Friday, October 31, 2014

Educational Readings - for the creative teacher!

By Allan Alach

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

This weeks homework!

More bible study, less dreaming stories, less enjoyment, more memorising
Prof Spurr - best kept in Aust!!
If you think things are bad in your neck of the woods, the outlook for education is looking pretty bleak in Australia.
He complains about too much emphasis on enjoyment, which he does not believe is necessarily part of learning literature. "The idea of pupils as creatorsof literature in English needs to be kept firmly in check" he reports. Studentsown works should not be valued too highly.

American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesnt Exist
Not just American schools
We may not be getting dumber in America. But we need to get smarter in ways that match the challenges we now face. The time is now to support the role of learning in the pursuit of discovery and to embrace the powerful agency of culture.

How Students Lead the Learning Experience at Democratic Schools
Children begin as explorersthey explore the environment around them, watch others, and try out what peers as well as adults are doing. What they need to acquire, they are able to acquire quite proficiently through discovery learning.’”

Research Indicates No Relationship between Student Standardized Test Scores and Quality of Teacher Performance
Are you surprised?
Recent research from the University of Southern California has shown there is weak or non-existentrelationship between state administered value added model testsVAM, and the content and quality of teacher instruction. The study questions whether VAM data would be helpful in evaluating teacher performance and influencing teacher instruction.

Is this what we mean by close reading?
If you want to kill any love of reading, follow this example.
85 questions assigned by a high school teacher to start off To Kill A Mockingbird… Is this what we mean by close reading?

Reading John Dewey
Today as in 1897, if we could adhere to these basic principles, education would be in a much better state.

Dewey, Testing Companies, and the Origin of the Common Core
John Deweys vision of reform was a bottom-up approach that focused on the needs of the child and the expertise of the teacher. He warned against a system that relied on a lack of connection between the people in charge of planning for education and the people in charge of actually educating. What would John Dewey think of the Common Core?

Your Data Will Lie To You If You Let It
A valuable article:
So what is the better alternative to data-driven education? The answer is teacher-driven education, not data-driven.

Being Pegged, Late Bloomers and Effort
Check the following link for an article that Bruce wrote this week on a similar theme.
This is not just a story about a late bloomer.  It is also about pegging students. Smart. Academically challenged. Either label can be a burden to a student for different reasons.  Plus, how do we know for sure?  Does the teaching culture of the school exhibit one-size-fits-all pedagogy?  Are there various modes and opportunities to learn? Do teachers have the time and resources to accommodate students' varied needs?  Or, do we just love to pigeon-hole students?

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Teachers using ability grouping contributing to growing inequality in schools!!
Dr Rubie - Davies
Although many teachers talk about groups being flexible there is research that ability groups students are placed into in their first year predicts the stream they will be placed in at secondary school.

Learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by; instead, they should embark together on a journey down the water. Through an active, reciprocal exchange, teaching can strengthen learning how to learn."
Loris Malaguzzi, 19201994

Report urges revamping student testing
Bruces comment: Moving away from standardised testing in the US.
The report, by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the National Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky, recommends alternatives to annual standardized tests. It says there should be far more emphasis on ongoing assessments of students as part of regular classroom instruction. Schools should focus more on formative assessments,the curriculum-based problems and quizzes that teachers give to students throughout the school year for feedback on how students are doing, in addition to locally developed alternatives to assessments, the report argues.

Next two articles: Some good advice to ensure successful project  based learning.

Minimize Frustration and Maximize Deep Learning
As we move through the Information Age, many educators believe that teachers should concentrate on crucial concepts rather than memorizing facts and students should use critical-thinking skills to build their own understanding and transfer skills and knowledge to authentic situations. But this reality is hard to create. Often, a project seems like the answer to a prayer, but without careful planning, it can quickly lead to curses and frustration.

Tips for Managing Project-Based Learning
Project-based learning (PBL) can be messy by nature, but, then again, isn't all learning? PBL is a student-centered practice. Because it allows for voice and choice for students in not only what they produce but also how they spend their time, the learning is not as structured as many educators are comfortable with. However, PBL can still be focused if educators pair content standards with a menu of choices for demonstrating understanding of those standards, rather than allowing students to do projects on whatever they find interesting.

From Bruces oldies but goodiesfile:

Bruce has been looking back at articles I wrote for him back in 2011 when my brain was working

Guest Post by Allan Alach - a 'must read' and share with others
His introduction at the time:
My principal friend Allan sent me an e-mail that was so on the mark that I asked him to extend it into a blog. To my mind it is a piece of writing all teachers and schools should read -and then pass it on to as many other people as is possible.

A post apocalyptic vision of New Zealand education if present policies continue!
One respondent used the nom-de-plume Ozy Mandias. This brought back memories of a high school English class, where we studied a poem of that name. I recalled enough of it to realise that it would provide an excellent analogy for my pessimistic view of the future of education in New Zealand.

Contributed by Phil Cullen:

School is a prison and damaging our kids
This article is a must read:
I dont mean to paint self-directed education as a panacea. Life is not always smooth, no matter what the conditions. But my research and othersresearch in these settings has convinced me,
beyond any doubt, that the natural drives and abilities of young people to learn are fully sufficient to motivate their entire education. When they want or need help from others, they ask for it. We dont have to force people to learn; all we need to do is provide them the freedom and opportunities to do so.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Teachers using ablity grouping contributing to growing inequality in schools!!

Dr Rubie-Davies
Does your school use ability groups?

There is no doubt in my mind that the biggest contribution to inequality in our schools lies outside the school gate – in the difficult home circumstances of the students

The Minister has spread the myth that one in five students are failing and that schools can alleviate this situation with better teaching - and National Standards. It is all too easy for politicians to blame teachers and in the process ignore that poverty is the problem – poverty created by the neo- liberal polices implemented by governments since the 1980s. 

One in five students failing – one in five students living in poverty – seems hard to ignore the correlation.

Schools can't do much about the poverty issue – this is a matter for politicians – but they ought not to add to the disparity by their teaching methods.

With this in mind it was welcome to read Dr Christine Rubie-Davies article about ‘enacting high expectations for all students’ in the NZ Principal magazine Sept 2014.

She writes that we often hear that teachers ought to hold high expectations for all students implying that currently teachers do not hold high enough expectations. But, she asks, ‘what do high expectations look like?’

Her research has led her into identifying teachers with high expectations and whether holding high expectations has a positive effect on achievement and student self-belief. Rubie –Davis defines high expectation teachers ss those who have high expectations for all their students ‘relative to achievement’. The point she makes is that ‘high expectation teachers expect all their students in their classes to make large learning gains –and the students do’.

So, she asks, ‘what is it that high expectation teachers do? Several studies have shown that high expectation differ from low expectations in three key areas: they do not  use ability groups, they create a warm class climate, and they set clear learning goals with their students. At the heart of these difference, in my opinion is the use of flexible groupings rather than ability grouping.’

This is why the article caught my attention as I have never believed in , or used, ability grouping because of the consequences for students attitudes about their learning ability – ‘once a weka always
An excellent book.
a weka’. (A weka is a NZ bird that has lost its ability to fly! )

Rubie –Davies' research lines upwith the findings of Professor of mathematics Jo Boaler and the research of the UK Teaching Without Limits project.

According to New Zealand researcher John Hattie within class ability grouping show little benefit in raising achievements levels – and this leads on to the negative effects of streaming or banding.

Hattie 'no benefit'
 As a secondary student commented to Rubie- Davies, ‘as you move down the streams, the students get browner’. ‘The major problem with ability grouping’ writes Rubie –Davis, ‘is that it results in differential opportunity to learn and therefore differential learning. Students learn what they are given the opportunity to learn.’

My own thought is that there is not an achievement gap in our schools but rather an opportunity one.

Students Rubie –Davis writes arrive at school as 5 year olds and within a week or two they find themselves in the Red group or the Tiger group (or the Wekas) - names teachers think disguises the hierarchy that represents ability grouping. Once placed students are given different learning experiences and this placement begins their careers not only in an academic hierarchy but also a social one.

 Although many teachers talk about groups being flexible there is research that ability groups students are placed into in their first year predicts the stream they will be placed in at secondary school.

 Other research shows that if children from low achieving groups are placed in average or even high achieving groups they quickly begin achieving at the same level as their peers. There are also studies that show the pernicious effect of ability grouping and streaming. And, it seems, there are no studies, says Rubie- Davies that shows ability grouping is wonderful.

Sadly all this evidence against ability grouping is ignored by schools and as a result schools contribute to student discrepancy.

In contrast Finland, hailed as having a high quality education system has a policy of schools using only heterogeneous grouping and they also have one of the smallest disparities between their highest and lowest achievers. Rubie –Davies concedes there may be other explanation for Finland’s success but, not withstanding, their policy of heterogeneous grouping versus our homogeneous ability grouping is worth considering as one potential explanation for our large ‘achievement tail’.

The high expectations teachers Rubie-Davies studied do not use ability grouping instead they use flexible mixed ability grouping where students can choose the activities that they complete, or higher and lower achievers are paired, or students are socially grouped, or students choose who they work with, or students assigned to mixed ability grouping.

  Educationalist David Perkins suggests students can be withdrawn individually or in small groups, for catch up help and then placed back into the ‘game’ of learning. This approach was identified by Rubie-Davies. She observed teachers ‘pull out students to teach particular skills so that the salience of ability is diffused’.

Such flexible grouping would seem to me to true to the spirit of holistic, integrated, student- centred or personalised learning that once NZ primary education was recognized for  as exemplified by the writings of the late Elwyn Richardson.

Elwyn Richardson
Another aspect of flexible grouping is that students can form relationship across the curriculum and in the process developing a stronger sense of class community.

Flexible grouping shows to students that teachers care equally for all of them. Ability grouping is more harmful at the secondary level where students are streamed and sadly this process is becoming more common in primary and middle schools with inter-class grouping and setting, usually in literacy and numeracy.

Schools’ using flexible groupings requires teacher expertise to monitor individual progress and provide feedback and assistance as and when required – but this is expertise that can be learnt.

 Rubie –Davies has completed studies to develop this expertise. This is the creative teaching that, when I was an adviser, teacher or principal, I admired. My own experience as a principal showed me how hard it was to shift teachers out of using ability grouping in literacy and numeracy – it seemed hardwired into teacher DNA.

‘All students’, concludes Rubie-Davis, ‘come to school enthusiastic about learning and the adventures that lie in store. Many leave school several years later disillusioned, disappointed and dispirited.’

As a country the talents of all our students is our biggest future asset – our school system should focus on developing the unique talentsand gifts of all students and not, as at present, contributing to some feeling winners and other losers – wounded by their schooling.

‘From an equity perspective, all students deserve the opportunity to achieve to their highest potential. High expectation teachers recognise the possibilities in all their students and work to ensure that all students achieve to the highest level they can. It is teachers who foster students’ talent and who can help every child to love learning, to challenge themselves, and to achieve more than others might have thought possible’.

All that is needed is some courageous leadership to create the conditions to encourage teachers to escape past destructive  ability grouping practices.

Further reading................................ Wounded by School by Kirsten Olsen

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Educational Readings - educational myths, powerful learning, common core and David Perkins

By Allan Alach

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

This weeks homework!

The Myth of Knowledge Gaps

Let's put kids in the driving seat.
I asked this question:

Is there really a developmental window of opportunity when learning needs to happen, and if it doesnt happen at that time, can never effectively happen?

5 myths about the human brain, debunked

Education is full of myths propagated by snake oil salespeople and non-educators.

three pounds of flesh!
The brain is the most amazing organ in the human body. Somehow, this collection of billions of cells gives rise to thoughts, feelings, action all the things that make us who we are. So it's no wonder that there are lots of misconceptions about how this three-pound hunk of flesh actually works. Here are five of the biggest myths about the human brain:

The Science Of The Common Core: Experts Weigh In On Its Developmental Appropriateness
By Alice Walton

Child development experts and early childhood educators believe that there is actually quite a lot to lose. The issue is not at all ideological, they say its partly pedagogical, and partly psychological. According to experts, a poorly conceived set of standards has the potential to be, at best, fruitless and, at worst, detrimental to the youngest kids who are on the frontline of the Common Core.

The great peril of standardized education

If Einstein was right when he said that standardization is a great peril,our nation may have suffered a brain robbery that has stunted the full development of the intellect and unique talents of millions of people. In their obsession with making students uniform or commonin knowledge and skills, reformers may have overlooked the value of variety. Could it be that the great perilof standardization has been the devaluing of student curiosity, creativity and initiative, as well as reducing personal integrity?

Learning, making and powerful ideas

Steve Wheeler
Recently Ive included articles about the maker movement. This article from Steve Wheeler provides a pedagogical background to this movement.

The theory of contructionism is experiencing something of a revival in recent years with the emergence of maker spaces, robotics, 3D printing and other tools that can promote the making of objects.

Metacognition: The Gift That Keeps Giving

Students who succeed academically often rely on being able to think effectively and independently in order to take charge of their learning. These students have mastered fundamental but crucial skills such as keeping their workspace organized, completing tasks on schedule, making a plan for learning, monitoring their learning path, and recognizing when it might be useful to change course. They do not need to rely on their teacher as much as others who depend on more guidance to initiate learning tasks and monitor their progress.

Q&A with Daniel Goleman: How the Research Supports Social-Emotional Learning

Goleman's work still examines the unconscious influences on our conscious mind, and gives us tools to understand and harness these influences to positive ends. In his latest book, The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education, he collaborates with Peter Senge to showcase the importance of cognitive control in helping students make good decisions.

Learning Is Different Than Education

Learning is different than education. One can be self-directed but supported; the other is led and caused. One is driven by curiosity and the joy of discovery; the other is metered and measured, and a matter of endless policy and mechanization.

This weeks contributions

As Overtesting Outcry Grows, Education Leaders Pull Back on Standardized Tests

Bruces comment: The anti testing movement slowly rising to the top as Obama speaks out. Too little too late. Best to not even have gone there in the first place politics before education.

As the outcry against the overtesting of American children has grown, state and local education leaders in a move endorsed by President Barack Obama have announced a new focus on dialing back the volume of standardized testing and dialing up the quality. 
Learning from Live Theater

In a previous study, we examined the impact of field trips to an art museum. We found significant benefits in the form of knowledge, future cultural consumption, tolerance, historical empathy, and critical thinking for students assigned by lottery to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (see The Educational Value of Field Trips,research, Winter 2014). In the current study, we examine the impact of assigning student groups by lottery to see high-quality theater productions of Hamlet or A Christmas Carol.

Duluth Middle students use STEM concepts to build solar-battery-powered cars

Bruces comment: Importance of active learning

‘“If we learn by using the car, we can actually have a hands-on experience with it instead of just looking at a board and writing stuff down about how to do it,Jackson said.

Five Keys To Building A Culture Of Active Learning

Independence does not develop in a culture that values compliance. Independent learners will be motivated to confront relevant problems, engage in challenging tasks, persevere long enough to overcome obstacles, and have ownership of goals for new learning. These are challenging tasks. Students will need educators willing to give them the latitude and guidance to start today.

25 Things Skilled Learners Do Differently

Bruces comment: Sit down and quietly go through the list of learning strategies how many do you use - or teach your students to use?

Imagine for a moment that all human beings had the same IQ, but that some of us knew how to tap into it better than others. How would we approach education differently?

Innovation Psychology: Innovate like Leonardo da Vinci

Bruces comment: Learn by seeing connections between art and science Learn like Leonardo da Vinci.

Many people today believe that science and art, like oil and water, do not mix.  However, many of the worldsgreatest innovators were not constrained by this bias. Leonardo da Vinci was pretty innovative, and his creativity spanned fine art, military engineering, anatomy and biomimicry.  He was not alone.

Stagnating? Innovate How You Innovate With These 5 Ideas

Bruces comment: Is your school stuck in the present? Here are 5 ideas to develop innovative practices?

Throughout this past year, Ive been having conversations with innovation leaders from a couple of BIG companies about re-inventing their innovation capability. The pattern of conversation: weve had a good run, but feel that our process for making innovation happen is delivering incremental results. Bureaucracy has developed, and so we arent taking a lot of risks anymore. How do we shake ourselves out of it?

From Bruces oldies but goodiesfile:

Great read
Advice from David Perkins to make learning Whole

To get students involved in any learning game teachers need to present 'threshold experiences' suited to the students developmental level. And students need to see the point of the game in any content area.

Contributed by Phil Cullen:

Common Core gets AWFUL review in new study

Bad news for supporters of national education curriculum: States with education standards most closely aligned to Common Core fared worse on math tests than states with their own standards, according to a new study.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Educational Readings - critical ideas for the educationally curious

By Allan Alach

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

This weeks homework!

Are You an Autodidact? Or Do You Need Other People To Learn?

Thanks to Heather McQuillan for this article, good for self reflection.
An Annie Murphy Paul blog

Most people are not autodidacts. In order to learn effectively, they need guidance provided by teachers. They need support provided by peers. And they need structure provided by institutions.

Reading Is About More Than Evidence
Sure is.
A few weeks later, another colleague and I were designing a reading curriculum. She suggested this daily objective: Students will categorize evidence from a nonfiction text by subtopic. How strange to think of the information we gather from a nonfiction text as evidence.Evidence of what? I thought. I suggested we keep her objective, but replace evidencewith the word information.

Curious learning
Uk academic Steve Wheeler:

Curiosity killed the cat, but it also made each of us who we are today. Without curiosity, none of us would learn very much at all. Learning is based more on curiosity than any other human characteristic. Children who are curious are always interested in discovering more. Children who lose their curiosity usually turn off and tune out. Children are naturally curious, but sadly, rigid school systems and curricula have often knocked this out of them by the time they graduate.

One size education no longer fits all
This article is from Australia.

Things like "leadership and personal development, confidence and resilience, wellness and a social conscience". God forbid that we equip our students with the latter. For might not our charges then turn bolshie and question the premise of rank materialism, the celebrity culture and democracies which are sometimes anything but.

What Happens When Education Serves the Economy?
Anthony Cody
A thoughtfully politically post by Anthony Cody - read it!

Our political system has become one that similarly revolves around making profits. There is no political will to defend the environment, because just like public schools, the common resources of the natural world including the air we breathe, the atmosphere that creates weather we can live in, and the water we drink, all must be put to maximum profitable use.

GRIT: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad
Alfie Kohn - is any comment needed?
Alfie Kohn

Anyone who talks about grit as an unalloyed good may need to be reminded of the proverbial Law of Holes:  When youre in one, stop digging.  Gritty people sometimes exhibit nonproductive persistence; they try, try again even though the result may be either unremitting failure or a costly or inefficient success that could have been easily surpassed by alternative courses of action,as one group of psychologists explained.
The Opposite of Grit
Following on, heres Curmudgucations take on grit:

Life provides plenty of need for grit all on its own. It's not necessary to provide more on purpose. And the need for grit doesn't help get things done, doesn't help people succeed. It may call on their strength, but it doesn't create it. We know that. We understand it. When we want someone to succeed, we do as much as we can to remove the need for grit. Do we not want our students to succeed?

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Sir Ken Robinson: What you cannot miss in the classroom.
Bruces comment: Another great interview with Sir Ken Robinson. Lots of links to other videos featuring Sir Ken.
Sir Ken Robinson, renowned in the field of education for his valuable contributions, expressed his view on the relationship between education and technology

20 Collaborative Learning Tips And Strategies For Teachers
Bruces comment: Strategies for cooperative learning building on the ideas of Vygotsky

Many consider Vygotsky the father of social learning.  Vygotsky was an education rebel in many ways.  Vygotsky controversially argued for educators to assess studentsability to solve problems, rather than knowledge acquisition. The idea of collaborative learning has a lot to do with Vygotskys idea of the zone of proximal development.  It considers what a student can do if aided by peers and adults. By considering this model for learning, we might consider collaboration to increase studentsawareness of other concepts.

The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking
Bruces comment: Focussing on standardisation neglecting critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking is a term that is given much discussion without much action.  K-12 educators
and administrators are pushed to teach the necessities as dictated by the standardized assessments in order to catch up the students to students of other countries.  In this push for better test scores, many students are leaving the K-12 education system lacking the critical thinking skills that are necessary to succeed in higher education or in the workplace

5 Reasons Leaders Need to Encourage Teacher Voice

Being a school leader is not easy. It takes a delicate balance between knowing when to push, understanding how to pull, and making sure that you take the time to listen to all stakeholders in the school community. For too many years teachers have lacked a real voice in schools, and without their powerful and informative voices, we can never move forward to engage and encourage students to have a voice.

Perspectives / Do-It-Yourself Learning
This issue of Educational Leadership addresses the question, How do students learn for the long term? Our authors' research-based answers, although familiar enough, also pack some surprises.

Why Don't Whales Have Legs?
Following on from the above article:
Time and again, long-term student feedback, program reviews, and end-of-year student reflections cite these two guided inquiry lessons as the most memorable. Posing lessons as questions, or problematizing them, allows students to learn and practice science in ways that make it stick.”’
From Bruces oldies but goodiesfile:

Disorganisation.Why organisations must 'loosen up'!
From a creative individuals point of view there is a desire for greater autonomy and flexibility. Such people want a greater say in the future of the organizations they work for. In short they want organizations to disorganize!

This weeks contribution from Phil Cullen:

Theres more to education than spelling and numbers
We need to go beyond the economic, rote-learning mindset, which is singularly concerned with the acquisition and regurgitation of facts. There is great concern that the race to the top in PISA rankings is undermining the education our children and our country really needs. What is the point of top marks in all subjects if you are unable to live a fulfilling life?

Testing Teacher Professionalism

Members of the teaching profession are trained to accept each pupils natural desire to learn and to develop each ones learnacy potential at the same time as each one accumulates knowledge. There is no greater kind of care; no greater profession.
There is no greater professional ambition. But we know that we have been turned around. We are under instruction to ignore the best-known teaching techniques and to use the soft bigotry of low expectations[Newkirk] caused by judgemental tests.