Saturday, January 31, 2015

Educational Readings - first readings for 2015.'Begin with the end in mind'.

By Allan Alach

Another New Zealand school year is about to start, so I guess that means I need to unpack my brain and get started on this years education readings.

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

This weeks homework!

Can Lego Help Return Play to Childrens Lives and Education?
Peter Gray commenting on a Lego Foundation conference - a good read.
..there was no real discussion of the meaning of play(at least none that I heard), and I wish there
.Importance of play neglected
had been, because many speakers used the term to refer to activities that neither I nor most children would class as play. They used the term to describe activities that teachers could bring into the classroom for the explicit purpose of teaching certain lessons, lessons that are part of the school curriculum and would ultimately be measured by scores on tests.

When you innovate are you a puzzle builder or quilt maker?
Are you a quilt maker?
Interesting video:
When you don't 'get' something, when there's something you've not got that gets in the way of building your idea, do you put your hands up and wait until the next piece in your puzzle becomes available, or do you just make stuff happen with the resources you've got - are you a puzzle maker who struggles when a piece is missing or a quilt maker who makes the best out of what you have?

Workload forcing new teachers out of the profession, survey suggests
An article from England, however from what I read online this is a widespread concern.
Almost three quarters (73%) of trainee and newly qualified teachers (NQTs) have considered leaving the profession, according to a new survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Heavy workloads are wreaking havoc among new recruits as 76% of respondents cited this as the main reason they considered quitting.

What's Worth Learning in School?
Thanks to Ivon Prefontaine for the link to this. Ivons Leadership, Innovation, and Creativity site is well worth following.
‘“Youve been teaching long enough to be pretty sure that hand is going to go up as soon as you got started on this topic, and so it does, with an annoying indolence. All right. You gesture toward the hand, Lets hear it.
The student: Why do we need to know this?’”

Seven ways schools kill the love of reading in kids and 4 principles to help restore it
This post by Alfie Kohn explains all the ways that school actually kills a desire to read in many kids, and how that can be remedied.” 

Great Research
Jamie McKenzie:
Students must make answers. The research is like a shopping trip to find the raw ingredients that will be chopped up and combined to cook a great stew or sauce. Cooking should involve more than heating up "store bought" dishes in the microwave.

5 Devastating Facts About Charter Schools You Won't Hear from the 'National School Choice Week' Propaganda Campaign
Children who are better resourced with more family support are the winners in the school choice game. Children from disorganized families dont even enter the lottery. Children with significant special needs are not well served in charter schools that lack the appropriate resources. The privatization of our schools puts public schools at a huge disadvantage, stranding the least advantaged and disabled in underfunded, under-resourced schools.

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Beginning the school year with the end in mind ( Steven Covey)
Bruce wrote this article for New Zealand teachers who are about to enter the fray for the new school year; however it has relevance all over.
A few years ago Steven Covey wrote a popular book called 'The Seven Habits of Effective People'. One of Covey's effective habits  was  to 'begin with the end in mind'.I think it very important advice for teachers starting with a new class. What would you like the class to be like at the end of the year? What habits, dispositions, attitudes, competencies and behaviours would you ideally like to be in place?

Insights into Student Motivation
Motivating students is always a hot topic among education writers and researchers, but never more so than the last several years. This MiddleWeb Resource Roundup gathers blog posts, interviews and studies centering on some of the recent commentary on intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation.

My Longstanding Beef with Instructional Leaders
Bruces comment: Are principals reallyinstructional leaders’  orlead teachers? Do you go to your principal for help or to an admired fellow teacher? The reality of the principal's role is to create conditions to encourage creativity and to trust teachers.
When the mic finally came to me, I pushed back at the notion that principals are truly the instructional leaders of any school.  "How can you REALLY be the instructional leaders," I argued, "when no one has ever seen you teach?!”’

The Past, Present And Future Of High-Stakes Testing
Bruces comment: The state of testing is USA the model to follow? This testing obsession must never take over New Zealand schools!
I've just written a book on this topic, The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with Standardized Testing But You Don't Have to Be, and Steve Inskeep sat down with me to ask me a few questions about it.

Andrew McAfee: What will future jobs look like?
Bruces comment: This  TED talk by the author of The Second Machine Age  is a must to watch about the future of jobs in the coming decades. It is a positive message. Schools need to be about encouraging exploration, imagination and creativity not the current push towards standardisation ( which has more to do with the first Industrial Age. Be great to show to staff and senior students.  Andrew Mcafee gives a powerful quote about education I learnt in Montessori school that the world was interesting and it was my job to explore it. Then I went to public school it was like being in the Gulag.

8 Myths That Undermine Educational Effectiveness
.Educational myths
Bruces comment: The real truth myths about education. How many apply in NZ? (or in your location, wherever that may be).
Certain widely-shared myths and lies about education are destructive for all of us as educators, and destructive for our educational institutions. This is the subject of 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten Americas Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education, a new book by David Berliner and Gene Glass, two of the countrys most highly respected educational researchers. Although the book deserves to be read in its entirety, I want to focus on eight of the myths that I think are relevant to most teachers, administrators, and parents.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Beginning the school year with the end in mind ( Steven Covey)

By next week teachers in New Zealand will all be beginning a new year. Some are back already. My last blog had some practical ideas to select from  - the blog below asks an important question.

A few years ago Steven Covey wrote a popular book called 'The Seven Habits of Effective People'. One of Covey's effective habits  was  to 'begin with the end in mind'.

I think it very important advice for teachers starting with a new class.

What would you like your class to be like at the end of the year? What habits, dispositions, attitudes, competencies and behaviours would you ideally like to be in place?

1970s educationalist John Holt was once asked a question. 'If schools were to take one giant step forward this year towards a better tomorrow, what would it be?'

Holt replied, ' it would be to let every child be the planner, director and assessor of his own education, to allow and encourage him, with the inspiration and guidance of more experienced and expert people, an as much help as he asked for, to decide what he is to learn, when he is to learn it,  and how well he is learning.It would make our schools....a resource for free and independent learning...'

Holt eventually gave on schooling and became an important 'guru' in the home schooling movement.

Idealistic perhaps - but worth keeping in mind?

Our New Zealand Curriculum has as its vision all students leaving as enthusiastic 'life long learners'.
Seek, use and create.
One phrase clarifies this vision with greater definition stating that all students should leave able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'. Not far away from John Holt.

That last phrase is worth keeping in mind. The teacher's role is to ensure all students can 'seek, use and create their own knowledge..

Holt writes that 'almost every child, on the first day he sets foot in a school building, is smarter, more curious, less afraid of what he doesn't know, better at finding out and figuring things out, more confident, resourceful, persistent, and independent, than he will ever again be or, unless he very unusual and lucky, for the rest of his life.'.

Many other educationalists have expressed the same thoughts.

 Alison Gopnik  in her excellent book has written that the very
 young child is a true artist and scientist and that this innate , or default. way to learn is all too often lost as a result of schooling.

  Educational psychologist Jerome Bruner  echoes this thought writing that the very young and the scientist are both working at the 'edge of their competence'.

So what is that gets in the way of this amazing learning ability?

 Students soon pick up on the hidden messages of school.

 One new entrant, when asked by her mother what did he learn on his first day, replied, 'I learnt that there are good children and bad ones'. I guess he had observed children who do as they are told are the 'good' children. This will be confirmed when the 'message' of ability grouping hit home.

Holt writes that children learn  that it is school learning that counts - not the real out of school learning of earlier days.

The teachers curriculum decision are now what counts ( and measured)..
Student also learns that they are  no longer trusted to learn in their own way  - they need to learn in the way the teacher has decided

The school , writes Holt, is saying to the child, 'Your experiences, your concerns, your needs,what you hope for, what you are good at or not good at - all this is of not the slightest importance, it counts for nothing'. They soon 'come to accept the teachers evaluation of them'. Compliance with narrowing effect of National Standards comes to mind.

I think , if this message is to avoided,  Holt's ideas need to be kept in mind. Creative teachers, past and present, were  well aware of this need. And such teachers capitalize on students questions, concerns and experiences - and their immediate environment.

In contrast to pre-school learning students now learn to gain teacher defined achievements rather than learning for its own sake.

Learning in its true sense is making sense of ones experience - at any stage of life.; that is if we really want to be 'life-long learners'.

It is worth keeping such thoughts in mind if we don't want to turn off learners.

The challenge for teachers how to make  their classroom a place where students want to go..

 We need to tap their questions and concerns and value their question and as importantly their current, or prior, views.

 In a truly creative classroom a curriculum 'emerges' and my own experience is that most curriculum areas will be covered. Jerome Bruner has written that 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.'  Holt comments 'It is worth remembering that we all remember only what interesting and useful to us; and we all like  the help of a caring adult to help us think more deeply'.

So a fixed teacher planned curriculum and the use of ability grouping are both areas of concern as is the current obsession with literacy and numeracy which in many classrooms 'have all but gobbled up the entire curriculum'.

These areas, as important as they are, need to be 're- framed' as 'foundation skills' and, as much as is possible, integrated into the individual , group and class inquiry projects.

Holt wrote that students face an uncertain world (writing in 1970) and need to thrive in such an uncertain, and potentially exciting environment. Schools to do this need transformation from their past orientated industrial aged system. As mentioned Holt has given up on the possibility. We need new minds for a new millennium - current tinkering will not suffice

Holt however writes that the young child is born equipped to cope with such uncertainty without fear. The young child is 'eager to reach out into this world that doesn't make sense... he is willing to tolerate misunderstanding, to suspend judgement, to wait for patterns to emerge.. the young  do the things  adults find it hard to do. The child is continually build a mental model of the world and checking it against reality, tearing things down and rebuilding as necessary.

'Schools have to learn to do what the young child is already good at; what every child is born good at doing. At the very least they should do no harm.- no student should leave schooling feeling a failure.

One thought that might indicate away forward is to see your classroom as one continually  involved as if producing material for:  personalised portfolios of achievement, for displays, exhibits, demonstrations  as currently seen in science, technology , art and maths fairs.  The classroom might be a thought  as a mix of a scientific laboratory, an artists studio, a art gallery or a  museum. Such
an environment could  easily involve groups of teachers working together to share their expertise.

If teachers kept such 'ends in mind' then , unlike John Holt, there may be no need to give up on schooling. We must not give  students the message that , 'Your experiences, your concerns, your interests, they count for nothing. What counts is what we are interested in, what we care about, and what  we have decided what we have decided you are to learn' .

My vision is to create classrooms as communities of young scientists and artists fully occupied in searching for meaning in all they do, encouraged to express their ideas in as many ways as is possible. There have always been a few teachers who teach with this thought in mind. In such a learning community  every opportunity is given to the full range of students talents to be recognized .

Unfortunately such ideas seem in conflict with the standardized audit accountability agenda of the current government and in turn far too many schools.

 Those of us who challenge this view are, it seems, a small minority. The future depends on the development of learner centred personalized learning

So, back to Covey's habit 'of keeping the end in mind' and to work towards such a vision in small steps until the vision becomes an accomplished fact.

All student need to be actively involved in 'seeking, using and creating their own knowledge'

To achieve this  is why I  and others keep on blogging.
We ignored John Holt but now we have Sir Ken

Selected links

'Young Children as Scientists'. by Alison Gopnik

Check out Guy Claxtons 'What's the Point of School.

And 'Wounded by School' by Kirsten Olsen.

Or watch TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson.

For a pioneer teacher who developed his classroom as a community of artists  read about Elwyn


The power of interest Anne Murphy

Howard Gardner on creativity

Finding the genius in every child - Diane Ravitch

Transforming school through project based learning

Who do your kids want to be?

What identity do you want your students to develop

A must read - recently reprinted by NZCER

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Beginning Teaching - some practical advice to start the year

Teaching is one profession where there is no shallow end.
 From day one you are presented with up to thirty plus young individuals for you to shape into a learning community; and every class community will be different. Even experienced teachers have
No shallow end for new teachers.
second thoughts about starting a new class .
This blog shares some ideas to select from..

Teachers need to negotiate with their students as much as possible to ensure empowerment or a sense of ownership and then to hold students to completing what they have agreed to do to develop a sense of responsibility.

First read this  excellent advice to make a shiny happy classroom!
Another link for new teachers
The challenge for teachers is to think up ways to tap into their students innate sense of curiosity. of curiosity. Educationalist Jerome Bruner has written that teaching is ‘the canny art of intellectual temptation.Thankfully students are easily trapped by their innate
curiosity if what is put in front of them appeals
The whole purpose of education is to help every learner develop a powerful learning identity, a strong sense of self,  a feeling of being a valued and worthwhile person. This involves the teacher really listening to their students’ questions, ideas and concerns. With such a vision in mind teachers can slowly, as students develop skill, pass greater responsibility to their students.
First impressions count and the students' parents will be waiting to hear from their children what their teacher is like so it is important not to leave it to chance. Dress well!
Develop a class treaty

Teachers will be planning their first few days now. Wondering about routines to establish and behaviours they want to establish.

 One good idea is to undertake a mini unit around the Treaty of Waitangi and use this as an opportunity to develop a class treaty outlining behaviors required of both students and the teacher.

An idea some teachers use is a letter to parents about your goals for the year - but if this is done it needs to be done with input from your team leader or principal. At least have something prepared to introduce yourself to your class . Students will be very curious to learn about their new teacher.
Catching an eel

Another  idea is to share with your class one of your holiday experiences and then get them to do the same.  They could 'mind-map' or list all the neat things they did and pick one to expand on. This activity will give you an idea of their writing and handwriting skills

If you do the above them students could add a drawing - one again get them to focus on exciting event.
Crossing the wire bridge

Learning to observe is an important and overlooked skill. You could bring in a simple leaf for the class to draw. This is an ideal means to encourage the class to work carefully - many children spoil work by rushing.

With the weather so great do some nature walks.

The first few days are a good time to assess your new classes attitudes towards areas of learning. Prepare a list of learning areas of aspects of learning and get  individual class members to indicate their attitudes towards items with a 1 to 5 scale - from 1 love it to 5 dislike it.. This would best be drawn up by all teachers. The results will give you an idea of areas you need to change for various individuals. Be interesting to use the same survey at the end of the year.  Do the survey with your class as if you were their age - and tell them how you have improved your attitudes since then - or areas you still want to improve.

If you know about the mindset research of Carol Dweck you could add to your survey  add : 

Well worth the read
1 Do you think were are born as smart as you are ever going to be ( 'brains' or sports ability) and there are some things you just can't do ? Or 

2 Do you think you can get better at anything if you try hard and practice? 

The first is a 'fixed mindset'.Low ability students get their lack of ability affirmed at school ( through ability grouping, national testing or streaming) and high achievers ( often girls) do not risk their status by new areas of learning becoming risk averse. Those with a 'growth mindset' just have a go at anything believing in effort and focused practice and see not succeeding as a challenge.This 'growth mindset' underpins the New Zealand Curriculum; ' have a go kids' 

An idea to work on is to  ensure your class appreciate your stance as a teacher - what you stand for as a teacher.
What are your strengths

Discuss with your class how they think they learn. Discuss with your class what they have learnt recently and how they went about it.

Take the opportunity to find out the range of talents class members bring to the class - and share the ideas about Multiple Intelligence of Howard Gardner.

A study based on sport
Personalizing learning is the ideal but the best way to get to the individual is by using group work. Most teachers use group work as part of their literacy and numeracy programmes but group work also works well for study ( inquiry) work as well.

(A link to some advice on classroom management )

Plan out a study unit to introduce to the class to introduce an inquiry approach to learning . The Treaty of Waitangi might be
Great mini study
one. Two good mini unit to make use of might be a study based on cicadas or a flax bush in flower.  Develop a model of inquiry teaching to make use of during the year.

The units above, or any idea you have chosen, will provide ideas to introduce as part of your language programme - and, if appropriate, maths as well.

Whatever is chosen it is worth helping students present their ideas well - and to encourage them to show gradual improvement  as the year unfolds. Encourage them to improve on their 'personal best' in all they do.
Teach simple layout skills

At first students may have little skill in presenting their work well but with time they will gain skill through your teaching ( if you think this is important) and as work is completed display it well. With time create a powerful learning environment.

All students buy a set of exercise books to begin the year. Some schools I know have reinvented these books as portfolios as they ought to show qualitative improvement (the Japanese call this continual small improvement 'kaizen'). The first days of school is the time to introduce students to this expectation. It is a good idea to
Simple powerful display
introduce them to simple graphic presentation ideas
. It is also a good idea to aim, by Easter, for all books to show improvement.In the schools that have developed their books as portfolios all books are sent home before parent interviews for their comments and later to discuss during interviews.

This last link provides a summary of the ideas presented above.

I appreciate that the ideas presented  above reflect my own teaching beliefs and as such  my advice is to take only ideas that make sense to you. I see the classroom as a community of young scientists and artists exploring ideas they want to learn more about - with an emphasis on the immediate environment. My emphasis is on inquiry learning with literary and numeracy as much as is possible seen as 'foundation skills'. I am not sure many school have the same emphasis.

Developing this learning community is the real challenge for any teacher. Good schools will provide structures,
organisations and curriculum guidance to assist but it always worth having ideas up your sleeve.

First impressions count and the students' parents will be waiting to hear from their children what their teacher is like so it is important not to leave it to chance.

It is worth keeping in mind that the New Zealand Curriculum has its vision for all students to be 'confident life long learners', for them to have the necessary key competencies to do so - to be 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.
Advice for new teachers!

Have fun during your first week

A link to some quotes about learning to reflect on.

Good advice is regularly visit other classrooms to see what they are doing. They will be pleased to assist you and you will soon find teachers with experience and ideas to help - you need to 'seek, use and create your own knowledge' as it says in the NZ Curriculum.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

John Holt quotes on learning - more pertinent than ever

In the 70s the freedom and anti authoritarianism movement of the 60s  challenged traditional views in all areas of life. Creative teachers of the time  had access to a number of writers spreading the message of a alternative approach to education.

Even in the late 50 there were pioneer New Zealand creative teachers exploring new ideas  about learning - the most well known was Elwyn Richardson author of the recently reprinted In The Early World'. He was not alone. Creative ideas were being spread by the Art Advisers who encouraged teachers throughout New Zealand  and also by Junior School teachers who were introducing
developmental type programmes. But in the main schools were very traditional.

Teachers at this time were also aware of the innovative approaches of child centred English classrooms and also the American  Open Education movement .

They were exciting times to be a teachers. . One writer who was widely read was American John Holt. His books ,'How Children Learn' and 'Why Children Fail', are as relevant today as they were then.'

Holt finally gave up on the belief that schools could be transformed and eventually became a 'de-schooler'. One of his later book was titled 'The Under Achieving School'.- another good read.  Along with John Holt I now have to admit that, after decades of encouraging school transformation, I have   also come to Holt's view about the impossibility of really transforming our antiquated education system . The  current political
leadership is not conducive to making real change  falling back on reactionary National Standards and introducing a scheme for 'successful' principals and teachers to push 'approved' ideas on other schools. The enlightened 2007 New Zealand curriculum has  been all but sidelined.

A link to a John Holt site

I am reassured that, as in the 50s, there are still  many creative teachers doing their best; unfortunately far too few innovative principals. With this in mind I though the sharing of John Holt's quotes are as relevant as ever.

This is the basis of personalized learning.

Imagine a school doing just this!!

A school dedicated to providing learning oportunities

A need for more messy/ confusing learning.

S o many students get turned off schools

Holt finally gave up on schools - before the www!!

Let students learn about what they are curious about.

What happens to the innate desire to learn?

Holt came to the belief schools kill the desire to learn

Education is about crating conditions and opportunities

The real role of the teacher

As the NZC says - students who can seek, use and create their own knowledge

Our current  surveillance and audit culture destroys learning.

Value and respect students ideas.