Monday, 26 February 2018

National Standards are Over? What Are We Going to Do Now?

It scares the hell out of me that educators are so entrenched in assessment-driven curricula that they are panicking about what to do in class now that National Standards are abolished.

  • Step 1. Do some reading around future-focused learning and new pedagogies for deep learning.  Go on, google it!
  • Step 2. Start by getting your learners to talk about what is important in the world.
  • Step 3.  Let them think about ways they can have a part to play. 
  • Step 4. Teach them ways of working on being communicative, collaborative, connected, creative, critically thinking, and expressing their character or culture
  • Step 5.  Build on their individual skills and talents.
You won't stop wondering why you ever thought National Standards were so great.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Age of the Textbook is Over - Own It!

In talking to a friend recently, I discovered that her teenager, who has just started college, and is still small, as boys often are at that tender age of 13, has a backpack full of textbooks to carry every day, along with a laptop as well.    This just about makes my blood boil.  What on earth are teachers doing, still expecting kids to carry textbooks? And exercise books?  This is the age of the digital school, isn't it?

If your school has moved to a digital environment (and there is no reason why it should not have in this eighteenth year of the 21st century), then you need to ditch the textbooks and the countless exercise books.  There is absolutely no need for huge stationery lists anymore.  You need to protest and make sure the school makes changes so that stationery lists are minimal and the only book that the learners carry is the occasional one that they might borrow from the classroom or the library for a bit of extra reading or study (yes, chuck out the homework, too).

Why on earth are schools spending their budgets on textbooks?  Please, can someone explain?

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

My five minutes of fame slipped by.

I was invited to appear on TVOne's Breakfast programme on Friday 16th February to answer a burning question from a viewer who wanted to know if Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) were better for children. 

Unfortunately, because I was due to be working at a school in Masterton, the cameraman could not get to me, and the organisers decided to "go down a different direction" which meant that they interviewed Leon Benade from AUT instead.  Leon is a senior lecturer in education, researching MLE's and was interesting to listen to.

I wanted to add in my ten cents worth, as you do, and thought I should post another blog about it.  I have blogged about MLEs before in this 2013 post and this (April, 2015) and this (also April, 2015) and this (November, 2015) and this ( January, 2016), but thought it might be useful to revisit since the discussion is freshly at the forefront, and I don't want to think that my potential 5 minutes of fame has fizzled into nothing.

Leon identified modern learning environments as large open spaces, with multiple use zones, modern brightly coloured mobile, furniture for up to 120 learners and 4 teachers.  I would like to add that a modern learning environment can also happen in a single cell classroom with one teacher, and that it is more about the pedagogical approach than the space.  (Leon alludes to this later in saying that the people in the space make the difference.)

The advantages of having more than one teacher in the space were covered by Leon - giving flexibility to the teachers, utilising different areas of expertise, and load sharing.  Enabling the conditions for personalised learning can also happen in a one cell classroom, with the support of digital technologies. 

Jack Tame interviewing said that parents are scared, and Leon advised them to acknowledge and embrace the changes because we can't go on teaching the same way.  Why not, I hear you ask?  Because we were preparing our learners for a different industrial model of work and now we are preparing them for an uncertain future but one in which individual strengths coupled with ability to integrate into team approaches, collaboration and knowledge building and sharing, and innovation will be valued, rather than compliance and standardisation (hurrah for the end of standardised testing in New Zealand!).

Jack said (and Leon confirmed) that the learners much prefer this way of working.  When the viewer was asking if it were better for children, she was not clear by which measure you could tell if it was "better" for children.  If you were looking just at the results of standardised tests, then you might see some differences (I don't believe there is substantial research about this out there and do hope that no one feels the need to do this).  If, however, you are talking about the well-being of learners, their ability to grow their own strengths and expertise and interests, and their preparedness for an uncertain future, then I think you will find that MLEs (or ILEs) will win, hands down.

Harking back to the people in the spaces, the teachers need to be well prepared and have had time for professional learning.   It is not a simple switch from single cell to MLEs.  Oh yes, the furniture and environment can be changed easily, but it is the practices of the teachers and learners that have to change hugely.  The MLE's must be supported by the use of digital fluency (teachers and learners knowing how to use a variety of tools to support and innovate their learning) and they will also be identified by the themes of future oriented teaching and learning espoused in Bolstad, Gilbert et al's 2012 work. 

And if you say you have a child who only likes working in a quiet space with no distractions, I do understand that, and there will be some quiet spaces in a MLE , but it is important that your child works at developing other ways of working so that they become flexible in approach, and able to adapt to very different working lives.

So there you have it: - what was my five minutes of fame, reworked into a blog post. 
A typical classroom in a Japanese junior high school (Wikipedia)

Monday, 29 January 2018

Keeping the Lines Open

As the school year starts up and I start hearing ways of connecting with parents and caregivers, I am reminded of the importance of having conversations with those at home.  I don't just mean having a casual chat when they call at school to pick up their children, big or small, although there is no doubt that those are crucial times to establish relationships and plant seeds of thinking about education.

No, I am talking about all of that, and more - making phone calls, sending newsletters, keeping an open and informative website and/or classroom blog, seeking information and feedback, having a parent/teacher meeting to open learning conversations, consultation or new initiatives, and individual, tete-a-tete conferences.

These events are so crucial for the welfare of children and particularly the welfare of their learning.   It is difficult to break down barriers built up by lack of communication and misinformation.  It is hard to fit everything into the school year but keeping the lines of communication open must be one of top priority.

Some teachers think that by sharing the work done in class, that is enough. But there needs to be a lot more to it than that.  Blogs and Seesaw are awesome ways of sharing, but they also enable you to move beyond the sphere of showcasing into the realm of co-constructing ideas about learning and what is important for the child.

Teachers roles have changed.  They are not to be seen as the font of all knowledge and so should not be publishing only the best, "corrected" work of their learners.

The most powerful blog posts that a child can make are ones where they are open to learning - that is, they demonstrate knowledge as a process.  They do not just publish a final product, but they post the stages in building knowledge and get feedback from teachers and parents and hopefully both.  They learn to become critical thinkers.  How can a parent contribute to this learning?  The same way that teachers do.  Through acknowledging, questioning and suggesting.

How are you keeping the lines open so that conversations are not just one-way traffic?

Images acknowledgements.

  1.  Teachhub 
  2.  Apple 
  3. Pixnio

Friday, 5 January 2018

Dream It, Learn It, Do It

And so the holiday is over.  I am relaxed, refreshed and renewed.  Tweeps have been twittering about #oneword2018 and I just have not been able to agree (in my head) on one word.  Every time I think that I have a good word, the following day I think I have come across a better one.  I have been through a number - improve, focus, learn, strive, gratitude, kindness..... the list goes on, as I come across others that the tweeps have posted, and thought, yes, I need to do that.

This morning the phrase "dream it, learn it, do it" is reverberating.  So here it is.  My #oneword2018.  And, I am not sorry, but it is six words.  I think it encapsulates what I wish for every learner, not just myself.  I am not going to dissect its meaning - I just wish that every person in the world, but especially those returning to classrooms, have the time and space and opportunity to carry it out without being bound by restrictions of topics and direction from above.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Last of the Year

I have to end the year with a good cheer story.  From a photo cue on Facebook, I was reminiscing about a new immigrant, 16 year old young man visiting the DP's office (next to mine when I was AP.)  He arrived one day, just as a bouquet of flowers from my husband was arriving at my door.  He looked admiringly at them.  The (male) DP scoffed, "Waste of money, don't get into that kind of habit!"
The student smiled and agreed, and I said abruptly, "Don't listen to him.  What would he know about women?"  This went on every day for about a week, associated with great hilarity and then one day, the young man walked into my office with a handpicked bunch of flowers for me.  I told him, "You have learned a good lesson.  You will be a great success if you give flowers to the people you admire."  I am pleased to say that 10+ years later, he has gone on to become engaged to a lovely young kiwi woman.   I like to think I had a hand in his success!  And therein ends my tale.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

School - what's the point?

What do these successful people have in common?

If you haven't already guessed it, they were not successful at school.  Either dropped out, were labelled as not amounting to anything,  were bottom of the class, hated school, or even worse, expelled.  At prizegiving every year, I remember, in my role as a leader in a college, sitting in the front row on the stage in my black gown, groaning as yet another successful guest speaker got up and told the students how he/she was hopeless at school, but succeeded anyway, and here they were, trying to inspire them on to greater things in their school years and beyond.

So why do we still have this ridiculous system that moulds people into compliant citizens - "prepares them for the world" as we are so fond of saying? 

My guess is that we retain a schooling system for convenience.

  • It is convenient, as parents, to have all of our children out of our way so that we can get on with the job of making money.  
  • It is convenient, as teachers, to have large groups herded into manageable lumps to incubate compliant students.  
  • It is convenient as a learner to have everyone educated about the same things so that we know what each other is talking about.  
  • It is convenient for politicians to slip inadequate sums of money to institutions to bulk-educate our masses.  
  • It is convenient for the economists to prepare our young ones for the same kinds of work that we all know about, to make the financial world, as we know it, go around.
We are one of only a small group of animals who prepare their young for the real world by handing them over to others.  Fish do it, send them off on their own in schools (lol) and a large pack of African wild dogs will all take responsibility for bringing up the pack young, as do ostriches, but relatively few hand over responsibility for prolonged periods of time, like we do. Dominant meerkats will force submissive ones to wet nurse and look after their brood, even going so far as to kill off any progeny that the submissive ones have. 

I am not really into anarchy - I do think we need some sort of order in our communities.  But, I do think that we could be a bit more imaginative about what goes on with our progeny.  I am not saying everything that we do at school is bad.  But, honestly, to those unconvinced members of the public, we need to get real about some of the reforms that we are trying to bring into schools, like MLEs (ILEs) and start thinking maybe there is a purpose for differentiating, individualising, and personalising learning.

So let's be relatively pleased about the convenience of school and start supporting different ways of thinking and doing in schools that will develop individuals who have their own strengths and skills.