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  1. Education – my thinking

    12 November 2018 by shartley

    I was recently challenged by someone to add more of my own thinking to this blog, given that recently it has been more about other people’s voices. So sitting in my gorgeous hotel in Bath, occasionally looking out the window (view in image above) for moments of contemplation, I have bashed out where my head is currently at re education and my PhD. By the way, for my more general thoughts, less education related, I have a writing blog too. Often the lines blur so the decision as to where to post can be quite the quandary.

    So here goes.

    I am passionate and quite emotionally tied up with:

    1. Students’ gaining agency through education so they feel empowered to make choices and decisions about their own lives and believe they can have an impact on the people, communities and societies around them.
    2. Creating a broad curriculum that students value and engage in.
    3. Implementing pedagogy that enables students to value and engage with the curriculum.
    4. This generally means the curriculum needs to be relevant to real life in terms of what is being learnt, how it is learnt and how it is assessed.
    5. Also means that there is a need to not only focus on students’ attainment on knowledge but also their development of skills, attributes, competencies, capabilities, and other closely related terms.
    6. Breaking down the restrictions, barriers and the risk levels teachers feel, to enable students to learn and acquire the knowledge, skills and attributes they need now and into the future.

     

    Thus, there are several areas in education that really make me angry and frustrated.

    1. Teachers who just want to deliver information to compliant students.
    2. People outside the profession who think education is merely about delivering information to compliant students.
    3. The lack of recognition that to do more than deliver information takes time and energy.
    4. The teachers who think their innovative teaching method is the one and only way. Teaching needs to be fit for purpose.
    5. Schools that promote themselves as being a “PBL school” or some other particular method of learning annoys the hell out of me. Teaching needs to be fit for purpose.
    6. Students and their families who focus on the final grade at the end of over a decade of education and not appreciating learning for its own sake. This is exemplified by students who say “just tell me what I need to know”.
    7. Schools and teachers who cater to students and families’ single-minded focus on grades and/or want to maintain an outdated image of compliant students sitting in rows, working in silence.
    8. The confines of prescribed curriculum reducing teaching to a tick-box approach to covering material.
    9. Curriculum that claims in overarching statements at the front of documents that they are achieving a range of knowledge, skills and attributes through that curriculum and then in the back end, reduce teaching to be mainly about the mere delivery of knowledge.
    10. Dichotomies in education that reduce concepts to either/or concepts. I am sometimes guilty of buying into some of them in my research and writing. I am particular against the ideas of traditional versus progressive teaching and knowledge versus skills and attributes. Again, it’s about teaching that is fit for purpose. Fit for the knowledge, skills and attributes being sought, fit for the students undertaking the learning and fit for the context and available resources.
    11. The terms “non-cognitive skills” and “soft skills”, as if leadership, creativity, interpersonal skills and so on, do not require thinking and hard work to develop and improve.
    12. The term “21st century skills”, as if these skills have only been needed for the last 18 years and not before. How ridiculous!
    13. Socio-economic inequities in education. I have worked in four private schools with various level of fees and funds to expend. My own children went to private schools for the most part. Despite my own actions and behaviour, I desperately want public schools to be better resourced. Technology adds to the socio-economic gap in education and yet I am still an advocate for technology in teaching because it is such an integral part of our lives. I worry how much education adds to income inequality in our society.
    14. Other inequities in education that occur on the basis of gender, race, learning difficulties and much more.
    15. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) currently being valued so much more than the Humanities. Is it really to cater for a job market (and thereby treating education as the mere creation of human capital)? Or is it about reducing the amount of critical thinking about societies, communities and the people within them?
    16. The treatment of education as if it is about producing human capital. I will acknowledge there is an element of that occurring because it is inescapable in a capitalist society but there is so much more to education than this!

     

    This thinking informs the research I want to undertake for my PhD.  It has led me to Enterprise Education which has the potential to encompass all that I desire in education. I also resist the wholesale embracing of capitalism and therefore would prefer if Enterprise Education did not overly feature entrepreneurship and financial gains. To me, Enterprise Education is about developing students’ enterprising skills and attributes in the broadest sense, allowing all students to flourish. I want to discover the best objectives, curriculum, pedagogies and assessment processes in Enterprise Education that is conducted at a scale beyond the classroom, at a whole grade level, preferably more than a one-off experience but a whole year program. I would love to just submerge myself in a few of these programs and analyse what works best.

    Attending the ISBE Conference last week was a fantastic immersive experience in the thinking of a whole bunch of amazing people working in this area but it also added to the imposter syndrome monster within me. My struggle is the more academic aspect of doing what I want to do. I need to work out theoretical approaches/lenses and frameworks. This is what keeps me awake at night and occasionally drives me to tears. Am I ever going to get my head around this stuff? Am I ever going to be able to produce good quality academic work that can make a difference in education by influencing curriculum and helping teachers to happily do the best for their students? Well, that’s my dream. I’m sure once I have a grip on the academic theories I will be able to analyse and write and have a voice in the arena but right now there’s a huge wall in front of me. I have ten days to write a decent PhD proposal, including a literature review, while I also enjoy the pleasures of being a tourist as I finish up in Bath, go to Prague, and then head home. I know, tough life and all. I will submit a proposal at the end of this time but it won’t be anywhere near the quality I desire unless an epiphany occurs.

    Soon this initial hurdle will be behind me and I won’t have to think on it until the PhD truly commences in 2019. In the meantime, back home, I’ll be preparing for Christmas and finding somewhere new to live (long story). I am looking forward to hosting a party for my fellow post-grad education researchers, visiting family in Adelaide, going to the cricket and tennis, reading for pleasure and experiencing the glorious heat and sun of summer in Sydney, Australia.

    PS My playlist (shuffled) as I wrote this post.


  2. A PIECE of ISBE 2018

    11 November 2018 by shartley

    7-8 November ISBE Conference

    My first communication outside the Twitterverse with Dr Colin Jones was an hour long phone conversation back in March or April about my MRES topic. When I mentioned I was presenting on Enterprise Education (EE) in Cologne, he suggested I also attend the ISBE conference in Birmingham the following week, since I was in the area. At the conference, Colin introduced me to his friends/contacts which led to many interesting conversations. We also had time to continue our discussions about EE and my possible research focus, which were extremely valuable and enjoyable.

    Anyway, here’s A PIECE of what I appreciated most from the conference.

     

    ACTIVITY

    I enjoyed the idea Dr David Higgins presented about the need for EE to be researched as an activity (verb) and our own involvement, as opposed to the clinical scientific arms-length approach that describes human activity in concrete terms (nouns) instead of their actions/emotions/motivations/thinking/etc .

     

    PEOPLE

    People I knew via Twitter came to life at the conference:

    Dr Kelly Smith – I love how passionate she is about EE  and she introduced me to the term Pracademic.

    Andrea Lane – a knowledgable and thoughtful person who makes me think deeper.

    Matt Rogers-Draycott – Matt first came to my attention just a few months ago when I read an older article he co-authored. I did a series of tweets about it because I just love his thinking and approach to EE.   

    Catherine Brentnall – I had a few but brief chats with Catherine at the conference. She didn’t have much luck while she was there. For instance, a taxi driver took her to McDonalds for the Gala Dinner instead of the Macdonald Burlington Hotel and she had a tummy bug on the last day resulting in her having to leave as soon as she presented her paper. However, I’m sure this friendship will continue to grow over Twitter.

    Prof Nigel Adams – In discussion on the walk to and during the gala dinner, Nigel reminded me of ‘Doc’ in Back to the Future due to his intelligence, passion and eccentric mannerisms. He even showed me video of him riding an electronic skateboard owned by one of his students.

    Will Hogan and Peter Harrington of SimVenture – I met these two at the gala dinner. We then continued talking to after midnight at the hotel bar.

     

    INTERSECTIONS

    Unfortunately I missed Lucy Hatt’s presentation, mainly because it wasn’t in the Enterprise Education stream. We follow each other on Twitter and had chatted briefly at the conference. At lunch on the second day, Lucy and Colin talked intensely and deeply about her concept of intersections in the student’s entrepreneurial journey, while I listened in. Colin was adding to it by saying the role of the teacher is to be at some of those intersections and work out what the student needs to help the student choose the path from that point. I also recommend following Lucy’s excellent reflection blog about her PhD process and progress.

     

    ECHO-CHAMBER

    During one of breaks, Andrea and I talked about a range of EE topics, including the echo chamber of EE, particularly that it often echoes theoretical papers more than empirical research. Lo and behold, the very next talk by Catherine and David was about the need to break out of the echo chamber and include more philosophy in the EE field.

     

    ECOSYSTEM

    I have been considering some sort of organisational theory/ies for my PhD. I was reminded by Dr Su-Hyun Berg and Prof Jay Mitra’s presentation of an ecosystem approach. I’m a little wary though, because sometimes ecosystem is a bit of a buzzword in EE literature. On the last night Su-Hyun, Jay, Colin and I went for a drink. Jay and Colin regaled us with conference stories and I learned how Su-Hyun moved from Korea to Germany 14 years ago and after two years of resisting the German language, gave in and now speaks it fluently.

     

    This is just A PIECE of what the two days of conference gave me. Now, as I enter the solo holiday part of my trip, I need to write my PhD EOI/proposal which has been informed and confused by the ever-increasing number of EE concepts that have been brought to my attention.


  3. 12 Golden Nuggets from Practical Pedagogies

    4 November 2018 by shartley

    Image courtesy of Practical Pedagogies via a tweet

    Look! Look! Look!

    I can see hundreds of teachers voluntarily gathering for the sharing of pedagogical ideas. I can hear a cacophony of accents as they chatter earnestly making new connections and friends. I see Russel Tarr, one of the first few international connections I made on Twitter nearly 10 years ago. He organised this conference at St. Georges’ School, Cologne, from Toulouse, in his spare time. I have found Russel to be deeply intelligent, skilful and passionate about education and continuous learning. Through this conference he has also demonstrated how incredibly organised he is too.

    Look! Look! Look!

    I can see a pumpkin patch of golden nuggets. I’ll list 12 of the biggest and brightest nuggets from the conference in a rough chronological order:

      1. I met Jared, a science teacher from North Carolina, USA, when we sat down for the opening of the conference. He has a delightful American drawl and repeatedly called me ma’am which was equally uncomfortable and endearing. His commitment to teaching and life in general made a warm golden moment to start the conference.
      2. Hywel Roberts‘ opening address. I had spent the previous couple of weeks reading Hywel’s book Oops! in preparation. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that fond of the book since I felt it to be a little patronising but in person Hywel was very entertaining. I laughed often and loudly. After a while his educomedy style felt like it was going too long and I became silently critical of the lack of substance. He must have read my mind because he reassured the audience that substance was coming soon. And it did. His message about narrative and story-telling (Look! Look! Look! I can see…) through relationships with students provided a good reminder of the joy and wonder teaching and learning can create. I also liked his three key words:
        • Imagineering (aka VISION – visionary teacher): Thinking and planning for teaching to make curriculum palatable without dumbing it down. This takes professional imagination which unfortunately can often be eroded over time.
        • Botheredness  (aka MISSION – caring teacher): Demonstrating authentic care, being the caring adult (not at war with children) and building botheredness in students for the work they’re doing in class 
        • Phronesis (aka VALUES – wise teacher): professional wisdom 
      3. An Action Research Observation Sheet from a session led by Liz Free could be useful for my PhD research.
      4. Dominic Tremblay (not @DomTrem or @DominicTremblay on Twitter – I found out the hard way) presented a system he has implemented in many schools called Follow the Money.  I loved his enthusiasm and he had some wonderful ideas for teaching student financial concepts in a really active way. I just have concerns about the extent to which the program in full implementation is so fully steeped in capitalist values. For example, charging students a fee for using a paintbrush that is refunded upon return of a clean brush in good condition may work against attempts to instil good values for the sake of good relations, community and society. I have seen research that suggests as soon as childcare centres start charging parents for late collection of children it leads to increases in how often and how late parents are to pick up their children because of the transaction value placed upon it instead of values of respect and consideration.
      5. Dominic also demonstrated how to use the Post-it Plus App. A tool I’m sure to use in the near future.
      6. I loved the workshop by Joanna Norton because she looks at the world with such an artistic and creative eye, different to the more linear and ordered way I do. She provided lots of ideas and food for thought. Some divergent thinking too. I particularly love the idea of bringing books into class to peruse with QR codes of Questions. 
      7. I ran into Mariusz Galczyński at various times over the two days of the conference but it was the bus ride from the school to the city at the end of the first day during which we discussed education and politics extensively in the 20-30 minute trip that was the highlight. This is another connection I hope to maintain well into the future.
      8. I stand by my tweet about Jennifer Webb‘s presentation. Probably my favourite session. I nearly didn’t go to this session because I have a really lovely friend, Jen Webb, and I was scared that the name would be tarnished but no, the name still stands for people who are gorgeous, lovely and caring.
      9. Neil Atkin took us on a journey of emotional states and thinking flaws. He introduced me to the McGurk effect (YT video below) and Brain Rules by John Medina. 
      10. When I first discovered someone else was presenting on Enterprise Education at Practical Pedagogies my imposter syndrome kicked in, making me worry I’d be showed up as an amateur in the area. Instead, I have a new connection and friend in Rachel of Enabling Enterprise (aka Skills Builder). Enabling Enterprise provides standards/criteria for essential skills at a range of levels, an area my research is lacking at the moment. I will definitely be investigating further.
      11. My own presentation. Russel had asked presenters for preferences regarding when we ran our workshops. I said I didn’t but when I found out I was scheduled for the last session, I realised I did. Not last! As it was, it was good to see Rachel’s presentation first and even though we are conceptually similar we hardly overlapped in what we actually presented. I was horrified by a couple of shortfalls in my slideshow (now rectified) but at least the flaws helped to determine which bits I needed to skip since I was very aware I had too much for the hour and ten minutes we had. A last minute inclusion was the use of Lotus Charts, introduced to me by friend and former colleague, Kendra. Russel, with camera in hand, walked in as I was introducing Lotus Charts. He was pleased to have come at a point where he learned something new. It was also a hit with the participants, resulting in a few Tweets. I think overall my presentation went well.
      12. Cologne itself. The pubs and their 200ml glasses of beers that just keep coming were loud and fun. The cathedral is an imposing sight near the main railway station and opposite our hotel. Apparently it took over 600 years to build. It is one of hundreds of churches in Cologne. There’s a saying that you could go to a different church for every day of the year in Cologne. There is also a Chocolate Museum in Cologne that provides a history and manufacturing process of chocolate with some tasting to be had. When I was there numerous school groups were going through, giving me flashbacks to the stress of running excursions. There are also numerous art museums that time didn’t permit us to visit. Next time.


  4. A conference, a cruise and new connections

    6 February 2018 by shartley

    Even though I have yet to hear a reaction from my supervisor about the latest topic I’ve proposed for my MRES, over the last couple of days I have been steadily researching pedagogical practices in enterprise education. One article amused me because it fitted so well with my experiences of teaching Business Studies. Basically, the article (Jones & Penaluna, 2013) slams the use of business plans for developing entrepreneurship in students. I’ve read 100s of articles in the last few weeks but since this one tickled my fancy, I tweeted the Australian author, Colin Jones. A bit of an exchange about my research ambitions occurred and we are now aiming to meet over a drink in Brisbane in a few months time. Then his co-author from the UK, Andy Penaluna, also started tweeting me and sending links to great resources for my topic. Colin had probably gone to bed. Andy and I tweeted until I postponed the conversation at 2am. This morning I received more tweets from both of them. How cool is that?!

    I think I have been following Russel Tarr on Twitter since my first few months of joining, many years ago. He is from England but teaching History at an International School in Toulouse, France. He is a passionate and innovative teacher. A few years ago he started a conference in Toulouse called Practical Pedagogies but no matter how hard I tried to fit it in to my life and budget I couldn’t go. People have raved about it. Well now I have been accepted to present at this year’s conference which is being held in Cologne, Germany, 1-2 November. I’m hoping to tie-in a visit to Emma who will probably be on university exchange at the time, perhaps in France, perhaps in Taiwan. Now I just have to manipulate credit card points to pay for the flights.

    I am honoured and privileged to have these opportunities but it’s freaking me out a little. There is a lot happening in October and November this year. My MRES mini-thesis is due in the middle of a professional development course called Navigating Pedagogy I’m conducting on a cruise to Noumea and New Caledonia (7-14 October). Tough job, but somebody has to do it. 

    Actually, I shouldn’t be so flippant about it. I have already done a lot of hard work to develop the course and be endorsed as a professional development provider by NESA (Board of Studies NSW). As for the MRES dissertation, I’ll just have to submit it early and be prepared for the cruise and the conference super ahead of time. Really, it just means I need to be as organised as I have been the last few months. Easy!

    Article: 

    Jones, C., & Penaluna, A. (2013). Moving beyond the business plan in enterprise education. Education Training,55(8/9), 804-814. https://doi.org/10.1108/ET-06-2013-0077 

     

    * This post is also on my general writing blog: https://squibsandsagas.blogspot.com/2018/02/a-conference-cruise-and-new-connections.html


  5. Risks, Fears and Concerns: Issues teachers have with pedagogical change

    6 February 2018 by shartley

     

    The last few days I’ve been doing a slow dig into my research. I am looking at the concerns teachers have about shifting to more student-centred pedagogy. I am also trying to find out what can be done to alleviate these concerns, particularly in the form of professional development.

    For non-teachers, very roughly, pedagogy is the art and science of teaching, the methods used in the teaching and learning process. Student-centred learning is when students have more of an active role in their learning. Instead of merely being recipients of information and drilled into skills, they undertake activities that develop skills in critical thinking, problem solving and much more. By having greater choice over the process of learning, students often take on more ownership of it.

    A traditional view, reinforced by popular culture, is that learning at high school consists of students sitting in rows, in a classroom, with a teacher talking at them, leading a discussion or showing some boring film. Sometimes learning needs to be with a teacher directing a class from the front but often it is not the best way to learn. It is probably the best way to maintain order and control in a classroom. Complete order and control is not necessary for learning to occur. Structure and purpose is important most of the time, but not so tight it confines students’ minds from thinking for themselves.

    Many teachers have difficulty letting go of order and control. In their minds, quiet work is productive work, and reflects well on them as teachers. It is so incongruent of a concept, it is hard for them to learn and implement strategies that allows students more freedom because the perceived risk is too high. One of the articles I’ve read about this is called ‘What if students revolt?’. This happens more in the higher grades because students have so much pressure on them to achieve in high-stakes tests, such as the HSC, they just want to be told what they need to write to do well in the exam, having very little focus on learning itself. I’ve had one frustrated student who pleaded, “Just tell me what I need to know”. Memorising and regurgitating information just doesn’t cut it anymore. The fear is also about students not achieving as well in assessments and that also reflecting badly upon the teacher. It is being scared of looking a fool by trying something out of their comfort zone and possibly failing.

    Textbooks give the false illusion that learning is linear and straight forward, a mere comprehension task. Textbooks also help teachers know exactly where they are up to in the teaching process and can check-in with other teachers about their pacing. It shouldn’t be about where students are up to in the textbook but where they are up to in their learning.

    This fear is exacerbated if teachers feel they don’t have the backing of the school leadership or the wider school community (eg school board, parents) and are constantly slammed in the media and by government figures. The literature calls this a lack of relational trust. From my  own experience, this can occur in several ways. For instance, there is the fear that school leaders will change their mind and switch back from the new innovation to the traditional way or leapfrog onto something else again, thereby wasting a lot of time and effort of everyone involved. Sometimes when a teacher tries a new teaching method, as advocated by the leadership, and it results in complaints from students and/or parents, the leadership kowtow to the complainers when the teacher should be backed by them. It is demoralising and makes teachers even less inclined to change what they have always done. The risk to change becomes way too high. Some schools have gone through incredible changes, only to have a new principal come in and change it all back again.

    Most schools are going down the student-centred learning path but veer back to traditional teaching for the HSC when marks trump real learning. It’s the HSC game really. I hate how many times I say to my classes that in reality ‘xyz’ is this but for the HSC it is that. For example, in HSC Business Studies students have to write a business report. They are usually taught to write in exams an Executive Summary as a substitute for an Introduction and to keep it as brief as possible. It is purely to tick the box that they did one, and move on as quickly as possible to provide content that will produce the bulk of the marks. In reality, executive summaries actually are what they sound like they should be, a summary of the report and a rule of thumb is that it should be a page in length. I find this so frustrating! Exams are so removed from real life but are a convenient way of ranking people, distributing them across some statistically desired graph. We supposedly have a standards based system, meaning students are assessed against standards instead of against each other but when it comes down to it, results are manipulated to reflect a particular norm. A friend who has marked Food Technology exams has reported that when the statistics revealed the majority of students failed a question, the markers had to go back and scratch for just a word or two that could just possibly mean, perhaps, the student may have actually understood what they were writing about in some way.

    An issue with all this is the conflicting demands placed on teaching and learning. The national curriculum’s general capabilities provides a good overview of what school education should be about:

    • Literacy
    • Numeracy
    • ICT capability
    • Critical and creative thinking
    • Personal and social capability
    • Ethical understanding
    • Intercultural understanding

    However, NAPLAN, the only compulsory external testing system in NSW before the HSC, is only about literacy and numeracy. Since NAPLAN and HSC results are so public, schools can fall into the trap of teaching to the test, resulting in formulaic responses that produce solid results. Teaching for genuine, deep learning, is much harder to test properly so that in our current system, real learning can result in wildly inconsistent outcomes in NAPLAN and the HSC. I always professed I wanted my children to be motivated more by learning than by assessment results. Yet I had to compromise that ideology when Emma wanted to learn Economics for the HSC but performed better in Ancient History, which she had been interested in for years but was now bored. To achieve the mark she needed for her desired university course, the interest in learning was traded in for a higher mark.

    It takes time to implement change. It takes time to learn new ways of doing things. It takes longer to do something for the first time than it will subsequently. The planning time for new pedagogical practices will be longer because the style of learning is new and taxes the brain harder than just doing what was done before. Many teachers are used to Heads of Department writing programs and handing them over to be followed (or not). Now it’s more about collaborative planning and coming up with new ways to work together as a team of teachers. It feels like independence is being stripped away as well as authority in the classroom. However, it actually should be giving teachers greater ownership and pride in what they do because they design the learning process instead of deliver information. By not being up the front of the class so much, teachers should also have more time in class to have one-on-one discussions with individual students about their progress

    Technology has a lot to do with the shift away from traditional learning, enabling students to participate in the learning process in new, innovative and fun ways. Just watch how young people jump to YouTube for tutorials in how to do something, from knitting (I have seen a student do that with my own eyes when they were supposed to be working on something else) to changing a tyre. The Internet is their go-to for communication, information, entertainment and well, everything, really.

    Many teachers find it hard to understand and adopt technology and are fearful of it. They are already forced online to mark their rolls, maintain a grading system, complete their welfare reporting and much more, so that to also have to learn more technology for the teaching process, it can be overwhelming. Technology can also be unreliable in schools, being such an expensive commodity. To me, the gap between the technology haves and have nots is the biggest divide in education of modern times. My son gained 17 marks on his school assessment in his Information Processing Technology HSC exam with a great deal of help from Eddie Woo’s YouTube videos. If we didn’t have a reliable internet at home this would not have been possible. I worry about students who don’t have access to reliable Internet at home – it will hold up their education and their adjustment to participating in life, at work and play. Schools need to help out more in this regard, but that’s a completely different post to write.

    I know and recognise I have been a bit on my soapbox in this post. I partly wrote it here to shake it out of my system so I can approach these issues in a more academic and studious way for my research. All these concerns are real and need to be acknowledged and addressed. I am looking forward to investigating how this can best be done.

    Further Reading

    Boschman, Ferry, McKenney, Susan, & Voogt, Joke. (2014). Understanding Decision Making in Teachers’ Curriculum Design Approaches. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(4), 393-416

    Dole, S., Bloom, L., and Kowalske, K. (2016). Transforming Pedagogy: Changing Perspectives from Teacher-Centered to Learner-Centered. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 10(1)

    Le Fevre, D. (2014). Barriers to implementing pedagogical change: The role of teachers’ perceptions of risk. Teaching and Teacher Education, 38, 56-64

    Siedel, S. B., & Tanner, K. D. (2013). “What If Students Revolt?”–Considering Student Resistance: Origins, Options, and Opportunities for Investigation. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 12(4)

     

    * This post is also on my general writing blog: https://squibsandsagas.blogspot.com/2018/01/risks-fears-and-concerns.html


  6. 2017 ACSA Conference – Part 3

    8 October 2017 by shartley

    2017 ACSA Conference

     

    WHAT IF? Embracing complexity through curriculum innovation

     

    Program: https://www.acsaconference.acsa.edu.au/program

     

    Part 3

     

    There is a constant tension between the curriculum as constructed and the curriculum in practice. While politicians and the media carry on about how Australia goes in world rankings in education and schools performing or underperforming in NAPLAN and other state enforced testing, schools and their teachers need to focus on real learning.

    However, many institutions and people believe a move away from teaching to the test involves acute risks, for example, in the forms of parent backlash and reduced government funding. One conference delegate from a prestigious private school in Melbourne told me she had no desire to change her teacher-centred approach to learning because she was achieving great marks from her students and they were learning the set curriculum as intended. This was her job, not worrying about the skills and attributes students may need for actual life. Yes, that comment is a bit harsh, but illustrates how I feel. I understand where she is coming from, particularly considering the pressure for marks, but I don’t agree with the approach all the same.

    So how can schools shift the traditional view of education being about the accumulation of knowledge to more genuine authentic learning appropriate for our modern world and heading into the future?

     

    Reclaiming the Curriculum – Implementing Change

     

    At the conference I attended sessions relating the journeys of two different schools: Parramatta Marist High School with Gavin Hays (slides) and Campbelltown Performing Arts High School (CPAHS) with Stacey Quince, the Principal.

    The message that most clearly struck home, for me, is that communication with all stakeholders about the need for change is vital, particularly with parents. The Futures Unit of the NSW Department of Education has produced a case for change in this video:

     

    Schools need to be clear about the reasons for changing the style of learning within their schools. These reasons include:

    • Student engagement in learning
    • Preparing students for a modern world of globalisation and technology driven change
    • Providing students with the skills to enter university eg interview skills for early-entry

    On the front page of their website, CPAHS is upfront about their learning approaches, summarised in this video:

     

    The biggest contrast between these two schools is their pedagogy. Parramatta Marist is a completely dedicated PBL (Project Based Learning) school where students undertake 200 projects during their time at high school. On the other hand, CPAHS advocates a range of pedagogical approaches, including PBL, design thinking and explicit instruction. As I’ve said before, I’m all about balance, so prefer a horses for courses approach.

    Other than that, the schools were quite similar in how they implemented change. At the core of change is a focus on learning and the skills required for the world today. Assessment is then aligned with these skills. Other changes include reducing timetable restrictions, adjusting the physical environment to allow for more collaborative learning and making stronger connections to the community. On that last point, I have deep admiration for how CPAHS has worked with their local council to solve various issues in their area. For instance, Year 8 students participated in a PBL with a design thinking process to consider How can we improve community engagement and sustainable use of a local wetland area? To quote the council’s Comprehensive State Of The Environment Report: Major Achievements July 2012 – June 2016:

    Students from Campbelltown Performing Arts High School investigated environmental and social issues surrounding the Park Central wetland and developed a suite of management actions aimed to improve the local environment, increase awareness about the wetland and engage local residents with the space. As a result, Council has implemented two of the student’s ideas; a children’s storybook ‘Eric the Eel’ and a wildlife tile game. Both projects aim to raise awareness of the unique plants and animals at our local parks. (Campbelltown City Council n.d., p.21)

    As a consequence of these implemented changes, CPAHS students are gaining early university entry because they can articulate what they’ve done at school and why it matters.

     

    TeachMeet 

     

    Although technology prevented a visual and coherent presentation (hyperlink to slides) from Bronwyn Joyce, my interest was piqued enough to investigate further. She is a strong advocate for integrating the UN Sustainable Global Goals into the classroom and some amazing #OneWorldOneClassroom activities can be found here. Click on the presentation slides to gain free temporary access.

    Svetlana, a pre-service teacher, presented about the importance of psychology in teaching. It resonated with the audience:

     

    Yaso showed a video about the curriculum changes being made at her school:

    Leanne Cameron talked about AI and robots taking over the workplace, or not. See Students teach to avatars in classrooms of the future, AI tutors and meet Amelia and Jill.  

    Chatbots don’t need to seem “human”, they just have to be useful.

    Annie Gerasimou promoted Club Kidpreneur which I loved the sound of because it has a Market Day that focuses on real world problems instead of food and drink, but then I found out it was outsourced to a commercial enterprise. A little disappointing.

     

    Other Presenters/Events

     

    Deena Yako shared her life story and how schools can connect with their local immigrant community. In brief she:

    • Fled Iraq as a child, went through refugee camps
    • Entered Year 8 after 3 terms of English lessons
    • Had high hopes for HSC but bombed it
    • Through TAFE ended up with job in the settlement of Iraqi refugees in Australia – educating school communities and others about refugee experience, empowering refugees to be their own advocates and contribute back to society – they want to, but many hurdles

     

    Read more about what she has achieved:

     


    Scott Eacott, Director, Office of Educational Leadership, University of NSW


    Pip CleavesTracey Breese and Alan Hope presented:
     

    Final comments

     

    I loved this conference for its mix of teachers and academics across Australia and that a handful of these people were the tribe I know and love from TeachMeets, conferences and Twitter. Cameron organised the conference and Yaso organised the TeachMeet. I hung out with Stephy, John, Darcy, Phil and Nigel who were also presenters. I connected with my MEd idols Alan Reid and Bob Lingard. I met Omar Musa and saw him perform!

    I also loved the new connections I made with a bunch of academics who want to cross the university/school divide and encouraged me in the my own pursuit of academic research. I want to research how to encourage teachers to adapt their pedagogy to make learning the focus instead of high stakes testing taking precedence, by reducing the risks they perceive.

    You can’t take home the whole beach, just bits of driftwood.

    At the TeachMeet, Cameron shared the above adage, he once heard from a colleague. Well, the driftwood I’ve brought home from this conference is pretty darn special.


  7. 2017 ACSA Conference – Part 2

    8 October 2017 by shartley

    2017 ACSA Conference

     

    WHAT IF? Embracing complexity through curriculum innovation

     

    Program: https://www.acsaconference.acsa.edu.au/program

    Part 2

     

    “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”, W.B. Yeats

    I ended the previous post with the plea that surely, learning is the point of education (as opposed to the final mark at the end). So let’s dig deeper into what learning entails, putting aside, for now, marks driven education.

    The Purpose of Curriculum

     

    One of the questions raised at the conference was regarding the purpose of education. According to Matthews (2013) Education is fundamentally concerned with the transmission of culture, values, beliefs, knowledge and skills (p.167).

    I object to the use of the word transmission since it implies students are mere sponges. Is our curriculum meant to instil a particular set of culture, values, beliefs, knowledge and skills? And whose culture, values and beliefs are we talking about? Global or Australian? Should education be about the construction of culture, values, beliefs, knowledge and skills? You will often hear me being anti-dichotomies, espousing that education is about balance. Of course there are fundamentals to what young people should know and understand but it is also important that they learn to think for themselves.

    In his Garth Boomer Memorial Lecture at the conference, Bob Lingard argued that globalisation has reduced national control over the economy and in response, governments are grabbing onto cultural sovereignty. He referenced on his slide:

    Appadurai (2006) – two major tropes of neo-liberal globalisation: ‘loss of economic sovereignty’ (human capital framing) and attempted reassertion of cultural sovereignty (Australian Curriculum and citizenship focus)

    This is seen in attitudes towards asylum seekers but also in rhetoric about education and how Australia performs in the global sphere and the citizens our education system is supposed to produce. There is a definite top-down approach to what values should be taught, demonstrated most clearly in the Values for Australian Schooling posters distributed to schools in February 2005. 

    The use of Simpson and his donkey in this poster is particularly contentious for me because there is much more to the story of Simpson than the heroic attributes assigned him in the context of the Anzac Legend construct. National curriculum reflects what is deemed important by those setting it. Perhaps also the global assessments of PISA, and to a lesser extent, TIMSS, is driving our content-heavy curriculum.

    The Role of Teachers

     

    Slide from Dr Phil Roberts’ presentation

    In his workshop, Dr Phil Roberts talked about the ‘State Theory of Learning’ (see slide above). In this state-controlled content driven curriculum, teachers often feel stymied. Many teachers feel disenfranchised from the curriculum and believe they just need to do what they’re told, that they can’t be an integral part of forming curriculum. Some teachers feel so down-driven, time poor, they’re only covering superficial content not looking at the big picture of learning. Phil wondered how much of this has stemmed from an ‘outcomes’ approach to teaching by shifting the concept and focus of curriculum from being a holistic course to end results. He also proposed that it is time to start reclaiming the notion of teacher as curriculum worker, citing Nicole Mockler in her piece from earlier this year, Roll back curriculum constraints and give teachers the freedom to make professional judgements. For further reading, read Phil’s views on curriculum and Gonski in his 2013 article for The Conversation.

    Bob Lingard pointed out that on top of the curriculum, teachers are further downtrodden with teacher standards under the quality teaching framework used to bash teachers for their shortcomings.

    Instead teachers need to be respected for their expertise and given a stronger voice in policy.

    Bob also wondered how much the ever-expanding high-stakes testing regime would become increasingly commercialised through the outsourcing of tests, curriculum, support materials and tutoring agencies. Thus, reducing teacher input to the construction of education even further.

    General Capabilities

     

    I must admit I’ve been a fan of Alan Reid’s approach to curriculum for a few years now. For my major assignment in Curriculum Studies (MEd), Collaborating and connecting: Making capabilities the core of curriculum, this was obvious. Just in case you don’t want to read all 2500 words, here is an excerpt and some direct quotes from the man himself:

    Before the Australian curriculum was written, Professor Alan Reid (2005) wrote a comprehensive report which included compelling arguments for a “capabilities-based approach” (p.6) that “would take the emphasis off the subjects” (p.8). One argument involves that capabilities lie upon a never-ending scale of attainment whereas knowledge is more of a binary concept, either the facts are known or they are not (Reid 2005, p.54). It therefore goes part way to meeting the Melbourne Declaration goal of equity by allowing students to strive to the extent of their capabilities instead of judging them on how successfully they have acquired the prescribed knowledge. (Hartley 2013)

    A central purpose of curriculum should be the development of capabilities for living in a democratic society… (Reid 2005, p.38)

    …if the purpose of education is to promote human development through experience, then the starting point for curriculum work should be the identification of the capabilities that people need, individually and collectively, to live productive and enriching lives in the 21st century. (Reid 2005, p.53)

    An official curriculum should reflect the kind of society we are and want to become, and should seek to develop the sorts of capabilities that young people need to become active participants in our political, economic, social and cultural life. (Reid 2010, p.31)

    Earlier this year at an ACEL event, the NSW Minister of Education, Rob Stokes, said the purpose of education, based on Greek philosophy, was to prepare children to make a living and make a life. He acknowledged the social aspect of this as being almost impossible to measure. Is this difficulty in measurement behind the tick-box approach of the implementation of the general capabilities in many of our schools?

    If schools are not being judged on the general capabilities of their students there is a lack of impetus to dedicate precious time to doing it properly. Instead, programs come under Learning Areas first, with the General Capabilities tenuously linked with existing material or superficially slotted-in where there are gaps.

    The Real World

     

    This cartoon was part of Bob Lingard’s slideshow.

    The real needs of learners for the jobs and the global society of today and into the future was beautifully presented by Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians. She described education as an ecosystem with complex, disparate, yet symbiotic elements. The research FYA has conducted illustrates a gig economy world that has disrupted the workplace. Our students are expected to have 17 jobs in a non-linear jungle of career progression. The jobs of the future are broken into seven clusters where the skills in one job are for the most part easily transferable to other jobs within the cluster.

    The student panel conducted after Jan’s talk expressed excitement over the proposition that they can create their future, not merely accept it. The panel, however, also showed that to a great extent the students are a product of their school. The student from a prestigious private school preferred the linear progression of textbook learning and the straight-forwardness of exams. He also argued social justice education should be left to primary school so academics could be more thoroughly covered in high school. The other two liked being engaged in meaningful learning, including social justice, throughout their school life.

    The wonderful Omar Musa performed several of his powerful poems about identity and place in Australia. He spoke of an Australia often unacknowledged by those in power. All aspects of Australian society should not only be acknowledged but be an integral part of our curriculum. In response to questions from the audience, he argued for relevance in education, that there is a need to attract students to the beauty and power of words through hip-hop music and the like. Of course, as someone in the audience pointed out, there are risks involved with teachers treading in unfamiliar territory, such as misogynist lyrics. Let’s leave that quandary there. Omar also presented a good case for teachers to focus on the talents of individuals, to recognise sparks in students and ignite them, like a teacher encouraged him to develop his use of words by expanding his range of reading matter. He also warned against teachers killing off free-thinking in their students, for example, a teacher berated him for reading Trainspotting and damned his parents. for allowing him to do so. I am grateful this teacher failed to curb Omar’s enthusiasm for words. For more Omar Musa, see his website and Ted Talk.

    Our world is so much more complex than our curriculum makes it appear. We therefore need to address contentious issues in schools. As Prime Minister, Julia Gillard wanted to focus on human rights within our schools, so in response UTS (Burridge et al, 2013) investigated “the place of human rights education in the school curriculum in each state and territory and the extent of the opportunities for teaching and learning about human rights across the school years” (p.5) in a report called Human Rights Education in the School Curriculum. This report was co-authored by Nina Burridge, who was asking at the conference, how far teachers can go as activists within schools. Teachers generally feel they are meant to be politically neutral in class, but when human rights, social justice and viewpoints of history are involved (for example), it is basically impossible to be neutral. I believe teachers have a responsibility to address a variety of global and local issues. However, parents and politicians complain about teachers indoctrinating students, forgetting young people have minds of their own and their right to make their own (informed) decisions. It seems there is a fine line between this responsibility and being considered irresponsible radical activists. Yet again, teachers’ professionalism is called into question.


    The next post, the last in the trilogy, will:

    1. Address how schools and teachers can reclaim some aspects of the curriculum, partly through changing their pedagogical practices
    2. Cover the TeachMeet held during the conference
    3. Present other parts of the conference that haven’t neatly fitted into what I’ve written elsewhere

    References

    Matthews, J. (2013). The educational imagination and the sociology of education in Australia. Australian Educational Researcher, 40, 155-171.

    Reid, A. (2005). Rethinking National Curriculum Collaboration: Towards an Australian Curriculum, Department of Education, Science and Training, Canberra.

    Reid, A. (2010). Working towards a ‘world-class’ curriculum. Professional Educator, 9(2), 30-33. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/

     


  8. 2017 ACSA Conference – Part 1

    7 October 2017 by shartley

    2017 ACSA Conference

     

    WHAT IF? Embracing complexity through curriculum innovation

     

    Program: https://www.acsaconference.acsa.edu.au/program

    Part 1

    Drinks at the end of Day 1

    Curriculum is an excuse for getting together.

     

    Dr Timothy Wright, Principal of Shore, nailed it with this remark. He assured us it wasn’t a flippant statement but said with depth of meaning. It was actually a profound and prophetic statement.

     

    Goals of Education

    Despite not being involved with the creation of the Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals (2009), teachers, for the most part, agree with its goals (p.8):

    1) Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence

    2) All young Australians become:

    • successful learners
    • confident and creative individuals
    • active and informed citizens

     

    It goes on to say:

    Achieving these educational goals is the collective responsibility of governments, school sectors and individual schools as well as parents and carers, young Australians, families, other education and training providers, business and the broader community. (p.8)

    What if we set and implemented curriculum that actually aligned with these educational goals? What would education in our schools be like then?

    The Creation of Curriculum

     

    The curriculum is not just the set of documents that come out of the Australian Curriculum, the state equivalents and their supporting bodies. It is the political and social context behind it. It is the school culture, the people within those schools and the community within which they function. It is influenced and developed by all involved but, of course, with some having stronger voices than others.

    The Australian Curriculum provides a broad scope of what education should involve in a three dimensional structure:

    However, the curriculum mostly espoused by those in authority focuses on the areas of literacy, numeracy and knowledge within learning areas. They overemphasise content at the expense of deeper learning, critical thinking, enterprise and social skills and the other general capabilities in the diagram above. Our testing system (PISA, TIMSS, NAPLAN, and Year 12 final exams) generally align with this narrow view of curriculum. The curriculum in practice is then designed with these measurements in mind, when instead we should be designing measurements (assessments) within this broader curriculum. As a result, some of the vital areas necessary for students in the world we live in today and into the future are neglected. Prof Alan Reid suggested a richer and more comprehensive assessment system is required, perhaps against the general capabilities through achievement standards in the Australian Curriculum.

    With our educational authorities and their cheer-squad media continually pushing for excellence in the areas so publicly measured, the equity aspect of Goal 1 (Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence) falls by the wayside. This lack of equity in our schooling was presented by Dan Haesler, supported by the research as listed on his website.

    Australia’s overall level of schools’ educational resources is above the OECD average… yet it is ranked fifth among 36 participating countries in resource disparity between advantaged and disadvantaged schools. (Connors & McMorrow, 2015, p.55)

    A socioeconomically disadvantaged student is still five times more likely to be a low performer than an advantaged student. (Thomson, 2016)

    These statistics seem far removed from the government’s commitment in the Melbourne Declaration that it was committed to act upon improving educational outcomes for Indigenous youth and disadvantaged young Australians, especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds (p.11).

    Robert Randall, CEO of ACARA, responded to what Alan Reid and Dan Haesler had to say. He agreed that we needed to improve our assessment measures and generally stayed on safe ground. What annoyed me though, was his repeated references to education being a passport. This is like saying school education merely acts as a gateway to the rest of your life and is not important in itself. It places the emphasis on the final score at the end of school life instead of all the learning that occurred during that time.

    Surely, learning is the point of education.


  9. Education Systems – ACEL Forum

    11 May 2017 by shartley

    How High-Performing Systems Shape Teacher Quality

    a forum hosted by ACEL

    at NSW Parliament House

     

    The Hon. Rob Stokes MP (current NSW Minister for Education)

    Member for Murray Adrian Piccoli (former NSW Minister for Education)

    Ann McIntyre (ACEL NSW President)

    Aasha Murthy (ACEL CEO)

     
    ACEL
    is the Australian Council for Educational Leaders

    ‘Parliament House c.1829’
    Flickr, Government Macquarie account
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/sydneyhistory/6634269541

    This was an evening about handing over the baton, one education minister to the next. Both were humble and gracious. Both presented as remarkably intelligent, demonstrating much depth in their knowledge of education and education systems.

    The forum commenced with the President of ACEL NSW, Ann McIntyre, introducing the context of the forum title. The topic stemmed from a study led by Linda Darling-Hammond, conducted over three years in several education systems/jurisdictions in Canada, China, Finland, Norway, USA and Australia. The subsequent book, Empowered Educators: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teacher Quality Around the World, thus provided the forum its title. There is also a version that focuses on the Australian part of the study, Empowered Educators in Australia: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teacher Quality. Both books were co-authored by Ann. Somehow, Ann managed to summarise the findings of the study quite neatly (provided here as a mixture of verbatim and paraphrasing).


    The key to education improvement is:

    1. Teacher quality
    2. supported by policies and practices established within the system
    3. with a balanced assessment system
    4. and a progressive needs based funding model

     To enable this to occur the research showed school systems need:

    1. Good recruitment procedures
    2. Teacher preparation/training for deep knowledge and pedagogy
    3. Timely and quality professional experience and mentoring
    4. Continuous professional learning
    5. Opportunities for professional feedback, focused on growth/improvement
    6. A career and leadership development program

     To achieve all this, schools need resources and opportunities for collaboration.

     Key features of NSW and all the other jurisdictions studied in this research project were:

    1. High social regard for teaching (disputable in NSW)
    2. Selectivity into the profession
    3. Deep financial support for preparation of teachers and professional learning throughout career
    4. High integrity in professional standards
    5. Preparation and induction grounded in very well defined curriculum content and how it is taught
    6. Teaching that is research informed
    7. A collaborative profession, not operating in isolation
    8. Professional learning across a continuum
    9. Well-developed leadership that captured and foster the highly skilled teachers
    10. Systems focused on equity and excellence, as seen in the Melbourne Declaration 

    All this doesn’t happen randomly. It must be through systematic, coordinated reform and innovation. It is important to invest in teaching so that it transforms not just some but all students.


    Ann then handed over to the former and current NSW ministers of education. Rob Stokes spoke first, prefacing his talk with a lawyer-esq disclosure that what he was about to say were his thoughts about education, not yet fully formed.  He then proceeded to provide an intellectual, although brief, consideration of his philosophy of education. He supports an Athenian model over Spartan model, as in developing the whole person rather than educating for the mere purpose of producing people who can contribute to the state. He believes education should be inclusive and be about preparing learners rather than the didactic delivery of information. He concluded by saying he does not have a reductive view of education but an expansive view so, for example, he is not about merely developing ideas to put into existing classroom situations.

    Adrian Piccoli spoke briefly, I suspect to keep the emphasis on Rob Stokes as the current minister. In summary, he said the role of the minister is to facilitate education by providing the right environment, dollars and people to make it function. The minister also needs to be constantly aware that education reform could drift and thus be at risk, although what this risk entailed was not made clear.

    Ann then facilitated a Q&A session. Both Rob and Adrian were obviously comfortable in each other’s company, sharing the stage with ease. They were respectful of each other and the audience. The questions posed were pertinent but they were very considered in their responses, even as to who would be most appropriate to answer first.

    The themes that emerged from this discussion were:

    • Children are at the heart of education.
    • Valuing teachers
    • Systems vs People

     

    Children are at the heart of education. Rob and Adrian are very proud of NSW having needs based funding and even though they can see flaws with the amount of funding dollars out of the Federal Budget this week, they are pleased with the needs based model on which it is based. Relieved, even, that it is now a bipartisan policy. I suspect Adrian Piccoli has had many fights within the coalition about that. On the other hand, there was some regret expressed about the amount of financial contribution to education coming from the federal government.

    Valuing teachers more was another recurring point. Rob made the astute observation that at the local level, those actually involved in schools, particularly parents, mainly have great respect for teachers. That said, Adrian suggested parents don’t know enough about what happens in school and that they need to know more about the importance of growth instead of raw scores. He also pointed out that there is a cultural perception hard to remedy, represented partly by the attitude towards teachers having so many holidays, and that someone with a 99 ATAR wastes their intellect on becoming a teacher. He believes this has stemmed from complacency rising from consistent economic success and that accessing university education has become easier. He offered that the best way to help teachers is to buy them more time to think and to collaborate. Easy to say now he’s no longer making such decisions. But he’s right.

    Systems vs People is how I would summarise the rest of the discussion. There is a constant struggle in education of quality teaching being hampered by requirements of the system, where the system includes standards, curriculum/syllabi, testing regime (eg NAPLAN and HSC), policies and funding. It limits the freedom of principals to focus on learning over administration and operations, it makes it difficult to be equitable for students with disabilities and in low socioeconomic areas, and testing crowds out more genuine learning.

    Generally the discussion was philosophical. Rob returned to the Greek idea and said the purpose of education was to prepare children to make a living and make a life but the social aspect of this being almost impossible to measure. He drew parallels to his previous role as Minister of Planning that a development proposal can measure economic impact but much more difficult to assess social impact, in quantifiable terms. The relational aspect of education is what makes it particularly hard to measure. Adrian suggested that teaching is an art form, not a science. For instance, if you teach two kids exactly the same way, you will still achieve two very different outcomes.

    Rob and Adrian were political in their responses when it came to the amount of testing in our schools. Adrian cited the removal of the School Certificate and better understanding of NAPLAN data reducing the misuse of it as success under his watch. He supported the Year 9 NAPLAN becoming a compulsory hurdle for the HSC due to the importance of numeracy and literacy. Rob added that it was important for students to take school seriously earlier and not wait for Year 11 to step-up their efforts. A member of the audience pointed out that NAPLAN is so separate from the day-to-day syllabi that it is perceived as an extra burden, on both students and teachers. I don’t think many politicians and other people outside schools see the level of stress a testing regime places on students. It also places more value on mark obtainment through memorising over learning and thinking skills in a more general sense.

    Throughout the discussion I was very impressed with the deeply considered responses Adrian and Rob provided. However, Rob as the current minister and seasoned politician already has his three word slogan for education: equity and excellence. Equity, in that every child matters, and excellence by teachers being exemplars. It told me that he will be putting increasing pressure on teachers. Yes, there are some teachers who ride through with minimal effort but I believe the majority are working extremely hard for their students to achieve and thrive as living human beings.

    A tweet from a principal recently stated that senior leadership (but really applies for schools as a whole) is about “keeping young people alive, challenging [their] lifestyle choices and navigating conflicting stories, setting them up for life beyond school but mostly keeping them alive”. She added, “The heart of school is about caring for our young people and bringing out the best in them”. This is what people outside schools need to understand. The system should change to allow more time for teachers to meet the needs of their students and for society to understand what schools are really about, and it isn’t merely an ATAR. Society, the system and schools need to stop treating the HSC and the ATAR as the one and only goal of education. This includes NESA (NSW Education Standards Authority) continually promoting a “Stronger HSC” ad nauseam. It is a marketing slogan, not a description of what education should be about. We need politicians and government representative bodies to be more vocal about the worth of teachers, schools and education in general, and reduce the rhetoric that overly stresses the importance of the HSC. If Rob Stokes truly believes the philosophy of education he presented at this forum, he needs to speak it proudly and loudly, without caveats.


  10. Visible Thinking

    23 February 2017 by shartley

    (not my niece but from https://pixabay.com/en/baby-boy-crawling-child-infant-390541/)

    Over the last week I have been visiting my brother and his wife and their 9 month old baby, Ruby. As I watched Ruby live and learn about the world through experimenting with lots of trials and errors, I thought of the students in my classes expected by the system to learn in a linear and orderly fashion.  It’s just not how it’s done.  

    Ruby started to crawl not long before my visit. While I was there, she couldn’t decide whether it was worth her while to lift from the commando style crawl to the more rigid hands and knees crawl. She was partly deterred from using her knees because as soon as she left her alphabet play-mat she would encounter the hard and slippery wooden floors.  But tonight a video was posted online of her crawling, hands and knees, down the length of the hallway, slippery wooden floor and all. The way she placed her hands so deliberately it looked like she’d studied a textbook, or I really should say, YouTube, or that she had been coached.  It’s like my daughter after 8 years of tennis coaching running to the net with her coach’s voice in her head telling her how to exactly move her feet and swing the racket. On the other hand, my son, with minimal coaching, runs around on a tennis court like a cartoon Tasmanian devil and has a similar success rate.  Yet Ruby wasn’t coached as to how to crawl, by a textbook, video or human.  It is part of her natural development, even if some babies skip the hands and knees stage (like her father), and she will become more fluid with practice. How much do we stifle our students’ natural development?

    Ruby is normally contained to an area defined by two couches and two walls with just a small gap between a couch and a wall.  Sometimes that space is plugged by an ottoman but when it isn’t present off she goes! However, she doesn’t go far because soon she is distracted by a well stocked wine rack. “No”, her mother says. She stops, hesitates, but decides the bottles just look so good she has to touch them. Down swoops Mum to prevent glass shattering, wine loss and a bleeding baby as a result.  I’ve always been an advocate for having a few things in the house which babies and toddlers can touch but shouldn’t, to start early the idea of self regulation. I’m not so sure now.  How much do we harm our students by forcing them to be contained within classrooms, subjects and timetables?

    Our children need freedom to discover and learn, to try and fail and fail again.  Ruby tried to pull out a bottle of wine several times in the 5 days I was there but she was thwarted on every occasion, as is necessary for her safety.  But still she persisted.  When do children lose persistence?  I suspect it is when they discover adults have all the answers.  Or Google.  They can then become passive in their learning.  I remember when I was little asking my Mum what certain words meant or how they were spelt and being told to look it up in the dictionary.  Now I just type unknown words in Google and the answer appears almost instantly.

    While I was visiting my brother’s family I revisited the book, Making Thinking Visible, by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison.  Ron Ritchhart is going to be presenting at a conference I’m attending this Saturday so I thought I’d refamiliarise myself with the language he speaks.  One of my favourite quotes from the book is:

    Thinking doesn’t happen in a lockstep, sequential manner, systematically progressing from one level to the next. It is much messier, complex, dynamic and interconnected than that. (p.8)

    A baby doesn’t suddenly shift from commando crawling to hands and knees crawling to standing to walking along furniture to walking freely.  Babies are usually learning to do bits of these skills at a time, simultaneously to various degrees.  Ruby likes standing with people holding her and by leaning on furniture but sometimes she forgets that she hasn’t gained complete control of this standing business and topples over when she doesn’t maintain a hold. And that’s OK, as long as someone is around to stop her hurting herself in a significant way.  Our role as teachers is to provide a safe environment, conducive for learning.

    Ruby doesn’t need to be given a mark for her crawling ability. The nurse, GP and/or paediatrician just want to know she is doing it within the parameters of the normal age. My son had trouble relative to his peers with his fine motor skills before he started school so he attended occupation therapy (OT) to be sufficiently ready for school, meaning preparing him to hold a pencil.  The best advice the OT had was to give him Lego.  For him, having mild autism, the control freak aspect of it, the linear progression of building Lego by numerated steps was bliss. He’s now 17 years old and it is still one of his favourite activities. It also helped immensely with his fine motor skills. The beauty of play, huh!

    Learning though has become a very serious business in our institutionalised system, and is a political fireball thrown around parliament and in the media. This week the NSWESA released new syllabuses (or is it syllabi?) for English, Mathematics, History and Science subjects with the hashtag #strongerHSC repeatedly employed by their main account on Twitter and their human representatives. I constantly have the impression from our dear NSW education authority that it wants the HSC to be known as the toughest, most stringent and demanding course across the country. Too bad about the stress and anxiety that high-stakes testing causes.  Too bad that an emphasis on exams and phrases like “mastering knowledge and skills” reduces the desire to learn and the enjoyment thereof.

    Additionally, as the book Making Thinking Visible claims, mere knowledge does not produce understanding. Deep understanding requires a range of thinking skills that isn’t clear from our content heavy syllabuses/syllabi. The book lists the thinking required for understanding as (p.11 and p.13):

    • Observing closely and describing what’s there
    • Building explanations and interpretations
    • Reasoning with evidence
    • Making connections
    • Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
    • Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
    • Wondering and asking questions
    • Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

    Of course we don’t only think to understand phenomenon, we think to solve problems, make decisions and form judgments (p.14):

    • Identifying patterns and making generalisations
    • Generating possibilities and alternatives
    • Evaluating evidence, arguments and actions
    • Formulating plans and monitoring actions
    • Identifying claims, assumptions and bias
    • Clarifying priorities, conditions and what is known

    This is what I want my students to be doing.  The trick, as the book’s title suggests, is to make thinking visible.  We need to ask what is going on in our students’ heads (p.16) and provide them with the strategies that instigates the thinking and reveals it. As teachers, we then need to listen (p.36) and document (p.37) their thinking. Not merely hand out marks for attainment of knowledge. It is difficult to understand the thinking process of babies without language but oh boy, crying, frowning, smiling and laughter are effective forms of communication.  My son has difficulties expressing what’s going on in his head but his body language can be quite clear. We just need to pay attention.

    I hope to post before Saturday some of the thinking routines promoted in the book and how I’ve used them in class and how I intend to use them in the future.

    One final note, however. As I‘ve typed this up I realised there is one key component missing from these ideas of thinking, and that is creativity. Last night I watched the first two episodes of My Year 12 Life (ABCTV) and felt for the girl lamenting about the emphasis on the subjects that scale, like those in the new syllabus release this week, instead of her favourites, which are deemed optional extras, like her Drama and Textiles. She was considering continuing with her study of Modern History just because it scales better than her other subjects. There’s something wrong with the system that makes students think like this.  She mentioned she is also studying Society and Culture so I’m looking forward to following her journey there. I’ve loved teaching Society and Culture due to the range of topics that stimulate thinking and encourage looking at alternative perspectives.


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