Friday, December 27, 2013

A few images post Christmas

Slow cooked lamb, hydrangeas, vases and cushions.

I was pleased with the number of visits to my pre Christmas posting about  my completed bush track in my garden.

Now I no longer do any work for schools my garden has occupied me. A couple of times  walking around contributes to my fitness regime!

As I walk around I observe changes in the growth of plants and keep an eagle eye out for Tradescantia ( commonly called Wandering Jew) which is always poised to recolonise the garden.

Mostly gone but...
I often think , while walking around, that it is amazing what can be remembered without recourse to making notes  and compare this to the on-going demands of  assessing progress  of students in a teachers class!

I often also walk around the track at night to see if I can observe native trout  as well as admiring my very own glow-worms. I also often see eels.

I was invited out to friends Christmas dinner and made a decision to contribute a leg of lamb  I heard a well known cook say on the radio that she was slow roasting a leg of lamb for her Christmas dinner so I thought I would give it a go. I Googled for a recipe and , after being a bit confused with the choices, decided to combine the best of them all. The trouble was it required seven hours cooking so I had an early start!

 It was to be a long day. After a few hours I began to worry it might be over cooked and reduced the heat - as it turned out it was just about right. It looked very impressive - I had covered it with a topping of crumbs, olive oil and  anchovies as well as pushing in sprigs of rosemary and slivers of garlic.

An excellent dinner - and I  am now sold on pomegranate seeds ( for main course and dessert).

To brighten my home I decided to pick some flowers from my garden and displayed them in a vase given to me for Christmas. The vase was made by a friend whose painting I had previously bought. I liked the vase because it reminds me of the Japanese prints Vincent van Gogh used for inspiration.

At this time of the year the hydrangeas in my swamp are in flower so I picked  a couple of bunches.


One bunch ware lacewing hydrangeas   ( below) which look a little different.

To complete this mix of post Christmas images I couldn't resist a  photo of a wonderful cushion given to me by my talented sister-in -law  featuring a kokako based on a photo take by my brother when we visited Tiri tiri Matangi an island nature reserve in the Hauraki harbour.
After a visit to Auckland for New Year my new year Resolution is to take up painting!! Watch this space. 
 In the meantime I am saving up ideas for serious blogging when the new school year ( in the Southern hemisphere) begins.
Enjoy your holidays.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Garden Bush Experience

2013 saw the completion of my bush walk which now circles the house.

I bought the property in 1970 and took far too seriously from the previous owner a landscape gardener ( possibly the first landscape gardener in the province) that it was a 'wilderness garden'. As I was busy working as a school adviser the idea appealed.

A' batch' in the bush - recently painted

I had originally seen the property in 1969 but was unable to put together the money to acquire it. I decided instead to travel to England to visit some creative child-centred schools I had read about.

One reason why I want put up this post is to share the garden with a very good friend I met in 1969 and who I have kept in touch with.

Decks reach out into the garden
The property, once part of farmland close to the city of New Plymouth, was bought by Mrs V C Davies ( Duncan and Davies were a well known plant nursery based in the city). Mrs Davies added to the original coastal forest almost every native tree you can think of including several kauri.  In 1954' D and Ds' landscape gardener bought the land and built a small house  with a walking track down from the road. Later the house was added to and a drive established. The new owner then planted a wide range of introduced plants and established some tracks.

After removing some very large introduced trees and a out of control hydrangea hedge, planting smaller natives and spreading shade loving plants like hostas, plus bridges and duck-walks , the garden is now ( more or less) tamed.

Native shrubs replace hydrangea hedge.
New small natives  at drive entrance

Leaving civilisation

Entrance to bush walk
Latest walkway - through swamp

Looking up to the deck - kauri trees.
Bridge to lower walk

walkway  through parataniwha

Fern  walk along stream
Bridge across stream

Back to the house.
Latest walk through hostas


Wilderness now tamed.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Subversive holiday readings about PISA testing - time for a new persective?

Merry Christmas to you all.

Educational Readings  By Allan Alach

The New Zealand school year is coming to an end, and teachers are looking forward to a well deserved rest. In line with this I will be taking a break from educational issues until the end of January.

Have a great Christmas and New Year. Make sure you put your energies and time into the most important things - yourself, your family and your friends, and forget about GERM and all that this entails!

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

This week’s homework!

Educational Measurement

‘Educational measurement doesn't work and shouldn't be called measurement. The reductionism and worship of quantification in our society is twisting education as a mantra of "improving scores" drives every decision in the schools. We should make decisions about education based on what makes sense, not merely on what improves test scores.’

Theory of Mind: Why Art Evokes Empathy

An explanation of why art should be an integral part of life.

‘We have a sense of empathy with works of art.  If we see gestures in a portrait, we
actually almost simulate those gestures in our mind.  We often implicitly act as if we are moving our arms in response empathically to what we see in the painting.’

Who Says Math Has to Be Boring?

Explore maths of a bridge
‘The system is alienating and is leaving behind millions of other students, almost all of whom could benefit from real-world problem solving rather than traditional drills.’

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

Or why are other countries following the USA in destroying their own education systems?

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Even When Test Scores Go Up, Some Cognitive Abilities Don't

‘...schools whose students have the highest gains on test scores do not produce similar gains in "fluid intelligence" -- the ability to analyze abstract problems and think logically -- according to a new study from MIT neuroscientists working with education researchers at Harvard University and Brown University.’

More on PISA

The PISA 2012 scores show the failure of 'market based' education reform.

Pasi Sahlberg - do I need to write anything else?

PISA consumers should note that not every high-scoring school system is successful. A school system is "successful" if it performs above the OECD average in mathematics, reading literacy and science, and if students' socio-economic status has a weaker-than-average impact on students' learning outcomes. The most successful education systems in the OECD are Korea, Japan, Finland, Canada and Estonia.My personal takeaway from the PISA 2012 study is how it proves that fashionable Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) is built on wrong premises.’

The Pitfall of PISA Envy

Recognizing people or nations for doing the right thing for the wrong reasons can be misleading and ultimately unsustainable. PISA's rankings on their own are useless. The real lessons from PISA are found from researching how each nation achieved their results and then assessing their methods via ethical criteria that is independent of their results.’

Among the Many Things Wrong With International Achievement Comparisons

‘My attention was drawn to the section on “misinterpreting international test scores,” since I have long felt that these international assessments are a mess of uninterpretable numbers providing a full-employment program for psychometricians, statisticians, and journalists.’

Education rankings “flawed”

But as Pisa’s influence has grown, so has the attention it gets from academics. And 13 years in – with a towering stack of policy and reforms and reputations at stake – some who have examined Pisa closely are adamant that the whole thing is built on swampy statistical ground. Many believe there are problems with the way data is collected and analysed. These problems go so deep and matter so much, some say, that we should ignore the rankings completely – and certainly stop using them to drive changes to the way we teach our children.’

The leaning tower of PISA?

‘The assumption that questions are equally difficult for people in different countries is fundamental in the OECD's analysis of the results and this, according to Spiegelhalter is a major flaw.’

Dr. Christopher Tienken Explains PISA and Real Education Beyond PISA

Not only are PISA results influenced by experiences “in the home and beyond”, but there is a sizeable relationship between the level of child poverty in a country and PISA results. Poverty explains up to 46% of the PISA scores in OECD countries.’

From Bruce Hammonds ‘Oldies but Goodies’ blogs from the past.

The learning brain

Abused by schooling!!
‘Although the structure and how the brain works are interesting to learn about what is more important is to consider how we can create the conditions, or the environment, to ensure we develop all the potential that lies within each individual brain.’

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Educational Readings - PISA testing- who cares? And other subversive ideas!

By Allan Alach

Here’s an article I wrote about the PISA tests - targeted at New Zealand but with a lot of relevance all over.

Read NZ Listener article
If PISA is the answer, what is the hell was the question?

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at
This week’s homework!

The Fear Factor: What’s holding us back from moving ahead?

In contrast to the world’s most innovative organizations, innovation happens slowly in public schooling. In this article, the author explores the “fear factors” that hold us back from educational innovation, which include both structural blockers and cultural blockers. Nevertheless, there is plenty education leaders can do to support innovation, based on the characteristics observed in centres of innovation: look outside their own discipline for inspiration; create their own success criteria; create a safe space for experimentation; give people trust, time and permission to fail.

Pearson Education’s creepy vision confirms Common Core fears

George Orwell must have used Pearson Education as a model for Big Brother...

Pearson Education, an official partner in the development of resources and tests for the Common Core State Standards, recently released a video series to share their ‘vision for the future of learning’. Although the technology shown is impressive, these videos confirm what many teachers and parents have feared most about Common Core, unprecedented control and an invasion of student privacy. In these videos, educators’ teaching styles are monitored by real-time cameras in every classroom and evaluated on the use of specific points of instruction.’

Beyond teacher egocentrism: design thinking

Useful article by Grant Wiggins:

‘As teachers we understandably believe that it is the ‘teaching’ that causes learning. But this is too egocentric a formulation. As I said in my previous post, the learner’s attempts to learn causes all learning. The teaching is a stimulus; the attempted learning (or lack of it) is the response. No matter what the teacher says or does, the learner has to engage with and process the ‘teaching’ if learning is to happen.’

Secret Teacher: low morale and high pressure leaves no time for inspiration:
 Management's obsessive drive for 'outstanding' will prevent our next generation from fulfilling their personal goals and dreams

A story from England that will feel very pertinent to teachers in other GERM infected countries.

We are so caught up with data and so many progress checks that we don't give our students the time to shine. I wonder what would happen if the greats of the world like Einstein, Gaudi, Picasso and Martin Luther King were to attend school in 2013, would they be able to cultivate their talents and thrive?

Learning Theory

An interesting infographic detailing learning theories.

On Montessori and the Common Core standards

‘But then I remembered what Maria Montessori once said: “Before elaborating any system of education, we must therefore create a favorable environment that will encourage the flowering of a child’s natural gifts. All that is needed is to remove the obstacles.”’

China’s Schools Teaches Kids to Take Tests, Obey the State, and Not Much More

This week’s PISA results have provided excuses for school and teacher bashing. Maybe we should look at why China (and other Asian countries) seem to be better.

In China, memorization and (consequently) the ability to perform on tests are the keys to academic success, rather than the ability to think or question.’

Art Makes You Smart

‘Clearly, however, we can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition. Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum.’

What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain: Cursive Writing Makes Kids Smarter

‘Yet scientists are discovering that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn “functional specialization,”[2] that is capacity for optimal efficiency. In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.’

Why geniuses don’t need gifted education

‘I have interviewed many bona fide geniuses, because they tend to make news. Their life stories suggest that such people are best left alone to educate themselves, as long as we make sure that they can get to all the riches of our culture and science and that we don’t require them to take grade-level courses that hold them back.’

A Sampling of articles about PISA:

The PISA Results and the Crisis of Authority

‘Thus, the entire practice of publicly presenting international comparisons of test results as league tables and in turn measures of school system quality is arbitrary, and thus properly understood as pseudo-science and ultimately against authoritative knowledge.’

Among the Many Things Wrong With International Achievement Comparisons

‘...I have long felt that these international assessments are a mess of uninterpretable numbers providing a full-employment program for psychometricians, statisticians, and journalists.’

John Kuhn: Our Kids -- Coddled or Confident?

‘Perhaps instead of being hobbled by a mathematical deficit, our kids are instead empowered by a superabundance of hopeful freedom that allows them to dare big things. A child who is not allowed to fail becomes an adult who is afraid to try. I posit that, unchecked, our test-and-punish craze will hurt America's trial-and-error economy.’

Are Finland’s vaunted schools slipping?

A thoughtful article by Pasi Sahlberg - important to inform you in any debates about the PISA results.

‘Finland should also continue to let national education and youth policies — and not PISA — drive what is happening in schools. Reading, science, and mathematics are important in Finnish education system but so are social studies, arts, music, physical education, and various practical skills. Play and joy of learning characterize Finland’s pre-schools and elementary classrooms.’

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Creativity of the Artist: Observe

How would you apply this in your classroom?

Probably the biggest way that artists differ from non-artists is in how the former observe things. For instance, on a sunny, windy day in the countryside, have you ever watched the wind blow across the trees? It is fascinating to watch. As the leaves flutter in the wind, they reflect and deflect the sunlight rapidly, causing them to flicker and dance in a flow of changing colour and tone.’

Importance of developing talents of all students; the challenge for 21st C education

Bruce’s latest blog:

‘....Louise Stoll and Lorna Earl write what is, to me, the real challenge of educational organisations for the 21stC to develop all their talents to the full and to realize their creative potential, including responsibility for their own lives and achievement of their personal aims’.

Are We Preparing Graduates for the Past or the Future?

‘If we can foster more students and graduates who develop ingenuous ideas and are undaunted by what they don’t know, support them with mentors to coach and challenge them, and encourage within them a bold vision backed with adaptive and strategic thinking, soft and hard skills, then we will have the players who can create a thriving, dynamic economy.’

From Bruce’s ‘Oldies but Goodies’ blogs from the past.

Educational change and leadership - bottom up!

Creative principals are concerned with influencing positive changes within the school. Once again personal mutual relationship and trust between all are vital. To be able to influence others the staff must see the principal as part of the working community not isolated worrying about achievement data. In this respect a successful principal is not unlike a sensitive class teacher.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

End of year survey – tapping the wisdom of your class/school/community

At the end of the school year it is a good idea to gather information from the students you are passing on.

Not only is this a chance for you to get some insight about your teaching but it is also a great way to value the ‘voice’ of your students.

What are your students’ attitudes towards areas of learning?

 You might also like to think about developing a similar survey for the beginning of next year to give some insight into student’s attitudes that they bring with them to your class. You could include the various learning areas, what they are expecting to gain from the year with you, and what questions they would like to find out more about. You might be able to work the later into a negotiated curriculum?  For each area chosen provide a 1 (don’t like at all) to 10 (love it) scale.

If you had completed such an attitudinal survey of students’ attitudes at the beginning of the year the same survey at the end of the year will indicate positive or negative changes in the students attitudes to the various learning areas. Attitudes about an area of learning are as important as achievement.

 For the students at the end of the year:

 1. What have been the three best things you have done this year? Why?

 2. What would you have liked to have done more of this year?

 3. What didn’t we do that I wish we had?

 4. In what way have I changed this year? What areas have I improved in, or grown to like more?

 5. What were the things I didn’t like most this year?

 6. What would you change about how I teach so the class would be better?

 7. If you were giving advice for next year’s students of how to survive in style in my room, what would you say to them?

 Below are some interesting sentences for students to finish that will give you some idea of how they see schools, teachers and themselves? 
The students’ answers will provide insightful responses, similes, or metaphors for the class teacher to give attention to.

 A school is a place where……………..

Answers could range from: ….’You have to go’ to…. ‘A place where teachers help students learn’.

A teacher is a person who…………………

Answers could range from: …’tells me/kids what to do’ to…’A person who helps me/kids learn’.

A student is a person who………………

Answers could range from: ‘Does as he/she is told’ to…. Likes learning about new things’.

It is interesting to see what ideas/ metaphors students come up with and if they see themselves as learners or someone who is taught things.

 Try it. You might be surprised. You might even learn something!

Something similar could be devised by principals to gather ideas for their own professional development – or something devised by the Board of Trustees to get feedback from the parents/caregivers?

The responses to such questions show how the culture of the school or class is seen.
Culture Counts!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Talent based education; the challenge for 21st C schools - Louise Stoll and Lorna Earl


In the introduction to series of books , Expanding Educational Horizons, published by Mc Graw Hill Open university Press,  the series editors  Louise Stoll and Lorna Earl write what is, to me, the real challenge of educational organisations for the 21stC;

‘The dizzying speed of the modern world puts education at the heart of both personal and community development; its mission is to enable everyone, without exception, to develop all their talents to the full and to realize their creative potential, including responsibility for their own lives and achievement of their personal aims’.
magine a country taking such a statement as their starting point – to achieve such a vision would mean the transformation of the current education system.
An individual school could make the challenge its own vision.
‘Education’, unfortunately’ write Stoll and Earl, ‘doesn’t always keep up with the times. Sometimes it appears to be moving in step with changes; at other times it seems to be in the wrong century.
Years of research around school reform have shown Stoll and Earl that ’tinkering around the edges won’t help educators meet the challenges that children and young people will face the future. Current interventions are having limited effects’.

Interventions such as modern information technology have , as yet , not challenged
the basic assumptions of schools with their genesis in an industrial age that hold on
Back to the 50s
to a transmission of knowledge  approach to often unwilling students. The challenge of realizing the creative potential of all students requires a personalisation of learning rather than a ‘one size fits all’ mentality where differences are accommodated by ability grouping, tracking or streaming. And this applies as much for primary schools as it does for secondary schooling.
Countries , like New Zealand, that focus on National Standards, are looking back to past schooling requirements and, this is worse in countries like the UK, the US and Australia, where national testing is imposed by populist politicians. In such environments, with their focus on literacy and numeracy achievement data, curriculums are narrowed and all too often teachers are forced to teach to the tests for their own survival.

No room then, in such toxic environments, for creativity, talent development or personalisation of learning. And even with such regressive policies ‘the educational achievement’, Stoll and Earl write, ‘between the most and least advantage is still far too wide in many places’. And, it is important to note, this achievement is limited to literacy and numeracy which results in the range of unique talents of students being ignored.

What schools need to be worried about is the need to provide opportunities for students to broaden their knowledge, skills and attitudes so as to have the opportunity to have their innate talents recognised or uncovered. This is the intent of the 2007 NewZealand Curriculum all but side-lined by the imposition of National Standards.
Thomas Armstrong, in his book ‘Awakening Genius’ believes teachers are at risk of losing the importance of the sheer joy of learning new things and writes, ‘I’m
troubled that modern educators have become caught up in the world of standards, curriculum, assessment, discipline management, budgets, policies, and bureaucracy that they have lost the ability to see clearly the simple truth of the joy of learning as the crucial foundation for everything else in learning.’ He continues as educators we want to assist them in finding their inner genius ‘and support them in guiding it into pathways that can lead to personal fulfilment’. Armstrong believes that a focus on developing the genius (talents/interests) would effect the ‘greatest transformation ever seen in our schools.’

What is required’, emphasize Stoll and Earl,’ is a bold and imaginative reorientation’ by all involved of educational purposes, policies and practices.

The editors believe their series provides a forum for thinking about different and more powerful ways to help students take a more proactive role in their own futures and more positive roles for teachers and other adults to best help them by creating learning environments designed in such a way to ensure success for all students by helping them realise the unique talents of each learner.

The authors hope that their series will provide fresh views on things schools take for granted, to challenge current assumptions and provide inspiration for alternative ways; to offer ‘a variety of perspectives of what education could be; not what it has been, or even , is’.
Just looking how time is apportioned to the various learning areas, a look at what is being assessed may be a start, to engage the imagination to look beyond current provisions. There is no suggestion that exposure to in depth knowledge , or literacy and numeracy are no longer important, it is just that they need to be ‘reframed’ so as to ensure all students are given the opportunities to develop their talents. Naturally ‘learning how to learn’ – the full range of inquiry and expressive skills need to be seen as vital to achieve talent based personalised learning. Students’ attitudes, sense of identity and accomplishments need to be seen central in a personalised system.

Books , such as those such as those in this series and many others, encourage readers to look beyond current provisions, to inspire, to motivate, to work with others and to most of all to stimulate deep change and concrete possibilities’.  The authors believe ‘educators need the stimulus of external ideas’. They also need to value and share the ideas of non-conformist teachers who may well have ideas that hold future school actions in their efforts.

Until new transformational thinking is implemented then students (and teachers) will continue to struggle in a system, notwithstanding all the well intentioned tinkering, with its genesis in the wrong century.


For information on the series go to