Sunday, January 31, 2016

Doing childhood for our children

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about whether today's parents prepare children for life or protect them from it.  Today I've been reading Chapter 6 of How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haim, where she writes about the basic life skill we need to be teaching our children.  Julie writes that it is not our job to raise children - if we do that all we end up with is children - it is our job to raise adults.  Before I go further let me tell you that I have 2 adult children:  one who has finished university and is working and one who is at university but almost through with her Master's degree.  This chapter made me reflect on whether or not as a parent I'd given my children the skills they needed in order to do well once they left home.  My son's teenage years were spent in Thailand, a country where we were able to employ a housekeeper, which meant he did very little around the home.  My daughter's teenage years were spent in Switzerland, which is one of the safest countries in the world, and where children as young as Kindergarten walk to school or take public transport there by themselves.

Julie first of all questions what criteria we are using to decide on whether someone is an adult.  Traditionally this might have meant leaving home, becoming financially independent, getting married and having children.  In 1960 77% of women and 65% of men had done this by the age of 30.  However 40 years later only 50% of women and 33% of men had accomplished these things.  Clearly such a definition of what it means to be an adult is outdated, so in 2007 a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology reported on what 18-25 year olds felt were the most important indicators of adulthood.  These were
  • accepting responsibility for the consequences of your actions
  • establishing a relationship with parents as equal adults
  • being financially independent
  • deciding on beliefs/values independent of parental influences
Interestingly enough only 16% of the 18-25 year olds surveyed thought that they had reached adulthood.  

How do we prepare our teenagers for being adults.  According to Julie the following should be possible for all 18 year olds:
  • The ability to talk to strangers - and yet we teach our children not to.  What we need to do is to teach them discernment.
  • The ability to find their way around - and yet we often drive our children everywhere.
  • The ability to manage their assignments, workloads and deadlines - and yet we constantly remind teenagers about their homework deadlines and even help them to do it.   What we need to do is to teach them to prioritise tasks.
  • The ability to contribute towards the running of a household - yet we don't expect today's teenagers to help much around the house and so many don't know how to look after their own needs, respect others or do their fair share.
  • The ability to handle interpersonal problems and cope with the ups and downs of life - and yet we often step in to solve things so our children don't know how to cope with and resolve their own conflicts.
  • The ability to earn and manage money - but often teenagers don't hold part-time jobs and instead we give them money for the things they want, which limits their appreciation of the cost of things and how to manage their own money.
  • The ability to take risks - often we don't want them to do this, and so they don't develop the grit that comes from trying, failing and then trying again, or the resilience to cope with things that have gone wrong.
Julie describes the role of many parents today as "doing childhood" for their children, and she points out that one of the key life skills our teenagers need to develop is the ability to live without us.

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Examining the C in TPACK and teaching it through transdisciplinary thinking tools

This Tuesday our faculty meeting will focus on transdisciplinary learning - in particular how we build our understanding of how to teach, assess and report on transdisciplinary skills.  I'm also continuing to read through articles about transdisciplinary learning for my upcoming online workshop, and am blogging about my thoughts.

First of all it's important to understand the difference between transdisciplinary and inter-disciplinary. Mishra, Koehler and Henrikson of Michigan State University argue that being able to identify the deeper themes and habits of mind that cut across disciplinary boundaries is vital for creativity.  They link this with the TPACK model, stating that a transdisciplinary approach is greatly supported by the possibilities of digital technologies.  However integrating technology is still a challenge to many educators who feel that many technologies become obsolete as quickly as they arrive (for example today I was reading an article about the extinction of the iPad - once hailed as something that was going to transform education).  Even when teachers are enthusiastic about integrating technology, many studies have identified teacher knowledge as one of the key barriers for effective integration.

Enter TPACK.  In this framework content knowledge (CK), pedagogical knowledge (PK) and technology knowledge (TK) come together as critical for using technology in a transformative way. TPACK is now taught in many teacher education courses and is part of teacher PD.  However Mishra, Koehler and Henrikson argue that within the TPACK framework there is little guidance about what content to teach, which pedagogies are useful and what kinds of technologies are worth using in teaching.  They argue that the C in TPACK has to be identified so that the other parts can work together in achieving the content goals.

In today's world, many educators have argued for a new form of learning with an emphasis on what has come to be called "21st century skills".  However, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and developing traits such as curiosity and adaptability are often discussed in ways that ignore content.  Howard Gardner argues that disciplinary thinking is important - and that creativity cannot occur without some domain in which it can be evaluated.  That being said, most of the way that disciplines are structured in schools is not very useful today as it limits the learning that is most important to the future of our students: most of the jobs of the future will be "hyphenated jobs", (bio-mechanics, environmental-engineering and so on, at the intersection of two or more disciplines.  The future of learning needs to emphasise being able to move creatively across disciplines, to cross-pollinate ideas from one field to another.  A transdisciplinary approach values the disciplines and also moves across them looking for common patterns and strategies.  It helps students move beyond one "correct" solution as it integrates many solutions, viewpoints and perspectives.

Mishra, Koehler and Henrikson propose 7 key transdisciplinary thinking tools (cognitive skills):
  1. Perceiving - critical in both arts and sciences which require observing through the senses and imaging, being able to evoke the impressions and sensations we observe without the presence of external stimuli.  They argue that artists, scientists, mathematicians and engineers all have well developed imaging skills that are vital for their work.  Both observation and imaging can be developed with practise, and teachers can design opportunities for students to develop these skills.
  2. Patterning - creative people are always recognising patterns and forming new patterns.  Teachers can also help student develop patterning skills in both arts and science subjects.
  3. Abstracting - creative people also use abstracting to concentrate on one feature of a thing or process.  Abstracting also allows analogies to be found between seemingly disparate things, for example during a compare and contrast activity.
  4. Embodied thinking - this includes kinesthetic thinking with the body and feelings and empathising to imagine yourself in another person's position.  Sports, dance and the arts are great for developing these skills.
  5. Modeling - requires abstracting and dimensional thinking, for example to change the scale of something.
  6. Deep Play - encouraging the imagination through play may open doors to new ways of thinking, as play is open-ended and leads to transformational thinking.  Creative people in all different disciplines all speak of the value of play.
  7. Synthesizing - another "mind for the future" as described by Howard Gardner, synthesizing involves putting multiple ways of knowing together into a multi-faceted and cohesive kind of knowing.
In recent years ASB has put together our ATLs (Approaches to Learning).  I'm interested to see how these relate to the transdisciplinary thinking tools described above.  Ours are divided in the following way:

Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Habits
  • Managing Complexity
  • Collaboration and Social Skills
Cognitive Habits
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity and Innovation
Hopefully at our faculty meeting on Tuesday these will be unpacked into student friendly learning targets and we will develop a shared language and understanding that teachers can use to create rubrics, to plan engagements, to assess students and to report on learning. 

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Thinking Big

I'm about to start facilitating another online workshop for the IB, and because of this I've been doing a lot of reading around transdisciplinary learning.  One article I've looked at recently is Thinking Big: a conceptual framework for the study of everything by Marion Brady.  Brady writes:
Our current fervor for highly specified standards for each academic discipline requires students to view reality as composed of fragmented and unrelated bits of information.
In fact this is a view that the PYP tries to get away from - with it's emphasis on transdisciplinary teaching and learning.   As I was reading this article I started to think about the difference between teaching elementary students and teaching secondary (I've done both - I think I've probably taught elementary for slightly longer).  Often secondary teachers are seen as "specialists" and elementary as "generalists" and many schools seem to think that specialists are more valuable.  Once I even worked at a school that paid secondary teachers more!

Over the past 2 weeks we've also had school visits by the teachers who are part of the TTP (Teacher Training Programme that ASB runs for local teachers who work in NGOs in Mumbai and beyond).  I like seeing our school through their eyes, and I like listening to how seeing what we do challenges their beliefs about teaching.  Brady writes about two theories:  Theory T and Theory R.

  • In Theory T, the T stands for "transfer".  People who support this theory believe that knowledge is contained in the teacher and other resources such as books or maybe the Internet. The challenge for educators in this theory is to transfer this knowledge to the students.  The success of this is measured through some sort of a test that checks to see if students can recall what they have learned - in its most simple form (multiple choice) it requires students to recognise a correct answer amid 3 incorrect ones.  I'm thinking that many of our TTP-ers have come through this education system, and many of them are working in schools where this is still the norm.  It must be a huge task for them to change this culture.
  • In Theory R, the R stands for "reorganise".  This theory does not assume that students are empty vessels waiting to be filled, but that their brains are already full of prior knowledge that can combine with new learning and be reorganised to become more useful.  Students in these schools are not expected to passively absorb information, but instead are expected to actively process it through higher level thinking.
Bearing these 2 theories in mind, Brady calls for educational leaders to "create a true general education curriculum, a curriculum that respects human nature and the brain's holistic approach to making sense of experience."  He ends his Thinking Big article with a quote from Buckminster Fuller:
Schools are in the knowledge business. Any school that does not send its graduates off with a thorough understanding of the seamless, systemic nature of knowledge - and the ability to use that understanding to live life more fully and intelligently - is failing.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Going beyond the foundational literacies

In my last post I discussed the argument from Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith that the skills that students leave schools and universities with are not the skills that are in demand by employers, or the skills that they will need for life.  Today, as it's a national holiday in India, I've been able to spend time this morning reading the 2015 World Economic Forum's Vision for Education.  This publication basically states the same as others that I've read recently:  that students must not only possess strong skills in language arts, maths and science, but must also have other skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, persistence, collaboration and curiosity.  The reality is that too many students are not getting the education that they need to succeed, and companies are not finding enough of the skilled workers that they need to compete.

Through automation and digitization of work, technology is now increasingly able to do jobs that involve both routine manual and cognitive skills. At the same time, jobs are emerging that require more non-routine and interpersonal skills.   The report highlights the fact that in 2014 more than a third of global companies reported difficulties in filling positions because of a shortage of people with key skills.  The World Economic Forum conducted a meta-analysis of research into 21st century skills in primary and secondary education, and came up with this graphic of 16 skills in 3 categories.

The Foundational Literacies have involve the skills needed for everyday tasks.  Acquiring these skills has been the traditional focus on education around the world.  But in today's world, these skills are only the starting point.  Competencies in approaching complex challenges such as being able to critically evaluate and convey knowledge and work in a team, are now seen as essential to the workforce.  The final category of Character Qualities concern a person's ability to work in a changing environment.

But here's the problem:  assessment tools used in schools traditionally focus on measuring the foundational literacies.  Additional tools and indicators need to be developed that can measure competencies and character qualities.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Education credentials are our country's caste system"

Before I really get into this blog post, I think I need to state a couple of things.  I went to university in the UK at a time when only 2% of 18 year olds went to university.  I was the first person ever in my family to attend a university, and yet with free tuition and student grants it was probably the easiest time to attend.  Since the figures for actually getting a Bachelor's degree were so tiny, the proportion of those getting a Master's degree or PhD were much smaller still.  Only one of my friends from this time stayed on at university and got a PhD.  None of the people I started teaching with have ever felt the need to get a Master's degree.

It's different for my American colleagues, however, many of whom are in a situation where they need to continue to earn "credits" in order to keep their teaching licences.  It was quite a shock to me that after collecting a number of college credits for attending various PD opportunities, that these people were then eligible for Master's degrees.   Many American schools pay higher for people with qualifications, even though there is no correlation at all between quality of teaching and qualifications of the teacher - this is another incentive to enrol in more courses for more credits.  But maybe things are changing.  In the book Most Likely to Succeed, Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith write that companies are wanting to hire creative problem solvers, able to invent ways to add value to their organizations, but that these skills are found in very few graduates.  In fact, they write, there is a huge contradiction between what students need to do to earn a college degree and what makes them most likely to succeed in the world of work.

When I arrived at my current school I was offered the opportunity to get an M.Ed in Educational Leadership.  While I chose not to do this, I think it would have been impossible in any case.  When I graduated from university I had a degree.  There were no such things as transcripts or GPAs in the UK in the 1970s or 80s.  I'd never even been asked for them until 4 years ago!  I did contact my university, and was told that they couldn't provide such things: there was a single track to an academic degree, not a sort of pick-and-mix system, and all they could provide me with would be a copy of my degree certificate.

Part 1 of Most Likely to Succeed addresses the way we "worship at the alter of academic credentials", where people are obsessed with degrees.  They point out that despite our enormous investment in education, the majority of students leaving university lack the skills necessary to get a good job - the figure quoted from a Gallup poll is that only 11% of business leaders believe that college prepares students for success at work.  Possibly this is also shown in the fact that over half of those leaving colleges end up doing jobs that anyone leaving high school could do.  Yet, despite this, 94% of US adults believe a college degree is critically important to career prospects.

Wagner and Dintersmith argue that the US education system is chasing the wrong goal - trying to perform the same way as students in Singapore on standardized tests.  They argue a better goal is to educate youth for a world of innovation and opportunity.  We don't need to memorize and regurgitate facts any more.  We need to do something with what we know.  We need to move away from the "caste" system of hands-on education that leads to the trades and the lower classes, and academic education around abstract ideas that is for the gifted and upper classes.  Such thinking has led to almost all hands-on activities being removed from the K-12 curriculum.

Later in the book they look at school mission statements - most have goals such as helping students to discover their passions, to develop character and be responsible citizens and so on.  And yet when they have observed how students at these schools are taught and evaluated, it's clear that the real "mission" of the schools is simply to cover content that can be tested:  the focus is on memorization and recall, "a hollow process of temporarily retaining the information required to get acceptable grades on tests".  They write that for students discovering their passions and purpose is essential - young people who pursue a career for which they have no passion will likely be unhappy, unsuccessful or both.

There is one paragraph that really rings true for me:
We prioritize measuring irrelevant things and drill the innovation and creativity out of our youth.  A small number of our most talented will escape the damage of school and go on to create successful new companies and unimaginable wealth.  Our wealthiest parents will continue to get their kids into top colleges, arrange the "right" internships and - despite education's failings - help their advantaged kids pull ahead ... As the ranks of chronically unemployed youth swell, the rift between the unrelenting rich and the disenfranchised rest will rip our society apart.  We will fail as a country, not because other nations defeated us, but because we defeated ourselves.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Prepared for life or protected from life?

This week on Facebook, one of my younger colleagues (who is just a couple of years older than my son) shared a post entitled Why Generation Y is Unhappy.  Generation Y, also known as Millennials, is the group of people born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s, so both my children fall into this category.  Because of this I read it with a keen interest.

According to the article, Generation Ys are unhappy because their expectations are much higher than the reality they face.  Their parents (my generation) are the Baby Boomers born in the 1950s, and our own parents grew up in the era of the Great Depression and the Second World War (my mother was born in 1929 so experienced both of these as a child).  Because of this my parents brought me up to believe in the value of a secure job, to strive to purchase a house for security, and to think in terms of a single career for life.  Our expectation was that it would take considerable time to "rise through the ranks", but that eventually if we worked hard we would make it.  As a young teacher in my 20s I never would have thought of applying for promotions that were way above what I thought I could do - I have to say my generation was pretty humble, and many colleagues of the same age as me do find the "arrogance of youth" pretty irritating at times when Millennials think that after a year of two of experience they are qualified enough to "run the show" and apply for positions that we have taken 20 years to work ourselves into.  This arrogance is interesting - some time ago my son told me that his boss had had a conversation with him where this word cropped up.  My hunch was that my son is competent at what he does, but that his expectations are probably higher than the reality of where he currently is at this stage of his career, just a year and a half off a graduate scheme.  His boss was probably a Baby Boomer like myself.

Anyway the article in question explained that the Baby Boomers generally did better than expected - and because of this they were happy.  I thought about my own situation, and that was certainly true.  I was the first person in my entire family to get a university degree, and also the first person to own property - even before my own parents bought their house (mine of course was much smaller, but still I was able to do this in my early/mid-twenties).  Because we experienced success, so the argument goes, we also encouraged our children to strive for success.  Our GenY children grew up not just wanting, but actually expecting to do better than us.  We encouraged our children to feel "special" - and the reality is that most of them are not!   Because our children feel special, they feel they should be excelling in the workplace.  They are not content or patient like our generation was - they are highly ambitious and they have an inflated view of their own abilities (brought about by us, their parents who constantly showered them with praise) which means they are not content to simply be doing well.  Because their expectations are so much higher than the reality in which they find themselves they become disappointed and frustrated - and unhappy - which brings us back to the title of the article.

Enter social media.  My children have grown up in various countries and attended international schools because I worked as a teacher in those schools.  The vast majority of their peers at these schools were the sons and daughters of international businessmen living a luxurious expat life.  My children's friends on Facebook are still those peers - and now many of them are doing extremely well as they have entered mummy or daddy's business - and some seem so wealthy that they don't really have to work very much at all!  And of course all of the highlights of these great lives are posted on Facebook for everyone to admire.  GenY kids, like my children, therefore could well end up not just feeling unhappy, but also feeling inadequate when they compare their lives with their friends.  Both my kids are actually doing really well - but I often wonder how they feel about their lives compared with those that they went to school with.

Today I'm looking at this from a parents' perspective.  I've started to read Julie Lythcott-Haims' book How to Raise an Adult.  It's an interesting read!  Julie starts by comparing our childhood with that of our children.  We had a pretty free time of it.  My mother didn't work outside of the home and generally gave us lots of freedom.  We lived on the edge of London, took public transport or walked to school, played outside, visited shopping centres, hung around the neighbourhood parks and so on. Once I left the house, my parents had no real idea where I was, and I certainly had no way of contacting them to let them know if I'd missed the bus home, for example.  We just turned up late and that was OK - I didn't have to deal with a panic stricken parent wondering where I was.

But by the time I became a parent things were different.  Children didn't play outside so much.  Often children didn't take themselves to school but were driven by their parents.  There was also much more emphasis on parents helping their children to do their homework.  My mother, who left school at the age of 13 when her school was bombed in 1942, didn't have the education to help me when I was a teenager.  Plus there weren't such things as standardized tests.  Certainly I had no idea as a teenager how my "scores" compared with students of a similar age on the other side of the world.

Another big difference, as mentioned before, is that suddenly children came to school with a much higher self-esteem.  This wasn't true of the children I taught in the first few years I became a teacher - working in a mining community during the miners's strike of the early 1980s - but by the time I became an international teacher I experienced students who had been told for years that they were wonderful.  I remember the horror that these students experienced when they didn't get As or B+s in their assignments - because they'd always had this grade inflation in previous schools.  For me, coming from the UK, an "average" grade was a C.  For the American students I taught, a C was like failing!

Children's time became much more regimented.  For the first time I noticed things like after school activities and clubs - something that didn't exist in my day unless you were on the sports team.  By the time I moved onto my second international school the term "helicopter parents" was becoming more common.  Somehow the Baby Boomers who had championed free thinking, questioned authority and were passionate about the rights of the individual, were becoming more and more involved in their own children's lives.  This was a huge contrast with the role taken by their own parents.  I remember in Thailand my son talking about one of his friend's mothers as being his friend's "best friend" and I remember saying to him "I'm not your friend, I'm your mother!"  I had no wish to be seen in a different role - but maybe I was strange.  At the same time, the mothers of my childrens' friends, just like me, were working mothers.  They were two income families and talked about "quality time not quantity time".   I counted myself lucky that my kids were both in the same school that I was, and that actually we had quite a lot of quantity time!

But what has been the outcome?  A whole generation of children who are still, as young adults, relying on their parents.  And a whole generation of parents who measure their own success by the accomplishments of their children.  And the question has to be asked - are the GenY adults unhappy because my safety-conscious, academic achievement focused, self-esteem promoting generation has robbed these children of the opportunities to develop into healthy adults?  Are GenY adults unhappy because they are used to problems being solved for them and because they are used to constant praise?  Are they not resilient because they have not ever had to encounter the challenges and bad times that life threw their way?  Are they actually capable of thriving in the real world on their own? Have we prepared our kids FOR life, or have we simply protected our kids FROM life?

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

We are each responsible for inventing the future

In November I wrote a short post about Tina Seelig's Innovation Engine.  As I've now come to the end of her book inGenius, I want to write more about this and how all the different parts of the engine connect.  Seelig divides the engine up into the inside and outside.  On the inside, creativity is influenced by knowledge, imagination and attitude - this basically draws on Bloom's work about how learning is connected to what you know, do and feel.

Knowledge fuels your imagination because the more you know about something, the more you have to work with.  Your imagination is what allows you to create something new.  Studies have shown that imagination is connected to memory as the same parts of your brain are invoked in remembering and imagining. Our imagination transforms what we know into new ideas, and it is an endlessly renewable resource.  Our attitude, sometimes referred to as our mind-set, determines how we interpret and respond to situations.  Brain research shows that people who believe they can learn from their errors have different activity in their brains when they make a mistake when compared to people who think their intelligence is fixed and who therefore don't try to learn from their mistakes.  Carol Dweck makes the point that our mind-sets are malleable - the messages we tell ourselves and that others tell us influence us and how we see the world.

Outside of ourselves there are three other factors that contribute to our "innovation engine".  These are resources, habitat and culture.  Resources are things such as funds, natural resources, people with knowledge and expertise and organizations that foster innovation.  Resources are connected with knowledge because the more knowledge you have, the more resources you can mobilize.  Habitat ties in with imagination because we create physical spaces that reflect the way we think.  These spaces in turn influence our imagination.  Culture is the way that groups of people interpret and understand the world - it is the collective attitudes that deeply influences our thoughts and actions.  This is how Seelig describes the working of the Innovation Engine:

  • Your attitude sparks your curiosity to acquire knowledge
  • Your knowledge fuels your imagination, allowing you to generate ideas
  • Your imagination leads to the creation of stimulating habitats, leveraging the resources in your environment
  • The habitats, along with your attitude, influence the culture of your community.
She writes:
Creativity can be enhanced by honing your ability to observe and learn, by connecting and combining ideas, by reframing problems and by moving beyond the first right answers.  You can boost your creative output by building habitats that foster problem solving, crafting environments that support the generation of new ideas, building teams that are optimized for innovation, and contributing to a culture that encourages experimentation.
Can creativity be taught and learned?  It certainly seems that we can do a lot to foster it.

A jigsaw puzzle or a quilt?

When I got married 27 years ago, my best friend made me a quilt.  Although it was a fairly geometric pattern, there was one part that was different.  She told me that traditionally quilts always had a "wrong" bit in them because "only God is perfect".  I thought about that today when reading Chapter 10 of inGenius about creativity.  Tina Seelig writes about the different approaches people take when making a jigsaw puzzle and when making a quilt.  With a jigsaw there is a fixed goal and if a piece is missing you won't be able to finish the puzzle.  Many people are not creative because they see life as a jigsaw - it's too challenging if they don't have all the pieces needed to complete the puzzle.

Making a quilt is completely different however.  You change the pattern depending on what pieces you have to hand.  In fact you can complete a quilt with whatever material you have.  This is the mindset of an innovative person who can "respond to the unexpected and who can leverage the resources that are available to create something of value rather than waiting for all the pieces to show up".  These people are willing to take on projects that might not turn out as expected because there is always the chance that they will succeed.

It's possible to move from being a puzzler to a quilter, to move away from the fear of failure that makes you unwilling to take on challenges.  Seelig advises people to take small chances first, as a way of building up creative confidence, before taking on larger and larger challenges.  She writes that eventually your drive to succeed will outweigh your fear of failure.

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