Tag Archives: curriculum

Babies and Bath Water

I am reading a fascinating book: ‘The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains’ by Nicholas Carr. I strongly recommend it. I was particularly drawn to his analysis of the differences between ‘deep reading’ and the kind of interconnected, hyperlink driven reading that we engage with when we read on the internet.

Deep reading is the thoughtful, internalized reading we engage on when we read a book from cover to cover, when we engage with it at a deep level and contemplate the characters or the ideas contained within it. It is essentially linear – we start at the beginning and go on to the end.

Internet based reading is a different animal. It is filled with distractions and opportunities to be sidetracked that take up working memory as we decide whether to ignore them or follow their seductive paths. Carr is afraid that this kind of reading – and it is fast becoming the predominate form of reading – will lead to superficial thinking.

In a recent conversation with a university professor friend I heard her bemoaning the kind of ‘gist thinking’ that she felt was becoming far too commonplace among her students. “They think they understand, but they are satisfied with just the gist of the idea”. This, I think, is exactly what Carr is writing about.

But when something new comes along we are naive to think it will simply replace what has gone on before. Every new medium does not mark the previous media for obsolescence. People feared that TV would bankrupt cinemas. It has done no such thing and multiplexes thrive and continue to grow. We thought TV might destroy live theatre, but it has not. Certainly the CD led to the demise of the cassette tape, but that was because the CD did exactly the same thing as the cassette tape – only better.

Internet reading, with its interconnected, networked nature involves a very different kind of thinking from the deep, linear thinking that a good book offers. They both have us thinking in different ways, and both ways are powerful.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to teach our kids how to navigate the rich, interconnected world of the internet. We need to encourage them to make connections, to link old knowledge with new discoveries, to create networks in their understandings than are essentially horizontal, broad and integrating. But we also need to make sure they see the value of deep reading, of mining at depth a rich seam of knowledge. There is a place for ‘gist’ thinking, but it doesn’t replace deep thinking.

 

 

 

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Flogging A Dead Horse

At a very recent meeting of the American Educational Research Association, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has freely admitted the problems associated with standardized testing. He described it as ‘mediocre’ and an inadequate way of determining student achievement, teacher proficiency or school effectiveness. He also acknowledged the suffocating effect of high stakes standardized testing on students and on teachers.

Perhaps of particular interest were his criticisms of the use of any one measure to determine the achievement of a student, a school or a teacher. He was absolutely clear about the need for multiple, varying types of measures if we want to get a valid picture of what is happening in education.

And so, for Australia, comes the obvious question. Why is a school’s ranking on the My School web site based on only a single measure, a standardized test?

Our government is committing itself more and more deeply (the NAPLAN testing of science comes next) to a system that has been adopted from the USA and then tried and found woefully wanting in the USA. Why?

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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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It’s Happening Australia!

I spotted this at the local shopping centre a couple of days ago.

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This is where we are heading Australia, if we continue to follow the GERM model of blanket standardized high stakes testing.

Mums and Dads will be buying these test preparation kits for their kids.

As we watch the  transformation of our kids from learners into data sources, the pressures of school will be extended to the home.

Is this really what we want our parents to buy to support their children s’ learning?

Wouldn’t a BOOK be better?

 

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Bricklaying vs networking

How do we teach kids to read?

Many practices reflect the bricklaying model of reading. The act of reading is made up of several bricks – the phonemic awareness brick, the alphabet brick, the grapho-phonic brick, the sight words bricks, and all the other decoding bricks.
bricklayers-Southend
As long as each brick was laid straight and firm we were pretty confident that our kids would learn to read. We have all seen reading taught like this. “Today we are going to learn about long a”, and the teacher compiles lists of words with the long a sound, shows the children texts in which they identify the long a sound, and then they move on to short a. Another brick is being laid.

As our understanding of the brain develops and with it our understanding of learning, and more particularly our understanding of LANGUAGE learning we discover that learning to read isn’t like building a brick wall at all.

Its far more like growing a network.  social_networks2 (1)

Which brings me to my point – remember Whole Language?

Remember the people who advocated for teaching language – reading, writing, speaking, listening – in an integrated manner, relating each to the other?

Whole Language advocates never suggested we don’t need to understand phonics, they never suggested that grammar has no place in language. What they did say was language is a network and needs to be taught as one, each part integrated with every other part.

It’s not rocket science, and it’s certainly not brick laying.

Let’s look again at how kids learn best, by immersing them in the complexity and helping them make sense of it. We begin with the experience and then we help them discover the rules and procedures that enable them to make sense of the experience in a brain compatible manner.

Kids learn to read by reading just as they learn to ride bikes by getting on them and working it out.

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Amplify – it’s powerful, it’s also dangerous.

I have just watched a promotional video for a new piece of educational technology called an Amplify. It’s a tablet that has been specifically designed for the classroom and it is powerful.

Powerful is a word I often find associated with another word – dangerous.

You can read about it here:

http://www.informationweek.com/education/instructional-it/amplify-tablet-hopes-to-rule-schools/240150167

You can also watch a demonstration of the tablet here:

http://www.amplify.com/tablet/

OK. So what’s the danger? It looks wonderful.

We know from looking at successful school systems around the world that the teacher is the single most important influence in learning at school. Yep. It’s Finland again! The meta studies done by Robert Marzano reinforce this.

But what is the first thing the teacher does with an Amplify tablet at the start of the lesson? She starts the class by “pressing a button” and she checks who is in her class by looking at her screen. Whoa!  I thought the first thing a teacher should do at the start of a school day or lesson is establish a relationship with her class. I thought the most important thing was to look at the kids, scan the room, make a couple of encouraging remarks that set a tone of shared endeavor, not look at a screen and press a button.

So here is my first fear – that learning becomes mediated through the tablet rather than through the teacher, that learning ceases being a shared human activity and becomes an interaction between a screen and a student.

Of course this is not inevitable. We can hope that teachers will see that the Amplify is a tool to make the art and science of teaching more effective. But pressures on teachers, administrators and school districts are growing and the main pressure is to pass the standardized, multiple choice tests that are sweeping across and bedding down in GERM countries.

The Amplify tablet is the perfect device to train kids to pass these tests.

For example, the Quick Poll enables the teacher to run a fast true/false test to check on understanding. What depth of understanding can be evaluated when the only possible answers are ‘true’ or ‘false’? The demonstration suggests that instruction can then be ‘differentiated’ on the basis of these T/F results, but clearly this can only be at the most superficial level both in terms of the conceptual depth of the topic being studied and the learning needs of the individual student.

We see an example of a Khan Academy mathematics video on ratios – all good stuff. But the testing component is a perfect copy of the standardized test four point multiple choice questions with which we are all so familiar.

The example project completed at home by a student is a cut and paste affair from a collection of videos and information gleaned from the on board Encyclopedia Britannica, personalized by a photo taken by child.

The Amplify looks to be the perfect tool to prepare kids to take these tests, and because these tests have already shown their power to narrow the curriculum, to sideline creativity and the development of effective thinkers, to devalue and disempower teachers, the Amplify can also be dangerous.

It is instructional to note that Amplify is a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and the CEO of Amplify is Joel Klein. Klein was the former Chancellor of New York City Schools and one of the primary drivers of high stakes standardized testing in the USA. He was also a powerful influence on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Minister for Education Peter Garret and we are watching the debilitating effect high stakes blanket testing is already having in this country as standards fall instead of lift since the introduction of NAPLAN in 2008.

There is a saying “Follow the money”.  We have already seen the vast amounts of money being spent on testing instead of learning. While the Amplify sells at a more appealing price point that an IPad, there is a $99 per year ‘plan’ attached.

What a pity that we are not able to see the launch of such a powerful tool in a different environment. If only we were free of the testing straight jacket, if we trusted well trained teachers to do their job, if we valued thinking above remembering, creativity and innovation above the ability to repeat learned information. Perhaps then the Amplify would be just ‘powerful’ and not also ‘dangerous’.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Kid’s Temperature’s Too High – Put Him Outside In The Snow

Pasi Sahlberg has called it GERM – the Global Education Reform Movement. It’s an apt acronym because it is infectious and it is doing us no good at all. In fact it is doing what all infections do – weakening us and making us vulnerable to all sorts of other opportunistic infections.

A GERM infection happens when policy makers see that something is wrong with education and instead of drilling down to find out what is causing the problem and then seeking solutions, they decide to measure what is wrong and then try and use that metric as a solution. That is tantamount to taking the temperature of a child with the flu, discovering that it is too high, and putting him outdoors in the snow.

In all GERM countries we see the same scenario:

  • blanket standardized multiple choice style testing of all kids – in the belief that this one test is a measure of the effectiveness of everything important that goes on the school
  • shock horror reactions to the results followed by the apportioning of blame – and the imposition of sanctions against low scoring schools and teachers
  • mammoth efforts to lift the scores in the next round of tests –  narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the test, teaching of test taking skills, loss of free play time, development of scripted teaching programs that de-skill teachers, devaluing of subjects that are not tested
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The USA is deeply enmeshed in this epidemic with the majority of school districts GERM ridden. One of GERM’s prominent advocates Joel Klein invited Australia’s Prime Minister and Minister for Education to discover what the infection had done to his New York City schools. The inevitable happened. When you are exposed to GERMS you become infected. That infection is spreading through the Australian school population. You, dear reader, will know the severity of the epidemic in the schools around you.

There are a few school systems that remain immune to GERM – Finland is one – but without action this growing epidemic may become a pandemic.

The root of this problem lies in the belief that one standardized test, administered in the same way, to every child, in every school at the same time is capable of measuring the complex, rich, varied nature of education and, more importantly, is capable of measuring our children. It is not.

If you read this blog you already understand the important things that go on in schools. You also understand that the things that matter the most are the very things that a four point multiple choice question cannot measure.

What can you do?

Make your voice heard.

Within your professional organizations have this subject raised to the top of the list of concerns. Don’t let it languish at the bottom – too hard, too complex. It’s strikes at the root of our professional ethics if we meekly allow something so destructive to go unchallenged.

Write letters to the newspapers, contact talk back radio, contact your local politicians.

Talk to your parents, your local community groups.

Focus on what you know is important.

If you are a teacher, focus on helping the kids to learn and refuse to let your professional skills be diminished. Teach the curriculum with all the depth and richness you can muster. Don’t teach the test, teach the children! Make it clear that if you have to administer the test you will, but also make it clear that it has no significant place among the important things you are doing at school.

If you are a parent understand the pressures on teachers and let your voice speak for them. You have the right in Australia to refuse to allow your child to sit for NAPLAN tests. In the past the refusal of parents in Victoria to allow their children to sit for an earlier manifestation of NAPLAN  – the LAP tests – resulted in their lack of statistical validity as a measure of achievement and they quietly faded into the background. No one can discipline parents, you can’t have your pay docked or lose your job, if you pull your child out of the test.

Above all else –

THINK about what effect these high stakes standardized tests are having on education and then consult your own professional conscience and set of ethics.

How much are you prepared to tolerate?

You can listen to Pasi Sahlberg speaking in New York about GERM on this 18 minute video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdgS–9Zg_0

There is a much longer talk given at the University of Melbourne available at:

http://live.unimelb.edu.au/episode/how-finland-remains-immune-global-educational-reform-movement

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