Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Looking back on 2015

It's always good to look back at the end of a year and see where my thoughts have been over the past 12 months.  As an international educator, it's not surprising that around 50 of my posts this year have been about various aspects of teaching and learning and international education.  As I've taken on a leading role in the Global Recruitment Collaborative, quite a few posts have also been about recruitment and the trend towards online recruitment rather than going to job fairs.  I've been involved in an R&D Task Force on recruitment as well - more about this when the report is published next year.

2014 saw a huge surge in interest in coaching, following my initial 4 day training in London in Cognitive Coaching and the establishment of a tech integration coaching model at ASB.  During 2015 I consolidated this by attending the final 4 days of the foundation course, and went on to do the advanced coaching training over the summer holidays.  This was also complemented by Adaptive Schools training in the Fall.  Overall I'm seeing a huge benefit to coaching, enabling teachers to become more thoughtful and self-directed about their own professional growth.

Research and Development, creativity and Design Thinking have all been subjects that I've blogged extensively about over the past year as well.  I'm fascinated by trends in the world and how education will need to change in order to stay relevant.  Along with these I notice I'm continuing to blog about the IB, the PYP and about leadership.

My most popular posts for readers, however, have been rather different.  The rest of this post will highlight the posts I've written over the past year that have been read and shared the most.  The overwhelmingly most popular post has been on Flipped Learning.  Following a presentation at ISTE in June 2015, I blogged about a session I attended by Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams that related Flipped Learning to Bloom's Taxonomy.

On my return to school in July, one of our Teaching Assistants shared her excitement about a workshop she did about reading comprehension over the summer.  She wanted to share her resources about the role technology can play in monitoring reading comprehension.  The one post I made about this obviously resonated with readers around the world, and this post has been shared and viewed more than 3500 times.

One of our summer holidays reads this year was To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink.  Reflecting on this book led me to write a post about perspective and empathy, which also was shared thousands of times.  It was interesting to consider these two words, since perspective is something we talk about a lot in coaching as it is a cognitive capacity involved in thinking, and empathy is a PYP attitude, but also an emotional response.  I wanted to explore how these two tied together and to acknowledge that both are crucial.

Finally the last post I want to share in this post, which also received a lot of views and shares was the one about what neuroscience can teach us about coaching.  I wrote this one following the Advanced Cognitive Coaching training in Genoa in the summer.

Thanks to all the readers of this blog who have continued to support me over the past year.  For now, I'm looking forward to what 2016 will bring.  It's hard to think that this little reflective blog, started only to keep myself sane and moving forward as a a professional during a pretty bleak part of my career, has flourished and bloomed into something quite amazing.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Future Forwards Volume 5 - from shining stars to connected constellations

Today ASB published the next volume of Future Forwards. The online edition is available at this linkFuture Forwards is a collection of thoughts, hypotheses, discussions, and reflections on practices, research and ideas that are relevant to emerging new paradigms of teaching and learning.  Previous volumes of Future Forwards have focused on how ASB's R&D has built a culture of active innovation at the school.  However we are aware that to effect transformation across education worldwide, we need more schools to "move past being distinct and shining stars of innovation, to become connected constellations of innovation."  Volume 5 of Future Forwards therefore contains explorations of the frontiers of education from 3 other schools around the world.

Paradigms - Looking to the Future
These chapters are about paradigm shifts - different approaches that radically challenge established conventions. Here you will find chapters on professional development, design thinking, multi-age classrooms and social entrepreneurship.

Ideas - The Next Step
These chapters are about how current research is changing or impacting existing practices or established norms. In this section you can read about ASB's partnership with a local school, research into digital wellbeing and social media use among third culture kids, the future of higher education, gender equity and meeting the diverse needs of language learners.

Practices - Innovating in the Now
These chapters describe the application of an instructional practice in a completely novel way or the successful mash-up of different practices. In this section you will read blended learning, student leadership in technology, curiosity projects in art, Maker, using sensors in the classroom and creative coding.

These eBooks are completely free - enjoy and please consider sharing them with others in your professional network.

If you missed the earlier volumes, here are the links:

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Changing Educational Paradigms: Aesthetic -v- Anaesthetic

An oldie but goodie - we used this in our Curricular Team retreat on Friday.  Most great learning happens in groups - YES!

I have to say that I've never realised before this that the opposite of aesthetic could be anaesthetic. We want our students to have their senses operating at their peak - to be fully alive and in the moment. Schools need to wake students up to what they have inside themselves.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Putting on different hats to find better solutions

In the whole time that I've been writing this blog - 6 year now - I've never written about de Bono's Thinking Hats, a strategy that was devised around 30 years ago to help groups to take on different roles and to think together more effectively.  The 6 coloured hats represent 6 different roles that we play on teams - each of which can be beneficial.  Most people tend to have one dominant thinking colour, with one or two others colours close behind.  Here are the different hats:
  • White - a logical thinker who is drawn to facts and figures
  • Green - a creative thinker who likes generating and trying out new ideas but may not think through the consequence of these ideas
  • Red - an emotional person who often has hunches and gut reactions and is intuitive when making decisions
  • Blue - an organised person, often the person who is managing the process and to stand back and look at the bigger picture
  • Black - a person playing the devil's advocate and pointing out what might go wrong, someone who is cautious, critical thinking and conservative
  • Yellow - someone who wants everyone to be happy and the group to be harmonious, the optimist who is looking for the positives and benefits and for ways of making something work
The Six Hats model is useful for group work as you can collectively decide what hat to "put on" and look at an issue that way.  For example during a brainstorming session the group might decide they all need to put on their green hats, whereas later the team can decide they need to put on blue hats in order to plan on a process.  I was thinking about this in terms of planning a school trip.  A green hat might be needed to think about different places to go, a blue hat when planning the logistics of getting there, and a black hat for risk assessment.

I think you probably need people wearing all these hats on a productive team.  Thinking about myself, the 3 hats I tend to wear the most are the green, black and blue hats.  I could definitely work on becoming more of a logical thinker (white hat).  I think the value of this model is that you can deliberately decide to imagine that you are wearing different hats which means you will think about a problem from different perspectives.  Hopefully this will result in a wider range of possible solutions.

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Playing games, becoming creative

This week at school we've been doing the Hour of Code.  This started me thinking about why video games are so important, and how the principles of "gamification" could be applied to influence behaviour and learning.  I was reading about Tom Chatfield's studies in the University of Bristol that have listed the reasons why some games influence behaviour.
  • One thing that video games do really well is give players constant feedback about how they are doing.  Often when playing games you can see your score on-screen, so you get immediate feedback about what you are doing well.  Players earn points - often for quite small things - so players learn what works and how to improve.  Frequent feedback, it seems, is the way to improve performance.  So thinking about this, it does seem ironic that in the world of work most of us only get an evaluation or appraisal once every year.  Chatfield's studies show that infrequent feedback diminishes creativity and causes greater stress.  If you only have a once a year evaluation, then you are more likely to play safe and avoid taking risks or experimenting with new ideas (especially if these are liked with pay increases and bonuses).  Without frequent feedback it's hard to improve.
  • Short and long term goals are also embedded into many games, for example with levels. This allows you to have small wins along the way.  This could easily be incorporated into schools or workplaces, so that succeeding in small goals is seen as being part of a larger, long-term plan.
  • Another interesting thing to emerge from games is that rewarding both success and failure leads to more creativity (not just rewarding success).  Creativity has many dead ends - Thomas Edison, for example, found 10,000 ways of not making a lightbulb before he found one that did.  Rewarding people for exploring different ways of doing things taps into a prototyping mindset - finding out what doesn't work is also important - and encourages more exploration.
  • Creativity is also enhanced when there is a social engagement.  Mostly we like to play games with other people rather than just against ourselves.  Being actively involved with a team, often motivates us to go beyond what we would do on our own.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Shaping the Future of Learning: anticipating and directing positive change

By now I've come to the end of the KnowledgeWorks Forecast The Future of Learning.  At our R&D meeting on Tuesday I discussed some of these forecasts and trends with colleagues, many of which could be viewed as opportunities or threats, depending on your perspective,  What follows below are several points taken from the last couple of pages of the report.
  • The purpose of education will be challenged.  Education needs to evolve to support people in pursuing new forms of career readiness while at the same time fostering human development and personal meaning.  We need to consider what competencies will be needed in the future for a world of human-machine partnerships.  Education needs to evolve to meet the needs of learners and society, and will need to balance civic life and individual success.
  • Equity for all learners will present a huge design challenge.  New divides could emerge as the technology-driven automation of work changes the relationship between humans and machines and redefines careers.  It's important to consider whether customised education will end up being only for the privileged or wealthy.
  • Learner responsibilities.  As the learning ecosystem expands, learners will have greater choice about how, when and where to pursue learning.  There will be greater choice, but also more responsibility for evaluating and selecting options.
  • Governance structures.  Education policy may struggle to keep up with the accelerating pace of change.  Data privacy, security and permissions will need special attention as new layers of information surround learning.
  • Catalytic roles.  As today's educational institutions struggle to adapt to change, many schools, colleges and universities may close.  Those that survive will need to decide how best to contribute to educational value webs as organisational structures loosen and societal expectations change.
  • There will be many opportunities for those who pioneer new educational roles.  Roles will diversify as learning ecosystems expand.  New kins of specialities will emerge to create and guide learning experiences, and to monitor and ensure their effectiveness.
  • Technology.  Technology will become increasingly important as the amount of data and information that people need to manage their life and work increases.  We will also need to consider the question of where should we let machines do human tasks.
The response to change can often be seen as flight, fight or freeze.  This approach is more about looking change squarely in the eyes, questioning the implications and then using it for good.

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Shifting society in times of exponential change

I'm continuing to read on in the KnowledgeWorks report The Future of Learning.  This post is about imagine how alternative values and diverse perspectives could transform education.
  • Readiness Redefined:  The changing nature of work will bring about a debate about the role of people in the workforce, and what it means to be career-ready.  Schools will no longer push students towards post-secondary options that do not prepare the for the world of work.  Education will prepare learners to continually reskill and upskill.
  • New Benefactors:  Highly empowered individuals will create their own schools and learning communities.
  • Self-Improving Learning Ecosystems:  Broad feedback will be used by learning ecosystems to improve themselves continuously and automatically.  Decision making will expand so that everyone in the learning ecosystem sees themselves as an empowered decision maker.
  • Educating for Impact:  The need to help young people think innovatively and navigate complexity will become increasingly important.  Students will be able to embrace complexity as they become innovators and problem solvers who will actively shape the world around them as part of their education.
This section reminds me of ASB's mission:  
We inspire all of our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the skills, courage, optimism, and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others.
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Shifting structures in times of exponential change

Over the past few months I've had chats with a colleague about the concept of unschooling, and I've met a family who are unschooling their 3 children.  Reading on in KnowledgeWorks The Future of Learning, brings these conversations to mind and considers how teaching and learning systems might morph over the next 10 years.  Here is a summary of the main points:
  • Learning Biomes:  innovations in education will focus on fostering responsive learning climates through the cultivation of effective group learning cultures and the customization of learning environments.  By creating tailored personal and shared learning overlays, augmented and virtual reality tools will increasingly meld those environments and enable learners to make use of new forms of immersive experience.
  • Fluid Schools:  schools will shift from fixed structures to fluid networks and relationship-based formats reflecting learners needs, interests and goals.  
  • Artisanal Education:  Learners and their families will be increasingly conscious consumers and architects of learning, seeking out educational approaches that fit their values and lifestyles.
  • Autonomous Administration:  education administration will shift from managing discrete organizations to facilitating seamless collaboration across diverse learning ecosystems.  Distributed organizational models will supplant traditional hierarchies as many management functions become automated.  Smart contracts will help schools allocate and manage resources.
  • Resilient Learning Ecosystems:  as communities and individuals struggle to adapt to changing conditions, learning ecosystems comprised to many kinds of organizations and resources will help the education sector adapt to changing needs.
I loved reading this section of the report - so many ideas resonated with me.  What do you think about these - how do you see school structures changing in the future?

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Shifting people in times of exponential change

Today I'm getting ready for our R&D Meeting tomorrow by reading the KnowledgeWorks Forecast The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code.  Briefly, this document is looking at the shifts in society that are disrupting organizations and changing the role of employment in people's lives.  As such these changes are also going to have an effect on how, when and why people learn.

I've heard Ian Jukes talk at a number of different conferences, his message being that we "live in times of exponential change".  This is addressed in The Future of Learning as well:
If education continues to advance one step at a time, it will fall exponentially behind the world for which it aims to prepare learners.
 There are a number of drivers of change identified in The Future of Learning.  These are:
  • Optimized Selves: based on wearable devices and sensors that enable us to track and analyze our behaviours such as sleep, exercise, nutrition, social interactions and so on, we are able to deepen our self-knowledge.  
  • New Labour Relations: with machines!  Smart machines and artificial intelligence can now perform much of what was traditionally "middle class" work including complex cognitive tasks.  The challenge is to redefine what is the unique human contribution in the workplace.
  • Alternative Economies:  Underemployment and debt has led to people finding they are limited in their participation in the consumer economy.  The prediction is that "individuals will move in and across multiple intersecting economies ... and seeking educational approaches that fit their needs and outlook".
  • Self-managing Institutions:  arising from the growing open culture movement, the prediction is for flexible webs comprised of many organizations and individuals.  These are seen as being distributed, autonomous organizations that operate with minimal management.
  • Shifting Landscapes: including new relationships at work, a redefinition of wage labour and what constitutes a job.  Learning and re-learning will help individuals adapt to these turbulent and volatile conditions.
I think in our R&D Meeting we want to consider what might happen when educators and learners re-imagine their roles and interactions as a result of these changes.  Here are some ideas from The Future of Learning - all of which I think will make a positive difference to education within the next 10 years:
  • New tools and practices informed by neuro- and emotion science will help educators design learning experiences and develop rich feedback to help learners engage in experiences that optimize learning.
  • Personalized learning will move beyond tailoring pacing and curriculum resources towards the dynamic curation of customized learning relationships with an expanded range of learning partners.
  • As educators work to prepare students for new economies, they will create assessments that measure mastery, real-world impact, and social-emotional development.  Educators and learners will focus their interactions on realizing personal potential and demonstrating meaningful competencies.
  • Learners and their families will use smart contracts to access experiences and resources across more distributed and diverse learning ecosystems, personalizing their learning and supporting their distinct interests, needs and aspirations.
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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Creativity loves constraints

The title of this post comes from Marissa Mayer, the head of product development at Google.  I read it today in Tina Seelig's book inGenius.  I'm the kind of person who doesn't really like to work under pressure (certainly not the pressure of time).  I like to get things done in plenty of time, leaving me with the freedom to modify or change things before the deadline.  Other people tend to leave things to the last minute and then pull off "all-nighters" to get them done.  According to Seelig, these people could well be the creative ones!

Seelig shares a graphic, which I have reproduced here, that was designed by Teresa Amabile Constance Hadley and Steve Kramer of the Harvard Business School that shows how pressure influences creativity.

This matrix examines the relationship between high and low pressure and high and low creativity:

  • Expedition (low pressure and high creativity):  People are free to engage in exploration of opportunities, however they need to be very self-motivated and inspired to use the time to be creative.
  • Autopilot (low pressure and low creativity):  Here there are no external incentives or encouragement to be creative, and people are bored and uninspired.
  • Treadmill (high pressure and low creativity):  When pressure is unrelenting and unfocused, as for example when the goals keep changing, then work feels unimportant and people feel they are on a treadmill that never stops.
  • Mission (high pressure and high creativity):  Here, despite the pressure, there is a clear, focused and important goal and people are highly creative.
Over my 30 plus years in teaching, I can identify with each of these situations at different times in my career.  I've worked in several schools where teachers seem to be on autopilot or on a treadmill, and I've worked in others where there has definitely been the freedom to explore things that were definitely out of the box.  I feel very happy with the balance where I am now.  Certainly there are lots of times when I feel I am on a mission.  During my R&D work, on the other hand, I definitely relate to the expedition metaphor.  Probably I think I thrive in a situation where there is both, in order to stay balanced.

Where do you see yourself in this grid?  Do you think pressure increases or decreases your creativity?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Integration -v- Implementation

Many people ask me what makes technology so successful at ASB.  One of the things I think is that for many years there has been a clear division of roles.  Each campus as a Director of Educational Technology and each campus has a Director of Technology Support.  I spend my time focused on teaching and learning, supporting both teachers and students to make thoughtful decisions about how to use the technology.  I never have to worry about networks, cables, budgets, hardware, subscriptions and so on (things that I did sometimes do in previous jobs, but which I never enjoyed). We each have a clear area of focus.

I was really encouraged on reading the new IB document Teaching and Learning with Technology, that this model is one that is promoted.  This model, shown in the diagram above, is "the thinking that separates the concepts related to technology from the things we use that are technology.  Integration is about pedagogy and it is the focus on what teachers and students are doing.  Implementation is the tools and infrastructure that supports the teaching and learning.

Now if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that in the past I have worked in a place that was not so balanced.  Where the people involved in the implementation were seen as being much more important than the teachers and learners - and so their voice was the one that was heard when decisions were made.  The IB is very clear on this:
Without integration, implementation doesn't work.  Integration drives implementation, not the other way round.
Another model is also discussed in the recent publication:  the AID technology integration framework of technology literacy in the IB programmes:

  • Agency:  ways of being - the skills and concepts related to academic honest, digital participation and internet safety that leads to being safe and responsible online.
  • Information:  ways of knowing - searching, analyzing and manipulation information and the responsible use of data.
  • Design:  ways of doing - ideating and creating products (design thinking, Maker, robotics and so on that connects "real world" experiences with conceptual learning)
What do you think of the new ideas that have been published by the IB?  How will your school be using them?

Teaching and Learning with Technology

The IB brought out a new publication yesterday entitled Teaching and Learning with Technology.  As I wanted to share this with our tech coaches, I read through it today and found a number of things that are worth highlighting, as well as many things that are already in place at ASB.  I like some of the definitions that have been introduced in this publication as well.  For example:
  • Technological literacy - which is seen as being a combination of acquired and applied technology, reflecting on learning and making choices about which technologies to use and when to use them.
  • Discernment - knowing how to apply technology effectively - this is a critical thinking skill.
I also like the way that the importance of mindsets is brought out.  The document states, "Many schools are hindered in their attempt to implement technology because of mindsets that do not encourage the effective use of technology."

I want to reproduce the following paragraph in full because I think it is vitally important:
IB technologies policies should include the following pillars that outline a school's mission and how multiple technologies support it:
  • Technology aids and extends the ability to teach and learn.
  • Every teacher is a "tech teacher".
  • Technology literacy is integral for all learners in an IB education. 
  • Every member of the school community shares a responsibility to foster technology literacy in all learners.
  • School plans and policies demonstrate the alignment of technology integration and implementation (more about this in my next post)
  • Schoolwide professional development enables leaders and teachers to understand how technologies support and enhance teaching and learning
Schools are encouraged to expand on these pillars and to create new ones.  Which new ones would you like you see your school add into its technology policy?

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The best preparation for university and work

Yesterday we got some great news.  Our daughter recently applied to a grad scheme, and after a number of interviews and tests, yesterday she was offered a job as a trainee consultant for a travel company.  I found this interesting for a number of reasons:  firstly she still has more than 6 months of university to complete before she gets her MA and can start work - it is early to secure a job offer.  Secondly, we have talked many times about the importance of following her passions (history and art).  Even though last year she admitted that it might have been better to study a subject that would have led more directly into a career, I still feel that spending 4 years studying subjects that you love simply can't be beaten.  The question was, would this count against her when looking for a job?  Would art history be seen as a bit "fluffy" compared with degrees in other subjects?  Would it lead into a job that used these talents and passions, or would she have to train again in a different area?  Yesterday these questions were answered.  One branch of the travel company specialises in tailor-made cultural holidays - certainly as a consultant in this area she will be able to use her expertise in both history and the history of art, as well as her experience of living in 4 different countries in Europe and Asia.

I was thumbing through the September issue of IB World today and came across an article entitled Diploma Programme gets thumbs up.  In a nutshell, a survey of university admissions officers in Britain indicates the IB Diploma is the best preparation for university and work, when compared with other qualifications taken on leaving school, such as A levels.  The reasons for this were as follows:
  • 57% stated the DP includes workplace skills
  • 76% feel that it promotes self-management skills
  • 72% feel it helps students to cope with pressure
  • 23% believe it gives students an entrepreneurial or positive approach to risk-taking
I've written before about the great preparation the DP has given to both my children - both now will be working in good jobs in areas they are passionate about.  I think they have fulfilled the IB mission statement, developing into "inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect" - certainly things that are needed in today's world.  I feel incredibly grateful to the schools that my children have attended, to the teachers who nurtured their passions and skills, who helped them open the doors to their futures and who gave them the courage to step forward into them.

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Thinking like a designer: creative spaces for creative work

When ASB was building a new campus we researched space.  We looked into designing "campfire" areas where students would receive direct instruction, "watering holes" where students can collaborate together and "cave" spaces for quiet, individual work.  Reading on in the book inGenius by Tina Seelig, I'm at the part where she writes about Ewan McIntosh's 7 types of spaces that can exist in both the physical and online world.

  1. Private space - places where we can be by ourselves.
  2. Group spaces - where small teams of people work together.
  3. Publishing spaces - designed to showcase what is going on - these occur in both the physical and virtual world, for example publishing on websites.
  4. Performing spaces - where you can share/act out ideas.  These spaces are designed to bring ideas to life and so stimulate the imagination.  They don't need to be permanent spaces, but should be available when needed.
  5. Participation spaces - places that allow personal engagement with what is going on.  The example Ewan gives is turning a school yard (group space) into a garden where students tend to the plants.
  6. Data space - a library or database where information is stored - it needs to be easily accessible either physically or online.
  7. Watching spaces - allowing us to be passive observers of what is happening around us, rather than being active participants.
I've been walking through the school and thinking about these spaces.  As well as our private "cave", "watering-hole" and "campfire" spaces I have seen we have others.  We definitely do also have publishing and performing spaces.  Our iCommons area can also be described as a data space. Possibly we need to think a little more about participation and watching spaces.

What sort of spaces do you have at your school?

Original artwork by an ASB student

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thinking like a designer: using memory to focus attention

Earlier this week I blogged about how I used Keri-Lee Beasley's CARP videos to help students understand design principles when they communicate using posters and presentations.  I've also read further in Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic's book Storytelling with Data to consider how to focus the attention of your audience so that we are in control of how they interact with our visual communications.

Cole explains that we see with our brains - in particular as a designer we need to think about the different types of memory and how we can utilise it as we communicate:
  • Iconic memory - information stays here for just a fraction of a second and mostly we are not even conscious of it.  However this memory evolved as a survival mechanism to pick up differences in our environment. Tapping into the iconic memory can certainly be used for effective visual communication.  This memory is the one that reacts to the Contrast part of the CARP model (here known as preattentive attributes) - making sure the important data contrasts with the rest is one way of ensuring our audience's attention is drawn to what we want them to see.
  • Short-term memory - here it's important to be aware that people can only keep about 4 chunks of visual information in their short-term memory simultaneously.  This is one reason why we shouldn't have multiple symbols, colours and so on as we try to communicate a message.
  • Long-term memory - once something leaves the short-term memory it either vanishes completely or it moves into long-term memory.  We know that images often stick with an audience, therefore combining a visual with a verbal message will be an effective way to trigger long-term memory in our audience.
We only have around 3-8 seconds with an audience before they decide to continue looking or focus their attention somewhere else.  Therefore we need to create a visual hierarchy so that the audience pays attention to what is most important first.  Preattentive attributes, such as colour, size, shape and position means that the audience doesn't have to work hard to process all the information, but instead is guided through the visual in order of what is most important.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Reframe to create empathy

Over the past few days my Facebook feed has been dominated by the attitudes of people towards migrants following the recent atrocities in Paris.  There are some people who seem to think that by closing their borders to migrants, countries will remain safe. There are others who point out the benefits of migration, the consequences of not allowing innocent people to flee from hostilities, and who point out that religions encourage us to take care of our neighbours.  Of course this is just one example, but whatever the situation it is usually possible to look at it from different angles and perspectives, and in so-doing come up with more imaginative and creative solutions.

A few summers ago, when I did the Design Thinking for Educators workshop at the Henry Ford Learning Institute in Detroit, I learned that the first stage of the design process is empathy.  It's important to start with this because it allows you to put aside your own wants and needs that will bring you to what could be the ideal solution for you, but not necessarily for the wants and needs of another person. Walking in someone else's shoes is important so that you design a solution for them. Basically when you empathise you change your frame of reference by shifting your perspective to that of the other person.

Empathy forms part of both the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes.  The learner profile caring describes people who show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others.  The attitude of empathy encourages students to "imagine themselves in another's situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others."

Being able to reframe situations is also an essential life-skill.  Our students will need to be able to reframe themselves and the way they view things to adapt and thrive in a world that is changing.

Image by Ronald Tan 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Innovation Engine

Can creativity be taught and learned?  We often talk about this, since creativity involves doing new things, and Tina Seelig, executive director of Stanford University’s Technology Ventures Program, thinks that it is certainly possible to increase a person's ability to come up with creative ideas.  She has devised a model called the Innovation Engine - shown in the diagram to the left.  She writes that the 3 parts on the inside of the Innovation Engine are knowledge, imagination and attitude:

  • Knowledge provides fuel for your imagination
  • Imagination transforms knowledge into new ideas
  • Attitude sets the Innovation Engine in motion.
On the outside of the Innovation Engine are resources, habitat and culture:
  • Resources are your community assets
  • Habitats are your local environments (home, school, office)
  • Culture is the collective beliefs, values and behaviours of your community.
She writes that "creativity is not just something you think about - it's something you do."  I'm keen to read her book inGenius to find out more about how we can promote creativity in our students.

Adapting Bloom's for formative assessment

Most of the time we talk about Bloom's taxonomy when considering students' summative assessments, but because I've been reading David A. Sousa's book Brain-Friendly Assessments I've also been thinking about how Bloom's can be applied for formative assessments.  Basically Bloom's taxonomy describes the complexity of human thought.  Teachers need to be aware when asking questions that they should be increasing complexity rather than difficulty to tap into the higher-levels of Blooms.

Here is the example given by Sousa:
Remember level:  Name the planets in the solar system
A more difficult question at the Remember level:  Name the planets in the solar system in order from the sun
Analysis and Evaluate level:  Was it necessary to downgrade Pluto to a dwarf planet? (Here a student has to understand and analyze the differences between a planet and a dwarf planet and evaluate whether it was necessary to downgrade.
Sousa also writes about the DOK model (Depth Of Knowledge) that combines the 6 levels of Bloom's into 4:

  • Recall - basic knowledge - corresponds to Remembering and Understanding
  • Basic application of skill/concept - corresponds to Applying
  • Strategic thinking - requires research and synthesis - corresponds to Analysing and Evaluating
  • Extended thinking - involves originally and innovation - corresponds to Creating
Studies show that engagement increases when students are asked to engage in higher-order thinking activities, as it "rescues" their brains from rote memorization, boredom and disengagement.

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Beyond Bloom's: Metacognition

We talk about Bloom's taxonomy a lot at school, in particular when discussing student work for our annual tech audit.  Having had these conversations with our Grade 4 and 5 teachers this week, I wanted to dig a bit deeper to what comes beyond the Creating level of Bloom's - I wanted to think more about metacognition.

In the PYP metacognition is one of the Thinking Skills (Approaches to Learning) and is defined in the following way:

Analysing one's own and other's thought processes; thinking about how one thinks and how one learns.

Metacognition is also an essential part of the concept of reflection, where we ask the question "How do we know?" This concept was chosen because it challenges students to look at evidence when drawing conclusions. In Making the PYP Happen it states:

It challenges the students to examine their evidence, methods and conclusions. In doing so, it extends their thinking into the higher order of metacognition, begins to acquaint them with what it means to know in different disciplines, and encourages them to be rigorous in examining evidence for potential bias or other inaccuracy.

I'm interested to read what David A. Sousa writes about reflection and metacognition, which he sees as being very different.  Reflection is looking back at something after it has happened, for example how a problem was solved, and then thinking about whether there was a better way to do it, or how it could be changed next time.  He writes that metacognition is different because the thinking happens while learning - during, not after.

When we talk about the lower levels of Bloom's, for example remembering, I notice we often put automaticity into this lower level.  This refers to a skill that has already been mastered, so it can be performed without almost any thought.  The example I always think about here is driving a car.  To start with you have to think about everything, but later you can drive automatically.  However is this really a lower level skill?  As we are driving we are constantly looking, assessing, making split-second decisions, monitoring what other road users are doing and so on.  Sousa feels that automaticity is actually a complement to higher-order thinking, that leads to the successful accomplishment of tasks.

Metacognition is difficult for young children.  This is because metacognition happens in the brain's prefrontal cortex, and it is not until 5th or 6th grade that students' frontal lobes are sufficiently developed so that they can understand what learning strategies will be effective for them.  However Sousa writes that studies of older students who learn about and use metacognitive strategies show greater academic achievement than students who do not.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thinking like a designer: storytelling with data

Several years ago, in a previous school, I attended a staff meeting where we were shown the results of a survey that had been conducted at the school several months before.  This presentation had been put together by an experienced educator, and data derived from the responses to the survey were all visualized as Excel graphs.  However it was one of the most incomprehensible presentations I've ever attended - it was hard to follow and the design got in the way of communicating the message.  I did learn something though.  Thinking that there must have been a better way to present data, I went out and read Garr Reynold's book on Presentation Zen, and following this I made sure that I shared these design principles and techniques with both students and teachers.  Last year, following a Google Summit hosted at AST, I also came across a free iBook from Keri-Lee Beasley called Design Secrets Revealed on iTunes.  This iBook contains 4 short videos that explain some simple principles of design (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity).  I have used these videos with elementary students to have them understand how using the CARP principles can really help them to communicate in an impactful way using both posters and presentations.

Today I've started reading a new book, Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.  Cole writes:
In school, we learn a lot about language and math.  On the language side we learn how to put words together into sentences and into stories.  With math, we learn to make sense of numbers.  But it's rare that these two sides are paired:  no one teachers us how to tell stories with numbers .... This leaves us poorly prepared for an important task that is increasingly in demand.  Technology has enabled us to amass greater and greater amounts of data and there is an accompanying growing desire to make sense out of all this data.  Being able to visualize data and tell stories with it is key to turning it into information that can be used to drive better decision making  ...  Being able to tell stories with data is a skill that's becoming more important in our world of increasing data and desire for data driven decision making.  An effective data visualization can mean the difference between success and failure when it comes to communicating the findings of your study ... or simply getting your point across to your audience.
I'm hoping that I will learn a lot from this book, and be able to share this learning with students to help them tell better stories with the data they are collecting.  I'll be sharing thoughts about this in future blog posts too.

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Friday, November 6, 2015

International teaching - satisfying the wanderlust?

It's that time of year again - many international schools have already asked teachers about their intent to stay or go next school year.  This year I've been more involved in the Global Recruitment Collaborative that ASB prototyped last year - we have had a lot of interest in this, and in the past few days while I've been at the Learning2 conference in Johannesburg, a number of people have approached me directly about recruitment.

Many international teachers talk about it being "their time" to leave. They are happy to spend between 3-5 years at a school and then throw their hat into the ring again.  When I ask these people where they want to go, many of them are very open - anywhere new would be considered.

There are some people who seem to have wanderlust (possibly I've become one of them - I'm now living in my 7th country).  Recently following a link in Facebook I found there is actually a genetic link to wanderlust.  People with the bug to travel don't think of one place as home (home is wherever they happen to be), and so they enjoy exploring as much of the world as possible.  This genetic link came out of studies into ADD, which linked it to the dopamine receptor D4.  Around 15 years ago a study from the UC Irvine found that people with this gene were the ones who had a history of travel, as well as risk-taking and hyperactivity.

Apparently children who have this gene are the ones who are most likely to form hypotheses in their minds, and then experiment to test these hypotheses.  If they continue like this into adulthood, they are also more likely to want to move and live in new places.  I'm wondering if we did a study of international teachers, especially those who move from school to school frequently, getting itchy feet every 3-5 years, whether they too would be carriers of the DRD4 gene.  And as a mother of children that have been brought up in several countries, I'm wondering if this gene is hereditary.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Definite -v- Indefinite and Optimism -v- Pessimism

I was in an R&D meeting at school today.  During this meeting we were discussing the Map of the Decade, a 10 year outlook.  We were talking about the shifts that are happening and the impacts that these are going to make, and how these could or should affect education.

These discussions drew us to a book published last year by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters entitled Zero to One:  Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.  In this book the mindsets of societies and individuals are discussed.  These fall along the Optimist-Pessimist spectrum, about how a society thinks the world is going (getting better or getting worse) and the Definite-Indefinite spectrum, about how we are going to reach the future.

Scot Hoffman, our R&D Coordinator, related these to schools:

Indefinite Pessimism:  An ‘indefinitely pessimistic’ school looks out at a bleak future but has no idea what to do about it. For these schools the golden age is past; things are moving too fast; they don’t know what to do about the future or are hoping that somebody else can do something about it.

Definite Pessimism:  A ‘definitely pessimistic’ school believes that the future can be known and changed. However these schools approach the future by planning for the worst in order to weather the storms the future is bound to bring. This excludes planning to change the way things are.

Indefinite Optimism:  An ‘indefinitely optimistic’ school believes that the future will be better but they don’t consider how this will be so.  Instead of designing for the future, these schools focus on incremental change, improving efficiency and optimizing systems.

Definite Optimism:  A ‘definitely optimistic’ school believes the future will be better than the present. They pursue knowing what can be known about the future in order to take action. They envision what they want the future to be and how they might get there. ‘Definitely optimistic’ schools engage in creating big bold new things that will shape their future.

I think this can also be applied at the level of individual teachers within a school.  I have worked with people who look backwards and say "Things were better before when ....", or "Here's a new approach, but the pendulum will swing the other way again in a few years, so let me just keep my head down and sit tight and soon my method will be back in vogue again."  I've also worked with people who are ready to jump on a whole load of new initiatives without really changing or examining their underlying philosophy or pedagogy.

Of course, being in a school that has an R&D department, we hope that ASB is a definitely optimistic school.  We are studying and prototyping new teaching and learning approaches, transforming ASB for the future.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Living with intention: passion, vocation, mission, profession

Last year in our Leadership PLC we discussed the hedgehog concept from Jim Collins' book Good to Great.  Collins writes about a hedgehog knowing and concentrating on one big thing, in contrast to a fox that knows many things and pursues many ends at the same time in a scattered or diffused way without a unifying vision. Central to the hedgehog concept is a deep understanding of 3 circles:
  • What you can be best in the world at
  • What drives your economic engine
  • What you are passionate about
At the time, our challenge as a Leadership PLC was to add a 4th circle: what the world needs. We talked about empathy, tolerance, understanding and compassion, and that an education that develops these values, that promotes international mindedness, is what the world needs.

And then a couple of days ago, in a post on Facebook, I came across the word "ikigai" and the graphic below.  Ikigai is a Japanese word - it means the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. It's what gives meaning and enjoyment to life.  This is what it looks like:

As you can see it contains the 3 hedgehog circles from Jim Collins, as well as the 4th circle that we discussed last year in our Leadership PLC.  Your "ikigai" is at the centre of all these circles.  It seems that at the core of a healthy and happy life is:
  • doing something that you love
  • doing something that you are good at
  • doing something that you are paid for
  • doing something the world needs
If you are intentionally doing all these things, it seems that you have found your "ikigai".

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Reinforcing, Reminding or Redirecting

In our staff meeting yesterday we were looking at teacher language. This was also a topic that came up last week during the Teacher Training Program that ASB runs one Saturday each month.

The first type of language is reinforcing:  this highlights the skills or attitudes that the students are displaying.  It's important to name the specific behaviours being observed, rather than making comments such as "Good job!", and often this reinforcing language applies to all students such as "Your backpacks have all been put away neatly."  This sort of language does not give personal approval - teachers don't say "I like how you ....." but it does reflect the goals and values of the classroom.

Reminding language can often be used to let students know what they need to do before something happens, though it can also be reactive.  Again this is based on clear expectations and is done in a calm way such as, "What do we need to remember when we line up so that we can walk out to recess safely?"

Redirecting language can be used when something is going wrong and we want the students to act differently.  Again this language is direct and specific and names the behaviour that needs to be displayed.  It is brief and always made as a statement, for example "Clean up your desk before sitting on the rug" or "Sit at a table so you can focus on your work."

At the staff meeting yesterday we talked about the power of teacher language using the Responsive Classroom approach.  Teacher language helps students to develop their own self-management skills as well as helping them to feel part of the classroom community.   There are a number of similarities between this language and the language of coaching.  The guidelines for teacher language are as follows:
  • Be direct and authentic - don't point out the behaviour of other children who are doing things right as this can lead to students simply behaving in order to win praise from the teacher, or can drive a wedge between the students.  
  • Show your faith in the students' abilities and intentions - when we show we believe that children want to do well, they are likely to live up to our expectations.  In Cognitive Coaching this is called "positive presuppositions".  When you notice positive behaviour it's important to name it and comment on it.
  • Focus on action - often we ask students to be respectful, but children have a hard time understanding what that means.  Instead focus on what action you want to see "When someone is speaking you need to listen."  Sometimes it's good to ask a question so that the student can come up with and name the positive behaviour him/herself.  Again as in Cognitive Coaching we talk about moving towards the desired state, Responsive Classroom does not dwell on the undesirable behaviour, but shifts towards to positive and shows the student what he or she can do.
  • Keep it brief - children understand more when we speak less.
  • Know when to be silent - pausing allows students to think.
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Monday, October 12, 2015

Dialogue -v- Discussion

I used to use the words dialogue and discussion interchangeably, but since sitting in on a Responsive Classroom session last month I've realized that they are actually two very different things. Dialogue is simply about understanding others' viewpoints, whereas discussion involves critical thinking in order to come to a decision. Let's consider these in more detail.

This is where members of a group or team inquire into their own and others beliefs and values, and as such listening - in particular listening to your own inner voice - is as important as speaking.  It's important that in dialogue ideas are able to flow without judgment.  When we start a dialogue we need to be able to "listen to our listening".  We need to check that we are not running though our own personal anecdotes in order to compose a reply, but instead listening to others and then deciding what the best course of action is. This could involve paraphrasing in order to check that everyone has the same understanding, asking a question to inquire further into the ideas of others, or putting a new idea on the table to widen the dialogue.

Dialogue is not about decision making.  Often poor decisions are made when there is not enough dialogue to build understanding, but instead a rush to action which leads to conflict. Misunderstanding is at the bottom of most group conflict, so going slowly during dialogue, can mean that when it's time to discuss and make a decision things can go quickly.   Dialogue, in fact, can and should produce "productive tension" - if we are not comfortable with this then we lose the opportunities to learn.

This is much more focused on proposed actions and solutions.  Often discussion is ineffective as it is simply a sharing of ideas without inquiring into the thinking and proposals of other team members. Sometimes decisions are made through voting or trying to come up with consensus, but without prior dialogue these decisions can be low quality and simply represent the ideas of the most vocal people in the group.  These decisions are not ones that the group as a whole has committed to, and therefore often don't stay made.  In a skilled discussion the focus is on one topic at a time, and the group is also committed to one process at a time.  The group facilitator needs to provide a clear structure and to keep everyone on track.  Effective group members are responsible for sharing knowledge and ideas and listening out for areas of confusion.  A discussion should not degenerate into a debate, where people take sides and challenge others, instead it should be a place where ideas are generated, organized, analyzed and a decision made considering the alternatives.  Some ideas will need to be eliminated so that stronger ideas can be decided upon.  It's important that these decisions are based on the ideas, not the individuals proposing the ideas - the group must collectively own the ideas and then shape them.

Understanding the difference between a dialogue and a discussion has already impacted my role in the various meetings I've attended over the past couple of weeks, as I've been trying to put my learning into practice.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Adapted -v- Adaptive

Right before our recent holiday, ASB hosted an Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar.  Having already trained in Cognitive Coaching, I was keen to know more about Adaptive Schools, which has been described as cognitive coaching for groups.  Over the course of 4 days, ASB's teachers were presented with a model for creating and sustaining high-functioning professional communities.

Since this seminar was taking place right outside my office, I was lucky enough to be able to engage in some of the activities.  One discussion that took place early on was about how many occupations have gone through transitions in recent years.  Examples are:

  • Librarians have evolved from resource providers to learning facilitators
  • Hospitals have evolved from healers to health promoters
  • The police force has changed from law enforcement to focus on public safety
  • Schools are changing their focus from teaching to learning - and not just for the students.
Following this the participants were invited to consider the difference between the terms adapting, adapted and adaptive.  Adapting refers to making shifts to changes in the environment, but there are different sorts of adaptations.  One example that was shared was of the monarch butterfly which has evolved and adapted to very specific conditions.  Another example was that of deer or monkeys who have moved into urban areas and are now adapting to eat different food.  The butterfly is adapted, the deer and monkey are adaptive.  We talked about how schools need to be adaptive and how the goal of the seminar was to develop our capacity as collaborators and inquirers in complex systems.  Schools need to adapt to changes in order to deal with constant learning.  They are complex systems as when one thing changes it leads to a change throughout the system - we can't just come up with a technical fix for one thing.  Complicated systems are different from complex ones - they also have many parts, but in those systems it is possible to "fix" the parts.

A technical change will extend or refine a past practice while still maintaining the organizational way of working.  These sorts of changes can be implemented with current knowledge and skills.  Many changes in education have been these technical changes.  Adaptive changes, however end past practices and require new practices and new ways of working.  These changes require new knowledge and skills and  often challenge our values.

Teachers discussed the need to support the professional community in school to continually develop to improve student learning.  There is the need to ask on a regular basis who are we? why are we doing this? and why are we doing this this way?  We know the power of adult communities to impact student learning, and so important to develop a collaborative culture so that there can be a communal application of effective teaching practices.

Look out for more posts on Adaptive Schools.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The final distraction: "fixing" the teachers

This is the final post based on John Hattie's The Politics of Distraction that was published this summer.  Since it would seem that it is not useful to focus on fixing parents, the schools, the students or the programme, it would seem that the most productive way to increase student achievement would be to focus on the teachers.  In fact Hattie argues that teaching standards to need to be raised - however he cautions several "fixes" that make little impact on teacher effectiveness.

Teacher education - at present this is based on an apprenticeship model, with some instruction taking place in universities and some practice taking place as a trainee teacher is placed in a school.  Studies show that teacher education programmes have the lowest impact on student achievement since the greatest learning is not during teacher education programmes but takes place during the first year of full-time classroom teaching.  Most new teachers admit they were not well prepared for their role in the classroom.  Hattie suggests it may be useful to introduce a 2-year "registrar" position (at ASB we do this and call them "novice teachers") where the focus is on helping these teachers to transition into the teaching profession.

Performance pay - I have worked a two schools that tried to introduce this (both I believe failed).  Hattie also writes that it is difficult to find a performance pay model that has made a difference to student learning, instead pointing out that it tends to lead to greater stress and less enthusiasm for teaching.  He suggests introducing increased pay for increased expertise, for example becoming a coach, where the responsibility is to improve the skills of other teachers.  One advantage of this would be that teachers do not have to leave the classroom and enter the world of school administration in order to earn higher salaries.

Technology - Last week's report by the OECD, which was publicised widely in the press, pointed to the fact that technology is no "magic bullet" where student learning is concerned.  Although reading the headlines it would seem that the report was anti-technology, closer reading of the report shows that it is actually saying that technology is an amplifier - it certainly can amplify great teaching, and at the same time it can amplify poor teaching too - basically technology can't replace poor teaching, though "if used appropriately, technology can, and often does, make learning more engaging and it has the power to transform educational environments."  The real problem is that technology is often simply used as a substitute for what was already being done.  We need to change our teaching methods in order for technology to be transformative.

Teaching Assistants - As mentioned in a previous post, reducing class sizes without a change of pedagogy does not lead to improved student learning.  The same is true with simply adding more adults into the classroom.  Most of the time teacher aides are not trained educators, yet Hattie points out they are often employed to work with the most needy students - which can actually lead to these students, who are most in need to teacher expertise, to make even less progress.  This is because aides are more likely to prompt students, to provide them with answers, and to be more concerned with task completion.

Hattie argues that we do need to improve teacher standards, but writes:
Teachers cannot do it on their own: they need support, they need to collaborate with others in and across schools, they need to develop expertise, and they need excellent school leaders.  Further, supportive and great systems are needed to support and nurture great leaders.
There are things that can make a huge difference to  student achievement, and I'll be writing about these in an upcoming post.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

The Human Economy

I saw this video today on Facebook and decided to share it further by posting it on my blog.  This 10 minute film explores the human skills needed to thrive in today's world.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why it doesn't work to "fix" the schools

This is the fourth in my series of posts based on this summer's publication of John Hattie's The Politics of Distraction.  The focus of this post is why inventing new forms of schooling isn't likely to lead to an improvement in student achievement.  In the UK in recent years there has been a growth of schools being able to opt out of local authority control and become "academies".    Originally these were poorly-performing secondary schools, but later non-profit charitable trusts formed academy chains that took over state schools (and I believe there is still some debate as to whether these school can actually run at a profit). Currently there are over 4,500 academies in the UK, compared to only 200 in May 2010.  At one time the Government argued that academies raised standards and had positive impacts on other schools in their local area, however now there are concerns that the rapid expansion of academies have led to financial problems and a lowering of standards.

In Hattie's Politics of Distraction he argues that variance in student achievement between schools is small when compared to the variance within schools, so simply coming up with different forms of schools is not a good solution.  Generally his research has found that there may be a slight increase in achievement in such schools in the short-term, but no difference in the long-term.

I used to work at a school in the UK that was surrounded by large playing fields.  Apparently some years ago the school was allowed to sell off these playing fields and also to bring in a private company to run their gym.  The school then had to rent the gym for PE lessons, and the company could keep it open and charge the local community for using it in the evenings and at weekends. Having businesses come up with ideas to "fix" schools is another misguided policy, according to Hattie, particularly when it comes to placing leaders from the business community into schools. Schools do not need business leaders, but instead need "high-impact instructional leaders, ones who make several formal classroom observations each year, interpret test scores with teachers, insist teachers collaborate in planning and evaluating the teaching programme across grades, insist teachers expect high proportions of their students to do well on achievement and social outcomes and insist and know that the staffroom and classroom atmosphere is conducive to learning for all students."

Yet another argument for "fixing" schools involves giving them more autonomy.  Hattie's evidence shows that achievement is higher in countries where schools have autonomy over staffing decisions and hiring teachers, for example, but lower when schools have autonomy over their own budgets. Generally autonomy has a very small impact on achievement, and can be particularly problematic in increasing inequalities between schools (good schools may get better, but not so good ones generally get worse).

More money is rarely the answer to improving student achievement.  Hattie shows that in Western countries there is little relation between more money and improved achievement because 80% of funding is taken up in salaries, buildings, bussing and maintenance.  A small positive impact can be seen when more money is directed into instructional areas such as more resources for teachers, and a larger positive impact when money is directed into improving teacher expertise.  This does vary according to the GDP of a country, however.  In low-income countries, greater expenditure does tend to lead to greater student improvement.  In countries with middle to high GDP there is no relationship between expenditure and student performance (probably because in these countries mostly the money is invested in smaller class sizes - which has already been seen to be another distractor and one that does not improve student achievement - rather than in better quality teachers).

Another "fix" that has been tried in schools is to lengthen the school day or school year.  In the Politics of Education Hattie correlates PISA scores with the total number of hours in school and actually finds a negative relationship!  Students in Japan, Korea and Finland spend less time in school, but achieve much more than students in the UK or USA.  Adding more hours in school clearly makes little difference to student learning.

If you wish to read more download The Politics of Distraction at this link.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

What doesn't work when trying to "fix" early childhood education

 I want to start this post by saying that I have very limited experience in Early Childhood education.  I have taught Upper Elementary, Middle and High School, but have only worked with very young children as a specialist teacher, mainly integrating technology into the learning engagements that the homeroom teachers were planning.  So while I don't claim to be an expert in this age range, for personal reasons I am interested in some of John Hattie's findings in his recent publication The Politics of Distraction (which can be downloaded at this link).

In many countries children don't start school until the age of 5, or even later in the case of countries such as Sweden and Finland where the starting age is 7, yet policy makers often believe that if the children get off to a good/early start then formal schooling will be easier.  In recent years huge amounts of money have been funnelled into pre-school education.  Hattie's research shows, however, that by the age of eight it is hard to detect who did and did not have pre-school education.  An early start, it seems, does not lead to accelerated learning or greater success in school.  Hattie suggests this might be because while pre-schools believe in learning through play, it is mostly only social and emotional development that is emphasised at this age, not play for cognitive development.  He writes:
Before pouring in more money, we need a robust discussion about what learning means in the 0-5 age range - and especially 0-3 - when the most critical bases are set for language, communication, listening and thinking.  Many cognitive skills that develop in these early years are pre-cursors to later reading and numeracy.
 Sadly it seems that early education can lead to early labelling of children before they even start elementary school.  Hattie quotes increases of children coming into school already labelled as ADHD, autistic or with Asperger's (in the USA the increase is 650% in the past 10 years) which means many schools now have around 15% of their children coming into school pre-labelled.  Some of this increase is coming from the demands of parents, some from teachers and some from the marketing strategies of pharmaceutical companies - however it is also true that children who are labelled often quality the school for extra funding - so for schools there is a vested interest in having these diagnoses.  Hattie writes:
Students are being diagnoses and labelled primarily for financial and accountability reasons rather than for the enactment of appropriate educational interventions.
Hattie is particularly scathing about "calming" medication for students coming to school with behavioural issues - many parents and teachers assume that if a child is calm then s/he will learn. Hattie points out that while drugs do calm children there is no corollary that this leads to learning.  In fact there are learning interventions that are much more effective in educating children with behavioural issues than medication.  Even more dangerous is the evidence that once labelled there is often a decrease in achievement gains, compared with other similar children who have not been labelled.  Hattie argues that a learning intervention is often much more expensive and requires much higher levels of teacher expertise/training than drugs or medical attention which the parents pay for, and which could be why schools are advocating for children to be medicated.

(Perhaps at this point I should mention that our son underwent tests as a 3rd Grader and received a diagnosis of ADD when he was in 4th Grade.  This later turned out to be a wrong diagnosis - in fact he was suffering from a writing disability which meant he could think so much faster than write and the physical process of handwriting was getting in the way of his thoughts, which was causing him a lot of frustration.  He was on the 99.8th percentile for intelligence, but on the 3rd percentile for his writing.  We chose not to go the medical route, instead gave him a laptop so that he could capture his thoughts without having to handwrite them.  Our son went on to do well at school and university and now works for a large banking organisation in London.  He has several times mentioned to us how grateful he is that we did not medicate him.)

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