Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Environmental Awareness. From Robert Fried's book 'The Game of School' ( quoting Rachel Carson)

Based on Chapter Three of Robert Fried’s book ‘The Game of School’

There seems to be a worry about the language deficiency that many young enter school with – the technocratic solution is to  test students and then assist students achieve accordingly – this often involves imposing phonic lessons on underachieving children. If are interested in  where we might be taken by John Hattie visit this link.

In contrast there have always been educators that the real solution is to ensure students have experiences from which language facility develops - 'before the word the experience'A New Zealand educator Sylvia Ashton Warner's work with young Maori children in the 1950s comes to mind  with her ‘key vocabulary’  ( involving reading and writing) arising out of the personal experiences of her students. At the same time Elwyn Richardson developed his students writing (and reading) from their ‘felt experiences’
Elwyn Richardson
– encouraging scribing for children who had not mastered writing. Such approaches were integrated into junior classes under language experiences programmes.

Unfortunately the emphasis on reading over the years has replaced the importance of experience.With this in mind chapter three of Robert Fried’s book (The Game of School) reinforces the importance of experience and in this chapter he calls on the writing of early environmentalist the late Rachel Carson.

Fried writes that there is a connection between the sorry plight of education and the failure to ignore the importance of passionate learning- that education actually undermines this evolutionary drive to learn through experience.

‘Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies around you.
Rachel Carson
It is learning to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.’
– Rachel Carson.

In school, Fried sees ‘kids hooked by an intense curiosity, drawn by an enhanced sensory awareness of the natural world around them, driven by the importance of acting as explorers and scientists motivated by an  irrepressible urge to share what they have discovered.’

It is this innate drive that ought to be a feature of learning in school but all too often this is no longer the case. This is a shame because as Fried writes ‘we are inveterate talkers. We can no more keep information to ourselves that hold our breath for five minutes’. So with children. ‘They are the inheritors of our evolutionary gift of knowledge seeking and information sharing.’

Schools are not Fried writes ‘well suited to nurture the complex drives of children’s curiosity, sensory awareness, self-importance, and talkativeness….in the nineteenth century schools began to construct obstacles a to inhibit these hereditary instincts….. ( schools) where we sit them down, tell them a lot of stuff we think is important, try to control their restless curiosity, and test them to see how well they’ve listened to us.’

In 1956 Rachel Carson wrote a book for her four year old nephew who she often took for walks. She describes her informal pedagogy this way‘I have made no conscious effort to name plants or animals nor to explain to him, but have just expressed my own pleasure in what we see, calling his attention to this or that …. Later I have been amazed the way names stick…..(We) were just going through the woods in the spirit of two friends on an expedition of exciting discovery.

Later Carson writes about this ‘learning experience’ in her book for her nephew saying, ‘A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear eyed vision…is lost before we reach adulthood.’ If she had  the influence she would wanteach child in the world be (given) a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years’.

Rachel was not referring to school per se as she was talking to parents encouraging them to encourage their children to experience the world, the sky, the stars, the wind, trees, the rain, the cityscape, seasonal changes through their senses. The lesson however is there for schools as well.

Robert Fried
Fried writes about the power that comes from a student sharing a personal experience – the power of sharing knowledge.  This is the power that Ashton –Warner, Elwyn Richardson and creative teachers were, or still are, well aware of. In such classroom classrooms are unified around discovery, sharing and shaping of ideas.  It is the power of children’s ideas, writes educator Deborah Meier that out pedagogy should centre on. She writes,’ all kids are indeed capable of generating powerful ideas; they can rise to the occasion. It turns out that ideas are not luxuries gained at the expense of the 3Rs, but instead enhance them…. All children should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analysers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on this most complex world.’

These are idea that reach back to the learning through problem solving and experience of John Dewey and echo   the vision of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum that students should ‘be seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’.

NZ Curriculum
To ensure all students are ‘seekers, users and creators’ has implications for teachers.  It is about empowering learners rather that making them comply with often irrelevant expectations. It is about engaging students in experiences they see the point of, about ensuring all the learning skills and processes are in place. It is about ‘reframing' literacy and numeracy in the service of student inquiry. It is about sharing power by negotiating the curriculum and activities and assessment with the students.

Unfortunately the ‘Game of School’ that Fried writes about is all too often an intellectually and sensory starved environment, ‘one where children’s curiosity, their capacity for sensory intelligence, their desire for heightened self-identities as discovers and synthesizers of knowledge have been blunted by adult preoccupations with the “delivery of instruction” and with the most narrow and constraining of assessment instruments, linked to sate curriculums curriculum frameworks and tests.’

‘This pseudo learning’, Fried writes, ‘mocks authentic learning’ and that’ once locked into such compliance makes the role of the teacher so much more difficult. After all, how can we teach the incurious? How can we awaken those whose senses have been dulled by the monotony of schoolwork? How can we reach those who feel decidedly un-powerful? How can we motivate the silenced youth amongst us to claim their share of the stage on which knowledge is brought to life to be shared?

In New Zealand we have the inspiring examples of Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Elwyn Richardson to call on, the writings of Dame Marie Clay, the all but forgotten language experience approaches of junior teachers, and the work of those creative teachers, past and present, who have had the courage to stand out against the pressure to conform. And of course there is the writing of educators such as Robert Fried.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Educational Readings- Boys education/ free market education/ Seymour Papert and Phil Cullen

A day of reflection 

By Allan Alach

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

This weeks homework!

Secret Teacher: if you want teachers to be happy in the job, show them respect

Valuing and supporting students is a fundamental part of teaching. So why don't we show the same concern for our colleagues? asks Secret Teacher

The Learning Curve for Boys: Is it Different?

I linked to this article on Twitter and received a fairly terse response that we shouldnt be differentiating for boys. What do you think?

In summary, boys follow a unique learning curve, one that can be significantly enhanced in an environment that appreciates the differences between genders.  A setting that recognizes the cognitive, emotional and social processes which motivate boys to reach their full potential is the optimal learning environment for boys.

Why free market will not fix problems with teachers and teaching

This article is from Australia and reveals an amazing coincidence - the rhetoric about non-performing teachers and way to sort this so-called problem is identical to that used in New Zealand, England, Canada and the USA. What are the odds on that?

Related beliefs include the "fact" that teacher education is ineffective and needs reform, that the value of a teaching qualification is questionable and even unnecessary, and that there are benefits that will accrue from appointing non-educators as principals and running schools as businesses.

A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools (thanks to Michael Fawcett)

Human beings yearn to share, reflect, and understand one another, and they use these
reflections to improve the state of things, both personal and public. If we want our students to have this kind of impact, we have to teach them to express themselves with both precision and passion.

We trust our own instincts more than we trust Pisa

Singapore came third in science and second in maths and reading, and also topped a recent problem-solving exercise. But Pak Tee Ng, associate professor at Singapores National Institute of Education, said: So what if we are near the top of Pisa? What may be the ticket for success in the past may be a ticket to doom in the future. I think we trust our own instincts more than we trust the Pisa results.”’

The Poverty Scam

An article written about New Zealand and which is applicable all over.

So why is it that Governments persist with an ideology that is demonstrably flawed?
In part it is because the ideology is easily sold to the electorate. Who, after all, would oppose a simple silver bullet that would provide better schools to help poor children succeed? What's more it enables right-wing Governments to paint themselves as caring, while pursuing economic policies that are are ultimately unfriendly to children.

Give childhood back to children:

A lengthy article by Peter Gray - recommended.

 The most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practised by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions.

Sustainability in schools: give young eco-warriors space to grow

An encouraging article from the UK, with no standards or tests in sight.

Nash believes the real beauty of student-led projects is enabling children to make that difficult link between their own concerns and what matters to the wider world. It's a struggle for a nine-year-old to care about global warming, but showing a child the tangible results of, for example, saving energy to free up more money for class resources, actually means something to him or her.

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Seymour Papert : The obsolete 'Three Rs' - blocking real change in education

Another one from Bruces extensive oldies file:

All this  Victorian emphasis on the three Rs’  according to people like Professor Seymour Papert, a highly respected MIT expert in learning and computers, expresses the most obstinate block to change in education. The role of the basics, he writes, is never discussed; it is considered obvious. As a result other important educational developments are being ignored.

Quality teaching and learning.

Bruces latest article, looking back over lessons about learning gained from teachers and students he has worked with over the decades.

What I have observed in all the  creative teachers I have  worked with over the decades is that they are always in motion, working with students, singly, in small groups; briefly addressing the class as a whole, inviting , explaining, explaining, gently correcting, and sincerely affirming. As Elwyn Richardson has written I learnt as much from my students as they learnt from me

Contributed by Phil Cullen:

'Why are they trying to sell me something during the test?'  (thanks to Mary Mackay, Amsterdam)

Corporate capitalism lacks morality

Grade-school students baffled as brands including Nike, iPods and Barbies appear in exam papers

                   Brand names appeared in a New York Common Core standardized test

                   Exam was taken by more than a million students in grades three to eight

                   Many complained about the use of specific branding in the test

                   New York education officials insist there were no paid product placements

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Quality teaching and learning. Looking back; lessons about learning gained from teachers and students I have worked with over the decades.

A More Informed Vision

I was recently asked what lessons I had learnt over the years – as a result this blog - A More Informed Vision

For over five decades I have had the privilege of working with primary teachers as an adviser both in science and art, as a teacher, a school principal and as an independent educational adviser until 2011. Since the 1970s I have expressed  what I called A More Informed Vision (MIV) – a vision combining the best of primary student centred ‘learning how to learn’ approach with the more traditional  secondary school values of effort, perseverance and depth of content – a best of both world approach avoiding the counterproductive either/or argument.

Early influences

 In my first decade I was inspired by the writings of pioneer creative teacher ElwynRichardson, local teachers who were developing similar integrated curriculums, the work of art advisers who were led by their director Gordon Tovey, and the developmental language experience teaching of junior school . During this time teachers moved away from fragmented subject teaching to integrating learning areas around themes, topics,  or studies. Behind such developments was the leadership of Dr Beeby the then director of Education. My last influence were the child centred English primary schools which I taught in in 1969. This decade was an exciting time to be a teacher. During  the 1970/80s, as an adviser, I  worked with a group of local Taranaki teachers to implement them – in particular Bill Guild, John Cunningham and Robin Clegg, all now well retired, but the ideas they helped develop live on.
Elwyn Richardson

Now it seems to me the insights gained through such experience is all but lost as school programmes are more determined  by those distant from the reality of the classroom – in particular the imposition of National Standards which are  causing an inevitable narrowing of the curriculum and the spread of formulaic teaching ( so called ‘best practices’). League tables and performance appraisals, if the government is returned, are on the horizon. Then all will be lost.

A belief all can learn

The teachers I worked with all believed, given the right environment, relevant tasks (to the learner), sensitive help and time, every student can learn. Every student can be, as it states in the all but side-lined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, their own ‘seekers, uses and creators of their own knowledge’.

It is as simple and as hard as that.

Unfortunately far too many students lose their innate (default) mode of learning as they move through the school system. It is not that are not learning they are learning the wrong things, gaining power through disruption and counterproductive behaviour. Worse still many students enter schooling unable to take advantage of opportunities due to difficult home circumstances. By secondary schooling far too many
students have all but given up and for such students school is an incredible waste of time.
This need not be the case but to remedy the situation schools need to be transformed as well expressed by Sir Ken Robinson in hispopular video presentations. He, of course, is not alone but those who define educational direction seem determined to ignore such voices.

Importance of relationships.

The key to progress is the importance of the establishment of respectful relationship between learner and teacher/mentor/adviser. A long retired local educational adviser, Howard Wilson (one of my ‘gifted’ mentors) used to say ‘teaching is not so difficult; all you need is thirty plus kids, good relationships and to do worthwhile things.’ Others talk of redefining the ‘3Rs’ as relevance, relationship and rigor.

If all students are held to the highest personal standard and given the appropriate help to achieve their personal best all can achieve quality results – when this is achieved, even with learners who have never experienced success then behaviour problems dissipate in the process. To ensure all students experience such success became important to all teachers I worked with.

Developing talernts
What I believe doesn’t work is sorting, grouping, streaming and grading students all of which, it seems, is on the rise due to National Standards.  Instead of standardising learning, in the process creating ‘winners and losers’ what is required is a personalising of the learning process so as to build on and extend the gifts and passions of all students.

I have learnt that it is possible to develop positive learning habits in all students but only if teachers change their minds about teaching first. Recent writing by Art Costa (‘Habits of Mind’) and Guy Claxton (‘powerful learning’) provide teachers with ideas to develop such life-long learning dispositions. A recent book ‘Mindsets’ written by Carol Dweck is a must – her research shows that if students think their ability is ‘fixed’ (born ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’) then their learning is limited but if they see their ability as able to ‘grow’ through  effort, or as other writers have written ‘grit’, then their learning ability is unlimited. Understanding the effects of such mind-sets has real educational power.

The most important realisation we all gained was the centrality of inquiry studies to provide the energy to integrate many aspects of the curriculum. True inquiry studies/projects/challenges need to be open ended enoughto allow the personal interests of students to be encouraged or taken advantageof. Today there is a lot written about inquiry/project based learning but the vital thing is for students to, as the 2007New Zealand Curriculum states, to be ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’. Teachers in this process have a vital role to:  provide resources, to value students’ prior
A sidelined curriulum
ideas, to point students in the right direction, to ensure all the appropriate skills are in place and most of all to challenge students understanding.

For the teachers I worked with the morning language (literacy) and mathematics (numeracy) blocks provide the opportunity to introduce such skills as required. Important research for us all in the 80s was the Waikato University School of Education’s Learning In Science Approach (LISP). Essentially this required teachers placing their students in an engaging or provocative situations to gain their questions (and from these their prior ideas/understandings) and then to help them experiment/research to gain the best answers they can concluding with an exhibition, display or assembly/parent presentation This approach is often called guided discovery or constructivist learning - really co-constructivist learning with students and teachers learning together. Such an ‘emergent’ approach makes current pre-planning of knowledge to be gained problematic.

Need to value students ideas
Teachers I worked with, even they stuck to ability grouping, did their best to integrate language and mathematical learning in realistic situations. My advice to teachers today is to ‘reframe’ their literacy and numeracy programmes to contribute skills and knowledge to the current inquiry study (ies).  Obviously not all language/mathematical tasks directly contribute to the afternoon studies – many will be stand-alone inquiry studies in their own right.

Although in my own teaching I refused to use ability grouping I did use grouping with students working in four rotating collaborative groups in language and maths times with one day to finish tasks. The inquiry programme we also arranged in collaborative groups. Studies usually lasted three to five weeks with the first week introducing tasks through shared experiences, the second ( and often a third) defined group work,  and  during the final week students worked independently to complete tasks. As with the language/mathematics block teachers worked with identified groups or individuals (to challenge their thinking and to provide personalised help) while other groups worked independently. To ensure such
Jerrome Bruner
independence all tasks were defined on the white board/blackboard
. Defined tasks were a mix of individual assignments and group tasks. By Term three students had enough skill and responsibly to complete work of quality. Such teachers put into practice the words of Jerome Bruner that teaching is ‘the canny art of intellectual temptation’. Teachers, where possible, introduced all studies (including maths and language studies) by means of ‘tempting’ displays. The learning environments developed were a subtle mix of a workshop, an art studio/ museum and a science laboratory with the room environment reflecting well displayed quality work.

The need to do fewer things well.

A key idea we all held was to do ‘fewer things well’ – to ‘uncover rather than cover’. Through involvement in rich generative content, as well as producing quality work (by students being taught to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’) students also acquired learning how to learn skills; we all believed product and process were equally important. Over the year teachers ensured students were introduced to content drawn from, or integrating strands, from across the learning areas.  A particular emphasis was the exploration of the immediate man-made and natural environment.

A vital appreciation we all had was the need for every student, particularly those who had had little experience of success, to complete work of personal quality. We felt the need to celebrate the
Creativity - edge of Chaos
smallest success for learners recovering from previous poor experiences at home and at school. Such teachers understood educationalists Jerome Bruner’s simple advice, ‘people get good at what they get good at’.
 This required providing those in need with appropriate feedback and ‘scaffolding’. Such personalised assistance we saw as the artistry of a teacher – the ability to provide help but to still leave the agency for learning with the learner resulting in work expressing the diversity of the learners.

Slowing the pace of work.

Developing such a creative learning environment takes time. One important phrase we all used was ‘to slow the pace of work’. Too many students arrive in our classes thinking that ‘first finished is best’ and spoil many good starts by rushing their work.

Teachers I have worked with have developed a range of ways to slow the pace of their students and in the process gaining the time to help students in need.

Observation age 10
The use of a range of art processes in one way to slow the pace of work so as to develop a sense of quality and pride through creative achievement – it takes time to develop an idea to a realisation.  Pace of work was equally slowed through a process to develop a quality piece of writing.  Learning to value personal experience was a valuable activity – student personal experience books, and their study books, were excellent ways to demonstrate growth of quality writing and presentation from February to December. Another means to slow the pace was observational drawing – an activity that contributes to art as well as science studies. So many students we found see but don’t look. Such observational and associated sensory awareness also contributes to the development of language as well as providing time for questions and ideas to emerge.

As work of quality develops the teachers celebrate students’ achievements, processes, and finished work, by carefully arranged displays.  Such displays featured provocative headings, key questions, and often, prior as well as researched ideas. A visit to rooms following such an approach shows the importance the teachers give to their students’ ideas.

The artistry of the teacher

What I have observed in all the  creative teachers I have  worked with over the decades is that they are always in motion, working with students, singly, in small groups; briefly addressing the class as a whole, inviting , explaining, explaining, gently correcting, and sincerely affirming. As Elwyn Richardson has written ‘I learnt as much from my students as they learnt from me’.

Learning from the students

The ideas above reflect the teachers’ artistry but creative teachers also learn as much from the behaviours of their students as from each other. A few students come to my mind all now in their forties!

Roger, Phillip and Grant were active boys with poor ability in literacy and numeracy but all have done well in life by tapping their innate skills. For these students, school, particularly secondary school was more
Phillip's lino cut
endured than appreciated.
From my own experience such boys, with a history of non-learning, needed at least eighteen months to recover their confidence indicating the importance of ‘family grouping’. At least they escaped the demeaning labelling of National Standards will suffer under in the future. Grants mother recently told me he still remembers the piece of writing I helped him with about killing pigs.

At the other extreme was Charlotte, who never applied herself to spelling, times tables or bothered with neat writing (much to the displeasure of her accountant father), but was a wonderful poet, dancer and empathetic to others needs.   Now wife of a New Zealand Ambassador she is a well-recognised artist. She recently wrote to me to say her art career was motivated by my teaching and that now her dad is proud of her achievements!

A couple of boys, Geoff and Roger, traveled overseas. On their return their parents said jokingly they were sick of my name – at every experience the boys told their parents ‘Mr Hammonds would like this!’ We all influence our students in ways we can’t imagine as we all often discover at school reunions.

One young lady Tracey entered my crowded class of 38 at midterm. I was too busy with our current class study to pay much attention to her. I sat her with a powerful group of high achieving girls - Jane, Sharon and Jan. After three weeks the principal informed me Tracey’s parents were visiting to talk about her reading progress. After a short panic, and my first ever running record, I worked out she was reading about
From observation to imagination
her chronological age – the other girls were several years ahead of their age. Before I could explain to Tracey’s parents they told me how pleased they were with my reading programme (almost non-existent) and that Tracey now really enjoyed school. I was somewhat confused but later discovered the other girls, who liked Tracey, realised she was well behind them in reading and, while in the library, picked out books for her that they had read years before and helped her progress ! There is a lesson in this story?  The best teachers are often other students. Tracey, now a teacher, said she knew I didn’t have the programme her parents imagined I had when I visited her school! I had to agree.

A couple of very bright girls Jane and Megan (who would score highly on National Standards!) were coasting and I had to tell their parents they ought to be working harder. The parents were somewhat confused but, with time, appreciated that I was right.

Classrooms as learning communities

The best classrooms are true learning communities of scientist and artists, something we all learnt from Elwyn Richardson all those years ago. All students have different passions, gifts, needs or
Room environments
talents to tap into. And all involved can learn off each other

Cultures count for better or worse. We have moved from cultures of collegiality and sharing to one where schools are being encouraged to compete with each other – a trend that will be amplified by school comparisons based on narrow achievement data.

The past creative cultures  are now at risk in the current standardised conservative surveillance culture teachers have to comply to.

It will be a difficult future challengefor teachers to keep the creative spirit alive unless a new political climateis created. Such a climate last originated out the hopelessness of the 1930s depression, the destruction of WW2 and, eventually, resulted in the social transformation of the sixties. This is when we all entered the teaching profession. Looking back our generation of teachers lived in the best of times.

There are some that are predicting we are entering a new age of creativity –  a second renaissance this time on the back of modern information technology rather than the invention of the printing press. It would be a shame if our education system, through political interference, is facing the wrong century.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter educational Readings -death of creativity/boys education/PISA nonsense and Diane Ravitch

Paying the price for non compliance!
Easter a time for reflection
By Allan Alach

New Zealand teachers have just reached the end of the 12 week first term of 2014 and are now looking forward to a two week break so they can rest and recuperate, not a holiday as non-teachers would have it. Its intriguing how non-teachers make a big deal about all the so-called holidays that teachers get, yet they are very quick to say that they could never be teachers.

I hope that all teachers, everywhere, take the advantage of Easter to get right away from the pressures of their job and spend quality time on themselves and their families.

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

This weeks homework!

Decisions about teaching methods should be made by educators not politicians

An opinion post from Australia, however you will no doubt notice it is applicable all over.
In these examples we have a lawyer, turned politician, suggesting that education policy should take us back to an earlier era on the basis of his intuition, the comfort level of parents, and how he was taught many years ago.

The Long Death of Creative Teaching: Common Core standards are part of a bigger movement towards stifling teachers.

Does this ring any bells for you, wherever you are?
Being lost is the practical wisdom and planned spontaneity necessary to work with 20 to 35 individuals in a classroom. Academic creativity has been drained from degraded and overworked experienced teachers. Uniformity has sucked the life out of teaching and learning.

Why many boys only do just enough.

Last week, I included a link to this article Do boys dislike school? Or just what theyre learning?  In response, Kevin Hewitson sent me an article he has written on a similar theme. Kevin commented in his email:
I believe it is not just what we ask boys to learn but also how they respond in how well they learn it. It is my experience, 36+ years of teaching and a father of 2 boys, that boys often do "just enough". What is just enough is determined by a whole host of things including targets or expectations of others, something schools are awash with. When the target is self-imposed, internal to their needs, then the sky is the limit for boys achievement. As a teacher and parent you can use this knowledge to good effect, you just have to lie about what the desired goal or outcome is.

Time to push it over!!!
How Does PISA Put the World at Risk (Part 5): Racing to the Past
Part 5 of Yong Zhaos series on PISA. More evidence for ideologues to ignore
The top performers of PISA are simply better implementation of the old paradigmthe Prussian industrial model of education, which many Western education systems, including the U.S. system, are based on.

In Defense Of Poetry: Oh My Heart

Will we soon wake one morning to find the carcasses of poems washed up on the beach by the tsunami of the Common Core? That question, especially during National Poetry Month, now haunts me more every day, notably because of the double-impending doom augured by the Common Core: the rise of nonfiction (and the concurrent erasing of poetry and fiction) from the ELA curriculum and the mantra-of-the-moment, close reading(the sheeps clothing for that familiar old wolf New Criticism). It seems we have come to a moment in the history of the US when we no longer even pretend to care about that which is the result of the human heart: Art.

Education's culture of overwork is turning children and teachers into ghosts

All too much!!!
Educational reform now largely equals intensive schooling: early-morning catch-up classes, after-school clubs, longer terms, shorter holidays, more testing, more homework.
The trouble is, the human body and human communities do not flourish through being flogged. Families don't benefit from frenetic rushing. They simply forget who each other is, or could be, which is where the real problems begin. Overtired children don't learn. And hungry overtired children simply fall asleep, or kick off.

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

How Technology Is Changing The Skills We Need To Learn

Bruces comment: A brilliant small article.
We teach people that everything that matters happens between your ears when in fact it actually happens between people.

Creativity and the Brain: What We Can Learn From Jazz Musicians

Bruces comment: Importance of the arts and improvisation.

The value of improvisation
Luckily, creativity isnt an unknowable, mystical quality. It can be developed. You have to cultivate these behaviors by introducing them to children and recognizing that the more you do it, the better you are at doing it,Limb said. The problem is a lot of kids dont get much unstructured time either in school or out of it. School is often based on right or wrong answers, leaving little room for students to come up with ideas that havent been taught to them before.

Time for a national conversation about education?

Heres another article from Bruces oldies but goodies file.
Bruces comment: Good for a reading over Easter supposed to be a time of reflection!

What we need now is a national conversation about the role of education in the Twenty-first Century. Education is far too important to leave to the politicians and their advisers. They are far too influenced by the need to stay in power and not upset those who have a vested interest in the status quo.

For Earth Day and Beyond: Focus on Environmental Action Projects

Bruces comment: Some practical ideas for environmental studies.
This year, more than a billion people are expected to take part in Earth Day events around the world. Help your students consider their long-term role as environmental stewards by planning global education projects that challenge students to think (and act) beyond their classrooms.

Contributed by Phil Cullen:

Public Schools for Sale:  Bill Moyers Interviews Diane Ravitch

Phils comment:
This should be seen by everybody. It takes 25 mins. For busy people, that's a lot of time.  I'd allow three-quarters of an hour, however, allowing extra time to reflect on the comments.... as the charter school
 movement heads down under. In Australia, we call Charter Schools Independent Public Schools'....such a LOLy oxy-moronic title.  It's a jokey cover-up for what Diane R is describing, since NZ and Australia's are crazily pursuing this  course of action.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Educational Readings Alfie Kohn and 'grit'/ brain research/ Anthony Cody/ educational books and TED talks

By Allan Alach

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

This weeks homework!

The Downside of "Grit"

What Really Happens When Kids Are Pushed to Be More Persistent?
One of the latest GERM bandwagon is the notion of grit. In other words, children with grit will achieve and from there it follows that driving children is the key to success, or the inverse, that children who
Purpose more imp than 'grit'
are not achieving lack
grit (i.e. are lazy). Alfie Kohn, typically, deconstructs grit in this article.
Grit is usually justified as a way to boost academic achievement, which sounds commendable.  But take a moment to reflect on other possible goals one might have for children -- for example, to lead a life thats happy and fulfilling, morally admirable, creative, or characterized by psychological health.  Any of those objectives would almost certainly lead to prescriptions quite different from Do one thing and never give up.”’

Whole Brain Teaching?

Whole brain teaching????
Last weeks posting of a video showing Whole Brain Teaching generated some discussion.  Being a skeptic, I went looking for an article that backed me up and found one on the Neuroskeptic website. Ill leave it to proponents of WBT to find reputable articles supporting their claims.
Im not saying Whole Brain Teaching is useless, Im not saying anything about the method itself, but the brainclaims are misleading. Many of the things they recommend are teaching aids and classroom exercises, and no doubt those are helpful.

Is filling the pailany way to train teachers?

Sticking with the drill and kill theme, heres an article from 2012 about a similar methodology for training teachers.
I do not fault the teacher in the video for her style. She is performing as taught by a system that, in my opinion, better prepares students for the dutiful obedience of the military than for the intellectual challenges they will encounter in college.

The Classroom of the Future: Student Centered or Device Centered?

Anthony Cody looking at claims for device centred education. His conclusion is not good for Gates, Murdoch et al.

And I think these devices will fail ultimately fail to deliver. Here is why.

Do boys dislike school? Or just what theyre learning?

By not exploring where boys achieve and what this achievement means to them, we know little about how to reengage disenfranchised boys, especially those in the at-riskcategories, with formal schooling. Learning why they disengaged to begin with, and how to re-engage them, is essential to improving the outcomes for boys in schools.

Risky Play: Why Children Love It and Need It

An ironic fact is that children are far more likely to injure themselves in adult-directed sports
than in their own freely chosen, self-directed play.  Thats because the adult encouragement and competitive nature of the sports lead children to take risks--both of hurting themselves and of hurting othersthat they would not choose to take in free play.

Scientistsdepressing new discovery about the brain
This ones not directly educational but Im sure you will see the relevance
Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.

Reading Comprehension: Paper or Screen?

A long and somewhat technical article, but dont let that put you off.
This suggests that it will not be long before electronic reading might be a better choice than paper reading for reading for comprehension. Such a claim, of course, depends on the familiarity of readers with the interface of that reading technology and its ability to allow for the reading features listed here.

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Love Robert Fried
Educational Books for Creative Teaching - to develop the gifts and talents of all students

Last week I posted a link to The 50 great books on education.

Heres Bruces own pick of must readeducational books. Which list do you prefer? What would be in your essential book list?
I have searched through my postings for some of the best books that provide courage for teachers to make stand against the current anti educational approaches of a market forces competitive ideology.

50 Ted Talks Every Educator Should Check Out (2014 Edition)

Bruces comment: Ideal wet weather viewing or staff Professional Development,
Using TED Talks to convey an important message or spark creativity might be more effective in teaching students than an individual agenda or preconceived notion of what should be said.

Is boredom the real epidemic in our schools?
Rapidly being made worse by standards based classrooms
Engaging students

It is time we rethink the environments in which we are raising our children and what our priorities are. Are our schools places that provide an environment where childhood can be a happy time full of wonder and exploration? What does that look like and what would it take to make that a reality for children?

We have lost so much over the past 50 years. We need to return leadership back to creative teachers.

From Bruces oldies but goodies file:

The principal myth
In recent years the myth of the principal as the key to school transformation became persuasive and as result the principal's status has gone up commensurably. Crowther questions this myth, believing that the reality has not lived up to the rhetoric. The so called 'heroic leader' may effect short term change but all too often this is a temporary transformation.