Friday, September 27, 2013

Saving Creative Education - holiday reading/viewing

Some holiday videos worth watching.

Protecting natural born learners
Ignorance or 'shonky' data?

This  short TED talk video called 'In Pursuit of Ignorance'  by neuroscientist Stuart Firestein is well worth the time to view  particularly for schools who have fallen into the trap of believing in the importance of National Standards data as evidence of student achievement.
Testing is destructive!
'You’d think that a scientist who studies how the human brain receives and perceives information would be inherently interested in what we know. But Stuart Firestein says he’s far more intrigued by what we don’t. “Answers create questions,” he says. “We may commonly think that we begin with ignorance and we gain knowledge [but] the more critical step in the process is the reverse of that.”
Firestein, who chairs the biological sciences department at Columbia University, teaches a course about how ignorance drives science. In it -- and in his 2012 book on the topic -- he challenges the idea that knowledge and the accumulation of data create certainty

Learning from Aussie mistakes

In Australia school principals have lost the battle about the imposition of standardised testing of their students. 

Phil Cullen, the ex Director of Primary Education Queensland, has long been almost a lone voice against such an educationally destructive  procedure.

The testing agenda has been pushed worldwide by corporate influences who believe that to improve education requires measuring test results and from them sorting out failing schools. In  New York this means rewarding teachers whose students do  well  and firing those who don't. Performance pay!  This business oriented approach has been implemented to various degrees in a number of Anglo-American countries, including New Zealand, as part of the Market Forces ideology. This approach has been called the Global Education Reform Movement  or GERM
Unholy alliance

Phil recently sent me an Australian 60 Minutes.  television programme that reports on the Australian testing programme ( called NAPLAN).

 This is another excellent short video. which shows how New York lawyer and ex Superintendent of New York school ( and Rupert Murdock ) influenced the Australian NAPLAN  testing.  Recent research is showing that this testing, so loved by politician and parents, has not resulted in any improvement and has caused a narrowing of the curriculum and teaching to the tests.

'Right now across the country one million students, their parents and teachers are sweating on the NAPLAN results - the national numeracy and literacy tests.

NAPLAN began in 2008 to compare all students across the country and better help those who are falling behind.

We adopted the idea from New York where teachers are promoted or sacked on the back of the results. But we haven't done that here and instead the pressure falls on the students to perform.

Teachers here claim NAPLAN retards growth and restricts creativity.
A NAPLAN revolt is underway, with one principal even likening the tests to child abuse.'

If National returns after the next election watch this space!!

Principals and teachers need to 'get political 'and support parties that  trust teachers who value their professionalism and  who are prepared to work with them to ensure every student has the opportunity to develop their gifts and talents - rather than being sorted out by 'shonky' National Standards.

It is important that New Zealand school principals do not become seduced by their National Standards data as it seems many are.

A focus on short term gains , as a result of a focus on subjects being tested, will slowly destroy the creative teaching New Zealand was once recognised for. Principals  and schools need to work together to protect their professional voice.

We are going the wrong way!
Schools would be well advised to listen to the advice of Chinese born American educator Yong Zhao who warns against failing into the testing trapZhao is currently in New Zealand and, during an interview on National Radio, told the audience that while countries like China, Koreas and Singapore are trying to make their education more creative counties like NZ, Australia and the UK are doing the opposite!

 Natural born learners -at risk in some schools!

A third video clip  has been recommended by Sir Ken Robinson whose own videos have reached millions of viewers. The recommended TED talk by Alison Gopnik features how young children learn from a very young age - that children are true scientists. It is this innate desire to learn and make sense of experiences that school should  build on. rather than being subverted by imposed testing.
Children are natural born learners!

"Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species," says psychologist Alison Gopnik. Her research explores the sophisticated intelligence-gathering and decision-making that babies are really doing when they play

There are voices out there for creative schools to listen to - Phil Cullen, Young Zhao, Alison Gopnik and Sir Ken Robinson - the list goes on. Those those not sensitive to such voices  will be trapped, or seduced, by the ideology of Joel Klein, Rupert Murdock and in NZ  National and ACT 'market forces' politicians.

 We  have a choice!

It seems to me that schools have a choice. To meekly comply and go along with imposed directions, or to fight for what is worth fighting for.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Swinging Sixties ,Baby Boomers and political change – and the rise of a new Labour Party in NZ

Swinging 60s - love, peace and freedom
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the freedom of individuals that was part of the sixties had its dark side; that it had morphed over the decades into ‘me first’ individual selfishness and as a result, less concern with the common good. The heady freedom of the sixties, after an era of austerity, released wave of creativity but ,as traditional norms lost their power, creativity all too often looked more like indulgence.

 With these thoughts in mind it was interesting to come across Francis Beckett’s 2010 book ‘What did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us?’ In his book Beckett argues that the children of the 60s betrayed the generations that came before and after. I am not totally convinced but he makes a good argument, an argument that is relevant to the political situation countries like New Zealand currently face

 Beckett makes it clear that political change has its genesis in earlier decades.

Those returning after World War Two, when their time for power came, knew what to do. In 1945 Major Clement Attlee, replaced war leader Churchill, and set about changing the cultural norms of the United Kingdom.  As Churchill left the palace in his Rolls Royce concluding his leadership Clement Atlee arrived in his Hillman Minx to take up the challenge. The less fortunate in Britain had had a difficult time living through the 1930s depression and deprivation caused by the war – it was time for change.

Clement Atlee
Attlee’s government set about abolishing the five giants ‘Want, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor and Idleness’ and established the Welfare State against the fierce opposition of the wealthy. The time was right to create a fairer society for all.

 A similar scenario happened earlier in New Zealand with the election of the first Labour Government  in 1936 led by Michael Joseph Savage. Changes began only to be interrupted by the declaration of war in 1939. Savage’s government faced the same ‘five giants’ in post war New Zealand.

As a result the social democratic ideology, both in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, became the dominant narrative for the next few decades  - until the ‘baby boomers’ came of age.

‘Baby Boomers’  are those born following the Second World War who came of age in the radical sixties, when there was , for the first time since the war,  was money, safe sex, and freedom. It is Beckett’s thesis that these young people exercising their new found freedom were unaware of the price earlier generations paid for this freedom. Most of them hardly realised the privation of their parents before and during the war and the struggle that their parents made to ensure that their children were not to be equally deprived.

For Baby Boomers the sixties were exciting and New Zealand was not immune. Young people turned their backs on authority and their parents; it was a rejection of society as it was previously organised. Bob Dylan, a voice of the sixties gurus, told parents ‘not to criticize what they didn’t understand’ –‘the trouble the boomers knew’, Beckett writes, ‘what they were against more than what they were for’.   Parents in the sixties reminded the young that they were fortunate because there were no great causes left in comparison to them having to survive through the depression and the war. A late 1950s, movie starring James Dean, was called appropriately, according to Beckett, ‘A Rebel Without A Cause’! When Dean was asked what he was rebelling against he replied, ‘What have you got?’

So what began as the most radical-sounding generation for half a century led eventually to the ideology of the free market  established by Margaret Thatcher and led to its complete expression under New Labour led by the first ‘baby boomer’ prime Minister Tony Blair. The radicalism of the sixties, unlike the generation following   World War One 1914-1918, decayed fast.

The short sixties – from the release of the Beatles ‘Love, love me do’ was to be a wonderful time to be young who had no time for the past and no appreciation of the privations of their parents. The young had little memory of the appalling conditions their parents had been forced to live through without the security provided by the welfare state – with of course the
 Beatles,'Love, love love me do'
exceptions of the wealthy upper classes. An out of work father in pre-war days meant a family near starvation.  Parents returned from the war determined to change all that. That is why Atlee’s government (and the Savage led government in New Zealand) gave working people opportunities in health, education, employment, economic security and leisure that changed the expectations of people dramatically.

First baby boomer UK PM
With time such advances were taken for granted and ‘baby boomers’ assumed it was the natural order of things. ‘Baby boomers’ fought for, and won, the right to have their hair long and to enjoy sex. The contraceptive pill had arrived. There was full employment; ‘Jack was felt to be as good as his master’.

The baby boomers set about destroying past certainties.  Beckett writes that the sixties philosophy was the ‘direct predecessor of the Thatcherism view that there is no such thing as society. The children of the sixties were the parents of Thatcherism’.

No such thing as society!
‘The baby boomers had benefited from the victory over Nazism and the establishment of the welfare state. As teenagers they had spare cash, and fun ways to spend it – things their parents and grandparents could only dream of’.

Now’, writes Beckett, ‘ as  parents, there seems to be a special venom in the loathing they show their young’. ‘It is though the sixties generation decided that the freedom they had enjoyed was too good for their children’.  The young are now required to pay market forces for such things as their education – which for their parents was free. As a result students are now burdened with debt. The baby boomer generation are now more concerned with protecting their wealth and pensions than freedom for their young

‘Schools, after a quick burst of sixties freedom, are being sent back to the fifties as fast as possible’, Beckett writes. School uniforms,   rigid National Curriculums, the ‘three Rs’, a punishing regime of testing and. increasingly regimented schools Adults are demanding the respect that in their youth they happily ignored.

Once again gaps between the rich and the poor are being established and the young once again have to struggle to buy their first homes. The baby boomers are now old. When they were young they created cult of youth, and now they are old they selfishly look after themselves. We are returning to the unequal world of the 1930s.

Time now for a new narrative to redress the unequal situation we are in as a result of a market forces ideology led by the adult baby boomers. The protective power of democratic governments has been demeaned as privatisation provides, for a cost, for services once provided as of right.

Michael Joseph Savage
At some point the generations following the baby boomers will be forced to confront the inequalities that have been established in Anglo –American societies.  The ever widening income gap has the power to create conditions for unimaginable changes unless faced up to.  

The self-centred culture established by the mature baby boomers need to be balanced by a concern for the good of all people. This is the same challenge that faced Clement Atlee and Michael Joseph Savage in their respective countries post World War Two.

Not wanted in 1945
What will eventuate may well surprise those currently in power – as much as Atlee’ victory in 1945 demoralised Winston Churchill. The private enterprise market forces ideology has not delivered wealth to the poor as promised – there has been no ‘trickle down.’  The wealth has concentrated in the pockets of the few.   A ‘winner /loser’ society has been created.

Belief in the political system is at an all-time low as indicated by falling voting turn outs.  A new vision, one that includes all citizens, needs to be articulated as people become are of the consequences of the growing inequality. The ‘market forces’ ideology is losing its authority as even the aspirational middle income groups are finding themselves at risk. The idea that those in charge of industry know best is wearing thin – the ‘supremacy’ of the wealthy we now experience was last seen before the great depression.

And so the so the greedy eighties’, writes Beckett, ‘became the beneficiaries of the indulgent sixties. Sixties man, twenty years older, became eighties man: sleek, sharp-suited, and ready to harness the language of liberation to the cause of capital.’ It was back to the fifties with a vengeance’ Sixties hippy gurus have been replaced with new business gurus preaching economic freedom and minimal government regulation. What eventuated was ‘a small state, a liberated economy, power in the hands of wealthy individuals and companies rather than the state’.

 A fairer more equitable society needs to be created. The consideration of the less fortunate will be to the advantage of us all. Our politicians must create the conditions where every citizen is able to contribute to the overall wealth of our country. Such an important role cannot be left to the ideology of the rich, the technocrats and their self-centred support of minimal government. All that has created is a greater inequality.

A new government needs to provide a helping hand to all – the young at school, those requiring employment, heath and homes. It is not possible to return to the solutions of 1945 but what can be taken is inspiration of the leaders of those difficult times when it looked as equally difficult. When the welfare reforms were introduced the wealthy railed against them – and will again today.

We need a gentler caring society – a new political consensus, one that values the contribution and creativity of all, not just the rich. A society that once again cares about the underdog, dedicated to getting people out of the poverty trap. If a new consensus is not developed we are heading for a crisis.

The baby boomers are leaving a dismal legacy ‘half are too busy to notice, half too greedy to care’.  As the baby boomers are marching towards the grave they exercise their political muscle; they have money and they have power.

‘We saw’ says Beckett writing about the baby boomers, ‘the class barriers come down, and put them up again. If we meant any of the things we said in the sixties, about peace, about education, about freedom, we would have created a better world for our children to grow up in, and earned the comfortable retirement we are going to fight for. But we made a worse one.’

 New Zealand in the sixties was a great place to bring up the young – for many families this is no longer the case, it is time for a change. Perhaps we need to repeat the sixties but these times to do it properly? The baby boomers forgot what mattered – because they had no sense of the world their parents grew up in.

No expects change will be easy – it will require political courage but for the welfare of the majority it will be worth it. Beckett concludes his book that we are ‘The generation that has to clear up the mess’ the baby boomers created. ‘Money is not the root of all evil: poverty is. But you can’t get rid of poverty except by distributing wealth.’ Not a popular idea amongst the wealthy.

The market forces world of the baby boomers has reached it use by date having delivered the widest income gap since the 1929 depression.  The phrase, once heard by its supporters, ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA) is no longer is relevant. As with Clement Atlee in the United Kingdom in 1945 and Michael Joseph Savage in the 1930s, new ideas  have to be found to replace failing policies.

Market forces have not worked
The New Zealand Labour Party is now facing the need for the same transformational challenge of the same degree as those faced by Savage and Atlee.
 The new leadership under David Cunliffe is beginning to express a new narrative for the future. And as it is further expressed it will tap into the feelings of those who have been left behind by the neo- liberals, or those who are sensing that their own security is increasingly at risk, will begin to take heed of new alternatives.

Labour is returning to its roots and is re-affirming its founding principles. Its challenge is to present an alternative vision to the public that gives hope to all and not just to the rich. The time is now right for Labour to regain real political influence if it can present a viable/doable set of policies – a real sense of alternative to the wider public. David Cunliffe has come out strongly against the market forces ideology. He has realised that the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and its aftermath requires a comprehensive rethink of Labours entire policy approach. This is the beginning of a real shift and, as it grows, has the power to capture energy from those sensing things are going astray under the current government.  Markets have been shown to fail. Business and government need each other, everybody needs employment and a fair wage.

David Cunliffe is talking about a new beginning – hope and opportunity for all; a fair and just society in contrast to the world of have and have nots that is the legacy of previous market forces politicians. Everyone is entitled to hope for a better future. Regions need to be supported. Conditions must be created to give a helping hand to all. Sustainable clever development needs to part of what is to be offered rather than the short term policies that are all too common today. The welfare of all people must be placed first rather many being sacrificed to ensure only the well- to- do benefit.

The adult baby boomers have had their day. Time for them to move over and to begin to build a world suited for all sections of society and those yet to be born; to develop the common good as well as encouraging the creativity of individuals.

Exciting times!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The NZ Suffragettes battle for woman to get the vote!

Who is this woman on our $10 note?

The 1883 Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Electoral Bill passed through Parliament and was given the Royal Assent by the Governor Lord Glasgow on 19thSeptember 1893.

I wonder how many New Zealand teachers took the time to discuss the importance of this event in the their classrooms?
Arrest and gaol in England!

It's not just making students aware of woman getting the vote but trying to understand and imagine what it must have been like to be involved?

That we all have the vote is taken for granted today but it had been a hard won battle,  before this time only men had the right to vote.

It would be a learning experience for students to begin to appreciate the challenge this was for woman facing up to the fierce opposition that came from the men.

Students could research the history of the suffragette movement world wide and the actions of those involved that included gaol, hunger strikes and force feeding  and the opposition and ridicule they had to face up to.

Students could try to imagine what is was like for men to have woman dress and behave like men in those times - even smoking cigars in public!
Nasty cartoons

The task  of the suffragettes was not easy because many woman believed  they had to accept their husbands opinions and did not need to vote! Students might wonder what some woman felt like this? Some men thought woman too foolish to vote while others thought is was a challenge to them as head of the house.

It might be interesting to consider ( and compare numbers to today) that  30 000 woman signed the petition  which was about a quarter of the woman in  New Zealand at the time.

Woman getting the vote was only a first step, the next was to elect woman as Members of Parliament - which was achieved in 1919. In recent times we have had woman Prime Ministers.

Kate Shepherd NZ
Today their is a debate about the importance of having equal numbers woman in parliament and in business positions. Do students think these are important and why, or why not?

Do students think men and woman's need and abilities are completely different or do they think that they share most things in common but both sexes have a few different but important characteristics? What might they be? Imagine a world run entirely by men or woman - what might it be like?

The fight for equality goes on throughout the world. Change is never easy it seems - students might wonder why this is using their knowledge of the suffragette movement as an example.

What would they like to change if they had the chance? Would they be prepared to put themselves at risk to do ? What things are still unfair ?

Who are individuals in history that were prepared to face the power of authority to fight for what they thought was right?

Who have been others in history that have had to fight for votes or equality?

What has all this got to do with democracy?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Transforming schools through Project Based Learning (PBL) .

Main source Thom Markham

I have been reading an article by American Thom Markham on Project Based Learning (PBL) and thought his ideas worth sharing.

Thom Markham PhD
Terms such as Inquiry Learning, Integrated Learning, Related Arts or holistic learning are well known to New Zealand teachers and are all similar to Project Based Learning. Such approaches were once an important in New Zealand Primary Schools but now   at risk since the reforms of the 1980s.  A similar approach for secondary school Is Interdisciplinary Enquiry Learning (IDE).

The 21stC will require a personalisation of learning;cultivation of talent and creativity. It is important for a country like New Zealand for schools to encourage such innovation and creativity but to achieve this will require considerable transformation of the current system.

For teachers who want to follow inquiry based approaches there are an extensive  number of books for progressive educators to select from for guidance and inspiration.

American educationalist Thom Markham is an enthusiast for Project Based Learning (PBL) and believes that the most important innovation schools can implement is high quality project based learning.
An inquiry based curriculum
He provides seven important design principles for teachers to ensure project based learning is of the highest quality.

Unfortunately many teachers still equate ‘doing projects’ with something restricted to the afternoon in primary classes that happens after the real work of literacy and numeracy is done. And all too often, in my experience, much of the current inquiry work is little more than superficial ‘cut and paste’ resulting in shallow content learning. As well there is little appreciation that both ‘learning how to learn’ as well as in depth understanding are both important aspects of such learning.

If inquiry learning is to be done well then the literacy programme must be tailored to provide critical information gathering skills (covering a range of media) and, to a lesser extent, so should the maths programme. For many teachers (and their principals) this will require a change of mind-set.

A quick look at how schools apportion their time will indicate how important such twenty-first century learning is to a school. Do Literacy and numeracy take priority?  Is school success focused almost entirely around literacy and numeracy data?

Markham believes (as do I) that many current examples of PBL are at best mediocre. Students are all too often put in groups and turned loose on a problem presenting their finding as a PowerPoint or display. To be successful a teacher must  teach students how to critically research material ( best done as part of the language programme), introduce students to learning how to learn inquiry  skills,  value deep understanding, thinking and reflection, and also reward such things as ‘drive, passion, creativity, empathy and resilience’.  When done well Problem Based Learning provides a worthwhile learning experience.

To complete successful PBL that brings out the best from students Markham suggests teachers move through a considered design process. Teachers who use inquiry learning will be aware of the general approach – there seems a general agreement about the inquiry learning process.

 Markham outlines seven design principles that ensure learning will both be more engaging and more powerful.

1.      First identify the challenge. The learning must start with a meaningful doable challenge/question/issue that provides opportunities for innovative/creative thinking.

Markham’s tip.  Design projects that matter. Something that contributes to the community, to  exhibit  to parents, or for a Science, Maths or Technology Fair.
My suggestion.  The various strands of each Learning Areas in the New Zealand Curriculum provide ideas to develop PBL around, or to relate studies to. Even if students generate their own ideas for studies most of their ideas will naturally relate to Learning Areas. Studies need to be rich, real, relevant and rigorous.

2.       Craft the driving questions. Consider the deep understandings you want the children to demonstrate at the end of the study. A few focused questions may be all that is needed to achieve depth of learning. Some call these ‘hook’ questions.

Markham’s tip. Make certain the problem is relevant. A good idea is to compare / contrast situation to their own experiences e.g. If studying the 1929 Depression what learning apply to today.
Environmental study

My suggestion. It is important to identify and value students’ prior knowledge before investigating ideas – this is useful to evaluate later what students have learnt. Through their research/activities/experiments students construct ‘better’ understandings.

3.      Start with the results. This idea is in line with ‘backward planning’ approaches. What depth understandings would you like your students’ gain as a result of the study? Keep in mind that a great deal of learning cannot be predicted as new questions ‘emerge’.

Markham’s tip. Consider how to encourage reflection and deep thinking to avoid shallow ‘cutting and pasting’ Consider how you will go about rewarding innovative thinking. How will you organise your teams of students?

4.      Build in the Assessment. The key to high quality PBL assessment is to view content learning as one of several outcomes that will help students to become more skilful and reflective about their capabilities. Assessment needs to focus on: ‘learning how to learn skills’ or competencies (which need to be explicit); personal talents developed;   innovation and creativity; and depth of understanding.

Markham’s tip. Distinguish between on-going formative assessment and any final evaluation

My suggestion.  Ensure that assessment in inquiry learning is seen by students as important as assessment in literacy and numeracy.  The best assessment is, once students have had sufficient experience with PBL, to get them to complete an independent study of their own choice towards the end of the year and to observe what skills they exhibit.

5.      Enrol and Engage. Starting right is the key to success. This includes helping students connect their interests to the question or problem. Also organise teams to be effective by establishing norms for effective teamwork.

Markham’s tip.  Ensure students are involved in refining questions or the project to incorporate student voice.

My suggestion.  As students develop greater appreciation of focused questions greater responsibility can be passed over to them. Science, Maths and Technology Fairs provide excellent motivation.
Bring back John Dewey

6.      Focus on Quality. High quality PBL relies on teams that demonstrate commitment, purpose and results (as expected in high performing industries). To complete successful teamwork students need plenty of time for preparation, drafting and refinement of products, presentations and skills.

Markham’s tip: Facilitate deep thinking.  Teach your students the tools of inquiry and require teams to practice the skills of dialogue, visible thinking, peer evaluation, and critique.

My suggestion. A quick read of final producers will indicate if students have been involved in deep thinking or simply ‘cutting and pasting’. Quality on-going formative assessment should avoid this.

7.      End with Mastery. PBL is a non-linear process that begins with divergent thinking, enters a period of emergent problem solving, and ends with converging ideas and products. A good PBL teacher manages the work flow through the chaos of the product ensuring all students gain the opportunity and support necessary to experience a sense of mastery and accomplishment.

Markham’s tip: Reflect.  Take time to review and reflect on the project .Reflect on accomplishments and evaluate the project against agreed criteria. Was the driving question (s) answered? Was the investigation sufficient? Were skills mastered? What questions were raised? The project debrief improves future projects, as well as the teaching cycle of quality improvement.

My suggestion. Gaining skills in PBL, for both teachers and students, is a developmental process. It is a good idea to begin the year with simpler guided studies and extend students involvement as students skills develop until they are able to work independently.

Markham sums up PBL by saying it ‘promises more engaging school work and a shift in the culture of learning that should be visible in the form of more satisfied higher performing, and more innovative students’. But, he continues, ‘it does require a systematic approach that fully engages students, offers a blend of skills and intellectual challenge, and prompts or awakens a deeper curiosity about life. From that standpoint, PBL is a work in progress.’

My final thoughts. The ideas outlined by Thom Markham align well with the work of creative New Zealand teachers past in present and with the intent of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum. It provides an alternative to the current imposition of National Standards with its focus on literacy and numeracy narrowing the curriculum in the process. It is important to appreciate the vital role of such areas to be ‘reframed’ as ‘foundation skills’ that contribute to the success of PBL; it is a matter of emphasis.

It is  also an approach that can be applied from early education to secondary schools where students could work on interdisciplinary enquiry  projects calling on the expertise of subject specialist teachers to assist students to achieve in depth understandings .

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A 21stCentury Education System - time for school principals to get political and decide what is worth fighting for.

Time for principals to come out!
I may be wrong but I feel a sense of complacency in conversations with principals about the idea/ideal of education being transformed to develop a 21stC  learning environment.

Lets listen To Lester Flockton
 It seems that, for most, the emphasis is to make sure 'their' school is seen as an 'excellent' school in the eyes of the Education Review Office and their parent community. Although their national Principals' Federation, Teacher Unions and highly respected educators have spoken out strongly against such reactionary requirements such as National Standards, individual principals seem to have been  busy ensuring that their individual school 'looks good' - and, perhaps, for low scoring low decile school principals, standing up against such moves  might be seen as whinging?

I don't know if the acquiescence of principals, I hesitate to call them leaders, is about a bad case of being risk averse, a lack of a solid educational philosophy, the result of a competitive market to enrol students, or a form of 'creeping Eichmannism'? All I  know is that nothing will change until school leaders develop some moral courage to decide 'what is worth fighting for'  that is unless they are happy to be de-professionalised along with teachers in the UK, the US and Australia.
With an election on the horizon developing a 'position' will be vital if teachers are to be valued as in Finland and Asian countries such as Japan , Korea and Singapore; countries that dramatically outscore the de-professionalised countries mentioned above.

Perhaps another cause of educational timidity is the reluctance to become involved in politics and, in the process, becoming willing pawns implementing government policy right or wrong - and wrong it is.

The real possibility of educational change of direction at the next election ( as part of a shift in the political air away from the now seen as failing 'market forces' ideology ) is why I continue to write my blog.

Lets get behind Chris Hipkins
Recently the highly regarded Labour Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins held a public meeting in our city to express an alternative point of view - which he did very eloquently. There were a number of retired teachers present, some teachers but not one local principal attended. They had all been personally invited.

I was able to express my thoughts to Chris Hipkins before the public meeting as a Labour Party member and these are the suggestions I left with him. His speech, as it happened, covered many of them.

1.      If a new government  results after next years election the welfare of people needs to placed ahead of the worshipping of the economy  ;the current  government's 'market forces' ideology has resulted in a ' winner/loser' scenario. For an  positive, productive and  inclusive future developing  the creativity of all citizens must be seen as the number one asset   that is if we are to  replace  the current scenario favouring the rich  leaving the poor with the  myth that wealth will 'trickle down'.

2.      To achieve such a inclusive and creative society education will need to be seen as the number one policy area. This is obviously not the case at present where too many students currently leave education with little to show for their compulsory attendance.  Labour needs to revisit Peter Fraser/Dr Beeby’s  1936 vision of providing all students with an education of the kind the are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers’. What this phrase means in a 21stC environment needs to be 'unpacked'?
Back to Beeby!

3.      Such a vision requires a move away from current 'standardisation' towards a 'personalisation' of learning; tailoring education to the needs of the student. Such an emphasis on personalisation  would require a dramatic shift in  current school philosophy and culture .

4.      A new government would be advised to place the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum 'centre stage' –  and appreciate that its full implementation requires more than current 'tinkering' if all students are to succeed and be able to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’  - as it states in the curriculum.

5.       It will also  be important to re-interpret the so called ‘achievement gap’ as an 'opportunity gap’ to ensure those students, who are currently been seen as 'failing',  gain the necessary experiences required to develop positive learning identities.

6.      Literacy and numeracy need to remain vital learning areas but  need to be 'reframed'  to be seen as important 'foundational skills'  allowing students to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’.

7.      It will be important to questions the assumptions behind  the  current  use of ability grouping, streaming and setting and  to appreciate the unintended consequences of such practises. Struggling students need to be seen as lacking opportunities  and experiences rather than sorted out by  intellect or ability.

8.      Good advice  will be to encourage schools to do 'fewer things well'  so as to develop deep understanding of knowledge and,  in the process, to develop life-long learning dispositions.

9.      Due to growing lack of engagement in the years 7 to 10 it will be important to encourage the development of innovative learning   integrated/collaborative organisations.  At years 7-10 ages,  as this is where student disengagement 'kicks in', interdisciplinary learning   provides  an ideal environment for a range of student talents and abilities to be developed.

10.  There is a  needs to  value, at the national and local school level,  the creativity and professionalism of individual class teachers and to explore ways to share their expertise between schools  so as to break down the  isolation that many teachers feel.

11.    All schools need to be encouraged a to develop innovative programmes to suit their communities ( as suggested in the NZC).

12.   A final suggestion, for a new reforming government, would be  to set  up an educational conference/ series of conversations similar to the 1936 New Education Conference that contributed ideas to the Fraser /Beeby vision of the first Labour Government. A range of international respected educationalist, such as: Sir Ken RobinsonJo Boaler, Eliot Eisner, David HargreavesDavid PerkinsHoward Gardner, Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Dean Fink ,Guy Claxton,  Pasi Salberg and Yong Zhao, to name few, could be invited to present their ideas. One wonders which educationalists the current government would select to support their agenda? In 1936 invited educationalists spoke to packed audiences in major centres - to day their ideas could be more easily shared through the television or the Internet.

Sadly I m left wondering about the views of the current principals - maybe they are too busy complying to have any. Surely this cannot be the case?

One principal speaks out at least

And another

And another

A creative school

And another

And to finish



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Transforming Secondary Education – the most difficult challenge of all.Thoughts from a past age – ‘Young Lives at Stake’ by Charity James

James worked at Goldsmiths
In the late 60s in the United Kingdom there were moves to develop new comprehensive secondary schools to replace the tripartite system of Grammar Schools, Secondary Moderns and Technical Schools. New Zealand, at this time had comprehensive secondary schools but in reality the three streams existed in the one school. The situation remains unchanged but with students staying on longer at school, plus the challenges of an ‘information age’ the need for transformation is even greater.
One of the educationalists working towards a new conception of secondary education was Charity James of Goldsmiths College and in 1968 she published her book ‘Young Lives at Stake’. I think I must have one of the few copies available and it remains at the top of my favourite educational books.

Charity James believed it was important to get secondary education right if all students were to leave able to take advantage of the exciting opportunities the future might offer.  The challenge remains. Secondary schools need a radical reappraisal to ameliorate the effects of obvious social and cultural disadvantages and also to develop the needs, talents and gifts of all students

Industrial age thinking
The problem is that teachers bounded by the present live in the past and this makes it hard to envisage new possibilities but the growing discontent of alienated (and since the publication of the book growth of information technology) students provides motivation to change. Secondary schools, if anything, remain determined to lock both teachers and students in a fossilised 1950s punitive environment of isolated specialist teaching, arbitrary periods of time, timetables, streaming by ability, uniforms and hierarchal power structures.

Such schools are dysfunctional but there seems little pressure to change them – instead teachers are criticized for students’ lack of success and even poverty is not to be seen as an excuse.  We need a new model – and describing this is the thesis of Charity James’s book. Her ideas are exciting, more so today when the power of information technology is added to the mix! Knowledge is longer held by ‘expert’ teachers to transfer to students.

A country like New Zealand needs all the talent and creativity it can get and schools must be seen as the obvious place to develop such self-reliant and adaptable citizens. So far the teaching profession has not offered creative alternatives to parents. In contrast, school are becoming even more conservative to cope with the political straitjacket of National Standards and Ministry targets. Standardisation rather the personalisation is the current political agenda.

Time it seems for some courage from educators to provide viable alternatives to parents.  The field is open for change but any alternative needs to be realistic, intrinsically interesting and relevant. Anew view of schooling needs to be sufficiently diversified to ensure range of talents is able to emerge. Currently our system favours the academic s, the quick learners and the conformist students.  Too many students find their schooling too restrictive and for such students there is not the opportunity for them to identify and solve real problems – to become the ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’ as it states in the currently side-lined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

Charity James’ book faces up to the radical challenges of creating a truly comprehensive school able to realise the diversity and talents of all students. James reminds us that each individual student has one life to live. Schooling should at least do no harm. Young lives are at stake.

A transformed school requires a curriculum that is intrinsically interesting and involve collaborative learning experiences and this, in turn, requires a new role for teachers as facilitators, and learning consultants/advisers. Schools need to ensure their students learn how to learn and, to achieve this, teachers need to work with their students as partners in discovery. This is not ignoring the subject strengths of teachers – their specialist knowledge remains a valuable resource for students to access – and challenge.

 Charity James asks her readers to envisage a good junior class where children are immersed in a whole diversity of pursuits – and then to picture a typical secondary school class. Mind you junior classes, due to pressure to comply, are not as creative as they once were! The two pictures still represent fundamental differences of values.

Charity James warns that  it would be a grave error to go overboard for individualized learning and that being given opportunities to follow their bent does not follow that students must learn as isolates – there needs to be time when students work collaboratively  in groups and on their own. This warning applies equally to the current idea of personalized learning.

The first step, she advises, is to appreciate that within flexible grouping there will be times when students work alone. Learning is not an ‘either/or’ situation.

The second step is to recognise that programming on the basis of individual needs, interests, themes, or projects across age groups, can be one part of the day and working with more defined groups another. She envisages third or half the day would be spent on flexible grouping in interdisciplinary work an increasing remainder will be spent on interest based ‘orbital’ work, in mixed ability groups which are related to individual areas of interest working and in autonomous studies ( for example mathematics/literacy/ music) with relevant specialist teachers. Students will also be withdrawn for ‘catch up’ remedial work as required.

 The key to success is for students to be genuine decision makers involved in purposeful (to them) activities. Teachers however, in Charity’s model, still need to use their expertise to suggest areas worth investigating but always careful to ensure students ‘buy into’ the suggestions. This is in line with educationalist Jerome Bruner’s who has written that, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’. Students need to formulate the questions, identify the problems, create hypothesises and test them. This aligns well with the direction of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

 Teachers also need to be on the alert about what skills are needed by their students, to assist their students their evaluate progress and assist in establishing ‘what next’. This sounds very modern advice! In such situations Charity James requires teachers see themselves as ‘enablers’, or ‘catalysts’ providing positive suggestions, pre-planning or sketching out possible activities for students to consider even if the study has been chosen by the students. Gifted teachers, she writes, can do a great deal to relieve the students of the debilitating fear of failure by framing problems in ways that make it meaningful for reluctant learners. This form of teaching relies for success on respectful relationships necessary to provide students the emotional security to take risks and to encourage them to express their concerns. Teachers, at all times, must keep in mind the dispositions towards learning they want to encourage in their students – in current language - the ‘key competencies’. James writes she is ‘seeking an education in which young people are actively engaged…in which they are the decision makers…and in which their perception of each other and of themselves,…is a major concern of the collaborative approach.’

Charity James suggests three different modes of engagement.

She defines this as Interdisciplinary Enquiry (IDE). Enquiry she writes, ‘is the characteristic of the person who is at heart a scientist to underline enquiry…and of a person who is more akin to the artist, concerned with creation, to emphasize making.’ Enquiry involves exploration, experimenting and explanation. The fundamental drive of enquiry is to make sense of things of expanding ones conception of reality.

Successful enquiry requires students acquire a repertoire of problem solving skills, strategies and tactics, including taking advantage of serendipity, being comfortable with not knowing, and valuing persistence and effort, common to all learning. I envisage this as mainstreaming such things as the research learning that is involved in Science or Maths Fairs and Art performances and the like.

The second is Making – making something new.

Making, James, defines as inventing new possibilities. Designing is about realising selected possibilities and not following   others pre –planned designs. Making requires rigour, collaboration, often frustration and to be successful must be meaningful to the learner

The third is Dialogue – time to engage with materials, objects, ideas or people

Enquiry demands curiosity, Making originality, Dialogue requires being aware of objects, creatures and persons through the senses and should be a continuing value underlying all school work. Students need time to observe to appreciate objects, natural and man-made. They need time to listen and to talk with others and they need time to reflect on their own experiences. Such Dialogue assists students understand their sense of identity and increases their sensitivity to others. Students also need time for private discourse for ideas to sink in.

James is asking schools to be sufficiently diversified to allow very different children to realise their talents and for all to experience success. Any success will only be achieved by the quality of student engagement through meaningful challenging tasks provided to cater for a range of appropriate levels of competence.

James suggests a fourfold curriculum.

1.      Interdisciplinary Studies based on open ended negotiated themes/studies/projects involving Enquiry and Making (IDE/M). Advisory teachers (with pastoral responsibilities for small groups of students) will be required to assist individual students with their individual learning plans (IDP) and to assist them create their portfolios of achievement. The various subject disciplines provide students with ‘lens’ to interpret experiences to create new knowledge – this echoes how students learn in ‘real-life’.

2.      Autonomous Studies – in some schools this may involve mathematics and literacy and also relate to remedial studies. Literacy and numeracy need to be ‘reframed’  to contribute skills to IDE/M

3.      Remedial Education – related to special needs holding some students back

4.      Special Interest Studies – allowing students   (individually or in groups) opportunities to follow strong individual interests arising (‘orbiting’) out of IDE/M studies.

The approach, as outlined above, goes well beyond what happens in even the most progressive primary or intermediate schools.

James sees students moving through three stages.

1.      The first two years (ages 11-13) (Our Intermediate schools). Security and recognition are paramount when first entering secondary schools. Suggested themes could be ‘Man the Explorer’ and ‘Growing Up’ plus integrated studies calling on traditional learning areas.

2.      13 to 14 year olds (years 9/10 in NZ) continues as above but with greater emphasis in special interest work.

3.      Ages 14 -16 and 16 to 18. ( years 11/13 and 14/15 in NZ) As above with special interest and pre-vocational studies. Ideally students could be assisted in part time employment, or work experience, or contributing to community life.

As far as any learning goes James writes, ‘people learn in so far as they see new knowledge, skills and interests into a context of what already has value for them’.  Ideas for learning can arise from a variety of sources - any aware group of teachers can plan any number of themes that would attract the curiosity of students. Each of the Learning Areas provides contexts that, in turn, naturally connect to other Learning Areas. Such studies will range in time from a few weeks to a whole term. Focus groups of teachers can pre-plan to the extent of anticipating the kinds of questions that may arise but in the final analysis the learning activities must be negotiated to allow student choice and responsibility.

One chilling quote in James’s book is that ‘it is very easy for teachers to become, without knowing it, the hired assassins of talent’ when they assume they know best what students should learn and assume student progress can be extrapolated from past progress. High expectations need to be held of all students. Many students who are seen as having an ‘achievement gap’ in reality suffer from an ‘opportunity gap’ which can be bridged at school. Traditional schools currently limit possibilities for many students by the use of ability grouping, streaming and setting. All sorts of grouping can be used rather than by ability. Charity James also believes that ‘remedial catch up’ grouping will become increasingly important. The most flexible grouping will be the least judgemental.

In James’s vision of schooling the class is no longer the basic unit. Students need to be grouped in clusters of 120 to 200 students ( ‘Whanau’ Groups) working with five or more teachers (who have a diverse set of skills and knowledge) with smaller clusters drawn from the larger unit as required to complete tasks contributing to, or arising out of, the current study. Up to half the time will be spent in IDE/M, the remainder of the time on Autonomous subjects (where possible providing skills required for IDE/M).  The time given to autonomous studies will depend on how well developed remedial help is being provided - this will possibly be mainly in the areas of mathematics and literacy. Some students will need massive experience of success to recover from poor learning identities that may have resulted from previous teaching or due to difficult home backgrounds. What is required is a non –judgemental attitude by teachers.  Special interest work arising out of IDE/M caters for students with special abilities or talents.

Obviously new forms of assessment will need to be developed. Charity suggests observing the learners while performing tasks to note the kind of behaviours (the ‘key competencies’ of the NZC) being demonstrated and noting evidence of growth. Students also need be encouraged to appraise their own improvements or performances as recorded in their personal portfolios. When students are involved in completing their chosen tasks plentiful opportunities are provided for teachers to observe students in action. Students’ reports would identify learners abilities in the various Learning Area noting their strengths and talents, proposals for future directions, and ways in which parents can help.

Charity’s suggestions, presented forty years ago,  outline ideas that are still valid  today  if schools are to develop   new school cultures and organisations all very different from current hierarchical secondary education.  Many innovative schools will find much in common in Charity’s ideas.

Schools, Charity writes, increasingly needs to see themselves  as enabling organisation helping students explore themselves as they are and as they could be and offering all students a smooth passage to future education work, or leisure, and able to contribute their intelligence to solving current and future problems.

The first step is for teachers and principals to consider such forms of interdisciplinary education. It might have been too early for her ideas to be established in the UK in the 1970s but the time is now right, particularly as information technology is transforming the role of knowledge in an interconnected world, making traditional conceptions of schooling increasingly irrelevant.

Charity James’s book was published over 40 years ago but, to me, still remains relevant.

Worth a read - The Big Picture Company

And John Dewey

Charity James’s book  Young Lives at Stake’ is based on  her work undertaking pilot educational innovations in secondary schools in England in the late 60s. At this time Charity James was Director University of London Goldsmiths’ College Curriculum Laboratory.