Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What the modern world has forgotten about children and teaching. and solutions to ensure all students learn

A powerful read about Western WEIRD Education

Modern Western learning and teaching based on 'collecting data on human learning  of children's behaviour in school is like collecting data on killer whales based on their behaviour at Sea World.'
WEIRD killer whales

The full article was written for the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss August 20th and was based on research by Carol Black a filmmaker who has been deeply involved in the unschooling and alternative education movements

Carol's writing posted on her blog provides insight why modern schooling fails so many students.

Carol's blog was motivated in response to an educational consultant's  view that 'spontaneous reading happens for a few kids. The vast majority need ...explicit instruction in phonics' A view based on 'research' and 'data'.  This edict got under Carol's skin,  'It is possible to be bad at phonics even if you already know how to read. Many such "scientific " pronouncements  emanate from the educational establishment. The 'tone of cool authority carries a clear message to the rest of us: we know how children learn.You don't'.'

Real learning or school learning.

The point Carol is making is that it is not the 'science of how people learn'- it is the 'science of what happens to people at school'. She has come to the conclusion that 'today people do not even know what children are actually like. Thy only know what children are like at school'.And she makes the point that schools results 'are mixed at best'.

Learning before schools

She comments that  before schools were established people learnt to read in a variety of ways. They learnt to read because when people really want a skill, it goes viral, you can't stop it. In other words 'they could read for all the same reasons we can now use computers.We don't know about
Natural learning
how to use computers because we learnt it at school but  because we wanted to learn and were free to learn it in whatever way worked best for us'.
This effectiveness is a 'characteristic of human being'.

At school however if you haven't learnt to read before school you are not free to learn in this way. At school your learning will be planned, controlled and monitored and measured by 'experts'. according to the 'best possible data'  If  your learning style doesn't fit, you will be 'remediated, scrutinized, stigmatized, tested, and ultimately diagnosed and labelled'. Think back to how you learnt to use a computer- do you even remember how/ 'You just learnt it, right?'

Embedded learning

As humans children originally learnt 'by being embedded in adult activities, surrounded by older and younger children and grandparents, immersed in the natural world, free to move and play ...and where they are able to observe, imitate and then participate in adult work as they became developmentally ready.' In such an environment 'nuanced skills can be acquired in ways that appear almost effortless'.

Learning from indigenous cultures

Carols refers to several indigenous cultures that 'know you wait to give a child a task until you see that she is ready for it' and that 'if a child tries something and then backs away , you leave them alone because he will be back to try again later'; 'that you learn better from from story than lecture; from hands on experience than direct instruction; that children learn best by emulating older children, not being taught by adults'.

But in schools we don't know such things any more. We test, ability group and enforce current formulaic 'best practice'.

Unnatural learning at school

Carol writes 'we have radically altered our own evolved species behaviour by segregating children artificially in same age peer groups instead of mixed aged communities, by compelling them to be indoors and sedentary for most of the day, by asking them to learn from text based artificial materials instead of real world activities, by dictating arbitrary timetables for learning rather than following the unfolding of a child's developmental readiness.' She compares this with animals being left in zoo.

'Commonsense', she writes, ' should tell us that this will have complex and unpredictable results' and continues saying while many children seem able to function in this artificial environment an significant number cannot and that , as a result, many normal  bright healthy children  are labelled as failures in ways that damage them for life. and for those who cannot adapt are 'diagnosed as brain disordered and drugged'.

WEIRD research

Carol makes reference to researchers from the University of British Columbia who in 2010 challenged the way that  broad generalizations  about human nature and behaviour  have been based on a narrow cultural subset of humanity - what the researchers called 'the Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic societies - WEIRD for short.. 

WEIRD has become "normal"

 These  WEIRD  societies  were not representative  of the variation of human populations  but they  pertain 'to the type of education that we think of as "normal"; an education that has a preference for competition over cooperation; self promotion over humility;  analytical over holistic thinking; for individual rather than collective success; for direct rather than indirect instruction;  and
Doesn't suit me!
for for hierarchical rather than egalitarian conception of status. 'We control and direct and measure our children's learning in excruciating detail' in other words 'what we take as a "normal" learning environment is not at all normal.

Learning from ADHD students

'Traits that would be valued in the larger American society - energy, creativity, Independence - will get you into trouble in the classroom' and for many children these traits lead to disruptive behaviour and alienation. This, Carol reflects, applies to many children diagnosed with ADHD who like to do things with their hands, who crave real work and who dislike being sedentary. 'Such students like to focus on things that interest them, that spark their curiosity, that drive them to tinker and explore'.
Hekia is WEIRD

Experts in our WEIRD  society tell us these children are disabled; they have poor impulse control; they lack organisational skills; they are oppositional; they are 'problems" in our classrooms

In societies such as the Maori in New Zealand traditionally would observe the young to observe and value the attributes of their yog. The adults role in such societies is 'support this process, not to shape it'.

WEIRD school  limit children's learning

In the WEIRD school situation, 'if you can't read at seven you are going to be stigmatized and humiliated and made incredibly anxious in ways that are going to interferes with your ability to learn.'.  Carol refers to her own daughter who had not learnt to
Anxious learners
read at seven but six months later she was reading Harry Potter independently.How did this happen, she doesn't really know? And states 'this is an important point; you don't know. I don't know.Nobody really knows. The cognitive processes which underline literacy are complex beyond our wildest imagination; and scientific understanding of them is in its early infancy.' This pattern in learning is not uncommon.

Be critical of educational "experts"
Poutama - stairway to learning

'What should concern us even more is what these "experts" are claiming to know more about the cognitive process of reading than they actually know.

'As any Maori mother knows  children do not learn in a straight upward line but in a stair step pattern. They leap forward then plateau for a while , then leap forward again.' 'You have to be there , providing warmth and stability, providing tools and resources, answering question, telling stories, having meaningful adult conversations and doing meaningful adult work in their presence,But when they soar, its on their own wings'.

Any Cree parent knows you can tell when a child is ready for something because he will ask questions bout it. You can't control the timing of this, and there is no reason to.'

 Normal ranges of learning.

Even in WEIRD societies everybody knows there is a normal range of several months during which a child will say her first words or take her first steps. There is no basis that children will reach any major milestone at a uniform age. As children move through the life cycle the normal range of variation increases dramatically and yet we have created a  compulsory  institution that sets achievement targets that schools must ensure their students achieve..

Who likes to be scrutinized and measured?
Destroying differences

Another point Carol makes is that 'young kids don't want to be watched all the time. They don't want to be scrutinized and measured . They often don't want to be praised or encouraged. They have a remarkable sense of dignity and autonomy, and they often defend it fiercely. They want their learning to be their own,'

The power of a stimulating environment

Children in rich stimulating environments learn to read. 'The point is that they learnt to read the way we learnt to use computers; flexibly, idiosyncratically, each in their own way and at whatever time and pace worked best for him.When kids are allowed to begin reading when they are interested and ready ... develop between the age four to ten'. Interestingly in the successful Finnish schools system they do not start direct instruction in reading until age seven.

Individual differences

 'Why do some children read later than others?Again we don't know.But many late readers  have high levels of interest in the mechanical, musical, spatial, mathematical, or digital realms. Many are gifted in the performing arts or athletics'. Einstein, for example  did not speak until the age of three, some children simply develop their skills in a different order. In other words it is not a big deal.Unless you make it a big deal.'. If you push a child a read when he is not ready, you can do a lot of damage very fast

ADHD students - a  diverse set of learners
Value different talents

'Children's resistance takes many forms, inattention, irritability, disruption, withdrawal, restlessness, forgetting, in fact all the "symptoms"  of ADHD are the behaviours of a child who is actively or passively resisting adult control. Once you start  to generate this resistance to learning, if you don't back away quickly, it can solidify into something very disabling.. If you press a child hard to do something she is really developmentally unable to do....the psychological shutdown that occurs is catastrophic. Let me repeat this: when you ask a child to do something she simply developmentally can not do, you create a profound belief that (a) I hate this (b) I can't do this (c) I will never be able to do this, and (d) There is something wrong with me'.

As a result in doing this 'you create a subclass of children so bewildered, so anxious, whose....development and organisation are so severely disrupted that you have no way of knowing what they would have been like if you had not done this to them.'. 

National Standards do not exist in nature they are created 'scientifically" and imposed by fiat 'creating disabilities in kids who would have been fine if allowed to read on their own developmental schedule'. 

Value the uniqueness of our children

'Because guess what? If there is one thing that the data proves, it's that our children are all different' and 'lo an behold research is beginning to show that dyslectics are smarter in some ways than the readers. Did we really have to wait for science to discover this? Could we not just look into our children's bright eyes and know that most of them bring something unique and special to the world? Do we have to line them up and compare them and find a predicable percentage of them to be "deficient" and even "disabled"'. The vast percent of people estimated to be dyslectic are perfectly healthy normal people who simply have different talents - 'no more disabled by their particular way of learning than a concert pianist is disabled by not being a good hockey player'. These children's brains are organised differently and when we interfere we are robbing these children of an opportunity to build organically on their many strengths - lateral thinking, intuition, imagination and creativity.  They are not 'broken'  in need of being "fixed".

Value cultural differences

Sadly, Carol writes, 'indigenous children are tested and all too often found to be less intelligent and more learning"disabled" than urban white children which is a 'deeply disturbing phenomena which turns up among traditional rural people all over the world'. This results not so much as an 'achievement gap but more a cultural or 'opportunity gap'.

The knowledge such students  bring with them is ignored. Many school based tests, including IQ tests, ' are more a measure of modernization - of a large scale shift in industrial societies from concrete to abstract thinking; from holistic to analytic thinking, from contextualized thinking to deconstructed linear thinking'.. Modern  education is based on the narrowly focused mechanistic  analytic part of the brain and  not aligned with  more broadly focused , holistic , relationship part of the brain.

 'Modern education has become dangerously unbalanced in the direction of a kind of cold, abstracted, mechanical analysis at the expense of a more interconnected, compassionate, holistic understanding of the world.'

Diversity exists for a reason.

'Human diversity exists for a reason; our differences are our genius- and the conscience- of our species.It is no wonder that indigenous holistic thinkers are the ones who have been consistently reminding us of our appropriate place in the ecological systems of life as our narrowly focused technocratic society veers wildly between conservation and wholesale destruction of the planet. It's no accident that dyslexic holistic thinkers are often our artists, our inventors, our dreamers, our rebels.' 

'Cognitive imperialism'

The trouble is according to research is 'there is a tendency of one powerful group to claim authority to define its own cognitive traits as normal and desirable and all other ways of thinking, learning, and understanding as deficits and disabilities; she calls this "cognitive imperialism". It's the cognitive equivalent of racism... and it leads to one way thinking of learning of being in the world is destined to overwhelm and replace all others.' This brings up back to the appreciation that 'there is nothing "scientific"  about the effort to decide on the One Best Evidence Based Method for teaching reading to all children'. 

Learn from the wisdom of indigenous cultures.

One indigenous culture knows that 'you don't  have force children to learn, you just give them the tools and let them play'. Any Cree grandmother knows 'if you see a child doing something incorrectly, you don't shame them by overly pointing it out, you just quietly, without fanfare, demonstrate the right way to do it'. 'Sometimes a child will sometimes learn more from your silence than from your speech'.

Learn from pioneer creative holistic teachers

Slowly, falteringly, science is rediscovering some of this.

I would also add that creative teachers who believe in a holistic creative education have long known one more so than New Zealand pioneer creative teacher Elwyn Richardson. His book, recently republished by the NZCER is still as relevant as ever.

So, while we wait for science to rediscover  all this, what are we to do with this child, this completely unique constellation of human gifts and brilliances ?'.

'We still need wisdom, not data, to raise good children'. ' Talk to  gifted scientists, writers, artists, entrepreneurs.You will find they learnt as indigenous children learns 'though observation, experimentation, immersion, freedom, participation, through real play and work, through the kind of free activity where the distinction between work and play disappears. Talk to a really good auto mechanic, carpenter, farmer,  fiddle player, web designer, film editor, songwriter, photographer, chef and you will find they learn ed the same way'.

Be like the fish who discovers water.
Last to discover water

Educational researchers  are just beginning to appreciate this wisdom. 'Like  proverbial  fish  who has yet to discover water, most are still limited by the WEIRD set of assumptions that confine their range of inquiry and haven't yet realized that the element they live in not the entire world.; they haven't seen that they are circling inside the glass wall of of a fishbowl of their own creation; and that there is universe of possibilities for learning that they have never dreamed of,'

Begin now 

'We can begin  rediscovering it now. Experiment. Observe, Listen.Explore the thousand other ways of learning that exist all over the planet.Read the data and then set it aside.Watch your child's eyes what makes them go dull and dead., what makes them brighten, quicken, glow with light.That's where learning lies'

A world to explore 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Paradigm Shift badly needed in Education/: Teachers are 'burning out'; we need to listen to the 'voice' of our students; and the need for Inquiry based creative learning.

Time to escape the box!

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

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

Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed In Education
Childhood stress levels are at an all time high.
‘The way to combat this childhood suffering is by creating a paradigm shift in how we currently educate our children. One which addresses both the universoul nature (our inner essence) and intellectual development of children. In the 21st century, children need hope and inspiration. They need guidance toward inner peace as much as they need guidance towards academic achievement.’

No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down
Pupils choose their own subjects and motivate themselves, an approach some say should be rolled out across Germany.
‘The philosophy behind these innovations is simple: as the requirements of the labour market are changing, and smartphones and the internet are transforming the ways in which young people process information, the school’s headteacher, Margret Rasfeld, argues, the most important skill a school can pass down to its students is the ability to motivate themselves.’

Why Are Teachers Burning Out?
Many teachers feel suffocated by the teaching profession because of the intrusiveness of curriculum, district and federal mandates, behavior management systems, state testing and a constant re-vamping of all of the above. Very few of these norms” are ever generated by the adults on school campuses, and that disconnect creates a sense of disempowerment. 

Cognitive Offloading: How the Internet Is Changing the Human Brain
‘Though the ease of acquiring information in the modern world has improved our lives in so many ways, it is also changing how our brain works and processes information. Some wonder when taken altogether, whether the results are better or worse for us. A new study published in the journal Memory looks into the process of cognitive offloading,” or relying on Google, GPS, and other external devices for what we used to use our memories for. It considers the impact on learning and problem solving as well.’

The voice of the child in 21st Century education matters, now more than ever
‘In education systems today there is a real danger of children’s voices being swamped by those of
bureaucrats, economists and politicians. I believe to ensure we remain responsive to learners we have to listen and respond to what children have to say about the world around them. My particular concern is for the voices of young children and children with autism to be heard.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Personalized Learning: Enabling Student Voice and Choice Through Projects
"When you're able make learning relevant to a student it helps them want to do it and not just because that's what's expected. The whole focus of personalized learning is that students see the relevance of what it is that they're doing. The outcome is students are engaged, and they're enjoying the learning process."

Inquiry-Based Learning: From Teacher-Guided to Student-Driven
Tech in the field
Ralston educators are building a culture of inquiry, empowering students to ask questions like:
   How do I problem solve through this?
   How do I persevere?
   How do I understand the cause-and-effect relationships that occur in every field?

Curriculum Conversations: 7 Do's and Don’ts
One way to help students own their role (power) in the curriculum-making process is for teachers
to include them in the conversation. Here are seven conversational do's and don'ts to consider when involving students in curriculum decisions:

Fraud, mismanagement, lies, failure: John Oliver takes on Charter Schools
If you’ve not watched this, here’s your chance. if you have watched this, it’s well worth watching again.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

An inquiry based classroom
Teacher : Deborah Frewnch
‘How is your inquiry programme going?' seems to be a common question asked by principals these days.Behind such a question seems the idea that inquiry is another programme to include in the school day along with literacy and numeracy.Two things are wrong with this.Firstly inquiry isn't a programme to simply be added to the daily programme rather it is a disposition ( their 'default' way of learning) that children are born with until it is 'flipped' by life experiences and by schooling.Secondly the teachers I have admired over the years see inquiry as the basis for all learning - literacy and numeracy included. Today many teachers ( and schools) have allowed literacy and numeracy to all but 'gobble up' the entire school day. National Standards will further dissipate this missing inquiry dimension.’

Don't touch the bananas!!!!
Cultures condition
The power of culture – don’t touch the bananas,
‘It is always amazing to see how exposure to an environment, or culture, can change how we think without us even knowing – I guess this is called conditioning. New ideas always rely on those individuals who can see reality without the blinkers. The truth however is not always welcome and it is always easier to go along. As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘The truth makes you very unpopular at the club.’”

Howard Gardner on creativity – are schools encouraging creativity? The challenge of creativity.
Howard Gardner:Being creative is vital but it isn’t always easy.
‘Gardner says his audiences expect him to fully endorse creativity but creativity in human history was ‘neither sought after nor rewarded’Human societies are naturally conservative – and
Charles Darwin
schools particularly so.
Humans strive to maintain their current position and in schools this mitigates against educational innovation and interdisciplinary leaps Many people we regard as great thinkers had in their day a difficult time with their ideas –  Galilee Galileo comes to mind but at least he wasn’t burnt at the stake but had to officially recant his ideas. People like Bach and Vincent van Gogh, Freud and Darwin were not at first appreciated.’

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The destruction of public education in NZ Time to make a stand!

Teachers and principals need to find their collective voice and fight back against the current destruction of the public education system - a system  once based on the centrality of education as a common good.

At the New Zealand Primary Principals Federation's Annual meeting the warnings about the negative future scenarios  couldn't have been made more clear.. 

One after the other  highly respected international educators made it very clear - do not follow the failed reforms that have been been imposed in their countries as part of a neo-liberal 'market forces' agenda/ideology.

Unfortunately, since the introduction of Tomorrows Schools, we are well on the way to making the same mistakes.

 Tomorrows Schools, introduced by the then Labour Government, held out a promise of  democratic neighborhood schools. Schools  were to be freed from the dead hand of central bureaucracy  and in the case of primary schools, local Education Boards. Schools were to become 'self managing'.

They were exciting times  In the excitement voices  warning of the consequences of such devolution were sadly ignored .

Behind the changes were the neo- liberal beliefs  of the need for less state regulation, the need to privatize public services and belief in  private enterprise  to solve all problems.    Neo-liberalism is based on a belief that unrestricted competition, driven by self interest, leads to innovation and  that the wealth created in the process will 'trickle down' enhancing the welfare of all. Changes were premised on the need for
competition and choice.

 A quote from the NZPPF Conference from the president

First they manufacture the ‘crisis’ ‘in New Zealand the ‘one in five failing’ and  ...’students are leaving school and can’t read, write or do maths’. Once the crisis gets public support then in comes the political solution.
The government chooses to ignore this?

 The ‘crisis’  is framed as teachers not doing their job properly, teachers unions protecting them, not being accountable and not having proper standards. Then in come the standards in literacy and numeracy and suddenly we have a standardized measure of a schools ‘performance’.

Next in line are privatised charter schools to solve the problem – and to make a profit. '

It is now now the way things are, neo-liberalisn has been normalised, but increasingly it is being found wanting. 

While a few have got richer the gap between rich and poor has widened along with  the social problems that result from such inequality. New Zealand is becoming a divided society - private need (or greed) has replaced a concern for the common good. The one in five failing can be identified by their post codes!

Sooner or later people must see that things need to change if all citizen are to  feel part of ,and
The inequality gap
are able to contribute to, the the development of a more caring and creative society
. Private enterprise values are destructive, not only for those who have difficulty  finding having enough to live on ( and a house to live in), but also the sustainability of our natural environment.

Schools have been caught up in these changes and need to be seen as fighting for a fairer and more equitable society.

As part of a neo-liberal competitive society based on choice schools needed to be able to be compared.  In other counties  the data available to parents  to assist them in making this choice is provided through national or state standardized testing and published league tables. In New Zealand the data for choice is provided by published school results on National Standards and NCEA level 2 achievement targets.  National Standard  and NCEA are both  open to 'gaming'.

National Standards have now become the default curriculum in our schools

 As schools focus on achieving results in National Standards other equally important  areas of
Education is more than data
the curriculum are neglected..
National testing , as destructive as it has been shown, at least does not require the time, energy and documentation required by National Standards.

Schools  are now infected with a audit and surveillance culture that ironically limits the very initiative, enterprise and creativity that the neo-liberal ideology promised.

Freed from earlier bureaucratic oversight by Tomorrows Schools  schools now find them in a restricting compliance environment. Out of the frying pan into the fire!! Visits by the Education Review Office ensure schools follow Ministry directives and targets.

The original devolution of schools to provide initiative and flexibility has evolved into situations whee schools do their best to implement the ever changing directives/targets of the Ministry and
Might as well paint a yellow star on them
the Minist
er.  This has created what one writer has called 'a corrosion of character' as schools try to interpret what it is the Minister wants. Such an environment is destructive to creativity and enterprise. 'The trouble with targets ( in any area ) is not the ones you achieve but the ones you don't see because you weren't looking'.

Talking to those in teaching and principal postilions there is a growing level of unhealthy stress in our schools.

As the competitive ideology is being found to be counter productive to  sharing of ideas between school ( once a feature before Tomorrows Schools) the Minister  has introduced her Communities of Schools (CoS)

As currently  structured they are more 'communities of compliance or control' 

It seems if schools don't  join such a community they with miss out on professional development and those that do join can only get professional development from Ministry 'approved' providers; 'Free
Trust me I know what I am doing
market Stalinism' at best.

Now we have the Minister pushing the idea of on line learning . In America, the home of such ideas,the provision of private enterprise on line learning, along with charter schools, have not realized their potential. a

When Tomorrows Schools was introduced the phrase heard was 'good people poor system' - it seems little  has changed? Worse System!

Patronizing but supportive bureaucrats have been replaced by out of touch technocrats that few trust.

The Minister on a rent Q &A  TV programme is proud of the 'real achievement gains made' based on her limited achievement targets limited to literacy and numeracy standards.  This misplaced emphasis on her narrow standards mean that many students do not have the opportunity to develop their unique talents and gifts. Evidently there are now new standards for years 9 and 10 -
ERO on target hunt
the madness goes on.

 The Minister now has the data ( based on here limited National Standards)  to 'measure how much learning a students gets in a year' and  believes for those that are not achieving  to 'catch up' so as to 'stop their learning debt compounding'. The technocrats have developed a set of criteria to identify failing children - bur one wonders what about the students who are having learning problems that the criteria might exclude. This obvious targeting of  parents and their children could have negative consequences. The data she talks of  sounds impressive but in reality is limited  shallow and easily manipulated.

We have an 'opportunity gap' not an 'achievement gap'.

This targeting misses the point. Students from the lower socio- economic groups do not suffer from an'achievement gap' but more an 'opportunity gap' and to  for those students to archive  their unique talents they need a rich stimulating and personalized  curriculum the very curriculum the emphasis on standards and targeting makes difficult.

Schools kill imagination
A quote from Einstein comes to mind: 

'If you judge a fish ability its ability to climb trees it will live its whole life believing it is stupid'

The Minister  seems to thing that here targeting with recognize that children are unique  but the results of her policies all lead to the very standardization that Tomorrows Schools was supposed to get rid of.There was more potential for creativity,diversity and collaboration in the decades before Tomorrows Schools.

Children's lack of achievement has a lot to do before the students enter the school gate.

The problems that beset our school have a lot to do with the difficult home circumstances of students and parents. The government , however, likes to ignore this situation , a situation created by their own neo-liberal polices and would rather place the blame of teachers and schools.
The NZ Curriclum

The only chance for creativity and diversity to be integral to education depend on a change of government and the  full implementation of the  creativity underpinning the New Zealand Curriculum.

MLEs, ILEs, and now FLEs.

The development of Modern Learning Environment ( MLEs) or  Innovative Learning Environment (ILEs) or now Flexible Learning Environment provide a challenging opportunity to develop rich learning environments. They, however, must be more than the provisions of buildings and  modern information technology.

 To be successful such environments need a creative rich curriculum - one that 're-frames literacy and numeracy in the service of authentic inquiry. If  this done they have the potential to become true learning communities of artists and scientists. 

Thankfully there are still innovative schools and teaches  providing such rich learning environments.

Escape the standards box
A real change of direction is needed.

The current government is undermining our schools ability to ensure all students leave school with positive learning identities and their unique talents and gifts identified.

 Schools cannot transform themselves to create the conditions for all students to thrive in the future when they are distracted by  culture of surveillance and compliance.

Are principals and teachers up to the challenge?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Education Readings / innovative schools/ creativity/ Dr Suess/ Estonia the new Finland/ and the lost art of play

Entering the creative era

By Allan Alach

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

Which Is More Difficult: World’s Toughest Sport Or Teaching?
‘Speaking of deforming and fracturing, the figures for teachers’ careers are starting to look scarily more like the short-lived careers of elite athletes. Not because they ‘get old and slow’ and lose the
A world wide issue
athletic edge but simply because they get bruised and drained by the emotional highs and lows, the expectations, shaped largely by societal expectations but (soon) internalised as their own, incessant demands on their mental and physical capacities and more.’

A true educational warrior
My Epiphany Moment. A story.
‘My thinking moments changed to considering the differences between assessment and testing and evaluation and appraisement and teaching. I needed to sort myself out. Here I was:  professing to be a teacher, a lover of learning, a pillar of a thinking community and I was violating the sensitivities of children, defying the  conventions of confidentially and of morality, treating kids like robots; while, in other situations, I was constantly preaching that primary education was  the most intense, busiest, most noble caring profession the world had ever seen.’

The 13 most innovative schools in the world
Thanks to Tessa Calder for this article.
A floating school
‘Innovation in education can look like lots of things, like incorporating new technology or teaching methods, going on field trips, rejecting social norms, partnering with the local community. It can be a floating school in an impoverished region, like the one in Lagos, Nigeria. Or it can be a school that's blind to gender, like Egalia, in Stockholm, Sweden.
Keep scrolling to see what the future of education can, and probably should, look like.’

Research Finds The Effects Of Homework On Elementary School Students, And The Results Are Surprising
‘While homework has a significant benefit at the high school level, the benefit drops off for middle school students and there’s no benefit at the elementary school level,” agrees Etta Kralovec, an education professor at the University of Arizona.’

How to Become and Remain a Transformational Teacher
However talented, no one is a natural-born teacher. Honing the craft takes significant care and effort, not just by the individual, but also by the school at large. Though experience does matter, it matters only to the extent that a teacher -- regardless of how long he or she has been in the classroom -- commits to continued professional development to refresh his or her status as a transformational teacher.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Why mastery matters and creativity shouldn’t be easy
‘Being creative makes us happy – that’s true – but not just because we just enjoy dreaming up new ideas and having flights of fancy. In fact, research tells us that what we really love about creativity is the daily drudgery – the slow and frequently painful trudge towards getting it done and mastering it.

13+ unusually simple techniques to get creative when you are in a rut
Very applicable in your classroom.
‘For businesses and content writers, such creativity and originality can often be a distant thought as
we battle with deadlines and other pressing needs. Yet most people desperately want to know how to be creative. Especially on days that seem like you are totally uninspired or stuck in a creative rut.

Is Estonia the new Finland?
‘Most educators and policymakers can rattle off a list of international educational powerhouses: Korea. Singapore. Japan. Finland.
But there’s an overlooked member of the list: Estonia. Even as educators from around the world flock to Finland to discover its magic formula, Estonia, just a two-hour ferry ride away, has not aroused the same degree of interest.’

Doodling with Dr Seuss: how the cat got his hat
Do we fully appreciate his work?
‘In teaching millions the joy of literature, Geisel also opened up a wonderfully unique perspective on the world, where life is funny and beautiful, and where topsy-turviness shows us how things should be.  As the author himself once said: If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Tapping the wisdom between schools.
Tap into local creative teachers - the real innovators
‘Over the decades innovation and creativity has shifted from isolated creative often misunderstood individuals, who network with each other for mutual support, to whole schools development where schools develop a common language or learning culture across the school.The future development is for teachers to share ideas between schools. Ministries of Education worldwide, after experimenting with the ideas of competing schools and 'top down change,’ have now realised the real power is to be gained through collaboration at the lowest level.’

Losing the art of play
Have you been in a toy shop recently? Very uninspiring.
‘A cultural historian, Howard Chudwell, believes that from 1955 , due to the marketing of toys, children's play became focused on the toys themselves. Toys have replaced imaginative improvised activity as the focus of play. New commercial toys provide restricted scripts 'shrinking the size of children's imaginative space' - and owning such toys becomes all important.’
Most valuable resource

School Reform: more political than educational
‘I would think that if we had focused on recognising, and sharing, the ideas of creative teachers and innovative schools in the first place, and if the various governments had seen their role as creating the conditions and providing resources, we would be in a far better position than we are in now. And, as well, we would have teachers who have faith in their ability to develop new approaches to teaching and learning without distorting and disabling the total system.’