Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Why do we STILL have reports?

Why do we STILL have reports?

Why is it that, in this day and age of instant communication, most schools and parents still expect the kind of report card suited to another era?
Why do reports traditionally go out twice a year, when there are endless ways teachers and learners can, and do, communicate their learning throughout the year?
Why do teachers spend great chunks of time reporting in a summative way on a final report, when formative assessment, goals and ‘feed forward’ during the year are so much more valuable?
Why don’t teachers, parents and learners share the learning via online portfolios, easily accessible throughout the year, demonstrating process, progress and final product, with facility for reflection by students, feedback by parents and ‘feedforward’ by teachers?
Why don’t learners communicate their learning more with parents and the wider world through the many possible channels available online?
Why do governments and administrators continue to dictate not just the existence of report cards, but often the format and parameters they should fit?
What if the hours teachers spend writing and proofreading reports were instead allocated to professional learning and collaborative planning that enhanced future learning?
WHY has so little changed in the four years since I last wrote those questions?

Sunday, 3 June 2018

3 Questions To Challenge Practices That No Longer Work in Education George Curous

The Principal of Change

Stories of learning and leading

In the 06/03/2018 edition:

3 Questions To Challenge Practices That No Longer Work in Education

By George on Jun 03, 2018 07:36 am
I read this snippet from the article, “Why Children Aren’t Behaving, And What You Can Do About It,”(a great read) in an interview with author Katherine Reynolds Lewis, regarding her new parenting book, The Good News About Bad Behavior:
Whether you’re trying to get your child to dress, do homework or practice piano, it’s tempting to use rewards that we know our kids love, especially sweets and screen time. You argue in the book: Be careful. Why?
Yes. The research on rewards is pretty powerful, and it suggests that the more we reward behavior, the less desirable that behavior becomes to children and adults alike. If the child is coming up with, “Oh, I’d really like to do this,” and it stems from his intrinsic interests and he’s more in charge of it, then it becomes less of a bribe and more of a way that he’s structuring his own morning.
The adult doling out rewards is really counterproductive in the long term — even though they may seem to work in the short term. The way parents or teachers discover this is that they stop working. At some point, the kid says, “I don’t really care about your reward. I’m going to do what I want.” And then we have no tools. Instead, we use strategies that are built on mutual respect and a mutual desire to get through the day smoothly.
I have written about the impact of awards before and although we know long term that awards often do more harm than good for critical thinking skills and intrinsic motivation, why do schools still do them? My gut tells me this is more about tradition than what is good for our learners.  It is hard to move away from what always was, to move to what could be, because we are often too scared to challenge and ask questions.  “Tradition” from the past doesn’t ensure success from the future.
This is not to say that some “traditions” haven’t been challenged and rethought for the betterment of our students. As a kid, I hated reading because I was continuously forced to read books that were no interest to me. Now, you are seeing educators focusing on helping students find books that they love, even if they are harder than their “level,” and kids are becoming more interested in reading because they get to read texts that interest them, and in many ways, represent who they are.  Of course, we have a long way to, but I have seen a significant shift in this practice alone because it is more about what is best for learners than this is what we have always done.
If we want to challenge our schools to move forward, we have to start questioning some of the things that we have always done and thought about and focus on what we can create.
Here is a simple exercise that can make an impact to move forward.  Ask your staff to identify something that we need to rethink our schools.  Have them answer these three questions:
  1. Why did we do that practice in the past? 
  2. Is it beneficial to our current students in the long-term?
  3. What could we do instead that would be better for our students?
There are two major reasons why these questions are crucial.
The first, which is obvious, is to ensure that we are doing what is best for students.  The second reason is that we do not shift to something new in our school without really thinking about whether it works or not.  There are some practices from the past that are still relevant in schools, and when you change something solely for the sake of changing it, you will cause more issues than solve.
If you are interested in implementing this process with your schools (or a modified version), please involve parents and students in the process.  NEVER change something that has been a tradition for years in your school without involving your community.  They need to understand and be able to contribute to the solutions, not just sit on the sidelines.
As I stated earlier, not all past practices are wrong, as well, not all new methods are suitable.  That being said, it is crucial to ask, “Why do we still do this?” and not just get comfortable with what has been done in the past while we know there are better ways.  Tradition has its place but it should never limit the opportunities for the future of our learners.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Push and Pull of Leadership - George Couros

The Principal of Change

Stories of learning and leading

In the 05/27/2018 edition:

The Push and Pull of Leadership

By George on May 27, 2018 07:24 am
Ugh…I love this quote so much from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“:
Look at the weaknesses of others with compassion, not accusation. It’s not what they’re not doing or should be doing that’s the issue. The issue is your own chosen response to the situation and what you should be doing. If you start to think the problem is “out there,” stop yourself. That thought is the problem.
This reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a principal who was complaining about their teachers not coming along. As he complained, I asked, “If you are the leader and they are not moving forward, could the issue be with you and not with them?”
The comment was not to lay blame but to remind the principal that leadership was about leading.  How good of a leader can one be if no one is ready to follow?
Instead of laying blame on others on why they won’t move forward, ask questions, get to know where they are coming from, and go to them.  Leadership is both push and pull.  It is not about getting someone to jump from A to Z, but finding out where the point A is, what that looks like, and sometimes walking beside them to help them build confidence and competence along the way to get to that point B.  After that, point C doesn’t seem so bad.
Of course, this is not to say the individual doesn’t have a responsibility for their growth either.  But understand, you cannot change anyone. You can only create the conditions where change is more likely to happen.
Just remember that the next time you get frustrated with someone seemingly not moving forward, don’t try to figure out what is wrong with them or their attitude. Figure out what you can do to support them on their journey.  Complaining about what is wrong will never make it right.
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Saturday, 19 May 2018

An Integral Curriculum at Amesbury School

An Integral Curriculum at Amesbury School

Ensuring that learning is real life and takes place in an authentic learning context is one of the commonly touted characteristics of 21st century learning.  The main thinking behind this is that students will learn best when there is a real purpose for their learning. I am sure this is true. However, I am coming to understand that a much more important reason is that the complex times our children are growing into will require a much greater ability to make decisions which are very complex in nature. These decisions will require synthesis of huge amounts of wide-ranging, diverse and contradictory information and ideas, complex thought processes, strong moral/social justice awareness ( a strong vision of how the world should be) and an acute political awareness. As a staff, we have come to know this as decisional capital as per Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves (Developing Professional Capital, 2013); and, I think, the only way to gain this capacity is to engage with real life problems. Decisional capital cannot be taught as a bunch of skills in isolation, though skills are a necessary component. Decisional capital is developed as people engage with the messiness of real life situations and problems and use reflective and other practices to increase their understanding of the reality of how the world works and make decisions which display this increasing “practical wisdom.”
At Amesbury School we believe it is important that this kind of learning is not only for the adults in the school; but that students have opportunities to begin to develop decisional capital. We also do believe (as above) that students learn best when they can see a real purpose for their learning, and “real life contexts” provide this.  Hence, at Amesbury we strive to deliver an “integral” curriculum. This means that learning begins with real world experiences/interactions or problems or contexts. As we inquire into the experience/interaction, we realise that we need skills to understand the “thing” better and so we step aside from the real world experience and learn the skills that will help us with our inquiry. We then take the skills back into the inquiry and now we are better equipped to carry on our investigation into how the world works.
This is the ideal process, but the reality is that learning, particularly in the early years at school cannot always (or even often) be based on real life contexts. There is considerable skill-based learning that needs to happen so that students can begin to engage more deeply in the inquiry process. So, though it is our belief that skill-based learning such as reading, writing and maths is best when it “falls out” of an inquiry, we realise that for our junior students particularly, learning programmes need to be more skills-based until the students develop a sufficient level of skill to access learning at a deeper level within an inquiry. This changeover of emphasis happens at different ages for different children. We believe, in general, that it happens about the time a student reaches Level 20 in reading. An important aspect of the personalisation of learning at Amesbury School is recognising where students are at and ensuring that each child’s programme is appropriate to his/her developmental level in relation to this.
This “integral curriculum” approach is different from more traditional schools which tend to present decontextualised learning for much of the day and do this in very clearly defined bands of time.  At Amesbury, you are likely to see this much more in Koru Hub – although our goal is to integrate the skill-based learning of reading, writing and maths into inquiry as much as is practicable. But in Harakeke Hub, although, of course, reading, writing and maths are taught regularly; it, hopefully, will not happen in the kinds of clearly defined bands you might see in other schools. We would expect this learning, at this level, to be taught increasingly through an inquiry approach. Although, it might look a little different for individual students with differing needs.
The current inquiry called The Dragons’ Den” is a good example of this. A real-life, authentic opportunity to take part in the Churton Park Festival provided the context for the inquiry. Teachers looked at the matrices to see what achievement indicators in reading, writing and maths could/would authentically be covered during this inquiry and, in their planning, they set goals for each student. As students moved through the inquiry, the authentic activities or tasks they did for the inquiry, such as writing emails asking people for help and support or seeking information, provided evidence towards the achievement of the indicators. As required, and in a timely manner, the teachers provided skills-based workshops for each student who needed it, to assist students to gain the skills to successfully participate in the inquiry (such as giving change in maths or working out profit margins).
The teacher planning required for an integral approach to teaching and learning is complex. To begin with, we have the real life context of the inquiry which teachers need to explore and plan for.  What are the essential understandings of the world or the powerful ideas we want students to explore as part of this inquiry? Then we have the skills-based component. What reading, writing and maths skills will authentically “fall” out of the inquiry?  Teachers will have to prepare a range of skill-based workshops to cover these. However, there is a further layer – we now need to personalise this, because not all children will need the same workshops or the same level of workshop. Some students will already have the indicator highlighted on their matrix and they will need a different set of workshops or to cover a similar indicator at a higher level. Within the delivery of workshops, students will take more or less time to pick up the learning. This will need to be catered for in the planning.
Our commitment is that each child will receive the education that he/she needs, not the one that is better for another child in the group. Our commitment is also that we will not waste students’ time by having them sit through a workshop or session that is either too hard or too easy.  We want the learning of all students to be exactly as it needs to be.  Of course, this is aspirational…..we are not there yet.  However, we are getting closer to having the systems, structures and processes which will enable this aspiration to become a reality.
And then sometimes we are just not able to provide an authentic context for coverage of particular achievement indicators. Sometimes, in order to ensure coverage of the Amesbury Standards, we do just have to provide decontextualized skill-based learning. It is not how we prefer to do it, but sometimes it is the only way.
I know that as parents you want everything for your child. What makes this approach safe in terms of ensuring that the skill-based learning of reading, writing and maths is continuing appropriately within the “integral” framework, is our focus on the matrices. The matrices ensure a constant focus on where your child is at and where he/she needs to get to next.
I want to mention that an “integral” approach to learning introduces much more complexity to teachers’ work, but, we believe, it is the only way to go. The students’ engagement during The Dragons’ Den inquiry is testament to that fact. Many of you have commented to me on your child’s enjoyment. But let me be clear….it is fun, but it is not only fun. There is appropriate and personalised learning of the basics and some deeper understandings of the world all wrapped up into an engaging inquiry. As a result, our children will not only be able to do reading, writing and maths, but they will also learn to engage with the world in meaningful and complex ways.



Modern classrooms won’t fix education

Was it really the furniture that created NZ’s long tail of educational under-achievement in the first place? Dr Mohamed Alansari casts a critical eye over 'modern' classrooms 
As new waves of practitioners, researchers, and policy-makers assume command, school corridor chats often turn into betting rounds. Bets are often raised on which policy is going to be introduced next, which budget is going to get the chop next, and how teachers are going to be ‘summoned’ and ‘told’ how to teach better, where to teach, and what to teach more/less of.
Therefore, it is not surprising when new initiatives and policies are viewed as fads by those impacted directly.
One recent fad was the $517 million spent over the last five years to make classrooms ‘flexible’, ‘stylish’, ‘innovative’, and hence modern. Common definitions of such environments include:
Modern learning environment (MLE): a classroom that is different to the traditional style of rows of desks facing a teacher.
Innovative learning environment (ILE): a collaborative, flexible classroom that can evolve to meet the needs of a rapidly-changing society. It covers teaching style and technology, as well as lighting and colour.
Flexible learning environment (FLE): physical classroom design, encompassing light and colour, furniture, and how pupils and teachers are able to move between spaces.
But, teachers in a traditional classroom setting can still use collaborative and flexible processes, utilise the physical space to maximise learning time, and employ technology to enrich the learning experience of students. And, we have great case studies of schools who have always excelled irrespective of whether students were placed in small or large environments, using technology or not. So, why the need for a makeover? Was it really the furniture that created New Zealand’s long tail of educational under-achievement in the first place? Or are we just equating ‘modern’ with new and effective, and ‘traditional’ with old and ineffective, in the hope that the new will overcome the old?
Indeed, classroom makeovers seem to be undertaken with the view that IKEA-inspired spaces are likely to address (if not reverse) 30 years’ worth of current research that describes the educational inequities and challenges that continue to exist within our education system. While I do not disregard the potential benefits of enhancing learning environments, I do worry that this change is largely driven by financial constraints, and seldom accompanied by evidence-based practice.
There has been extensive media coverage of the mixed reaction to the modern classroom trend, and what is common among these articles is intriguing yet worrying. They show a lack of consensus on the pedagogical rationale, inconsistent (if not inaccurate) reporting of the effectiveness of such innovations on student learning gains, and the concerning view that some children would rather stay home than attend an overcrowded environment as judged by their parents.
Unless educational leaders recognise that significant changes in practice require time, ongoing support, and effective use of evidence and data for future improvements, modern learning environments may well be a multi-million dollar missed opportunity.
Because the research on modern versus traditional learning environments is yet to grow, I am only able to offer insights and questions for those interested in debates on learning environments for maximising student gains (note: the emphasis is on the learning environment, not its modernity):
Moving to a modern learning space does not necessarily mean students’ disciplinary or behavioural issues will vanish, nor does it mean that students’ academic achievement will peak. It also does not necessarily mean that workload is halved when two teachers are put into a larger space. So, what do modern learning environments really solve?
Teachers need to know what problems modern learning environments are going to solve, since they also know that other factors such as effective feedback, formative assessment practices, goal setting, micro teaching, enhanced classroom relationships, and high teacher expectations can explain twice as much the variance in student outcomes when compared with modernising learning environments.
I am often puzzled by authors who discuss modern learning environments and completely omit the seminal body of literature on learning environments, and instead use competing theories that support their arguments. Practitioners need to start looking for learning environments theories, and not just learning theories that help describe how learning can be facilitated in modern landscapes.
What we do know from previous research is that supportive learning environments can be characterised by strong classroom relationships, opportunities for personal growth, and classroom management practices that reduce disruptive time to increase learning time. So, as teachers transform their learning spaces, they will need to work out how to still retain the unique contribution of all these features. And the fact is, not all teachers can teach in modern learning spaces as of yet.
What is really required is evidence that modernising learning environments is the most effective solution to address the roots (not just the consequences) of existing educational problems/challenges. We need evidence that student academic gains in modern learning spaces are significantly larger than those in traditional spaces; and that these environments are beneficial to all students irrespective of their learning needs, individual differences, and demographics.
Now, by saying evidence I do not mean citing studies concluding that modern learning environments are ‘effective’ and ‘have a strong impact on student outcomes’ based on four interviews with teachers highly rated by their community. Nor do I mean a one-off survey of 100 native-speaking students who are already achieving at or above their expected levels of academic progress. A survey conducted on the other side of the world and published in a low-quality journal would not suffice either. Our students deserve better than that.
And then finally, the question must be asked about learning time for teachers to introduce, sustain, and monitor these modern learning environments. New initiatives often require strong buy-in and commitment from all those involved, including time for learning or upskilling. For some teachers, this can mean getting to work with other teachers they enjoy working with and admire; for others, in-class teacher cooperation is a new learning experience that requires trust, rigour, and capacity-building.
And so, unless educational leaders recognise that significant changes in practice require time, ongoing support, and effective use of evidence and data for future improvements, modern learning environments may well be a multi-million dollar missed opportunity.
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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

What do inquiry teachers believe? What ED Said

New post on What Ed Said

What do inquiry teachers believe?

by whatedsaid
1. What is your ‘image of the child’? 
How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them to learn?
2. What do you believe about learning? 
Knowing what and how to teach is not enough. Have you, individually and as a school, thought deeply about how you believe learning takes place? Have you carefully examined the extent to which your practice aligns with your beliefs?
3. Who do you believe should hold the power? 
Is your token nod to agency allowing the learners a choice when you decide it’s the time? How much of what your students say and do has to be channeled through the teacher? Do you make most of the decisions? Or can the learners really lead the learning? Is initiative valued over compliance?
4. Do you see every learner as an individual? 
Are you tempted to refer to the class as ‘they‘ or do you always consider each individual’s personal story? Are you aware of what influences each student's  learning? Is this evident in your language, your expectations, the routines in your room and in the relationships you build?
5. Do your learners believe in themselves? 
Do you group your learners on perceived ability or do they have opportunities to learn with and from others with varying strengths, challenges and interests? Is a growth mindset fostered? Are learners motivated by learning itself, rather than extrinsic rewards that encourage winners and losers in the game of school?
6. Who do you think should do the heavy lifting?  
Do you explain everything in detail, sometimes several times in different ways? Or do the learners have a go at experimenting and tackling problems first and you step in at point of need? Are you able to release control so that the heavy lifting is done by the learners?
7. Who owns the curriculum? 
Do you have secret teacher business? Do you always decide what to cover and how to teach it? Or do you believe that students can be empowered to explore curriculum requirements via their own inquiries, in their own ways?
8. How important is measurement of achievement?
Do you teach to the test? Do you think everything has to be formally assessed and what can’t be measured is less valuable? Or is the process of learning perceived as more significant than the outcome? Is process valued over product?
9. What is the language of your classroom? 
Do you talk about work and tasks or does everyone speak the language of learning? Is how we learn as much a part of the conversation as what we learn? Are students aware of who they are as learners? Are learning dispositions noticed and named? Do you and your students view reflection and metacognition as integral parts of learning?
10. Is there a safe space for risk-taking and failure? 
Does the learning culture encourage students to take risks and make mistakes? Do learners seek and grapple with challenging problems and unanswerable questions? Do you (and they) believe that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow?
If you've thought about your 'why', the 'how' is much easier to achieve. Are you asking the right question?
* Influenced by the Modern Learners podcast The Answer to How is Yes. Now reading the book by Peter Block.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Value of a Cold Shower

The Value of a Cold Shower

It’s conference time, and you’re off to the opening keynote. What are you expecting?
Do you want to be entertained, informed, inspired or provoked, or maybe all of the above? Are you looking for your current thinking to be affirmed, challenged, or dismissed?
So, which of those emotions will impact on you the most? Which of them is most likely to have an impact on what you do when you go back to your school or district, and most importantly, which is likely to cause you to not only reflect on what you are currently doing but potentially enable you to make significant change?
For me, I’ve always found speakers usually fall into one of two camps: “warm baths” or “cold showers.” We love the warm baths because they’re soothing and they just make us feel good (and don’t we deserve that?), whereas the cold shower really wakes you up, and shakes you into reality… into action.
How many cold showers have you taken lately?
The truth is for any workshop or conference you’re never quite sure what you’re in for, but when it turns out to be a “feel-good” speaker, you walk away happy with the world. It’s nice isn’t it?
You’re not sure the speaker had any idea about the reality you face every day in your school, but he or she left you feeling good about yourself and your world. And then later on when someone who couldn’t make the opening stops you in a break and asks what the opening speaker was like, you find it hard to recall anything worthwhile except their funny stories, their little bit of personal drama..and well, hmm you’re not sure what the point of it all was.
But the real question is, did their presentation have any substance at all? Was there anything useful that you could take away, something Seymour Papert used to say was for “Monday and Someday,” or was it really just an escape from the reality of your day to day routine?
You see, I think most of the events we attend simply add to the malaise that has infected our profession, and while we might articulate a case for being provoked and seeking new ideas, feedback from conference organizer surveys will tell us that in reality, most people seek entertainment and affirmation. Sad really.
Maybe it’s because we don’t get enough of either of those in our daily work, particularly for those in leadership positions, and for the most part, we are happy to seek out professional learning events that largely endorse our current thinking and practice?
Now I know all of this might sound a little harsh, but I can promise you in the light of a broad range of anonymous audience feedback from several large educational conferences that I have been involved in running, not too many educators record a delight at being provoked or challenged around their existing thinking or practice.
It is of real concern that so few leaders appear to be seeking new ideas that are outside their current “echo chamber” whether that happens to be on social media or not.
So when you roll up to a major national conference of several thousand leaders and the opening keynote grabs your emotions with a bit of comedy and stories of personal recovery that would do well on any reality show, you’ve got to ask why you went in the first place.
Maybe it’s my age, but I’m looking for conversations that really matter, that make me think, that move me to take action. I for one, am sick of the change pretenders, who fantasize about transformation; those speakers whose keynotes and workshops promise so much and deliver so little…but keep you entertained nonetheless. They fake concern, they fabricate bogus language, and worst of all they delude their audience into believing in quick, ‘drive-by’ solutions.
Sorry, but I just don’t have time for that anymore. To put it another way, as Will said in his post earlier this week, we think “live-by professional learning” is a much more effective alternative to “drive-by.”
So, here’s what you might like to reflect on over the Christmas break…in between families, friends and hopefully plenty of ‘your time’.
What will be the focus of your learning in 2018?
I know you, like me, have all sorts of priorities in your daily routine, along with the distractions of the accidental and incidental glimpses of social and mainstream media that continually catch your eye.
So here’s a  thought. Focus on having a focus, because a lack of it probably explains the lack of longevity for so many past change endeavors.
Ask yourself, what should be the professional learning priority of a learning professional?
As we move the high bar change agenda forward, it just seems to me that we desperately need focus, rather than fracture or distraction,  so that we can embed the fundamentals that will sustain the earlier work to date. It’s time to let go of those “drive-by” events and start “living-by” professional learning that is focused on the long game.
That means ignoring those distractions, the new shiny objects or buildings and get a hardened collective focus on learning, even more about how learning happens in the modern world. Focusing on the human side of school change that can make that a reality for your students through a deeper collective understanding of what you, your colleagues and your broader community mean by learning and in turn focus on the implications those beliefs have for practice.
Sounds easy? It’s not. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Perhaps some of the most important work you may ever do, and together with the growing global community of leaders focused on changing school, undoubtedly the most rewarding.
And unfortunately, this focus will mean the end of those entertaining, drama-filled, laugh a minute, feel-good keynotes because after all who needs someone to tell them they should feel good when you know that the work you are doing is the best you could possibly do, for you and most importantly, your students.
All the very best for the season. For me, 2018 can’t come soon enough!