Friday, January 31, 2014

First Educational Readings for 2014

By Allan Alach

Welcome back to another year of educational miscellany. Lets hope that it brings some serious GERM disinfection around the world.

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

This weeks homework!

The Big Lie About Student Achievement

The Big Lie is all about extrinsic motivation; getting the grade to prove something to somebody else. Grades become stand-ins for self-worth. Everything we know about teaching and learning revolves around this one true thing: real education only occurs with intrinsic motivation, a desire to learn just because of a student's passion for the subject. Everything else is crap that lives in a student's brain just barely long enough to pass a test. No wonder students cheat and plagiarize; they've been told education is a game, and they need to win it.

10 ways to create a learning culture (via Tony Gurr)

Another start of school year posting.

Able readers damaged by phonics, academic says

This includes use of non-words to teach phonics!

The 7 Myths of Class Size Reduction -- And the Truth

A pertinent article from 2010. Take note John Hattie.

Still a must read
As John Dewey wrote, "What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children." If education is really the civil rights issue of our era, it is about time those people making policies for our schools begin to provide for other people's children what they provide for their own.

Attacking teachers and their unions in the hope that this will improve the quality of education, while assuming that better education is the key to escaping poverty, is thus a doubly misguided strategy. Of course, if destroying unions is the goal, and reducing poverty is only a fig leaf, the current discourse and strategy of the corporate education reformers makes excellent sense.

Teachers' pay must be at the heart of global education reform

If the development community is serious about improving teaching and learning, it must address the recruitment, reward and retention of teachers.

Excellent blog by Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch
Yet our current obsession with data has led us to crush the spirits of our children, to make sure that budding Mozarts and Einsteins and those who dream instead of conforming are pressed into the same narrow mold.

The Myth Of Learning Styles

Yes I know Ive covered this before, however this article includes a comprehensive infographic.

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Here’s a range of beginning the school year blog articles by Bruce (for Australian and New Zealand teachers).

Beginning the school year - what attitudes do learners have towards aspects of schooling?

Beginning the school year - sharing our stories.

Beginning the school year - developing a 'growth mindset' through a simple portrait( Carol Dweck)

Beginning the school year - the importance of observation in learning

Beginning the school year - what talents do your students bring to your class?

Beginning the school year - how do we learn?

Developing a 'stance' as a teacher - ideas of Robert Fried and William Glasser

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Developing a 'stance' as a teacher - ideas of Robert Fried and William Glasser

Socrates's 'stance' was clear -is yours?
It seems students quickly pick up on the stance of their teachers so it is worth thinking about what's the 'stance' about teaching you want them to pick up? Now is time to think about how you want to come across to your students and fellow teachers.

Robert Fried, in his excellent book 'The Passionate Teacher',  writes about how teachers need to create an atmosphere that makes the students want to be their rooms.

To create a positive learning environment Fried writes that teachers need to satisfy their students basic needs for:

1 Belonging - a feeling it is their class.
2 Identity - that they are recognized as individuals.
3 Empowerment- that they feel they are improving
4 Responsibility to make choices and set own goals.
5 Fun and enjoyment.

Good advice for principals as well?
Every class/school develops its own culture.

When these needs are fulfilled you have a  'learning community'.

The below is a stance of a teacher quoted in Fried's book:

  • 'You are my students and I respect each and every one of you. I'm going to work very hard to help you respect yourselves, each other, and respect me.
  • I care to much about you to let you get away from doing anything but your best - I will help each of you the best I can.
  • I believe you all have talents that nobody has found out about yet - I want to help you discover them and help you build on talents you bring with you.
  • I want to help you develop all the skills you need to do your best work'.
Naturally teacher  actions need to match such words if students are to develop respect, inspiration, high expectations, pride, seriousness of purpose, a positive learning identity and good humour.

Another excellent book is William Glasser's book 'A Quality School Teacher' outlines similar needs to Fried. In this book Glasser writes that classrooms must have six conditions to achieve quality learning:

1 There must be a warm supportive classroom environment where students are to be trusted and their ideas respected.
2 Students must be given meaningful (to them) work.
3 Students must be always asked to do their best work - to do this students need to value that quality work require time and effort.
4 Students need to be helped to evaluate and improve their own work - their must be a constant message that all work can be improved.
5 Pride of achievement makes students feel good.
6 No one is allowed to be destructive to themselves, others or the environment.

The beginning of the school year coincides with the celebration of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand.  As part of learning about the Treaty the class could draw up a list of teacher and student behaviours required to develop a positive learning community.

Have your students in small groups discuss the below. To add fun have half the class think of teacher  behaviours that turn students off  or  student behaviours that upset teachers..

What behaviours makes a good teacher?  
What behaviours make an ideal student? 
What bits of school do they really like/ dislike?

Complete this attitudinal survey  to gather 'data' of attitudes/mind-sets students bring  about  the various learning areas to your class? This might be the most important thing you do to improve your programmes!!

A class treaty could result from such a dialogue.

Respectful dialogue was the stance that Socrates took with his students. Socrates believed strongly that students needs to be challenged to develop their own thoughts.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Beginning the school year - how do we learn?

How did you get better at firing arrows?

Did  your students learn something new during their long holidays - or get better at something during this time?

Students need to appreciate that learning is what humans all do from birth - think about how young babies learn. What do they do to learn?

Unfortunately many young people  think learning is something they do at school - and worse still many students have 'learnt' that are aren't good at many things. As Henry Ford said , 'If you think you can or you think you can't you are both right!' Many students need 'learning recovery'.

Get students individually, or in groups of twos or threes, to talk about their own experience at something they have got better at.

 Examples :basketball, swimming, cooking, fishing, skateboarding, singing, acting , playing a musical instrument, making something, learning about animals or plants and so on.

It would help if you  first shared a new learning experience of your own as an example.

Give them some prompts to help their reflection.
What was your first attempt like? What was the hardest at the beginning? What made you keep going though it was hard? Did anyone help you - how? How did you know you were getting better? 

What lessons about learning a new thing come out of their reflection? 

What would put them off learning something new?

How would a great teacher (  or any body) help you learn anything?

From the above discussions  what conclusions can be drawn about how people learn.

For example: 'You need to want to do it'; 'it's hard at the beginning'; 'you learn through mistakes' ( trial and error); 'you need to stick at it';' practice makes it better';   'others  people can help - or put you of'f; 'you feel really good when you can do it well'.

Reflect with class why  people give up?

You might continue by asking your students about what they want to learn about during the year?

What are their concerns that they might want to explore? What interests would they like to follow up on? This 'democratic' approach is encouraged by middle school educator James Beane. Individually students write out their own lists and then these can be sorted out by students in small groups - or by the teacher. 

The great majority of student suggestions are easily integrated with curriculum requirements but at the very least it will give an idea of the interests of your students.

Over the year many of the students ideas can be covered  or referred to. Students need to experience a stimulating range of learning areas

The below cover most of the various learning strands of the New Zealand Curriculum:

1 Environmental studies ( first and fourth term)
2 Physical science /technology study.
3 Life in other cultures - in time.
4 Life in other cultures - in place.
5 An arts study - music, dance, or a visual art.
6 Mathematical explorations.
7 Physical education/health stud
8 Literature/language theme.

Where possible literacy and numeracy programs will be integrated with the above.  The above suggest two studies each term.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Beginning the school year - what talents do your students bring to your class?

All individuals whose talents weren't recognized at school.

With the current press in schooling focusing on achievement in literacy and numeracy it is all too easy to overlook the unique talents that students have. An education focused on developing all students talents and gifts also provides students the opportunity to become literate and numerate in meaningful contexts.

By being aware of the interests and talents of learners teachers can capitalize on such abilities in all areas of learning.  Benjamin Bloom's research on gifted adults showed that by age 12 their decision to  develop career paths had been chosen.

Howard Gardner
It would be a good idea for teachers to tell their students that they want to help everyone develop their personal set of interests during the year.

 One way to do this is to introduce the idea that there  at least 8 ways of being 'smart' or intelligent and that it is possible for everyone to get better at them all - obviously some students will have greater inherent talent.

Pass out a copy of the below based on Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence research - or list on whiteboard.

Go through with class using yourself as an example.

Colour in your ability in each segment - and maybe comment on areas you want to get better at ( some personal goals). Self smart individuals are those who care about others at lot ( empathy) - people smart get on well with people.

Sir Ken leads the way.
Have each student colour in their own degrees of interest - maybe number their top 3.

It is a good idea to use the same diagram during parent interviews ( after a quick explanation of multiple intelligences) and to ask them where they think their child (ren) excel. 

 Bloom's research found that many schools were unaware of outside interests of their students! 

When planning activities in class studies keep the range of ways of being intelligent in mind.

 It is worth remembering that our identities are linked very closely to our interests and that our interests determine what we pay attention to - and, if we are lucky, to a worthwhile vocation.

Sir Ken Robinson speaks out on creativity

Beginning of school year blog

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beginning the school year - the importance of observation in learning

Drawing of a bird  that hit the classroom window ( age 10 )

Observation is an important skill in all areas of learning - all too often students look but don't see.

Link to excellent article.

Close observation encourages a slower pace of work which assists student memory.

Once the skill of observation is in place it can be used throughout the year in all learning areas.

A good introduction is bring along a simple leaf ( in NZ a kawakawa or pepper tree leaf is ideal) to draw. Give students a small piece of paper and get students to draw the leaf - give no instruction. Usually the drawing is completed in a few seconds - students take a quick look and draw without real looking - unless they have been previously taught.

On a second piece of paper get the students to draw the same leaf but encourage them to take their time, to look at any patterns they can see and then to draw. The key strategy is to encourage them to 'look -draw- look -draw'. The secret to drawing is 'good looking'. Encourage them to invent marks/lines to represent what they can see. Allow 10/15 minutes.

As they near completion ask students what thoughts have come to their mind while drawing - encourage them to use their imagination? What questions have come to mind about the plant? These small thoughts can be recorded.

Display as 'before and after' drawings. Ask them what they have learnt about drawing.

Many schools have photos of animals or plants that could be used to develop observation skills.

A small environmental study can be based around such a drawing. Go for a quick walk and collect some some small wildflowers, or bring along a flax flower to draw.

Students  could describe the the plant selected complete with measurements - they might pretend that they are the first person to discover the plant and are recording information to share with others.

Make use of observational drawing skill as required during the year.

To develop imagination get students to draw 'magic' leaves ( or whatever has been drawn) for an art activity.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Beginning the school year - developing a 'growth mindset' through a simple portrait( Carol Dweck)

With strategies we can all draw

Encouraging a 'growth mind-set'

What are your students' views about their artistic ability?

Do they believe that only some students are born with the ability to draw or that everyone is  an artist?

A must read for every teacher
Carol Dweck writes about two basic mind-sets. Some students develop a 'fixed' mind-set of any ability ( either can or can't do something) while others develop a 'growth' mind-set ( anyone can get better through effort, perseverance and by given appropriate strategies).

A growth mind-set can be taught - every student can become 'can do' student in any area of learning

Undertaking simple portrait activity will illustrate the importance of a 'growth' mind-set - but the lessons learnt can be applied to all areas of learning.

How many students think they are artists? ( Before the age of 7 probably all of them but from 7 students start to compare themselves.)

Ask students on a small piece of paper to draw a face with their biro or pencil. Give no instructions.  Most will complete the task quickly often with using cliché images).

Now repeat the task giving guided instruction deliberately slowing the pace and encouraging observational skills. Don't allow any rubbing out - just work around mistakes. Guided instruction is often called 'scaffolding' and included modelling, demonstrating and 'thinking aloud' but always with the aim of encouraging independence and creativity.

1 Look at a face and draw an oval ( a maths concept) the size of a hen's egg.
2 Look at a face - see the eyes are about half way up the oval. Look at someone's eyes and draw carefully.
3 Say noses are hard but look closely and do your best. Feel the cartilage in your nose ( what animal is made up of cartilage ? - sharks)
4 Draw mouth - add a line for the top lip and the lower. Note the groove from nose to mouth. Add smile lines from nose around mouth.
5 Look around at people's hair and draw lines to represent hair. This could cover the ears!
6 Add a neck and shoulders( note that there is room for  an extra heads on each shoulder). Complete by drawing in collars, buttons and patterns on clothes..

The aim is to achieve a diversity of portraits so don't worry if all the advice isn't taken!

You could display before and after drawing or extend by enlarging and colouring in.

Portraits could be displayed with heading 'We are all different' . You could add 'We can all be artists if we  look hard, have 'know how' and take our time!'

A small poem could be added to the display.

Start with your first name.
Next line three adjectives to describe yourself
Then a line about what you like
Another about what they worry about or fear
A line about what they hope for in the future.
Finally their last name.

Note: The strategy learnt in the portrait activity can be used to draw historical portraits  or to represent various emotions.

Beginning of school year blog

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Beginning the school year - sharing our stories.

The power of personal experience/writing.

A good idea is to prepare a small presentation about yourself - students will be extremely curious about their new teacher!

Give the a potted history of your life experience and tell them that over the year you will get to know all about them

Cray fishing with my uncle!
To begin the business of sharing tell them of the 5 or 6 best experience you had over the holidays and then ask them to mind-map ( or list) the 6 best things they did.

Through your examples model a range of emotions - sadness, happiness, excitement, scariness etc. Demonstrate the idea of talking /writing as if you were back in the situation - what you felt, saw, heard etc.

Helping catch the escaped rooster!
The could share their lists with each other in small groups and then ask them to choose one to write about to share with you.

The message you want to give them is that their lives are important  and to write a good personal narrative it is important to focus on a particular event and recall as much as possible - how you felt as if you were still there. You are introducing them into the idea of quality thought  rather than length.

After their work has been drafted out ( and quickly checked by you) their stories could be  written for display. Later they may be able to add a digital photo or a drawing as well.

Student could be encouraged to complete a short narrative about their own lives each week? Such writing contributes to their sense of identity.

Beginning of school year blog.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Beginning the school year - what attitudes do learners have towards aspects of schooling?

hat attitudes do students bring with them?

In a few days teachers and students return to school to begin a new year.

One excellent idea is to gather data about students current views on a range of school activities. Ideally this would be best as a whole school activity and the information gained used to suggest area for teachers to improve attitudes. Student poor attitudes interferes with their achievement levels.

Teachers could draw up a simple form for students to indicate their attitude e.g. a one to ten scale with one being 'I don't like'  and 10 being 'really like it'.

Some ideas to consider might be to mark using the above scale students attitudes towards:

1  Reading?
2 Maths?
3 Science - experiments/technology?
4 Science - natural history?
5 Physical education/sport.?
6 Writing?
7 Using internet/smart phones/video?
8 Art?
9 Music?
10 Social studies/history/geography?
11 Environmental studies?
12 Dance?
13 Field trips?
14 Spelling?
16 School generally? 

It might be useful for the teacher to go through before using with the class to indicate their attitudes when their age (to show they are 'human'!) - and to show how they have improved. Some areas might need clarification.

Teachers could use the data with the class to make graphs of most popular activities etc.

It might also be useful for teachers to refresh by referring to the New Zealand Curriculum the 'essence' of each learning area - and to share with students.

The message teachers want to give that she/he will do his/her best to help students improve areas that they are not confident in.

The activity could be repeated end of the term / year - hopefully attitudes will have improved.

Something to think about - ideas for studying the Treaty of Waitangi.


Beginning the school year blog

Friday, January 17, 2014

School leadership for a future world.

It has been a quiet time for writing blogs. Here, in the South Pacific New Zealand is on holiday but by now principals and teachers will begin to be thinking about the year ahead. I have been saving up some beginning the year activities to share in the last few days of the holidays which might be useful to start the year.
There are no boxes in the future

A few years ago at a BBQ I was talking to a recently graduated teacher who had not been given any real information about the position he was to take up in a couple of weeks. In an attempt to help him I put together some ideas that he, and other beginning teachers, might find useful. I have always liked the quote that there is no shallow end when you begin teaching – from day one you are faced with thirty plus students to ‘educate’. Those first days are important.

While teachers, even the experiences, are always apprehensive about what the year hold principals might well use the remaining days thinking how to better create the conditions to get the best from both teachers and students.

Leadership is important in any organisation – leaders set the tone, create the climate for better or worse. The last decades has seen principals being given them more responsibility while at the same time the current government has imposed greater accountability and compliance requirements. This paradox has led to schools ‘being over-managed and under led’. As a result of imposed formulaic ‘best practices’, evidence based teaching,  and the narrowing effect of National Standards, teacher and students creativity is at risk.

Let’s hope that while principals are relaxing they are thinking of better ways to lead ‘their’ schools so as to to create conditions to allow greater teacher creativity.

With this is mind it is important to step back and try and see the big picture about the purpose of education for the 21st Century. Our schools, even at the primary level, have their genesis in an
industrial era – timetables, bells, imposed fragmented curriculums, testing and targets and a success fail orientation – best exemplified by the sorting of students under National Standards.

It is hard to do such thinking when the school is in operation but the questioning of the assumptions underpinning traditional schooling based on mechanistic concepts of hierarchy, efficiency and bureaucracy is vital.

It’s obvious that we can’t expect future success as long as we stay wedded to  old approaches. As Einstein said ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of thinking that created it.’

It does concern me that many principals see little need to change – or prefer compliance to creativity, conformity to innovation; to ‘go along to get along’. To many principals have learnt to keep their heads down, not make waves and do as they are told by the Ministry (or really the Minister).  Too many, like the parable of the frog being slowly boiled, don’t notice the water heating – until it is too late.  Most appear to think being political or criticalis not for them and meekly comply without question with policies they know are wrong. Many just want to stay on the good side of those in power. At least this leaves the field open for courageous principals to lead the way to develop their schools as centres of creativity and diversity focused on helping all students discover or develop their unique set of gifts and talents.

Imagine a school focused on developing students talents as the purpose of education – to do so would require a new mind-sets by all involved and a rearranging of curriculum priorities. For all students to be successful they would need not only to be provided with integrated curriculum challenges to allow interests to be established but they would also need to opportunities to gain all the appropriate skills to achieve personal excellence. Literacy and numeracy would need to be ‘re-framed’ to contribute and not be an end in themselves.
Real innovation starts in classrooms

Such schools would require courageous leadership to combat old ideas and habits. Such schools would need new organisations based on self-managing teams and value, and share, the ideas of creative teachers. To be leader in such a school would be a real challenge.

Such leaders would, once  to develop the talents and gifts of all students has been agreed to, would need to respond continuously to change and to support and trust their teachers. A leader, in such an environment, needs to make sure the purpose of the school is clear to allow teachers to act in ways that align with the agreed purpose and to hold themselves accountable to agreed values to ensure success. Teachers would need to earn trust through their behaviours and actions but leaders need to create the circumstances in which trust can be earned.

Leadership in such schools presents a paradox – how to develop a unified learning community while at the same time allowing teacher creativity. This tension between the need for individual freedom and a sense of shared community will be on ongoing dilemma but it is possible to create resilient and adaptive communities as well as valuing individuality- no one is saying it will be easy. Individuals cannot survive alone – and we all need to work within agreed boundaries. Success depends on respectful relationships resulting in the organisation and the individual co-evolving.
About time we  took his advice!!

We have to learn to live with the paradox held together by their agreed shared purpose; what teachers have agreed to achieve. Diversity and uniqueness become contributions rather than issues of compliance. No one person has the answer – certainly not ‘experts’ distant from the school. Leaders have the responsibility to make sure what the school stands for is clear. Teachers need information, resources, opportunities to talk and share ,and support ,if they are to be trusted.

The model of creative leadership is translated to the role of the teacher in the classroom.
Life is uncertain -unpredictable
Life is about constant reinvention, adaptation and improvisation.
Life depends on diversity, imagination, creativity and imagination.
Life is about learning by taking risks.
Schools are too box like1
Success depends on all student having their unique talents and gifts developed.
Schools are where these qualities ought to be central.
Leadership is about creating such learning communities.
We need leaders who know how to nourish and rely on the innate creativity, freedom, and caring of people.
Such leadership is not easy – it is always dangerous challenging the status quo.
Rosy the Riveter WW2
Whatever the difficulty creative leadership is the pressing challenge of our time.
The new year could well be the time for principals  to begin conversations  about the purpose of schools in the 21st C with all involved.
A good start would be to put the currently side-lined New Zealand central - a curriculum that asks for all students to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2014 A time for educationalists' courage - or more compliance and conformity?

Teachers in New Zealand are currently enjoying their summer holidays - let's hope they are using the time to energize themselves for , with an election in New Zealand coming later in the year, this energy will be important if teachers are to reclaim their reputation as creative teachers.

For me, if we don't have a change of government , and if New Zealand teachers don't appreciate the need for them to add their voice to the education debate and get behind political parties that will support their creativity ( or the placing of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum  central), then it will be time to give up my own personal crusade.

It would be a shame if New Zealand teachers were to be sidelined as in Australian and England and , of course, the USA. In these countries the neo liberal Global Education Reform Movement has all but silenced their voices.

I appreciate that there still are creative teachers, even a few creative principals, that have not yet given in but far too many have gone along with such reactionary policies as National Standards - mind you there never were that many such creative individuals. The last decades have not been kind to the truly creative - it has been years of compliance, control and conformity.

So, through this blog, I will do my best to encourage teacher and school creativity.

 Below a blog well worth a read 'Will teachers fall for anything?'   Extracts:

'In my recent experiences it appears that even the most steadfast teachers are beginning to crumble under the weight of centralised government and the philosophies they are imposing on classroom teachers. It is almost as if teachers are simply too scared to have any sort of philosophy about their teaching practice, how children learn.'

'And yet in the current education climate, teachers are struggling to stay true to their own philosophies, or to develop them in the first place. With never ending expectations placed on schools to deliver to standards set by central government, teacher philosophies appear to be lost in translation. There does not seem to be time for teachers to simply reflect on ‘why are we doing this’ and ‘what is the point of this for our children’ and ‘does this sit well with what I believe about children and their learning’? As a result, teachers are being swept up with the latest fads and practices, some of which have no correlation with their underlying philosophies.'

'Perhaps if teachers return to their beliefs around what is important for them in their classrooms, and conversations in staff rooms centre around philosophy, that teachers will begin to grow that confidence in having some autonomy in their teaching practice. If there is an ever increasing number of teachers knowing what is is they will stand for, the impact of central government may not be quite as far reaching as it would like to become.'
A second blog:Isn't it time for teachers to have some fun!! Another good read.


'The New Zealand national curriculum was heralded as a leader at its conception. It was to allow teachers to teach students of the 21st century. A focus on thinking skills rather than knowledge content. Recognition that our future population will be needing skills that will allow innovation, flexibility and inquiry, rather than the ability to recall a vast bevy of facts and figures. Encouraging our kiwi learners to become forward thinkers able to problem solve, hypothesise, invent and create. This curriculum is still current…….it is still the curriculum legislated that teachers in New Zealand mainstream schools must follow. So why then do teachers feel they have to be permitted to teach in the way that the curriculum allows for.'.

 '....the current NZ curriculum. This curriculum gives permission for teachers to deliver a different programme in their classroom. One that is more relevant to today’s students and our future leaders than ever before. Yet teachers still feel they have to teach as they have always done. School managers are indirectly reinforcing this by keeping on keeping on, rather than examining the needs in their classrooms. Children that are disengaged, children lacking in motivation, children struggling to access level one of the curriculum. If teachers were to be courageous and revolutionise their teaching program, would these children continue to be disengaged? Would there be a lack of motivation in the classroom, if children were suddenly encouraged to explore themes relevant to them? If the teacher and school communicated to their students that their thoughts and ideas were important and worthy of further investigation? By teachers working alongside students, instead of operating a top-down fill-up-the-vessel approach, the skills children would then be exposed to develop would be numerous.'

Couldn't agree more

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jen's new deck and garden

A big project for my daughter in her new house is adding a deck, which is almost now finished. Take a look...

Only the rails and stairs to go.

Next will be the bi-fold doors....

The beginnings....

An enthusiasm for gardening

The native garden - early stages....

Door to replace windows

Kaitiake - guardian poles..

Interior of house

New door - March 14
Inside - outside