Monthly Archives: April 2013

Library, factory or smart phone?

I have just had the privilege of participating in five days of learning about ‘Classroom Instruction That Works’ by McREL. One of the nine research based and proven strategies to enhance student learning is looking for similarities and differences and the vcreation of metaphors is a powerful way to do this.

So, let’s have a shot at it!

Is your brain: A library?

Library

Do you somehow seem to inhabit a huge store of information and do you hunt for the place where what you need is stored every time you think? Is thinking about pulling the right ‘books’ off the right ‘shelves’ and then putting the contents of the books together in an operable amalgamation of what you know?

Or is it more like a factory?

Factory

Is your brain an incredibly complex manufacturing process? Do you feed in the raw materials of experience and perception, process them with the innate capacities of your mind and then produce thoughts, feeling and actions?

I suspect the closest metaphor for the brain is actually the smart phone.

smartphoneInside my Iphone I have a huge library of information that grows and changes every time I do anything with it. It is an electronic factory that processes every interaction it has with the world outside, be it via my keystrokes or because of its connection to the world through the internet.

The Iphone I pick up this morning will be subtly different from the Iphone I put down last night. New connections will have been made between programs, new updates will have appeared for my apps, bits and pieces will have been coming and going through the night as the internet itself has changed and grown.

My Iphone is a plastic, dynamic accumulation of interconnections housed in some protective hardware – a case that protects it from the knocks and accidents the world can inflict.

It’s amazing, but its nowhere near as powerful as the human brain.

Imagine the possibilities when we combine the power of our brains with the power of the smart phone, the tablet and the internet.

As part of my work with McREL I had the thrilling experience of visiting a primary school on Friday where those possibilities are opening up.

Every classroom had an Apple TV. The kids had Ipads and Iphones on their tables. They used them to research, to check word meanings and spellings, to share their work with others and with the class. These devices were becoming as common place as paper, pencils, and books in these classrooms. But I was aware, as were the teachers, that they are only skimming the surface.

Imagine the opportunities these media will provide as they extend children’s brain power into the internet, as they provide tools for collaboration and demonstration, as they extend the possibilities for creative, innovative thought beyond the here and now.

It makes we wish I was forty years younger so I could be around in another forty years and look at the world these kids will have created.

I am an optimist!

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Filed under Classroom practice, Thinking

The right — and wrong role — for teachers

At the National Education Summit on High Schools in 2005 Bill Gates declared that the third R of education was ‘relationships’. He saw relationships then as the foundation of good education, effective teaching. This is a very powerful article.

The Treehorn Express

By Marion Brady

Bill Gates spent$45 million trying to find out what makes a school teacher effective. I’ve studied his Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, and think it ignores a matter of fundamental importance.

Consider: What makes an effective lawyer, carpenter, baseball player, surgeon?

The answer is that it depends—depends on what they’re being asked to do. An effective divorce lawyer isn’t necessarily an effective criminal defense lawyer. A good framing carpenter isn’t necessarily a good finish carpenter. A good baseball catcher isn’t necessarily a good third baseman. A good heart surgeon isn’t necessarily a good hip-replacement surgeon.

Put lawyers, carpenters, baseball players, and surgeons in wrong roles, test them, and a likely conclusion will be that they’re not particularly effective. So it is with teachers. Put them in wrong roles, and they probably won’t be particularly effective.

Gates’ faith in test scores as indicators of effectiveness makes it…

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NAPLAN and Science

Greg Thompson, Senior Lecturer at Murdoch University has some important observations to make about NAPLAN in general and about the planned extension to include science testing. You can read it in The Conversation at

http://theconversation.com/naplan-science-tests-unlikely-to-improve-science-education-13399?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+12+April+2013&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+12+April+2013+CID_add048067f8ac027e86744c6af3e0f63&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=NAPLAN%20science%20tests%20unlikely%20to%20improve%20science%20education

 

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As the stakes go up the validity goes down.

When you learn that your school will be judged on the number of students you suspend, how long does it take you to think up different consequences for behavior?

The higher the stakes the more likely it is that test will be fudged.

GERM countries should know this by now!

 

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Pass, Fail, Practice

Oh the power of words.

“I’m sorry. You tried and you failed.”

How many times do our kids hear or read these damning, undermining words?

Every time they hand in a paper to be graded, every time they sit a test, every time they raise their hands to answer a question, they are leaving themselves open to either a direct or an implied pass or fail judgment.

Let’s change the culture in the class room.

Let’s make it absolutely clear that we are here to learn, that learning requires risk taking and risk takers are a lot more interested in practicing things, in getting better and better at them, and not so interested in passing or failing.

What would this look like in a classroom?

Teachers ask a lot of questions.

Scenario 1

Teacher asks a question, lots of hands go up.

Student A answers and the teacher says “Thanks John, that’s right.”

What happens here is that student A knows he has ‘passed’, as does everyone else. Everyone else can now stop thinking.

Scenario 2

Teacher asks a question, lots of hands go up.

Student B answers and the teacher says “No, Lizzy, that’s wrong. Does anyone have a different idea?”

What happens here is that Lizzy knows she has failed and has to deal with this and everyone else knows that failure is an option so the risks involved in answering just got higher unless you are sure you are right.

Scenario 3

Teacher asks a question, lots of hands go up.

Student C answers and the teacher says “Thanks Alan. Who else has an idea?”

No judgment. No closing down of thinking because no doors have been closed. No fear of being wrong. Thinking continues.

If the teacher asks a question and withholds judgment, either positive or negative, the thinking will continue and risk taking will continue. Learning has a much better chance of continuing too.

Students do a lot of writing and teachers read what they write.

Grade two have been working hard on spelling patterns. They have been exploring the ‘ph’ digraph and looking for words that contain it. In a writing passage one child spells elephant like this ‘ellephant’.

Scenario 1

The teacher draws a red line through the word, indicating it is incorrectly spelled. The child has failed.

Scenario 2

The teacher places a series of small check marks above the e, the second e, the ph, the a, the n and the t. The teacher circles the ll. The child knows she got six things right but needs to work on one thing. She needs more practice. it’s not a matter of right or wrong, of pass or fail.

Share some of the practices in your classroom that change the culture from a pass/fail culture to a culture of practice.

As my daughter said to me this morning “I never fail, I just practice a lot. Sometimes I didn’t know I was practicing until later!”

 

 

 

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Filed under Classroom practice, Language and literacy, Testing

Not Everything Can be Measured with Kitchen Scales.

Some interesting thoughts on the NAPLAN literacy testing by someone who knows.

The Treehorn Express

Distinguished Guest Writer

Lorraine Wilson Lorraine started this feature section of The Treehorn Express on 2 Feb. with “Education as The Processing of Oranges”. You’ll recall that brilliant table. She has been a leader in the drive for more freedom for teachers and children to learn without limits. Her submission to and appearance before the Senate Inquiry are testimony to her deep concern. An outstanding Australian educator, she challenges us with her article below. [Good luck. I hope that you do better than I did.]

Lorraine grew up in Northern Victoria and attended one-teacher rural schools as a child. She always loved to read but had no real interest in writing until much later, when she was deputy principal of a large inner city school, Helen St Northcote.

The student population included a majority of recently arrived migrant children together with impoverished Australian born children. At that time there…

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Let them move

I have just watched a very interesting News Hour report on a school district in the USA where project based learning is being introduced district wide. There has been a lot of learning for teachers as well as students, and some teachers have moved out or been moved out because it simply wasn’t for them.

One of the trickiest aspects has been finding a way to focus on this kind of learning where depth of understanding is what is valued, while at the same time managing to do well in the State’s ‘bubble tests’ which seem superficial by comparison. How to do both?

But what really intrigued me was the obvious engagement of the kids as they moved around the classrooms, handled materials and were generally physically active.

How much of their engagement was because they were free to move?

Obviously that’s not enough on its own, but just how critical might it be?

I remember a third grade boy I taught years ago. He would drive the class and me crazy by constantly kicking the legs of his table when sitting down to do work. I was inexperienced. I tried asking, rewarding, growling and grumbling but nothing worked until one day I told him he could stand up or work on the floor if he would prefer to. Eureka! Problem solved. He just needed to be able to move.

Young children in particular need to move and get their bodies involved in their learning. Lots of boys need to move a lot of the time. That doesn’t mean they need to swing from the classroom fan. They just need acceptable wriggle room, a way to get the bubbles out of their joints.

Take a look at your classroom. Here are a couple of easy, rule of thumb guides.

1. Don’t expect your kids to keep still for more than one minute per year of age. A seven year old needs a wriggle after seven minutes. A fifteen year old can keep it together for a quarter of an hour before a stretch or a stand up/sit down might be called for.

2. Watch for the classroom fidgets and find a way to help them fidget in ways that don’t distract or irritate the others.

Let the kids move. They’ll learn better.

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Filed under Behavior management, Teacher education, Thinking