatives but he proved that ability was not the limiting factor. Bloom’s teacher dominated approach is still alive and well in schools with the emphasis on intentional teaching and success criteria and the like. The work of Marie Clay in the area of reading is a better model.
There is a need to raise teachers horizons of what is possible to create the conditions for all to learn, particularly those currently in the so called ‘achievement tail’. To ensure success for all students requires removing the limitations of ability groups and valuing success in other areas of learning. Today we are in danger of developing two curriculums – on one hand literacy and numeracy and on the other all the other areas of learning. It seems that literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the entire curriculum!                                      
There is nothing fixed about ability grouping or how schools are organised.
We could, as it says in Learning Without limits, ‘commit ourselves to an alternative improvement agenda, dedicated to freeing learning from the limits imposed by ability-led practices.’ ‘That young people are clearly capable of achieving very much more, and in ways different from those suggested in current patterns.
The authors are aware that is easier said than done How can teachers explore new creative ways and at the same time fulfil compliance requirements which are more political than educational are issues to consider?
Thankfully there are teachers and schools who have already shown it is possible. The pioneer works of Elwyn Richardson in New Zealand in the 50s is one such teacher but there were, and still are, plenty of others to learn from. There is also thewritings of countless educationalists (see my book list) and such schools as Reggio Emilia schools of Milan and the Big Picture Schools of New York etc. In New Zealand the Learning in Science Research based on learners constructing their own knowledge and the Kotahitanga Research ( Waikato Univ) of Russell Bishop, which demonstrates the importance of respectful relationship in learning for Maori students, are valuable resources.
The side-lined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum has a key phrase – ‘every student should be their own seek, user and creator of their own knowledge’ reflecting  George Kelly’s work on personal construct theory that we each construct our own personal ways of seeing the world- our personal constructs – and that this system defines the understandings by which we live. Thankfully for us our understandings can be reconstructed; we can change our minds.
The remaining chapters of Learning Without Limits are based on the experiences of teachers who were willing to share their experiences of teaching without recourse to ability grouping and, from them,  a set of principles have been developed to assist others who might want to replicate such ideals.
The questions that teachers had to answer were: What ideas do they use to inform their teaching?  What adjustments will they have to make? How will they organise their classrooms to engage and inspire learners? What compromises will they have to make to fulfil compliance requirements; and how will the school they work in support or constrain them?
As George Kelly wrote (1970) ‘even the most obvious occurrences of everyday life might appear utterly transformed if we were inventive enough to construe them differently’.
So it seems as simple as changing our minds –and, if we do, we know enough to create a far more equitable and creative education system where all students can have all their gifts and talents identified and amplified.
Next blog – the process used to develop principles for others to make use of based on the experience of selected classroom teachers – a model to follow in New Zealand schools before it is too late!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Weekend Readings

 Weekend Readings

By Allan Alach

Term 3 is about to commence in New Zealand, and we wait, not particularly enthusiastically, to see what our government has in store for schooling this term. They’ve found, to no one’s surprise except their own, that the system for collection and analysing ‘achievement data’ is unworkable. However we can expect attempts to collate this in some form, either by the Ministry of Education, or the media, so that league tables can be published. Watch this space.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Education Under Attack

(What Schools Can and Cannot Do and How Popular Reforms Hurt Them)

Here is the link to an ebook on this topic. While written for the USA, there is much of value here. Don’t try to read it all at once!

Why Should We Reform Education Using Microsoft's Failed Ranking Policies?

Bill Gates has set himself up as the expert in reforming education, especially via the teacher effectiveness model, performance pay, and so on.  This article about the work culture at Microsoft speaks for itself.

District Announces Value-Added Bazaar

Value Added Measurement (VAM) of teacher performance is a developing meme, as part of the attack on education. Here’s a light hearted look at an ultimate version!

Is Khan Academy a real ‘education solution’?

Education deformers, such as Bill Gates, are promoting the Khan Academy as the future of education. Never heard of this? More homework for you then! Khan produces online educational videos on a wide range of topics. These are delivered, as you would expect, in a lecture style. Note that Khan is not a teacher, just someone who thinks he has found a niche. The danger of this is that deformers will see online tutoring as a way to dispense with teachers, and in fact this is one of the agendas being developed by Murdoch, Pearson Group, McGraw Hill, and not forgetting Bill Gates.

No teacher, no problem

Canadian teacher Joe Bower is an articulate commentator on all things GERM. In this article he discusses the ‘robo - grader’ being trialled in New York. This device is meant to be able to grade written language. No further comment needed!

Singapore Wants Creativity, not Cramming

US anti-GERM campaigner Diane Ravitch is possibly the most powerful voice in this battle, given extra credence because she was once on the other side, before realising the error of her ways. This blog article is about Singapore, which, along with Finland, will prove to be the antidote to GERM. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ability Grouping - unintended consequences for learners and teachers. A need for a new transformational mindset for teaching to develop the talents and gifts of all students

This book explores ways of teaching without recourse to judgements about ability. It asks all teachers to reflect on the consequences for learners self images and the way they teach.

This blog will be the first of series based on the book 'Creating Learning Without Limits.'

I broke a promise to myself to not buy any more educational book but I couldn’t resist this one. And it didn’t disappoint.
I have never believed in the practice of teaching children in ability groups but the use of such groups is taken for granted by most teachers I have worked with over the years. How else do you cater for the range of abilities of students in my class', teacher’s reply when asked? I would reply but what about the harm done to those labelled as slow learners? This didn’t seem to be a problem and still isn't.
When I taught I chose, against advice of the school, not to use ability grouping instead choosing to help students individually, or in small groups skills required and then returning students back to whatever they were studying. The teachers who were advising me seemed to spend most of their day worrying about reading and mathematics whereas I wanted to focus on inquiry studies, language and the creative arts.
Anyway I bought Learning Without Limits which explores ways of teaching free from determinist beliefs about ability.
The book critiques the practices of ability labelling and ability focused teaching and examines the damage done to young people by there  use . The book's theme is positive and constructs a model of pedagogy based on transformability, the mind-set that children’s capacity as learners are not pre-determined and that with appropriate teaching all students can learn.
With the new deterministic emphasis on measured achievement based on National Standards ability grouping is gaining greater popularity. Schools  are being asked to set targets and being compared on their achieving results in literacy and numeracy .To gain ‘success’ have to comply to ‘best practice’ formulaic teaching differentiated for the three or four ability groups. Some schools are even moving into setting students across classes for literacy and numeracy. In secondary schools streaming is still the practice. In primary schools such an approach is resulting in a narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the tests and the side-lining of the creative arts.  And in countries where these ideas originate achievement levels are falling whereas,without this new emphasis, New Zealand has always been in the top performing group in international testing in literacy  and numeracy.
'Learning Without Limits' is an antidote to such nonsense.
The book provides teachers who are unhappy about what they’re being asked to do with an alternativeone that resonates to the creativeideas of New Zealand teachers past and present.
Teaching focused on ability grouping results in students unconsciously  indignity of ‘learning their place’. The view of ability has a long history starting with now discredited IQ testing. Today teachers use such grouping in ways they believe causes no damage but the evidence is otherwise. For many schools it is an unquestioned practice – it is the way things are done.  Cross class setting and streaming exaggerates the problem for learners that need more time
The book outlines a more optimistic view of education free from the constraints of ability grouping and in many respects it relates to the work of teachers in the 60s and 70s when creative teachers did their best to approach their work in a spirit of inquiry and adventure. Unfortunately the early promise of 'child-centred learning' was never fully realised as it was subverted by traditional pressure to group students and also by schools that over promised but couldn’t deliver.
By the mid-eighties the emphasis had swung to top down hierarchical National Curriculums Ability grouping was firmly established and alternative pedagogies were only for the determined. Briefly, in New Zealand, the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum and talk of personalisation of learning by the then Minister of Education providednew inspiration.
 'Learning Without Limits', after interpreting what went wrong, and following practical research by a number of teachers come to very different conclusions.
The book outlines a vision of schooling that allows everybody to enjoy a full education to realise their gifts and talents.
The authors quote Stephen Jay Gould ('Mismeasure of Man') to capture the author’s central concerns.
‘We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even hope by a limit imposed from without but falsely identified as lying within.
The book is concerned that the talents and gifts of many young children remain untapped throughout their formal education. That , because of teacher mindsets about the value of ability grouping, not muchcan be achieved by those children from disadvantaged social backgrounds; those who do not enter schools with the ‘social capital’ to become positive learners’.
As the current reforms being imposed on schools by politicians fail or plateau, the time will be right for teachers to introduce a personalised pedagogy that promises a more promising and equitable improvement agenda- one led by educational research in tandem with creative teachers.
Getting rid of the often unintended consequences of ability grouping labelling is the first step; even just thinking about their use from the point of view of the learner.
I plan to write further blogs to describe the ideas formulated in this book.
Buying the book was worth breaking my promise.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Creative teaching - the only alternative to school failure; Sir Ken Robinson leads the way - but who is actually following.

'Creativity is just as important as literacy and numeracy'
 Tell that to the Ministry of Education and the Government.

Share with other creative schools or teachers and Board of Trustee members

First TED talk - over 9 million downloads

Second TED Talk
Talk with graphics - excellent

The Government is right in believing schools should do a lot better. No student should leave school feeling a failure. The trouble is their approach is wrong, and ironically, with its desire for all students to be assessed against National Standards, is creating ‘winners and losers’ environment and in the process narrowing the curriculum and encourages teaching to the tests.
Sir Ken Robinson call this standardisation a fast food approach; an  approach that has its genesis in the past industrial age.
As thoughts are returning to beginning a new term it is worthwhile taking the time to listen to the wise, and often entertaining, ideas of Sir Ken.  It would also be a good idea to pass the links on to other teachers to Board of Trustee members.
Sir Ken, in his second TED Talk, says we are facing crisis as worrying as the climate change crisis – the crisis of not realising the talents of all students. Developing the unique talents of all students is an urgent challenge.
Most teachers are aware of Sir Ken’s comment that ‘creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy’. Creativity is all about developing people who love what they do –students who have not lost through formal school their innate desire to learn.
The problem, according to Sir Ken, is that education disconnects students from their talents  and , worse still, assesses students  only in literacy and numeracy – made even more destructive by the publishing of league tables.
What is required, Sir Ken believes, is not evolution but a real educational revolution –‘we need to transform current education into something else.’We need ‘educational transformation’.
To do this we need to challenge things we take for granted- things people think can’t be done in any other way. For me the blind spot in education is the clinging on to the idea of ability grouping, sorting, setting and streaming  issues tackled by the book ‘Learning Without Limits'. Literacy and numeracy targets and league tables will result in the problem of either poor or inflated self-images.
Sir Ken quotes Abraham Lincoln (1862) who said, ‘the dogmas of the past are inadequate to the stormy present… we must rise to the occasion. As our case in new we must think anew and act anew, we must disenthrall ourselves of ideas we take for granted. The way things are. Ideas that may have suited a previous century ‘but our minds are still hypnotised by them and we have to disenthrall ourselves of some of them.’
The trouble is, Sir Ken continues, ‘it is difficult to know what you take for granted because we take them for granted’. This applies to my thoughts about the use of ability grouping that determines forever how  students see themselves.
Sir Ken believes we are enthralled by (take for granted) linearity – that learning must go through predetermined tracks (think National Standards). Education, he believes, ought to be seen as more organic- rather like visiting an exhibition at an art gallery than learning from a book from start to finish.
Sir Ken says, ‘we create our lives symbiotically as we explore our circumstances through our talents’. We need, he says, to reconstitute ability through our diverse talents
The other big issues we fail to appreciate is conformity (once again think of National Standards). School system he says are being increasingly designed as fast food organisations for the mind. Everything is increasingly being standardised, predictable, fragmented.
I would add secondary school have long feature linearity of learning and conformity of students. Now it is being pushed on primary schools.
What we need instead, says Sir Ken,’ is for schools to customise Learning to the individual circumstances of individual students. We have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education and it is impoverishing our spiritual capacity just as fast food depletes our physical bodes.’
School have to recognise human identity is extremely diverse – children have a range of potential aptitudes’ to identify and amplify. ‘All learning is about passion - what excites our energy- about doing something you love – that you are good at.’
The reason why so many students opt out of education is because education doesn’t feed their spirit – it doesn’t feed the energy of their passion’. The current focus on numeracy and literacy, no matter how well intentioned, will not solve school failure.
Sir Ken believes we have to change our metaphors. We have to go from an industrial model to an agricultural one. From a manufacturing model based on linearity, conformity and ‘batching’ people (one again with ability grouping) to a model based on agriculture.
We have to recognise’, Sir Ken continues,’ that humans flourish not in a mechanistic process but rather in an organic one. It is impossible to predict the outcomes of human development – all we can do, as with a framer, is to create the conditions under which all students will flourish’.
Education can never be about cloning’ (  by I would add through imposed best practices, targets and National Standards) ‘it is about customisation and about personalisation; education to suit the circumstances of your students’.
‘This is the answer to the future. We need to develop a new system with appropriate support’ ( in New Zealand the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum’) ‘to help all schools develop appropriate systems based on a personalised curriculum taking advantage of thecreativity of teachers’.
We have an opportunity to revolutionize education but to achieve this we will have to change from an industrial model ( I would add also add to escape from the current corporateefficiency model) to an agricultural model where each school can flourish.
Sir Ken concluded his talk with a quote from a W B Yeats poem about a lover only able to offer not great cloaks  but only ‘my dreams  .I have spread my dreams at your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’
‘Every day in every way our students spread their dreams at our feet and we too should tread softly’.