A cool little project for your school

I came across this really cool little project that your class may (or may not, of course) be interested in taking part in.

It’s absolutely noting to do with me, it’s being facilitated by Steve Box from Queensland, Australia.

He says…

WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE INVOLVED IN THE GLOBAL POSTCARD CONNECTION

This term, as part of our Year 5 Unit of Inquiry ‘How We Organise Ourselves’, students are inquiring into the structure and organisation of groups in our society and their interactions. As part of this, we are engaging in a Global Postcard Connection that will bring a trans-disciplinary approach (maths, geography, literacy) to our inquiry.  

If you have another teacher at your school interested, they would be welcome. Year 5 is our age, but it isn’t essential for our connections.

What our boys will do:

Each student in Year 5 will send two postcards to classes around the globe. In the message of this postcard will be a simple question that the boys are asking as part of a data collection and to inform their understanding of family structures as a particular group in society.  

They will also share their answer to this same question. The boys will use an online mapping tool to ‘pin’ the destination of their postcards. Collectively we will map and track the distances that these postcards will travel. Using a google spreadsheet, our students will also note the date that the postcards are sent and look at the time that it takes for the postal system to connect us.

What we need from you:

Firstly, please complete the google form here –   that allows us to have accurate details for postage.

One entry per class would be fantastic. Secondly, upon the arrival of the postcard, please note in this google spreadsheet the date of arrival.

Next, we would love to have someone in your class, or the whole class collectively, send a postcard back to us, including the answer to the question posed by our students. Please note the date you send this postcard in the spreadsheet.

We realise that email is such a quick and easy communication medium, but there is something exciting about receiving something in the mail and we hope this helps to build an appreciation of more ‘traditional’ communication modes.

So over to you! Get involved, you never know where something like this could take your kids!

In other news

I’m looking forward to keynoting the Asia Pacific Conference for Adolescent Success in Singapore and working hard to finalise the make up of my 2015 Executive Partnership Program, which next year will include an online option for schools located outside of Australia.

Engaging the Student Voice

The basis for student voice is to be found in Article 12 of the United Nation Convention of the Rights of the Child, which sets out the right of children and young people to express an opinion and to have that opinion taken into account when decisions are being made on any matter that affects them.

How many decisions at your school take into account the opinions of students?

I mean really take students’ opinions into account.

If we’re honest many of our efforts around student voice pay lip service at best.

What I mean is, who are the students we listen to? Do we act on the feedback they give us? Do we even need to, or are they the kids we know will say what we want to hear? Have a look at this from the Freechild project to check in with where you’re at in your school.

Having said that, I’ve come up with a simple survey that you could use as a starting point to engage the student voice.

1. What’s the best thing about being at this school?

Asking this question is taking a leaf straight out of the Appreciative Inquiry model of change. By knowing what we do well, we can use this to inform any changes we’d like to make. We can ask why does this work well. How can we leverage this to enhance other areas of our school?

2. What would you like to do more of at school?

This could throw up all manner of interesting ideas. It could be more kids would like to game. Or perhaps they’d like to explore personal interest project, maybe they’d like to chill out more… who knows… Whether you see any value in their suggestions? Well that’s up to you.

3. If you were in charge of the school what one thing would you like to change? – What makes you say this?

Ditto for this one, but crucially the reasons – the What makes you say this? – will prove more fertile ground for change

4. Do you feel able to be yourself at school? – If no, why not?

5. Is there at least one adult at school to whom you can go if you have a serious issue?

These two questions are vital questions to ask in any school. They are paramount for a student to feel connected to school. The importance of school connectedness is the subject of this 6min podcast. SPOILER ALERT – IT’S CRUCIALLY IMPORTANT

I would urge you to only engage the student voice, if you are genuinely willing to act upon the feedback.

You have to ask every kid. It could be anonymous, it could be done via pen & paper and put in a shoe box, or done via Google forms or Survey monkey.

Yes there are more in-depth surveys out there but as a start you could do worse than ask these questions.

If your school as a whole doesn’t want to buy in, as a classroom teacher you could ask your kids:

What was the best thing about this unit/lesson/subject? What would you have liked to do more of? What would you have changed?

I’ve done this with some very witty kids, where the answers have come back, ‘Nothing,’ ‘Chilled’ and ‘The teacher’. But give it time… publicly acknowledge and act on feedback and you’ll start to see a shift in the ownership kids take of their learning.

What else do you do to engage and empower the student voice in your communities?

Maybe class size does matter after all?

The key to a better education system is – by all accounts – to ensure we have better teachers

Hard to argue with that isn’t it? And just for the record I’m all for enhancing teacher quality – who would argue against it? It’s just I’m not keen on the way that the phrase – teacher quality – is being used to underplay all the other factors that feed into education.

Would we be so quick to accept this statement in say Medicine?

The key to a better health system is ensuring we have better doctors. 

I doubt it.

Although of course better doctors would play their part, most of us can recognise that the health system is beset with inequities based on an individual’s geographic location, socioeconomic status and ethnic or cultural background. To simply say better doctors will fix that is simplistic.

But then again, doctors have rarely been used as political objects in the way governments and opposition use teachers.

I’m not saying that the health system isn’t political, I’m saying that the perspective is different.

I recently received an email from a teacher whose school had worked with a consultant to address the disparity between the school’s NAPLAN results and the state average.

The teacher was frustrated, as the consultant seemed oblivious to the fact that having 34 kids in kindergarten all from varying backgrounds might impact on such results down the track. According to the consultant the sole reason for the disparity was – you guessed it – the calibre of the teachers at the school.

Now it’s worth noting that the aforementioned consultant has educational researcher Prof. John Hattie on their side. Well kind of.

Prof. Hattie is purported to endorse the notion that class sizes make no difference and politicians such as our Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne uses this standpoint to play down the issues around class sizes and the inherent funding issues.

The only problem with this of course is that it isn’t that cut and dried.

In this interview Prof. Hattie is asked why he thinks class size appears to make no difference. This is his response:

Well, I think the major argument seems to be when you have teachers in class sizes, like, of 26, 27, 30 and you put them in the class sizes of, say, 18 to 23, and they don’t change what they do, that seems to be the reason why it doesn’t make a difference. So could it make a difference? Yeah, it probably could if we changed how we went about our teaching. But that doesn’t seem to happen.

Wait… what? Did you see that?

So could it make a difference? Yeah, it probably could if we changed how we went about our teaching.

Is it possible that teachers don’t change their teaching because – to be honest – they’ve never had 18-23 kids in their class?

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 5.41.12 PMIt’s worth noting that, whilst when looked at in isolation, Hattie’s work suggests that class sizes matter little, many of the strategies that do significantly enhance student learning could be significantly influenced by having fewer students.

Have a look at the table and see which ones aren’t reliant on or couldn’t be enhanced by smaller numbers.

Someone I follow on Twitter, but am still yet to meet in person, is Dr David Zyngier from Monash University. Earlier this year he published a study that found that – in actual fact – generally speaking smaller class sizes are better.

But crucially Dr Zyngier says, that cutting the size of classes does not need to happen in every subject or in every school.

Instead he argues for:

‘‘targeted class size reductions in the early years and in particular subjects, such as literacy and numeracy’’.

So. Where does this leave us?

Certainly not in the black and white world of class size having no impact.

Of course I have a strong desire to continually improve as a profession – both collectively and personally.

But to use the phrase teacher quality in the way many are using it at the moment, coupled with PISA scores does two things:

1. It doesn’t communicate a universally accepted vision of what a quality teacher is.

2. It serves to undermine the profession as a whole.

Sir Ken Robinson put it nicely – as he is prone to do – when he said:

Sir Ken Alienate Teachers Quote

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