Setting Goals

These are difficult times we are living in. I buy a drink for my friend, I, turn around, and my bag has gone. By the time I come to cancel my credit card $3000 has been removed from the account. The thieves were mostly shopping at Warehouse- I hope they got something for the kids.

Petty crime is on the rise. It’s not surprising. Job losses are increasing daily. Mortgagee sales are reaching record proportions. There’s a feeling of desperation in the air.

No more so than for young people. My heart goes out to the school leavers of the year 2008, particularly those who have not quite made it to Level 3.  There are no jobs. There are few places on courses.  Disillusioned and disengaged from the education system, demotivated by their fruitless search for work, they are playing computer games till 3am, getting up at mid day, wondering what the past 13 years was all about.

These youngsters are not life long learners.  They are products of a corrosive system of learning that has failed them.  They are representative of the average student who sits in class and dutifully copies down the writing on the board, who finds it hard to remember all the “stuff” to be regurgitated in the next exam, whose main solace is in friendship networks and drinking in the weekends. These young people have few resources of self-management, and little motivation other than hanging out with mates and maybe finding somewhere to buy cheap beer.

As teachers, we cannot take all the blame. These are the children of the biggest generation in history -the baby boomers who have given their sons and daughters unconditional love no matter what they do, who have brought their children up in security and safety, and who have provided for their children’s every material want, from street sharks to neopets to nintendos.

Yet there it is. A generation of feckless children who are now entering a world that is gradually grinding to a halt. And this at a time when the world is desperate for creative minds.

Which is why we must, must, have a new way of learning. Why we must have a new way of teaching. Why we must bring in a new curriculum and start again.

And so I am thinking about about setting goals.  My goals for 2009.

We are almost at the end of our first decade of the 21st century. The world is a vastly different place than it was in the Year 2000 in terms of international security, regional power shifts, technological change, climate change and economic strength. The excitement and hope that ushered in the millennium has all but gone in a world now drowning in deficits .

And how has education changed to recognise this new world vew?  My answer would be – very little. Bored, disaffected students still sit in rows, through hour periods of lectures, writing up textbook questions and copying notes off the board. Yes we have NCEA, but the potential of NCEA to create a more dynamic, interactive model of teaching and learning has not been realised.

30,000 children still truant every day. 30,000!

It is nice to think that Minister of Education Anne Tolley is going to send them all back to the classroom but surely as teachers we must ask, what is going wrong. What is happening in our classes to drive so many young people away – these same young people who entered secondary school at Year 9 in their shiny new uniform, excited, a little scared, with a hunger for learning.

Which is why I only have one goal this year, and that is to support the introduction of the new curriculum and to ensure that, at least for those teachers I work with  this once in a generation opportunity to change the system is not overlooked.  Because it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that a school’s old curriculum cannot be tweaked in order to bring about systemic change- it must be thrown out.  And we do need systemic change.

We need to think about the hours of teaching, the content of what we teach, the manner in which we engage our young people, the place of art and music in all subjects, the place of Web 2.0 in all subjects, the dominant teaching methodology of our school, the need for reflection, cross curricular, any curricular, the place of core subjects, teacher passion and deep learning.

It would be a tragedy to have finally found a curriculum that shows real understanding of the essence of our profession– only for it to end up being misunderstood.

It is too late for the current generation of school leavers and we may well pay the price socially for our failure to engage so many in their learning- especially at such a time of economic stress.  But it is not too late for future generations if we are willing to take a risk and engage with the messiness, the muddiness,  of curriculum change. We have a window of opportunity – a unique and timely opportunity to shape a new way of learning in a holistic and systemic manner.

So what will your goals be for 2009?  You  are but one person in your school and you cannot change the world.  But perhaps in some small way you can turn ideas around and begin a process of liberation of even one teacher, by supporting them to be free to be experimental.

Think on – and if you happen to see a gold Visa card lying around amongst Warehouse wrappers, leave me a message.


Word of the Year?

It’s a magnificent day in Auckland. And tomorrow I go camping.  But will I be hypermiling?  Sorry?
Hypermiling? You haven’t heard of our word of the year either?  OUP could you say that again?  ? Never heard of it! Never seen it!

Is this because I live in the Antipodes where we live according to metric measurement?

OUP, couldn’t you have thought of something a little more, um, global?  Like “credit crunch” (YES I KNOW that’s a phrase) “market meltdown” “subprime” “de-leveraging” or even the gorgeous “microdermalabrasion”?? Or , and how the mind flows here, “Obamamania”??

Or, thinking along educational lines, what would be wrong with “drilling down”, “unpacking”, “co-construction”, “dissonance” or (wait for it…) “metadissonance”.?
What would be your word of the year?

view from my apartment 01 Jan 09

View from my apartment this fine new year’s day!

Practical Applications around the new New Zealand Curriculum

This is how I envisage the new curriculum being embodied into schools.  Simply put, it is the framework of the NZC writ small.  It involves careful planning, deep thinking and collaboration and conversation with all stakeholders. It increases in its complexity, and “messiness”, the nearer one gets to actually relating the planning to classroom practice.  But this is OK- great learning and quality teaching is often messy, organic and iterative.  You will need a sheet (or several) of A3 paper, coloured pens, post it stickers and, more than likely, your colleagues.

1.    Whether planning a whole school curriculum, a departmental scheme of work,  a unit of work or a lesson you must start with a VISION.  What do you want from your learners in relation to this curriculum OR this scheme OR this unit OR this lesson.
2.    Now consider the PRINCIPLES of the scheme of work, the unit of work, or the lesson.  The NZC defines principles as those “beliefs about what is important and desirable” e.g. biculturalism, learning to learn.  Go here to view the principles of the NZC then personalize them for your planning.
3.    Now think about the VALUES– those principles that you want to ACTIVELY model and explore in the classroom itself.  The NZC defines VALUES as “deeply held beliefs about what is important or desirable. They are expressed through the ways in which people think and act.”  Go here to look at a list which is by no means exhaustive.
4.    Now explore the KEY COMPETENCIES, or, if you like, HABITS OF MIND, which can be found here. Every curriculum, scheme, unit (but not necessarily lesson) should incorporate all competencies not as add-ons but as a natural outcome of quality teaching.  But consider HOW you intend to develop these competencies in the work that you are planning.  How will you (or will you?) explore these competencies with the students. Will you make the competencies EXPLICIT or IMPLICIT?
5.    At this point, look at the PEDAGOGIES here.  The pedagogies will promote the key competencies. Thus if you are, in this part of the scheme, unit or lesson, “enhancing the relevance of new learning” you are at the same time drawing on the competency of thinking.  If you are “creating a supportive learning environment” through your engagement with the students in all their cultural and linguistic diversity then you are also fostering the competency of relating to others and managing self.
6.    Now comes the fun part.  This is where you consider the content that will be the vehicle to promote the values and principles and competencies. But what should be the principles behind the choice of content?  Well…it is my opinion that the content that you select for your scheme (or unit or lesson) should NOT be selected simply because it has important information but because it promotes THINKING.  I have been reading Thomas Armstrong’s book “The Best Schools: How human development should inform Educational Practice”.  You can read a review of this book here.

What Armstrong says makes perfect sense to me.  He writes that a curriculum should be planned around the developmental states and changes of the young people before us.  Extrapolating, I see a curriculum (drilling down to a unit of work, or a lesson) like this:

Years 9-10
We need a Values based curriculum that draws heavily on creativity. These are the years of early adolescence, where students can be impulsive, energetic, aggressive and depressive. It is a time where the pre-frontal cortex is still developing- the area of the brain that controls impulsiveness and promotes careful reasoning (and, I think, can be trained) where students are developmentally ready to explore such values as honesty, tolerance, fairness.  It is a time of great creativity for young people and through such creativity, as Armstrong states, a student can find his or her personal voice.  Indeed, allowing students to develop their “authentic voice” may be the most important thing that teachers can do for junior students in high school.  Project based learning is a great way for students to explore their voice.

Years 11-13
We need a curriculum based around the needs of these young adults who are on the threshold of independence.  Once they have left school, these young people will be entering careers, developing close relationships, perhaps finding long term partners and having children. As well as this, I would like to add, they will be confronted  by the BIG questions of society and world living- globalisation, environmental issues, citizenship, bio-medical technology. Students in the 16-19 age group are developmentally very ready to explore these issues as well the issues in deeper contexts of morality, ethics and religion.  Armstrong writes:

“All too often, many of the features of traditional schools fail to engage students in genuine dialogue that challenges them to create their own questions, ideas and solutions to life’s problems. As a result too many students fail to engage in their learning, leave with negative attitudes, to add to a growing range of personal and societal disorders that, all too often, we blame on the students themselves.”

It is an exciting time to be involved in education. The new curriculum offers challenges for us all and a new way of thinking about learning. We must take up the challenge.  There is no justification in just “carrying on” with our current curriculum, with a few values and competencies thrown in. All the research points to the need for a major shift in the nature of education, and particularly for changes in our secondary schools. We MUST engage our students, we MUST nurture those habits of mind that will produce thinking, empathetic, global citizens for the 21st century. It is a confusing, ambiguous and complex task before us. Society will not thank us if we fail.

And this from Chris Lehmann

We must take risks in education. We must challenge the tried-and-true way of educating students, but we must do it thoughtfully and carefully and transparently, because we don’t have the luxury of just “going out of business.” Every school that makes those choices poorly affects the lives of the students who honoured that school with their choice to go there. This is — as much as any other reason — why we must always, always, always humble ourselves before the enormity of the task in front of us.

Teacher Observation

Part of a workshop that I facilitated yesterday raised the vexed question of how best to observe a teacher. Do we pre-warn the teacher (and therefore, perhaps, gain a false impression of the lesson or raise the anxiety levels of the teacher being observed?) or do we simply pop in at random? Do we watch just part of a lesson (the “four minute walk through” concept) or a whole lesson? Are lesson “snapshots” valid or useful? And, if we are observing, where do we sit? – at the back and observe or do we sit with the class and help out? And what should an observation sheet look like?- a blank piece of paper with notes Or a particular, agreed template?

If this is just a general observation what should we look for?- “is there learning happening here” “are the sudents engaged?”

Afterwards, how do we broach the follow up conversation? Who speaks first? Do we begin with the “So, Mary, how do you feel about that lesson?” and let Mary verbally reflect, or is this opener perceived as a loaded question? Should we reflect on the positives first? How should we couch our suggestions for further development?

It was with these issues in mind that I annotated a video from Teachers TV , using Imovie, and showed it to a group of new SCTs, all of whom will be involved in some form of teacher observation this year. The video promoted some great discussion and a sensible, nay humane, view that all of the above questions will depend on the personality, power dynamic and world view of the observee and observer- that there is no one perfect model for observation. The key is to know your teacher/colleague first and engender trust. Then build the model of observation together.

It’s all about perception

An interesting item on National Radio today –

1. Wine experts were given a white wine that had red food colouring in it. Guess what? They sniffed it, swirled it, sipped it and pronounced it an excellent red.

2. Students were sold an energy drink at quite a high price. The drink comprised sugar and caffeine. They were then asked to complete a mathematical/language test. Other students were sold the same drink for half the price. They also sat the test. Consistently, the students who drank the same but higher priced drink outperformed the students who drank the same but cheaper drink. This experiment was repeated over and over again and every time the reults were the same. The higher priced drink was perceived as being a superior product and this, in turn, lead to higher performance.

So, it is all about how we perceive the world around us and our performance is predicated on our perceptions of what will make us succeed. Our cerebral cortex is not built for objectivitiy and we must work hard to overcome our subjective response which is so often flawed.

Which brings me to the matter of Maori educational success. If the student is perceived as being in a failing group, and, equally importantly, if the student perceives himself to be in a failing group, then it is likely that this student will fail, or at the very least, underperform.

What is the answer? it seems to me that, given the subjective nature of humans, we must, as Rata states, stop identifying a group by ethnicity, because if this group is perceived negatively, and perceives itself negatively in relation to certain outcomes (like educational success) this perception will lead to a reality of negative outcomes, regardless of actual ability. It is a huge disservice to claim that “Maori are failing educationally” because it is not all Maori and indeed it is more likely that belonging to a particular socio-economic group is a greater predictor of educational attainment (or not). How many young Maori have failed our educational system simply because they have been pigeon-holed, and pigeon hole themselves, by ethnicity and have become the casualties of our too human subjectivity which, despite everyone’s best efforts, has predicted failure before the student has even entered the classroom? Is it time to revisit our means of classifying students and throw out the ethnicity labels?

Rethinking the Education Model

Have we been wrong all along? The latest education statistics from the OECD in secondary Maths, Reading and Science show that the top performers are Finland, Korea and Japan. And Korea is the nation with the smallest variation between
highest and lowest performers, indicating that all its schools are doing well
in educating their students. Furthermore, the OECD assessments of 15 year olds did not involve low level recall but tested the higher level ability of these students to apply
their knowledge to highly complex real life situations.

Now let us look at the education system in Korea- is it not characterised by
rote learning, drill the skill, cramming, corporal punishment, chalk and talk,
classes divided on gender lines, student cleaning of the classroom after
school? Is is not true that invariably, a large grassless area in front
of the school serves as the playing field as well as the area for school wide
assemblies and other meetings. Are not desks lined up in straight rows in
plain classrooms which are typically filled with 50 or 60 uniformed students?

Does not most teaching instruction mostly comprise teacher lectures, with
only rare interruptions for questions?

And Korea is leading the world in the most significant measurable educational outcomes?

Shouldn’t we be having a serious debate about this? Should the Korean
education system be our model in the West- or aspects of it? Are we heading
down the wrong pathway with our focus on differentiation, rich tasks and
student centered learning? Or is it all to do with what we expect for our young people from their schooling? Are we willing to swallow our western pride and take
a serious look at what is going so right in Korean education?

Daily News

Betty, at Teacherlingo- another cool blogging site for teachers- wrote about a great teacher who taught the news daily. I began a reply on her blog but decided I was writing too much!!  Our students in NZ are sadly ignorant of the news and
can often only spout the cliches that they hear from their parents (immigration is bad, Cambridge exams are good, China is taking over the world, the USA
is only interested in Middle East oil etc. )  Without reading newspapers,
there are no informed opinions, little critical thinking,  and these young
people (in my case secondary students)  are the future decision makers of our world! And the issues they will be dealing with are crucial to our planet- global warming, globalisation, biotechnology, nuclear issues, the spread of Islam.

I think we as teachers have a moral obligation to teach the news and reading the front page of a newspaper every day is a great start.  Do you know this
website  ??
This website has front pages from most newspapers around the world.  Great for comparing bias in news and for obtaining an insight into what is important for a country, cultural mores etc.  If you have a projector, you can project front pages on similar themes and discuss the difference in headlines.

If we don’t teach our young people the news, and allow them to think about and discuss issues that will undoubtedly affect them in the future, we are helping to disempower them politically and ensuring a continuation of so many worrying political, social and economic policies that clearly need informed debate.

Starbucks closed in The Forbidden City

This is great news.  After an online campaign that drew nearly 1/2 million signatures, this over hyped global cafe, with its overpriced and unappealing coffee is finally withdrawing from this 15th century world heritage site.  How crass that it ever was there in the first place.  Starbucks is an ever encroaching pestilence that, along with Macdonalds, Gap and Dunkin Donuts et al, are overwhelming other, often vulnerable, cultures.  More power to the web that enabled the voice of the people to be heard!Starbucks coffee shop in Beijing’s Forbidden City

Congratulations to Chinese state TV personality Rui Chenggang who led the online
campaign.  Starbucks, be warned, the people have spoken and, just maybe this is the start of a revolution to reduce the intrusive and insensitive global commercialisation  of our local communities.

Teachers, talk to your students about this to show them (a) the power of the web as a people’s forum  (b) that homogenisation can be reversible – it is not a chemical change