No such thing as a free lunch 

Filed under: Education on Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 by | 1 Comment

School lunch

Economists say that there is no such thing as a free lunch; this may be true, but there are plenty of things that are free thanks to the internet.  There are free web tools, free information, free newspapers, free phone calls and free music to name just a few.  But for me the most important ‘free lunch’ is the professional learning.  Twitter and blogs may be the most common way that I access professional learning and challenge my current thinking but they are not the only way.
Steve Hargadon (@stevehargadon http://www.futureofeducation.com/ ) runs an excellent series of interviews that you can participate in live, asking questions directly to the interviewee all while connecting with other educators from around the world.  With people like Sir Ken Robinson, Ira Socol and Alfie Kohn this is a must series to follow.  If like me time zones make it difficult to allow you to participate, you can download the recordings through iTunes or listen online; check out the Delicious Bookmarks for a full list of interviews http://goo.gl/AmsRD
Another example of outstanding professional learning is coming up next week in the form of the Reform Symposium e-Conference.  This free online conference takes place on Friday 29 July to Sunday 31 July.  From the comfort of your couch you can participate in over 65 interactive presentations looking at best practices in 21st century education.  To find out more go to http://reformsymposium.com/
There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is definitely a lot to dine on for free.

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ICT in the PYP 

Filed under: Education on Sunday, June 26th, 2011 by | No Comments

Acer Aspire 8920 Gemstone by Georgy
The International Baccalaureate this June released a document called ‘The Role of ICT in the PYP’.  It is a very good document that all PYP teachers should read; in fact teachers in schools that are not part of the IB should also read it.  It is timely as our school is  removing our computer lab and this is putting some teachers out of their comfort zones as they have to re-evaluate their pedagogy in relation to ICT; this document should help.

For some it may not offer anything new; but for others it can act as a guideline in relation to how IT is integrated meaningfully within your classroom.  What underpins the document is the move away from the learning of a simple set of skills and tools for their own sake, to a set of skills that allow our students to be investigating, creating, communicating, collaborating, organising and becoming responsible digital citizens.  The teacher is responsible for creating authentic learning experiences that allows for students to exhibit these skills and this is done by embedding ICT across the curriculum; not as stand-alone lessons.

My belief that teachers must take responsibility for their own professional learning is also reflected in the document.  It encourages teachers to develop the effective integration of ICT by reading professional journals and also by becoming connected to professional learning networks.  The use of twitter, blogs and nings has so much potential that any educator serious about developing their practice should be using them on a regular basis (and that is all educators!). In a previous post I spoke about teachers becoming inquirers themselves, the IB reinforces this:
By engaging in inquiry themselves, teachers will achieve a deeper understanding of the role ICT plays in learning and in society, and will also be models for their students by demonstrating that they too are learners.

For me there are two aspects that every teacher should take from this document.  Firstly that ICT skills are not learning how to save a file or insert an image, but wider skills that will transform teaching and learning by allowing students to create and apply new understanding,  connect and communicate with others, and to become responsible digital citizens.
And secondly that teachers must take control of their own personal learning and connect with others to ensure that the best pedagogy is used in relation to ICT.

Hopefully this document will be required reading for all teachers at my school.

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The Homework Question 

Filed under: Education on Sunday, June 5th, 2011 by | 2 Comments

I have just finished reading Alfie Kohn’s ‘The Homework Myth’.  It was a book that reinforced many of the things that I already believed about homework, and left me with a few more things to contemplate. Homework is definitely an issue that divides parents and teachers but many of the arguments that come out are based on very little evidence; much of it on what happened to them when they were in school.  What I find even worse is when schools, or teachers, are judged by the amount of homework that they give as if it relates to ‘rigor’ in education.

I suppose I should start by giving my position; I am not against homework.  I am against how and what is currently given and the reasons that many give for assigning it.

Many schools have a homework policy; my own school has a recommendation of how much homework students should be doing each night.  The problem with this, even if it is only a recommendation, is that it is assumed that a set amount of homework needs to be given.  This has the effect of causing teachers to give ‘busy work’, homework that is given just to meet a requirement rather than to help learning. “We’ve decided ahead of time that children will have to do something every night.  Later on we’ll figure out what to do.” as Kohn writes in The Homework Myth.

Differentiated learning is a term that all teachers are familiar with.  Why is it then that homework tends to be one size fits all?  Students are given the same work to complete in the same amount of time.  Is it fair that a top student who would only take 5 minutes to complete a task be given the same work that a lower ability student will take 2 hours to complete or vice versa?  You would not allow this to happen in a classroom but it is perfectly acceptable for homework.  If a student is advanced at a concept why would they need to do more of it at home?  If a student does not understand a concept, why would you let them do it at home?  Is it not our role to facilitate the learning of our students?  I prefer education to be an example of individualised learning where each student takes their own learning path to one of differentiation where all students are doing the same thing.

It also worries me that teachers attribute homework to many skills such as time management, organisation, reliability and responsibility to name a few.  Let’s just imagine for a moment that homework did teach these skills; once they had become proficient at these skills we would no longer have to give homework to teach them, right?  Therefore most homework could stop in Year 2.  There is no research that shows homework does indeed teach these skill but even if it did, is there not a better way to teach them in our classrooms that does not involve sending students home to do further work?  As Kohn said “Homework is useful at helping gets get better at homework”

Like any issue in education there is research that is used to back up both points of view.  The view of one person that I do value is that of John Hattie in his research Visible learning: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement (http://goo.gl/3Xrhd). In looking at factors that influence student achievement, homework was bound to come up.  By using a scale where 1.0 is associated with an increase of one standard deviation; or “advancing student achievement by two to three years, improving the rate of learning by 50% or a correlation between some variable and achievement”, and where .40 represents the “Zone of Desired Effect” where the greatest impact is had on student achievement, homework was only .29.  This is the sort of information that teachers and parents need to be aware of if appropriate homework policies are to be introduced in schools.

So what do we do?  As teachers and parents we need to begin asking questions about the value of the homework that is given to our students:  Why has it been given?  What is the learning that is involved in completing it?  Is it relevant for the level of the student?  What is the benefit of doing the work at home?  These are just some questions that if asked may make schools take a close look at their current homework policies.

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Making Classroom Assessment Work 

Filed under: Education on Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 by | No Comments

Teacher helping student

If you wish for your students to gain a higher level of academic achievement (and that should be every teacher) then I recommend that you read ‘Making Classroom Assessment Work’ by Anne Davies and Mary Hill.  As the title suggest, the book is about assessment in the classroom but more importantly how to involve your students in the process.
The research shows that involving your class in the assessment process will help them to make greater gains in achievement; ‘amongst the largest ever reported for educational interventions’ according to Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam in the Assessment in Education journal.
An important aspect in this success is having students define what high quality work looks like.  This allows students to know where they are heading and helps them to develop the criteria to see if they have been successful.  In doing this they can collect evidence to show they have met these criteria and present these to show their learning. The underlying principle is that assessment is done with the students, not too the students.

If involving students has such an impact, why do I not see widespread evidence of this occurring within classrooms? Is it a case of teachers not willing to share power in their classroom with students?  Or that they do not trust students in such an important aspect of education?  Or is it a time issue?  Whatever the reasons, this book is a compelling argument for all teachers to look at their practice and to make a change.

Image by Afoshee1020 at en.wikibooks [CC-BY-SA-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons

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Relevant Professional Development 

Filed under: Education on Monday, May 9th, 2011 by | 2 Comments

240px-Learning
Professional Development or Professional Learning? I know there is some debate at present as to what term should be used to describe the ‘training’ that teachers are involved in. I prefer the term Professional Learning as to me it invokes images of teachers directing their own pathway for improvement. Whatever term is used is meaningless if what is being learnt is not relevant to those taking part. At present our school is doing work on asTTle training; asTTle is a set of tools for assessing teaching and learning. These tools are very worthwhile and are student centred; they allow students to see what they are good at and where they need to go next in their learning pathways. We have been using asTTle for about two years and since it was obvious the benefit that it would have to my students’ leaning and my teaching, I made sure that I learned how to use it effectively. I experimented with it; I read the manual, I made sure that I knew as much about it as I could. I made some mistakes while doing so but I learnt from every one of them. I became quite adept at setting relevant assessments; at reading learning pathways and locating next steps, at sharing the information with my students. Now as a school we are having mass asTTle training. We have had approximately six hours after school time and an entire Teacher Only Day dedicated to it. And what have I learnt so far? That homework has next to no effect on student achievement and that if it is a Rottweiler, then call it a Rottweiler. I wonder how much money has been spent on my professional learning. We talk about differentiated and individual learning in our classrooms but fail to provide it to teachers when they learn; what message does this give us about a schools belief in these ideals? Yes it is harder to organise and monitor but these should not be excuses in providing meaningful and relevant professional learning for teachers. Teachers also need to take some responsibility. We need to take charge of our own professional learning and not wait for others to decide for us; we know best what our needs are and how we can meet them; we need to be challenging our own ideas and most importantly we need to be showing that we are learners too.
Our school is a PYP school and our students use the inquiry approach in their learning; it is about time that we teachers started to model this in our own learning.
Image By Baker131313 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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The Argument Clinic 

Filed under: Education on Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 by | No Comments

In class we have been looking at persuasive writing.  This is a topic that the students love; I mean who doesn’t like a good argument!  We start the unit by watching a wonderful Monty Python skit called ‘The Argument Clinic’  to help us to discuss what an argument really is.  If you haven’t watched it, it is well worth the time.  The discussion afterwards is always lively and usually involves watching the skit at least another five times!  I like seeing how the students’ ideas change after hearing the definition of others; this year the major debate was whether you can have an argument with yourself!  The next step is for them to write a mock wikipedia page on our class wiki defining the terms ‘argument’ and ‘persuasive’; it will be interesting to see what direction they take.  In the meantime, enjoy having an argument; or is it a contradiction?

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An extra in the life movie of others 

Filed under: Education on Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by | No Comments

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Image: ‘This is Vespucci
http://www.flickr.com/photos/95572727@N00/193145430

At the leaving dinner for our Year 8 students one year, Oliver Driver, a New Zealand actor and broadcaster, talked to the students about them being actors in the movie of their own life; how that everyone that they came in contact with was just an extra in this movie. This might sound like a rather egocentric view. The point that he made was that we might be the lead actor in our own movie, playing out our life, dealing with our problems, but every time we interact with someone else we actually become just an extra in their movie as they play out their life and deal with their problems. It is a great way for students (and ourselves) to look at how we treat others.  Although we were not a PYP school at the time, the message fits in well with some of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile:

Principled - They act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and communities. They take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences that accompany them.

Open-minded – They understand and appreciate their own cultures and personal histories, and are open to the perspectives, values and traditions of other individuals and communities. They are accustomed to seeking and evaluating a range of points of view, and are willing to grow from the experience.

Caring - They show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others. They have a personal commitment to service, and act to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment.

If we live our life not only as the main actor in our own movie, but also as an extra in the life movie of others, we will go a long way to exhibiting these attributes of the Learner Profile.

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Can You Grade My Effort 

Filed under: Education on Saturday, March 26th, 2011 by | 1 Comment

How much effort have I put into this post? Could you give me a grade? Maybe a B because I actually completed it. Or a C since it has been so long since I have actually written a blog post; although in that case you would only be looking at the final result and not the endless blog posts that I have written into Google Docs and never posted, or those written in my head at 3am! Maybe an A because you like what I have written. At a push I could probably grade myself; I am not sure I could assign a letter grade to it though. What does an A look like to you? Would that be the same as it looks to me? So, what grade would you give me?

It seems strange to me that anyone could grade my effort without really knowing what has been going on inside my head. Is the final product really enough information for an effort grade to be given? Often it is other information that we use to give an effort grade; like motivation. Or behaviour. Or attention span. Do we ever look at the course we are delivering as the real reason why students don’t put effort in? If someone made me read a book that I didn’t choose and then had me complete a range of activities to show I understood the novel, I can honestly say that I don’t think I would put effort in.

The only person who should grade the effort put into a task is the person doing the task; only they truly know the effort they have put in. Not only should they grade themselves, but they should be able to explain why they have come to that conclusion. Whenever we need to have an effort grade on a report to parents, it should be the students who determine which grade they get. Better still, remove it entirely from the report and have the student explain either orally or in written form what their effort was. This would make teachers have a long hard look at what they were teaching to make sure that students understood the real purpose of what they were doing; I couldn’t see anyone putting effort into a task that they see no purpose to. It would also make teachers look carefully at how they were teaching; what effort would you put in when copying down notes or filling in worksheets or sitting at a desk for the majority of a lesson?

So what effort grade will you give me for this post?  I am giving myself an A.

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Being a Communicator 

Filed under: Education on Sunday, September 12th, 2010 by | 1 Comment

As a new school to the PYP we as a staff are definitely finding our feet and one thing that is really helping me is readingblogs and finding people on Twitter that are living the PYP way.  A blog that I have really enjoyed reading is by Maggie Hos-McGrane called Tech Transfromation.  I don’t know Maggie, we teach on different sides of the world, but in both teaching in IB schools there are some things that we have in common.  One is the IB Learner Profile.  IB define this as a set of learning outcomes for 21st century education; values or ideals that all students should aspire to.  Being a communicator is just one of the attributes of the learner and this is defined by students working effectively and willingly in collaboration with others.  Maggie shared how when she was teaching she made sure that all of her students work at least once with every other student throughout the year. I noticed that in my class the students always worked with the same students, these were usually their close friends and I have to say that 9 times out of 10 they did not function that well as a group.  For a task on our recent inquiry I decided to choose the pairs that the students would work in.  I went down my class list and picked pairs of students that I had never really observed ‘communicating’ together.

The next task as a class was to set up criteria that could be used to assess how they worked together and what high quality work would look like.  A week into the work I began to observe changes in the way the students were working together.  Students were talking more about the work they were doing, some who never talked to each were calling each others by nicknames, students who often put little effort in were making sure that they didn’t let there partner down.  The work that was produced by all pairs was outstanding; some of the best group work that had been done all year and not one group missed meeting the deadline.  They were honest in their assessments, they told it like it was and how well they worked together.  The most telling statement of all was when students told me that if they had had the choice they would never have worked with that student, but after completing the inquiry they would definitely work with them again.

We may only be starting out on the IB journey but my students are well on the way to becoming the communicators IB talks about.

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The Next Step 

Filed under: Education on Sunday, September 12th, 2010 by | 6 Comments

Finally.  I have dived in.  Rather than being a consumer I have become a distributor; well that is if anyone actually reads this.  I have wanted to do this for a while now but always had something in the back of my mind holding me back.  I don’t think that has gone but I have decided to push it even further back.  I have always wanted a place to get my ideas down, to reflect, to share and hopefully to have others read my thoughts and challenge my understandings; or heaven forbid actually agree with me!  Well here it is.

I have called it ‘The Next Step’.  Why?  Well for one reason all the good names seemed to be taken.  And two, it is the next step in my professional development.  I talk to my students about what their next step will be in their learning, hopefully this will be part of mine.  I will definitely be taking small next steps, especially as I work out how to actually blog.   How personal I will be I don’t know.  There are probably some things that are best left in the realm of my mind and hopefully someone will tell when they should be.

Well here goes, my next step.