Friday, June 28, 2013

Educational Readings - fighting for education

By Allan Alach

Join this rapidly growing Facebook group of teachers saying enough is enough!

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

This week’s homework!

The Time of the Corporatization of our Public Schools in the Form of Charter Schools Has Come and Gone (via Bruce Hammonds)

Charter schools are not the magic bullet and in fact distract from the real issues of poverty and the need for “wrap around” support for students in need.’

What is SUCCESS?

How does your school define success? How do you? How do the kids? Tony Gurr has the answers.

Robert Fried on Seymour Sarason

Great book by Robert Fried
This article by Bruce Hammonds, from way back in 2006 when the light of the developing New Zealand Curriculum document was beginning to illuminate primary school education (in comparison to the educational dark ages that we are presently enduring) looks at Seymour Sarason’s book ‘The Predictable Failure of School Reform.’ Published in 1993, this book proves that our politicians are learning failures. 

Eight Ways Of Looking At Intelligence (via Tony Gurr)

‘… eight ways of looking at intelligence—eight perspectives provided by the science of learning. A few words, first, about that term: The science of learning is a relatively new discipline born of an agglomeration of fields: cognitive science, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience. Its project is to apply the methods of science to human endeavors—teaching and learning—that have for centuries been mostly treated as an art. As with anything to do with our idiosyncratic and unpredictable species, there is still a lot of art involved in teaching and learning. But the science of learning can offer some surprising and useful perspectives on how we educate young people and how we guide our own learning. And so: Eight Ways Of Looking At Intelligence.’

Hyperbole about Online Learning is Not Supported by Research (via Save Our Schools Australia)

One of the corporate dreams is that education can be provided via online tuition, thus cutting out the middlemen (teachers) and also to increase their profit streams. The usual players (Murdoch, Pearson Group, McGraw Hill, for example) are already working on this in the USA and most likely in Australia and New Zealand - have NZ schools wondered why there has been so much emphasis on ensuring all schools have access to ultra fast broadband? Just a thought….

A Response to Mitra Part 1: Education and Employability

A Response to Mitra Part 2: Classroom Pedagogy (both via Tony Gurr)

Sugata Mitra has received many accolades for his research with children and learning with computers. Without doubt he has made some extremely vital discoveries, but, as with all new developments, it also pays to look at the other side of the equation, so that we do not follow trends (learning styles for example!) Skepticism is healthy… even if these articles reference John  Hattie…...              

The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do

Maybe that’s why teachers get so little respect. It’s hard to respect a skill that is so hard to quantify. So, maybe you just have to take our word for it. The next time you walk into a classroom, and you see the teacher calmly presiding over a room full of kids, all actively engaged in the lesson, realize that it’s not because the job is easy. It’s because we make it look easy. And because we work our asses off to make it look easy. And, yes, we make it fun, too.’

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kelvin Smythe:The not so hidden corporate agenda of National Standards, and PaCT testing

This an extract froma longer posting by Kelvin Smythe – and slightly adapted for this posting.

Since the announcement of NZEI, NZPF, AIMS, and CPA joining together to oppose PaCT and national standards we awaited the response from the anti-public school coalition  of John Roughan of the Herald, Bernadette Courtney of the Dominion, Treasury, the prime minister, and Hekia Parata. First one out of the blocks was Key, followed by Courtney. 
Biased editorial writer
‘The time has come for teacher unions to accept that national standards in reading, writing, and mathematics are here to stay,’ she trumpeted. The first paragraph in an editorial in metropolitan newspaper and a whacking great mistake.

I am not going to go through in detail the ‘arguments’ of the Editor except to assure readers that the editorial has dumb, pudding-like naivety which is the editorial’s main source of momentum.

But in an early misstep she says: ‘One of the strongest arguments teachers have advanced against the standards is that there is a lack of consistency in the way that they are applied and insufficient moderation at the national level.’
‘One of the strongest …’
There are others?
For an editor setting out to play dumb, this was a dumb sentence – because it is accurate – a slipup not to be repeated, however. While she is not quite as adroit as John Roughan, editor of the Herald  in total she is far more trenchantly dumb.
Then she comes to the nub of her editorial and the nub of this posting. She responds to claims that PaCT will undermine teachers‘ professionalism and reduce quality teaching.’
The claims are ridiculous,’ she declares. ‘Ensuring consistent assessment in reading, writing and mathematics will have no impact on how individual teachers seek to inspire, guide and educate their charges.’
No impact … the gall is breathtaking.
Thousands upon thousands of articles, many based on research have shown otherwise, and hundreds of books, and she knows it, but she is playing dumb. This is dumber than dumber.
One standard to rule them all!!
So let me see: reading, writing, and mathematics are going to be measured for standards, that requires those subjects to be organised for measurement, that requires learning in those areas to be divided into small learning bites, that requires learning to be standardised into standards – learning to small, standardised, measurable bites is an inefficient way to learn, it is a time-wasting way to learn, it is a less interesting way to learn, it is a less challenging way to learn, and it leads to an emphasis on ability grouping. All this is bad for children’s learning. As an example, research in England has shown that the move to enforced ability grouping in mathematics has been the largest contributor to England’s plummeting maths achievement. In New Zealand, ability grouping in maths is now widespread with similar results. The alternative of mathematics based on real-life problem solving has virtually disappeared.
 In reading, an emphasis on ability grouping and comprehension-type activities has resulted in less independent reading and love of books. And don’t get me going on the insincere waffle, adjective- and adverb-laden writing that is being produced. Good work Billy: two metaphors and look at all those adjectives. Plenty of rubric ticks there.
But it gets worse. Because teachers, especially New Zealand teachers like to teach more holistically, the kind of teaching they are forced to do is seen as the teaching the bureaucrats want, as someone else’s teaching; it’s not teachers’ preferred way, so creativity and initiative is reduced.
When curriculum areas are chosen for measurement and national attention, a number of things happen: the chosen curriculum areas are narrowed and pedagogically corrupted; the remaining ones neglected. Yet those neglected curriculum areas are important to the chosen ones and crucial sources of flexible and creative thinking overall.
When you have an education change involving high stakes’ measurement and standardisation of learning, the repercussion throughout the system are profound. What has been described  above being just a fragment of the fallout.
All students to sorted and graded
Teachers know that the drive by the right for national standards is not really about national standards but about providing a platform for bureaucratic control and putting schools down. We know what Editor is setting out to achieve with her dumbness: Providing an excuse for politicians and education bureaucrats to take more control over public schools for the purpose of squeezing the life out of them to the advantage of private schools. And the refrain she wants to induce: Look at those irresponsible, self-serving  teachers rejecting what is good for children’s education – we’ll have to give more power to bureaucrats and politicians to force them to do what they ought to be doing.
The Dominion Editor knows that that PaCT is intended to be used for all kinds of centralised control. She knows this but plays dumb because this is what she wants.

To the Editor national standards are about parents knowing ‘how their children are progressing in the three most important building blocks …’
Don’t make me laugh.
Who needs diversity and creativity
National standards and testing are not about parents knowing how their children are progressing: they are about making way for political and bureaucratic authoritarian control over schools; they are about a rapid growth of private schools for the children of the more privileged; they are about international corporations using education as a source of investment and profit; they are about using education for the neoliberal propagandising of students; they are about achieving wider social and economic neoliberal goals; and, cruelly  they are about appearing to do something for less privileged children when they are actually preparing  them to be part of a disposable generation.
The Dominion Editor knows this and is playing dumb to disguise the real purposes of national standards and testing. Gates, McKinsey, Pearson, Murdoch et al, are not
interested in parents knowing how children in classrooms are progressing – don’t make me laugh (again) – they are interested in how their profit is going and the spread of ideas to advance that profit. National standards and testing both here and overseas provide the foundation blocks for all those corporate and neoliberal purposes. They provide the flags to be planted for neo-colonisation and furthering the power of the corporate elite.

The Editor knows this but blathers on about parents knowing how their children are progressing.

This is not about parents knowing how their children are progressing but about parents being hoodwinked. Youth unemployment will be the major challenge of the future, but the education being advanced for many children is an education for stupidity. A concentration on a narrow version of the 3Rs is not an education for preparing children for the future, it is a preparation for failure and becoming part of a disposable generation – the disposable generation being an inevitable outcome of corporate authoritarianism.  Critical and flexible thinking is being suggested as something to attend to when the 3Rs are accomplished. What nonsense – they should be present in the education of all children, all the time. Anyway, nearly all children accomplish the 3Rs, but where is the learning for critical and flexible thinking? Way down as a priority. National testing and standards, in the light of this, can be seen as a fig leaf to cover the doing of nothing real for children outside the elite class (who will be attending privileged private schools).

Education ought liberate creativity
The Dominion Editor knows all this but does not care, she is on a very different trajectory, a neoliberal trajectory, away from the common good encompassed in the social contract, to a market-driven ideology that emphasises individual solutions to economically and socially produced problems; to an ideology of carelessness and cruelty based on fear, humiliation, and obedience. She is on a trajectory where trust is viewed with suspicion because human motivation is seen as grasping and predatory and where the template for the organisation of society is corporate greed.

The Editor knows that if teachers are given the autonomy to be creative, children will learn to think flexibly and to be critical in their thinking. Children educated in a humane, diverse, and democratic environment; children who develop their own voice – will be more likely challenge corporate authoritarianism and not allow themselves to become tools of an uncaring instrumental tool of repression.



Friday, June 21, 2013

Educational Readings - fighting for our classrooms

By Allan Alach

When spiders unite they can tie down a lion. Ethiopian proverb.

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

This week’s homework!
Fighting For Our Classrooms, and For the Human Beings Inside Them

‘It seems as if the same battle is being fought in every aspect of American society. On one side are the forces of egalitarianism, economic opportunity and self-determination. On the other is a well-funded and entrenched elite bent on hijacking our media, our political process and our institutions for their selfish ends. Sadly, the classrooms of this country haven't been spared.’
Ring any bells for you?

What’s the most ‘natural’ way to learn? It might surprise you.

Here is a counterintuitive piece on what we consider the “natural” way to learn, from cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham.

To THUNK or not to THUNK…

There’s life beyond protests in Turkey and to prove that here’s a good thunk from Tony Gurr.

It Makes Me Wonder Why All the Amateurs Have Come to Education

US educational activist ( Shaun Johnson reflecting on the seemingly endless numbers of amateur experts on education, especially politicians and economists! Right on Shaun.

Are College and Career Skills Really the Same?

This US article examines the rhetoric that common core standards are necessary to prepare children for employment and tertiary studies. The connection to national standards rhetoric in New Zealand is very obvious.

‘The second concern is justifying the Common Core on the highly dubious notion that college and career skills are the same. On its face, the idea is absurd. After all, do chefs, policemen, welders, hotel managers, professional baseball players and health technicians all require college skills for their careers? Do college students all require learning occupational skills in a wide array of careers? In making the "same skills" claim, proponents are really saying that college skills are necessary for all careers and not that large numbers of career skills are necessary for college.’

Telling Time with a Broken Clock: The trouble with standardized testing

Very comprehensive article by Canadian teacher Joe Bower.

‘Ask any parents what their long-term concerns and goals are for their children, and seldom will you hear about test scores and world rankings. Their concerns are compelling, existential and heartfelt. Parents want their kids to be happy, hard-working, motivated, responsible, honest, empathetic, intelligent, collaborative, creative and courageous.’

Bill Gates Discovers Money Cannot Buy Teachers

Surprise, surprise. Another neoliberal dream goes up in smoke.
.Not by testing Bill!!!!
‘Ultimately, there are three ways to get people to do something you want them to do. One is to force them, by making the consequences for not complying onerous or unacceptable. The second is to lure them, by offering some sort of bribe or incentive. The third is to get them excited about your ideas, whereupon they may engage with enthusiasm. In my experience, real change in education only comes with the third of these methods, because the first two inspire more resistance than cooperation.’

Will New Tests Measure Any Valuable Skills?

After more than ten years of national education policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the words accountability and assessment have become synonymous at many public schools with high-stakes testing. The two government programs have attached consequences and rewards to standardized test scores, leading many educators to believe they have to teach to the test. But, as the well-known argument goes, teaching prescribed math and reading content doesn’t help students build the skills like creativity, problem-solving and adaptability they need to adapt in the world outside of school.’

What Would Socrates Say? (via Bruce Hammonds)

The concept of inquiry learning goes back a very long way to the Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. One of his reporting sayings was "I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance." I can think of many politicians who would do well to adopt the same self belief. This quote highlights the relevance of Socrate’s philosophy to the 21st century educational environment, without a standardised test in sight.

Socrates believed that we learn best by asking essential questions and testing tentative answers against reason and fact in a continual and virtuous circle of honest debate. We need to approach the contemporary knowledge explosion and the technologies propelling this new enlightenment in just that manner. Otherwise, the great knowledge and communication tsunami of the 21st century may drown us in a sea of trivia instead of lifting us up on a rising tide of possibility and promise.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Educational Readings - heading for a 'tipping point'!

By Allan Alach

There’s increasing evidence that the forces of educational darkness are being repelled in many countries. The tipping point will come, seemingly out of nowhere and the neoliberal standardised education nightmare will rapidly collapse. Keep fighting!

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

Schooling Beyond Measure

Alfie Kohn is another educational commentator who is always worth reading. This article examines the current focus on measuring school and pupil progress through numbers, that underpins GERM.

‘The reason that standardized test results tend to be so uninformative and misleading is closely related to the reason that these tests are so popular in the first place.  That, in turn, is connected to our attraction to -- and the trouble with -- grades, rubrics, and various practices commended to us as “data-based.”

Why Common Core standards will fail

This article about the USA standards does provide some useful insights into the future of New Zealand’s national standards.

Education and Consumerism

‘Has the ideal of school as a place to become a critical thinker, an engaged citizen, given way to the ideal of school as Alma Mater to corporate America, giving birth to the educated consumer? Are schools creating citizens or consumers? What do you think?’

The Animal School (via Bruce Hammonds)

Bruce’s comment: An old but still relevant fable – the problem with standardisation. One size fits no one!

A new ‘Education Declaration’ for genuine school reform

‘A coalition of (USA) educators, researchers, parents, activists and elected officials issued what signees are calling an “Education Declaration” on Tuesday that lists seven key principles on which genuine school reform should be guided for the 21st century and starts from the premise that public education is “a public good.”

The document offers a progressive approach to school reform that includes ensuring that teachers are properly trained and respected, that opportunities to learn for all students are paramount and that  learning must be “engaging and relevant.”’

What do you think?

Why two reform movements — choice and accountability — have fallen short

While we rush in, others are finding that it doesn’t work. Hey politicians - save the stress and avoid the same mistakes. Just read this.

A big unexplored idea in school reform

A second article from the Washington Post, this time by Marion Brady - another name for your must read list. Does this seem familiar to you?

‘The big new thing in education reform is the Common Core State Standards initiative. Not everyone is a fan. Gene Glass, former president of the American Educational Research Association, calls the standards an “idiots’ solution to a misunderstood problem. That problem: an archaic curriculum that will prepare no child for life in 2040 and beyond.”

I’m with Dr. Glass. I oppose the standards because they reinforce rather than rethink a curriculum that can’t do the job.’

Supporting Self-Directed Learners: Five Forms of Feedback (via Bruce Hammonds)

Arthur L. Costa and Robert J. Garmston

Educational researcher John Hattie (described by an Australian newspaper as ‘the rock star of educational research’ - actually he’s just a comprehensive number cruncher) has made a big issue about the importance of feedback. His evidential claim is poor; however he does have a point. Here’s a much more authoritative article.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Creative teaching - an alternative to the political press for standardisation.

Brilliant collage from Hillcrest School
It was great to pick up a new book ‘ Connecting Curriculum,Linking learning’ NZCER 2013 which provides portraits of creative teachers' practice in an era that sees an emphasis on narrowing teaching through the emphasis on National Standards and assessment focussing teacher’s attention unhealthily on literacy and numeracy.
The authors of the book believe that it is possible to balance standards with innovation if teachers hold true to their beliefs but unfortunately it is all too easy for schools to comply.  The book is a welcome reminder to hard working creative teachers that they are not alone.
The authors write that we need to look to the creative work going on in real classrooms, particularly in the writings of New Zealand’spioneer creative teachers, rather than importing failed overseas programmes such as National Standards and Charter Schools. The authors write that ‘we know that students’ learn best when engaged, challenged and inspired. We know that many important skills in numeracy and literacy are learned in various contexts and not in relation to set targets. We also know that integrated and negotiated curriculum provides students with ways to achieve ownership of their learning. Children have an innate curiosity about the world around them, and learning invariably follows when their curiosity is piqued’.
Learning, the authors write, ‘is a collaborative process that is socially mediated and negotiated, is messy, and is seldom captured by individual assessment results(Nuttall 2007)’. It requires as the all but side-lined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum states for students to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’; a curriculum that vests teachers with greater decision making capacity.
I was attracted to one chapter  featuring the work of Gay Gilbert because it resonated with my own beliefs and the beliefs of teachers I have worked with in the past. This chapter reflected the influence of the pioneer work of Elwyn Richardson as illustrated in his book ‘In The Early World’ which has been recently republished by the NZCER 2012. Elwyn focused on developing his classroom as a community of scientists and artists exploring and expressing ideas about their local environment, their personal experiences and their concerns. Elwyn’s approach was not free and easy; he expected children to discipline their talents and ideas in the pursuit of excellence; to express their ideas with feeling, authenticity and originality.
Gay acknowledges the influence of Elwyn, an earlier principal of her present school Stan Boyle, and, in present time, educational language consultant Gail Loane ,who also advocates the use of children’s experience and ideas as inspiration rather than teacher prescribed formula, and her current principal Irene Cooper The teachers I have worked with in the past will relate well to Gay’s work but even more so those feeling trapped in current increasingly conformist environments.

Gay’s classroom emphasises the importance of sharpeningchildren’s attention by helping them observe carefully. ‘Seeing, sketching, focussing and later making painting or making collages, are all deliberate acts that help deepen children’s perceptual skills. Each medium adds to children’s repertoire and leads to new discoveries’.
An example of an integrated learning experience was inspired by Gay bringing along to class a rooster and two chickens. Immediately ‘the children had many questions to ask and clamoured to touch, hold and watch the birds. Using a range of senses is a rich precursor for capturing thoughts and feelings (Costa 2008)’.
Erom Elwyn's class
Such simple environmental experiences as this are an ideal platform to develop observational skills leading to questions (and then to research), expressive art and poetic statements. Gay’s chapter gives teachers real insights how to develop quality work with their classes. Students in her class could well have studied how fowls are adapted, what makes a bird a bird, types of feathers, history of fowls, types of fowls, raising chickens in the classroom as a science project, the structure of eggs and their strength, and the moral issue of battery farming.
At first Gay encourages her students to notice details and textures along with exploring ways children can use their pencils to draw. This slowing the pace encourages children time to think about whatever they are observing. Gay assists the process by using close up photos of beaks, eyes, claws screened on the interactive whiteboard.

An amazing rooster
As the children sketched questions and thoughts were captured to be called on later to develop poetic and scientific language responses and to deepen the quality of their work.Children ideas are celebrated and shared to inspire others  who, by hearing each other’s rich language, are ‘spurred to find their own voice.’ Gay challenges her class to think more creatively about their way of expressing ideas pushing then past cliché and hackneyed phrases. By such means Gay encourages all her students to be ‘real’ authors. By sharing adult examples of writing Gay’s students become aware of language feature such as simile and metaphor and the use of vivid imagery. It is important for Gay that children do not copy other writers but rather to ‘learn from them and gain inspiration from the ways in which they weave magic with words’.
 Gay also writes a piece of her own to model for the children believing that ‘teachers need to know what it feels like to write like a poet, and it is only in the crafting of one’s writing that people realise the challenges and joy of such work’. She invites her class to critique her writing showing that it a draft that requires editing – she asks for their help in improving her effort helping them appreciate creative process and the need to for poetry ‘to be cut to the bone’.
Gay uses a range of writing scaffolds for children to explore in their own unique way and suggests that their title is ‘likely to emerge at the end of the process as authors cannot predict in advance what will be written because it emerges in the creative act’. She continues,  When engaged in the creative process, whether it be poetry or visual art, we need to be willing to explore the unknown, make errors, refine ideas and tolerate the uncertainty  required.’ In reality this applies to all learning, maths and science included arises through reflection on experiences that challenge our preconceptions - something John Dewey wrote about more than a century ago.
Gay continually monitors her room to see if any children are struggling and works with children who are having difficulties – in difficult cases she scribes ideas for such children eliciting responses through questioning and encouragement of their ideas. Through this means she boosts their confidence engendering a feeling of pride and helps develop self-belief. Every now and then Gay may stop the class and with the child’s permission share a gem from someone’s writing.
When it comes to developing larger pieces of creative art Gay makes it clear she wants her children to be creative – to use creative licence. Her approach is to make the process liberating and playful.
 I art, as in writing, Gay provides a process to encourage bold unique pieces of work. Children create chalk drawings first which is easily rubbed out and painted over. No attempt is made to have her children become mini Van Goghs or Monets. She wants her students to develop as artists in their own right.
The paintings unfold as an ‘organic, problem solving approach’ assistance given at the ‘teachable moment’, both teachers and peers modelling ideas  setting children up as their own experts. ‘A wise teacher knows that children will discover more than can be predicted in advance.’ ‘The freedom to experiment benefits children and is developmentally appropriate. Also famous artists use trial and error to home their skills’. As, I might mention, do scientists but, in art, Gay writes creative art ‘should be a reflection of who they are and what they bring to the work – each piece is as personal as a fingerprint’. It is expected that children will be able to explain what they are learning.
Taranaki teacher; Bill Guild
In painting children are given primary colours plus white and black and medium brushes to begin and the paintings take a series of focussed 1 to 2 hour sessions until the A3 sheets are covered. Once paintings are dry finer brushes are provided to add detail and later pastel to add textual qualities.  The teacher’s job is draw attention to significant artistic breakthroughs that children make and share these with the class. This builds up a cohort of peer expertise ….raising the quality of the final products. It also proclaims to everyone that creativity, risk taking And problem solving are valued.’
‘In order to honour what is completed, the work needs to be displayed with respect.  Completed work around the current study , including language , art and research are displayed with a ‘blurb’ about the process so that parents, caregivers and other visitors are helped to ‘read’ the work and understand the depth of thinking that underpins the making of art’ – and this applies other work on display. Such displays illustrates to all the ‘myriad ways in which art foster persistence problem solving, informed judgement, critical thinking and depth of perception’. The displays ‘say much about the value the teacher gives’ to her student’s work.
There is no doubting Gay’s influence in guiding her children’s learning; ‘Quality art and writing do not emerge from a permissive approach that leaves children to their own devices’. ‘ The teacher is part of the creative process , which could be viewed as a co-constructed series of events ‘from the decision to bring the chickens to schools to the sharing of published writing, the teacher skilfully shaped and refined children’s learning’. This ‘cumulative outcome of adult-child collaboration’ approach would also apply to children developing research about the chickens arising from their questions.

Mix of observation, process and imagination
Creative teachers like Gay  learn through experience the artistry as to when to assist and what skills might be required for individual or groups of students to achieve quality outcomes in all areas of learning.
The chapter focusses on language and art but it is important to note that in such classrooms traditional literary skills are not neglected – the opposite is the case traditional skills of literacy provides the means for students to find out about things that have captured their curiosity.‘Literacy’, the authors write, ‘is high stakes in the world and we do our students a disservice if we do not grow their literacy power. However we, we also do them a disservice if we ignore their creative, imaginative, visual skill’.
Gay’s creative approach to teaching brings to the forefront ‘the children’s views of the world and their imaginative perspectives are brought to life through processes that build skills and foster creativity’. ‘This’, the authors say, ‘is surely what schools should do.’
Such a creative approach exposes students to the risky business of real world learning. ‘One of the vital elements in creativity is the ability to tolerate feelings and struggles that comes from bringing something new into being.’  The chapter concludes saying ‘the last thing we as teachers should do is stifle their tolerance of the inevitable uncertainties inherent in the creative process’.
All the chapters in the book ‘ reveal high levels of democratic pedagogy’ with teachers and students ‘are actively involved in negotiating and developing classroom curriculum.’ In such environments ‘where students co-construct the learning process, there is a redress of power relationships’.
All the examples in the book illustrate the importance of narrowing the focus of inquiry, focussing on big ideas, and to draw on the various learning areas only if required.  The chosen examples see students as ‘capable and competent’. Students where students ‘pursue their work “as if” they were scientists, writers, designers …  In examples chosen ‘students were scaffolded to take on increasingly adult-like responsibilities and were expected to wrestle with problems’. ‘Without well timed tensions or challenges, integrated studies can easily revert to a series of activities that may engage students but not extend their thinking.’  The teacher’s ability to discern the opportunities to deepen learning was critical’ and this ‘required quality questioning and reflection by both teachers and students’.
All examples in the book the authors conclude are, ‘about bringing children’s voice to the forefront’ and to ‘give them a say in a curriculum that matters to them. Teachers are not passive in this process, but are actively involved alongside their students, posing questions, speculating and provoking. In treating their students as experts, they raise their expectations of them, which inevitably leads to deepening learning.’
This book is an antidote to the current formulaic approaches to learning, the narrowing effects of National Standards and the de-professionalism of teachers. Instead it ‘focuses on learning…..brought to life through the curiosity, struggles and hard-earned insights of students.’  It is a book that celebrates the talents and passions of students and the teacher’s role in encouraging them.
It is a book that values the insights of creative teachers who advocate for ‘deep and engaged learning’.
To me it is all about digging deeply into chosen learning experiences; to negotiate learning with students, to value student’s questions, and ideas; and to do fewer things well.
(Apologies for focussing on the chapter featuring Gay Gilbert’s Hillcrest classroom but, as I began this blog, her approach resonates with the ideas that I have long subscribed to. Other readers might not be so particular).
Bill Guild's class explore the Mt Taranaki 1970s

Friday, June 07, 2013

Educational Readings - the truth about school ( Chomsky et all)

By Allan Alach

‘Rote repetition can result in some information being retained, although it is not  a particularly effective method of encoding information into memory. Why, then, are so many kids forced to learn this way?’

The Truth About School
Your thoughts?
I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at
This week’s homework!

What can we learn from children's writing? (via Michael Fawcett)

‘A BBC Radio 2 short story competition aimed at children up to the age of 13 has had 90,000 entries. It's an exercise in creativity but the words they used have also been put into a database which gives us an insight into the way they think. Every one of the 40 million words from the story-writing competition has been collated and analysed by lexicographers at the Oxford University Press, in order to monitor and track children's language.  Here are some of the findings.’

Warning: not necessarily compatible with standardised education….

Noam Chomsky on Democracy and Education in the 21st Century and Beyond

Chomsky is always worth reading…


New data shows school “reformers” are full of it

‘Reality, though, is finally catching up with the “reform” movement’s propaganda. With poverty and inequality intensifying, a conversation about the real problem is finally starting to happen. And the more education “reformers” try to distract from it, the more they will expose the fact that they aren’t driven by concern for kids but by the ugliest kind of greed — the kind that feigns concerns for kids in order to pad the corporate bottom line.’

Lesson for Our Leaders: The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Criticism of educational sector groups for ‘roll over and scratch my tummy’ attitude towards the school ‘reformers’ is rather frequent. This article suggests that the alternative approach would be more productive.

‘Educators and our representatives have been on the defensive for so long, many of us have forgotten one of the lessons of the great strategist Sun Tzu - the best defense is a good offense.’

Revising the questions that shape learning (via Bruce Hammonds)

‘In thinking about the current slate of policies shaping education, I can’t help but feel we are asking, and attempting to answer, the wrong questions — questions rife with assumptions; questions that limit thinking; and questions that quell curiosity rather than fuel it.’

Some very good questions are raised here.

How outdoor play inspires independent learning for early years (via Bruce)

Bruce’s comment: ‘Sounds like the good old days”


The Next Generation of Assessments Can—and Must—Be Better

Bruce’s comment: ‘What's going wrong in the US and soon NZ by Linda Darling-Hammond ( great educationalist).’