Categories
Education

A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson

Recently, I sat down with world-renowned creativity expert and New York Times Best Selling Author, Sir Ken Robinson. We discussed a range of issues including the impact of that talk, as well as the impact on education of standardised tests and the rise of the no excuses approach in schools. We also explored that whilst many subscribe to Sir Ken’s views, there are many who don’t.  We recorded our chat and it is featured in my semi-regular spot in this week’s TER Podcast.

You can listen to our conversation by clicking here, or by using the player below.

Categories
Education Social Commentary

[SNEAK PREVIEW] Chatting with Sir Ken Robinson

Last week I presented at the Future Schools event in Melbourne.

As well as speaking across the program, I also facilitated a panel discussion with former Templestowe College principal, Peter Hutton; the CEO of AITSL, Lisa Rodgers and creativity expert and New York Times best selling author, Sir Ken Robinson.

After the event I sat down with Sir Ken for an interview that will feature in next week’s TER Podcast, but until then, here is a sneak preview of what to expect.

Link to the Sneak Preview

Subscribe to TER Podcast on iTunes

Subscribe to TER Podcast on Soundcloud

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Categories
Education Media Tech & Social Media

[Still] struggling to get our head around social media in schools…

In February this year, I had the opportunity to ask over 1000 senior students from about forty schools across Australia, which statement best summed up how their school taught social media. I’m assuming schools would do this, as I can definitely recall a subject called Media Studies when I was at school back in the nineties…

I asked…

Which of the following BEST describes the manner in which social media is taught in your school?

a: It isn’t really

b: We only really get told what NOT to do

c: We are educated as to the power of social media to help us learn in school

d: We are educated as to the power of social media to help us learn, connect with others and develop a positive digital footprint.

This was the response [CLICK ON THE GRAPH TO ENLARGE]:

I then asked them whether or not they thought a Google (or your preferred search engine) search would make or break them, if a prospective employer chose to search for them online…

This was their response:

I think these two graphs present an interesting stimulus for a chat about how we approach social media in schools…

  1. Only around 70 senior students out of >1000 thought that an online search would stand them in good stead. This is a worry, as employers have been using online searches since the days of MySpace (remember that??)
  2. Over a quarter didn’t know what an online search would throw up.
  3. The vast majority of students thought an online search wouldn’t be an issue as there would be very little – if anything – about them online.

I wonder if we’ve taught kids that the opposite of a negative digital footprint is to have no digital footprint?

I also wonder if that’s because we haven’t really taught kids about social media. One of my most popular posts of all time was one I wrote back in 2012 called Driving Down Social Media Way in which I asked readers to imagine that we taught kids to drive the way we teach them about social media. In short:

1. Driving lessons would be taught by adults (teachers or parents) with little or no experience of driving.

Sure they may know of certain brands of cars or be aware of some of their capabilities. They may know it is illegal to speed or drive without a seatbelt, but in reality they have spent little time behind the wheel.

2. Driving lessons would only focus on what not to do.

An average driving lesson would entail students being preached to about the dangers of speeding, drinking driving or not wearing a seatbelt. There may be a little advice on how to keep you and your car safe, eg. regular service checks, installing an alarm and NEVER allowing a stranger to get into your car would all constitute sound advice.

3. Driving lessons would NEVER take place in an actual car.

In fact cars would be banned in the majority of driving schools. Students would be able to take notes, draw pictures or even present a PowerPoint on how to drive, but they would only be able to put these lessons into practice once they were out of sight of an adult.

It seems little has changed – which is unbelievable silly ridiculous bordering on negligent.

If you have the time or the inclination, here is a little spiel I gave in 2016 to some teachers on the subject… (it’s one of my favourite talks actually and please note the kids’ survey questions in this talk were from 2016, not the ones I cite in this blog post).

 

Categories
Education Social Commentary

Do Schools Kill Learning?

Ten years ago, a talk by Sir Ken Robinson was published on TED. Having being viewed over 41 million times on TED alone, it has become one of the most – if not the most – viewed TED talk ever.

It was provocatively titled: Do Schools Kill Creativity? 

The popularity of Ken’s talk catapulted him into the Public Speaking Stratosphere, not only in education, but also more broadly with many corporate and multinational organisations engaging him to present to their communities.

Clearly his message resonated. But as his message spread, many took issue with him. Such as Tom Bennett – the UK Government’s Behaviour Tzar and founder of researchED – who in his review of Robinson’s latest book Creative Schools dismissed his TED talk as “a lie” and dismantled pretty much every argument Robinson has made about the shortcomings of education. The reader is left in little doubt that Bennett is not even on, let alone driving the Robinson Bandwagon. And he’s not alone. A quick online search will turn up plenty of others who take issue with Robinson’s stance.

And I’m all good with that. I have no problem with open debate about ideas.

But the vast number of people who do resonate with Robinson’s message indicates to me that for some, schools did kill their creativity. Or at least that’s how they perceive it. However, for this to be a debate worth having we first need to agree on whether or not creativity is core business for schools, and even if we assume it is, it then begs the questions, “What is Creativity? How do we measure it? How many kids’ creativity is being killed, and is it enough for us to worry about?”

Again, an online search will demonstrate that these questions perpetuate a merry-go-round of arguments, the proponents of which seem disinclined to learn from each others position, and to be honest, the more I see of these arguments, the less inclined I am to engage. And this isn’t a defence of Sir Ken. I doubt he needs me to fight his battles for him.

Rather I’m interested in what might happen if we changed the question.

What if the question was: Do Schools Kill Learning? 

I’d hope that most would agree that learning is core business for schools. And I’d also hope that most would agree that we wouldn’t want too many of our kids leaving in the manner reported by Eryk Bagshaw in the Sydney Morning Herald after the first of this year’s HSC exams:

Rote learnt or not, for the thousands of students who walked out the door on Thursday, many would rather not think about the poetry of Robert Frost ever again, just as those who buried Clueless and Coleridge’s Kubla Khan before them.

I contacted Eryk over Twitter to see how he had come to this position, and his response was:

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Imagine, for a second, if that really is the case.

Imagine if, after 13 years of learning the skills required to read, interpret and appreciate poetry, you never wanted to read poetry again.

Now I appreciate that wanting to read poetry is not synonymous with learning, but it must provoke thought about what, why and how we teach and assess – surely?

But imagine if, after 13 years of being in schools that aim to encourage life-long learning, our “best” students who entered tertiary education, felt compelled to cheat – rather than learn – at one of the countries most prestigious medical schools. Can you imagine? Well, you don’t need to.  

A couple of years ago I witnessed first-hand the lack of learning in tertiary education. I was a casual tutor on a Graduate Diploma of Teaching course and I was struck by how many of the 200+ post-grads were focused solely on whether their assessment task was a Pass, Credit, Distinction or High Distinction. Rather than discuss how they might improve their understanding of pedagogy or teaching in general, feedback sessions were dominated by “Yeah, but why did I lose marks?” or “What do I need to do to get a Distinction?” and even occasionally, “Doesn’t matter, I only need a Credit on this one.”

I do wonder if this attitude might be the by-product of the emphasis placed on grades by teachers, parents and students in school. It seems to me that such a focus on performance can sometimes diminish the focus on learning. As Dylan Wiliam suggests, grading work results in students not reading the teacher’s feedback (which one assumes would enhance learning). He argues:

“Students who get high marks feel they don’t need to read the comments, and those who get low marks don’t want to.”

Imagine if one of our most common practices in school was actually diminishing learning.

And can you imagine if students with learning differences believed they were dumb and lazy?

How many of our students leave school feeling they do not need to learn, or in fact they are incapable of learning?

I acknowledge that all the examples I have used in this post – with the exception of Wiliam’s quote – could be described as anecdotal, and I agree that a series of anecdotes does not necessarily an evidence base make. Indeed, one of the arguments made against Ken Robinson is his over-reliance on anecdote.

But, look through the anecdotes I have highlighted.

Do you know anyone who might have a similar tale to tell?

How many readers of this post would have to say, “Yes” before we deemed it appropriate to at least consider the question: Do Schools Kill Learning?

Or perhaps, whilst it might be more confronting, it might be more appropriate – assuming we’re willing to act on the answers – to focus on particular groups of kids in our community and ask, for these youngsters:

Does Our School Kill Learning?

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Categories
Education Leadership

Making teachers nervous the key to lifting standards?

nervous emojiFour years ago I wrote a piece for the UK Huffington Post reflecting on the nonsense being espoused by the then head of OFSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Upon his appointment as Chief Inspector of Schools he dispensed this advice to UK headmasters:

“A good head would never be loved by his or her staff. If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ you know you are doing something right.”

In the same piece I noted that whilst now living in Australia, it was prudent to keep an eye on UK education matters, as more often than not, Australia adopts education strategies and policies borne out of the UK – albeit with a significant time lag – for example, standardised testing, national curriculum etc.

And now it seems Australia is at it again.

News broke this week that the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) will now be known as the NSW Education Standards Authority and will be given even more power to lift school compliance and teacher quality.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article, NSW Education Minister – the usually sensible – Adrian Piccoli said,

“The board ought to make schools nervous around school registration requirements, and it ought to make teachers nervous around teaching standards.”

Why the minister would want to add to the stresses already at play in schools is beyond me. For example, in Australia, school principals are five times more likely to face threats of violence than the general population, and seven times more likely to face physical violence whilst statistics show that early career teachers leave the profession at alarming rates. I can only presume he has taken advice that suggests instilling fear into already-stressed individuals and organisations is best for lifting outcomes. (I’m yet to read any research that suggests this is the case… but hey-ho).

And how will – do you think – the minister and the NSW Education Standards Authority determine whether these nervous teachers have improved? What targets will be set? Go on… I bet you CAN guess…

Take it away Tom…

In that same SMH article, Tom Alegounarias, who will become the part-time chair with a chief executive beneath him in the new structure, cited the highest achieving education jurisdictions globally as a target for NSW.

“It’s about setting our targets against international standards. How do we get to Shanghai, how do we get to Finland?”

Clearly I can’t miss the opportunity to suggest to Tom that the best way to get to either Shanghai or Finland would be by plane – boom-tish! (I’m here all week!)

But I have written before as to why we shouldn’t be overly smitten with China’s approaches to education (seriously… cigarette companies sponsor schools) or uncritically fawn over Finland (for example, youth unemployment is double that of Australia).

Unsurprisingly, Alegounarias also suggested that the reform would be deemed a success if there was “a big bump” in the state’s NAPLAN results in the next few years. This reductionist approach is concerning given that it has actually been suggested that such a “bump” would prove nothing. In case you don’t want to read that article in full, here is a very important section of it… (italics indicate direct quote from the article and I’ve added bold to the bits I think are really important).


Margaret Wu states that the fluctuation in NAPLAN scores can be as much as ± 5.2. This is because of a standard error of measurement of about 2.6 standard deviations.

This means there is a 95% confidence that if the same students were to complete the same test again (without new learning between tests) the results would vary by as much as ± 5.2 (2.6 x 2) of the original score. This represents nearly 12% variability for each individual score.

The standard error of measurement depends on the test reliability, meaning the capacity of the test to produce consistent and robust results.

What some researchers say is that the NAPLAN test’s large margin for errors makes the comparison across years inaccurate.

For example, if a student gets 74% in a test and another gets 70% and the error is 5, that means that essentially the first mark is 74 + or – 5, and the other mark is 70% + or – 5.

This means the two different marks can overlap by a fair bit. So it is not really possible to say a score of 74 is that much different to a score of 70.

The implication is that when you take this into account over a whole cohort of people it is difficult to sat (sic) categorically that one set of marks is any different compared with another.

In short:

Teachers and principals should not be judged based on NAPLAN findings and, as others have argued, more formative (assessment during learning) rather than summative (assessment at the end of a learning cycle) measures for providing teaching and learning feedback should be explored. 


What concerns me most is this stuff about NAPLAN – as well as research around teacher wellbeing – isn’t written on a scroll hidden inside a booby-trapped tomb within the grounds of a mythical city that no-one can find… it’s on the inter-web-thingamajig… and I’m pretty sure that most government buildings would have access to that. And before people counter with research that suggests the opposite – that teachers are lucky to have the job they have and could use a little more stress in their lives, and that NAPLAN rocks – I’m only putting forward the links here by way of adding to the conversation.

Too many arguments in education are based around all-or-nothing binaries, and people are quick to jump into one camp or another and attach a hashtag. But I reckon the solutions might a little more nuanced than that.

But nuance does not a vote winning catch cry make, or a feel good movement create…

To understand more of the nuance, the government could ask teachers what they think (like I did on Twitter) – click the tweet to see the discussion that follows…

But then again, open discussion with the profession might make politicians nervous.

Categories
Education Social Commentary Tech & Social Media

DI$CLO$URE

dollar signA couple of months ago I was – along with other bloggers and “industry influencers” – invited by a large tech company to attend a free workshop showcasing their new tablet and software. They were happy to “donate” to me (and by extension I assume others) a tablet worth over $1000 in return for my blogging about how I used it in my work.

I declined.

I’ve been receiving these types of offers since people started reading my blog. Many start-ups recognise that bloggers/tweeters who – in return for swag* – blog/tweet enthusiastically about said start-up serve as an extremely effective PR team as they have the added advantage of appearing organic. (Seriously… go back and read that link – Educators… look who is the parent company!)

I decided from the outset to avoid such relationships with companies (it’s on my contact page, but some still ignore it). I figured if the four people reading my blog were reading it because they valued my opinion, the least I could do was make sure that opinion was as objective as possible. It’s also for this reason that I don’t take ‘referral’ fees from other speakers/consultants which is also a common practice. If I recommend someone to you it’s because I think highly of their work.

Now to be clear, I’m not saying that bloggers/tweeters shouldn’t engage with companies in the manner I’ve suggested above (although many educators and most state education departments do say that), rather I’m saying that disclosure is a must. In fact it’s  not just me saying it. Last week I asked Twitter what it thought…

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 4.05.51 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As expected the majority of respondents believed that disclosure was important but I was surprised that nearly 20% of respondents were not aware that this happened.

The fact that nearly 20% of tweeps who responded were unaware of this happening suggests a couple of things to me.

  1. Perhaps it doesn’t happen. Perhaps every blogger who is approached by a company turns them down, and I’m merely assuming the worst.
  2. Perhaps it does happen, but bloggers aren’t disclosing. Because I reckon if every blogger was disclosing then surely these 20% would have – at some point – seen such a disclosure.

And I’d really love to know the reasons behind the 4% voting that bloggers “need not disclose.” If you were one of them, please comment below – I’m interested in your POV.

I don’t know if bloggers and tweeters consider themselves broadcasters, but just as commercial broadcasters disclose their arrangements and relationships, (granted – some needed some encouragement) maybe budding edu-stars should do the same as it might go a long way to maintaining/enhancing their credibility as their stars continue to rise & shine.

[SIDENOTE]

When I used #aussieED in the original poll, I used it believing the hashtag identified teachers online who had an interest in Australian education, who as they were browsing, might stumble across the poll and have their say. However, as Brett’s tweet suggests, #aussieED is more of an entity than I’d realised, and as such I wish to stress I was not singling out the entity that is #aussieED or its founders/moderators.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 4.42.32 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Swag* – Used here to describe anything that includes, but not limited to: high value products, low-cost/discounted products, travel, accommodation, a platform at a conference, sponsorship of events etc.

 

Categories
Education Media

The Revolution Won’t Necessarily Be Televised

keep-calm-and-start-a-revolution-6Over the past month Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, aired a four-part documentary called Revolution School in which it followed the staff and students of Kambrya College in Victoria throughout the course of 2015. The premise of the doco was that Kambrya was a struggling school – in 2008 its Year 12 results put it in the state’s bottom 10% of schools – and that by applying “cutting edge research developed by Professor John Hattie at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, [Kambrya] undergoes a dramatic transformation. Ultimately [Revolution School] is a lesson for all schools in Australia, identifying what they can do to improve standards at this critical time.”

It was set against the backdrop of an Australian education system that is, “letting down our kids and the nation” and that’s compounded by the ‘fact’ that most of the things educators and parents think matter in education actually don’t.

John Hattie states from the outset that reducing class size, private education and giving parents choice do not “make a difference to the quality of education.”

The show concluded this week and it’s fair to say it received a mixed response – from 43 people on Twitter at least.

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Here, for what it’s worth, are my thoughts on it.

THE TITLE – REVOLUTION SCHOOL

revolution

noun: revolution; plural noun: revolutions

a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation.

I can only assume that this was a decision made by TV execs who needed something catchy, and to be fair it certainly caught my attention when I saw it advertised. I was genuinely curious to see what kind of revolution was taking place, but I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.

To be clear – I’m not dismissive of the efforts of the teachers, the consultants and – importantly – the students. Any school, teacher or student who works to improve standards is worthy of acknowledgement. From the outset I commend the staff and students of Kambrya for allowing the cameras in to give an insight into how a dedicated team of teachers (as well as the kids) can address some of the daily challenges faced in a typical school. For some watching it would have proven insightful.

Rather I was left underwhelmed because there was very little in the show that could be seen as being revolutionary. Whilst it might have documented a wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes or operations at Kambrya, the claim that Revolution School would “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia,” might be seen as a tad patronising.

It should be noted that Revolution School  had at one time been titled Making The Grade, which in my opinion would have been a more appropriate (if less appealing to TV execs) title for the documentary.

THE STRATEGIES

Many of the strategies for improvement were a result of the school’s partnership with Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE), with its impressive team of educators and experts. Teachers were able to work with the likes of John Hattie, Lea Waters, Bill Rogers and Di Snowball to refine their approaches in class and the wider community. However the coverage of these working relationships was superficial at best, limited to soundbites and the obligatory rounds of applause at the end of teacher PL sessions. Bill Rogers, for example is a legend in the realm of classroom climate and handling behaviour issues, but all we got from his appearance was the idea that you could chart on a whiteboard how on-task the class are over the course of a lesson. Now I appreciate that TV execs might not think that a more in-depth exploration of classroom climate would be compelling viewing, but if Revolution School really was going to “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia” then these are the paths they needed to go down.

Similarly with regard to Lea Waters’ work on wellbeing, I cringed at the superficial nature in which it was presented to the TV audience, with no reference to what Positive Psychology is or the potential significance of character strengths.

However one soundbite I did enjoy was literacy expert Di Snowball’s reflection of the way in which many schools teach reading using literacy exercise books. In doing this kids only read small passages in isolation – something that was implied did little to encourage a love of reading and as Di pointed out:

What’s the point of improving reading through these programmes if you aren’t then reading?

John Hattie was a common voice throughout the series and in Episode 4 introduced the idea of teachers having their lessons transcribed live, and their words projected onto screens around the classroom. A programme from MGSE called “The Visible Classroom.” (As an aside, this is on top of Hattie’s Visible Learning approach, and Lea Waters’ Visible Wellbeing approach. I’m spotting a theme.) One of the main reasons for doing this is so that the data from the class can be evaluated by MGSE to ascertain how much a teacher talks and what kind of dialogue with regards to questions and interaction is happening. Hattie argues that teachers should be talking for around 50% of the time in class, but in reality most teachers spend 80-90% of the time talking. Assuming this premise is correct, the episode went on to show teachers who had in fact reduced their talk in class, but again tellingly for a series that was to “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia,” it didn’t explore the changes in practice/planning that teachers undertook to make this happen. I’d imagine for some teachers these changes would have presented significant challenges, and it would have been good to see how these challenges were addressed.

Towards the end of the series the concept of Clinical Teaching (the approach taught at MGSE) was introduced as having “the potential to revolutionise our classrooms” but again I was – along with many teachers I’d expect – left underwhelmed. The core principles of Clinical Teaching as explained by Hattie are:

  • Diagnose: Ascertain the areas in which kids need to improve, learn etc.
  • Intervene: Deploy strategies, questions and activities that address these areas.
  • Evaluate: Ascertain whether or not kids have improved their knowledge, skills or understand.

In other words… teach.

Look, I know I’m being a little flippant here, and I do know that this might seem revolutionary to some… but seriously, I recommend you read pretty much anything by Dylan Wiliam, because formative assessment has been addressing this stuff for yonks.

AS FOR THE OTHER STUFF…

An outdoor ed camp, a class for disengaged boys, a kid who left under a cloud of drug use, another who left after Year 10, kids getting into strife for fighting and (alleged but ultimately unproven) theft, a school production of Aladdin, a formal ball, a kid who didn’t get into medicine, stressed out G&T kids, a girl arguing with her mother, school captain elections and a deputy who was a little skeptical of consultants… are the ingredients of a typical day in a typical school and I’m unsure as to what lessons they taught us, other than apparently after going on a four-day hike, some kids who hated school and had previously all failed a maths test all of a sudden aced it on their return… Again, not underestimating the impact of the outdoor education or the commitment of the staff, but come on… the superficial nature in which it was covered left me cold.

I was left wondering if police officers are equally underwhelmed after watching an episode of RBT? Or what about doctors and nurses after watching Trauma: Life in the ER?

But then again RBT & Trauma aren’t broadcast on the premise that the policing or health professions are failing to such an extent that they require such TV shows to “serve as a lesson.”

Now to be fair, the series finished by highlighting the gains the school has made which are impressive and for which everyone’s efforts should be applauded, and it’s worth noting that this has been an 8 year journey of which MGSE were a part for the past 12 months. Clearly they’ve made great gains but there are still some questions that remain particularly given the premise upon which the series was set.

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QUESTIONS THAT REMAIN

  1. When Hattie says it’s not the school that make a difference, but the teachers, what does that really mean?
  2. When Hattie says, “Class size doesn’t matter,” do you think he should clarify that by finishing that statement with, “if we don’t change our practice.” As you may be aware I’ve covered this in the past in my blog posts and in an interview I had with John Hattie himself. 
  3. Aren’t the things advocated for in Clinical Teaching (more student interaction, better feedback etc) impacted by class size?
  4. What was the impact on staff & student engagement of having cameras in the school?
  5. How many adults (teachers, consultants, camera & sound operators) were in each classroom and what impact would this have had?
  6. Given the series website states, “By applying simple low cost ideas in the classroom Kambrya undergoes a dramatic transformation,” how much would it cost your school to do something similar with MGSE? Having looked at the MGSE’s School Network page, a quick calculation would put it at around $50-60K
  7. How did the airing of students struggling with drugs and family pressures serve as a lesson for schools around Australia?
  8. What have you learned (with regard to pedagogy, wellbeing, classroom management, professional growth, enhancing student outcomes) as a result of watching #RevolutionSchool?
Categories
Change Education

Snake, Walkmans, Moments & School…

What do these three things have in common,  and why on earth would I waste your time asking you that question?

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 5.08.34 pm

If you’re of a certain vintage you’ll be aware of just how amazing Nokia phones were.

What’s that? You can’t remember? Check this out.

Of course, Sony Walkmans were so popular even competitor’s offerings were referred to as Walkmans, and how many times have you thanked your lucky stars that your Kodak Moments weren’t captured in the era of Facebook or Instagram?

Nowadays, a straw poll of any group I speak with shows that very few have a Nokia phone, Sony Walkman (yes they still make and sell Walkmans) or have a Kodak anything… 

Why? We haven’t stopped communicating, listening to music or taking pictures – in fact we’re probably doing all three more than any generation before us – and yet all three companies have had to diversify to survive.

How did Sony in particular, given they owned a heck of a lot of music and the most widely used personal music device, miss the boat?

Is it possible they were so confident in what they were offering, they didn’t need to consider an alternative scenario?

Maybe. Lot’s of analysts have… erm… analysed the ups and downs of these companies in more detail than I have here, but that’s what I see they have in common.

Ok… so why waste your time with that?

What if education institutions as we know them are the Nokia, Sony and Kodak of Learning. We all know people – lots of them – who attend them, work in them and/or are generally in favour of them. They are the market leaders in Learning so to speak, with a captive audience.

Most would agree that education institutions offer two things – amongst a raft of other opportunities of course.

  1. A forum to enhance your knowledge, understanding, and skills in order to engage with the world.
  2. Access to qualifications/accreditation that further your education or employment options.

How has technology and changes in society and the economy disrupted this? Well the truth is, they haven’t – not much – really – yet.

But what about when they do? What will happen when society realises some of the short comings of its education system?

At one end of the academic spectrum, the majority of the long-term unemployed are young people who left school in the last ten years, whilst at the other, hundreds of medical graduates can’t find internships.

I wrote a fair bit about the fact we’re educating our kids into unemployment for the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Anyhoo… I noticed of late there seems to be some fairly distinctive lines being drawn in the sand with regard to the whole “Is School Fit for Purpose?” debate…

And these lines are not really furthering the debate. Too many are picking sides, picking names (progressive, traditionalist, 21C, anythingpreneur etc.) and picking fights.

A case in point:

This is a tweet from Britain’s School Behaviour Tzar Tom Bennett:

Now to be fair to Tom – he is an incredibly well-respected (by the profession & the government) commentator – some of the language in the graphic that he links to is well and truly ripe for a laugh, but I fear that by setting it up as the work of “an idiot” – he encourages the subsequent replies that his tweet receives… all eye-rolling etc…

The fact is that some  of the concepts that the graphic is trying to convey are worth discussing. To deny that seems a bit daft to me, And by going to the nth degree – on either side of the debate – much of the nuance in lost.

I believe it’s in this nuanced space where the education debate must take place so we can ask and then address questions like:

  • Why do our ‘best and brightest’ students feel the need to cheat at their selective schools or in their university courses?
  • Given Finland performs relatively well in PISA, why is it their Youth Unemployment rate around 24.5%? (By comparison in Australia it’s around 12% and we think that’s high.)
  • Why do Gallup regularly report that in Australia, around 30% of Year 5 kids and 50% of Year 12 kids have disengaged from learning?
  • What’s the best way to prepare students – and ourselves – for the workplace given that many estimate that 50% of the workforce will be freelance in the next decade?
  • And what do we make of the fact that Ernst & Young has declared that in the UK, they no longer take into account an applicants A-Levels or degree qualifications? Often educationalists cite tech companies like Google or Apple as examples of the shifting economy and workplace… but here we’re talking about accountants.
  • What happens to our institutions when we recognise the education system is failing too many kids, that learning can happen anywhere and that traditional qualifications might not carry the weight they once did?
  • And how long will it be before we realise that either/or arguments are unlikely to present many insights to these questions?
Categories
Education Leadership Wellbeing

5 Key Takeaways about Student Wellbeing

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 3.13.02 pmA couple of weeks ago the Centre for Education Statistics & Evaluation released their literature review into Student Wellbeing. You can access the entire document here. It clearly and concisely lays out all the considerations important for addressing student wellbeing in your school. It also offers dozens of research papers to explore by way of referencing.

Having said that, if you’re pushed for time, I’ve distilled the essence of it here. [Anything in italics denotes it has been taken verbatim from the report]

The Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations (DEEWR) defines wellbeing as:

A sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school.

I’ve spoken and written at length to explore the research evidence shows that students with high levels of wellbeing are more likely to have higher academic achievement and complete Year 12; better mental health; and a more pro-social, responsible and lawful lifestyle. And yet – even though we know this – I often find approaches to wellbeing in organisations that are tokenistic, or tick-a-box in nature.

Assuming your school or organisation is keen to address wellbeing in a meaningful way, the literature suggests you need to have 5 things in place.

1. Schools need to provide a safe environment

The report states: A safe school is one where the physical environment is safe and does not lead to harm or injury for students; the emotional environment is one of positivity and free from negative behaviours such as bullying which can affect mental health; and where a healthy lifestyle is promoted through initiatives such as increased participation in sport and/or healthy food at the canteen. 

2. Connectedness

A sense of belonging to the school environment is an established protective factor for child and adolescent health, education, and social wellbeing. Students with low connectedness are two to three times more likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to more connected peers.

The reports states: McNeely et al examined the association between school connectedness and the school environment using data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and hierarchical linear models. They found that positive classroom management climates, participation in extracurricular activities and tolerant disciplinary policies were associated positively with higher school connectedness. Other strategies can include increasing the time, interest and support given to students by teachers, empowering students to have a voice, engaging community partners to provide a range of services at the school that students need, and developing a shared vision of high standards and behaviours for the school. Involvement in extra-curricular activity and exposure to a challenging curriculum can also assist with connectedness. 

3. Learning Engagement

According to the report: Students can engage with school at social, institutional and intellectual levels. Social engagement is how a student is involved in the life of the school and can refer to a sense of belonging, positive relationships and participation in clubs and sports etc. Institutional engagement is how a student values school and strives to meet the formal requirements of schooling such as attendance, positive behaviour and homework, and intellectual engagement relates to emotional and psychological investment in schooling such as interest, effort and motivation.

So key points of interest for me – particularly given my interest in engagement and positive psychology – were the following suggestions:

i. Quality instruction may mean student participation in design, delivery and review of the program and/or active participation in parts of their education, from consultation to decision-making. 

ii. The work of Suzy Green was cited as such: When people work with their strengths [signature strengths as defined by Martin Seligman], they tend to learn more readily, perform at a higher level, are more motivated and confident and have a stronger sense of satisfaction, mastery and competence.

iii. And Lea Waters’ research into Positive Psychology interventions in school was summarised as: Waters reviewed evidence from 12 schools that had implemented positive psychology interventions focusing on gratitude, hope, serenity, resilience and character strengths, and found that these interventions were significantly related to student wellbeing, relationships and academic performance.

4. Social & Emotional Learning

I’ve heard a few teachers – and even leaders – suggest that there simply isn’t time to address the social and emotional learning of students. But if you’re trying to make a case for it in your school, you could cite the research of Durlak et al (2011). (Again from the report) They conducted a meta-analysis of 213 studies of SEL programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students in the US. They found that compared to control participants, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behaviour, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.

5. Whole School Approach

Student wellbeing cannot be seen as something else we do in schools. It can not be thought of in isolation. As the report suggests: Critical elements to supporting wellbeing at the school level are: strong school leadership which emphasises and promotes the importance of wellbeing at the school and within the broader school community; and a culture of high expectations for all students with teachers who emphasise continuously improving. In other words, wellbeing must be integrated into the school learning environment, the curriculum and pedagogy, the policies and procedures at schools, and the partnerships inherent within and outside schools including teachers, students, parents, support staff and community groups.

I highly recommend having a look at the whole report, not least for the wealth of resources it will point you to in order to address each of these five key areas.

I believe that engagement & wellbeing are at the crux of what we do in schools and if we get this right, outcomes will – largely – look after themselves (for staff as well as students).

But still… too many schools, organisations and systems pursue outcomes at the expense of engagement and wellbeing, and then they struggle to understand why staff, students and the wider community are so disaffected.

Categories
Chatting with John Hattie Education

Chatting with John Hattie – Pt. 3

This is the third in a series of posts based around an interview I had with John Hattie earlier this year.

Whilst many education conferences around the world issue a call to arms – of sorts – to embrace 21st Century Skills, it’s worth pointing out that the cohort of kids that started Kindy in the year 2000 are now – for whom those the system worked – into their second year of an undergraduate course.

Bit late for them.

More than that though, the phrase – to me at least – seems divisive.

SugataWe all know that the Y2K bug came to nothing, but did something happen at 11:59pm on Friday 31st December 1999 that meant all that went before in classrooms was now obsolete?

Certainly some high profile thinkers have come to this opinion.

2013 TED Talk Prize winner Sugata Mitra actually states:

“Schools as we know them are obsolete.”

Now of course I’m not saying that schools shouldn’t be moving with the times. Rather, my problem is the way in which the need to move with the times has been communicated to teachers. Talk around 21st Century Skills is vague; it means different things to different people.

Having previously discussed Direct Instruction v Inquiry Based Learning with John Hattie, our conversation naturally turned to the notion of 21st Century Skills.

“I have a problem with this notion of twenty first century skills,”

says Hattie, “I’m just finishing a synthesis on learning strategies, it’s not as big [as others he’s done] there’s only about 15 – 20 million kids in the sample, and one of the things that I’ve learnt from the learning strategies, and a lot of them include the 21st Century skill strategies is that there’s a dirty secret.”

And the dirty secret is that not only does Hattie believe that these strategies are very simplistic, but he is skeptical of classes that focus solely on critical thinking or creativity – something I’m seeing some (but not many) schools adopt.

“These strategies only work within the subject area,”

Hattie says, “They’re not generic. So one of my problems with the 21st Century skills is schools are running critical thinking and creativity classes as if those things can generically cross over. [But] you can think that way in Maths but not necessarily in physics or in English.”

Of course most schools who embrace 21st Century Skills are seemingly embedding them in their teaching of the curriculum. But then this leads us back to the Content v Skills debate and the teaching style most appropriate.

“You’re right, it polarises the debate in terms of strategies versus content. I bet in every school that you go into, you look at the assessments – and I do that because that’s what kids look at in terms of what teacher’s values – you’re still dominated by content.”

It’s a fair point, consider how much your school focuses on kids ability to digest content compared to how much it genuinely assesses critical or creative thinking.

I wonder if this in some way might explain why Hattie can’t find evidence of Inquiry Based Learning, or 21st Century Skills having much of an impact.

In many cases, maybe what we say we value isn’t what we end up assessing?

Hattie’s main worry is that some schools are over privileging 21st Century Skills, because what he calls “surface learning” is – for the most part – over-privileged by many.

His argument is we need a balance of surface to deep transfer. He says,

“We’ve over-obsessed on content.”

But in response to this comes a “generic notion [of 21st Century Learning], and my terror is that schools will be teaching 21st Century Skills. I don’t think you can do that. I don’t think it’s a viable way to go. New Zealand went down that line of enquiry thinking schools and schools were very proud to say ‘we’re deep thinkers, we’re enquiry thinkers’ – it didn’t work.”

He then went on to discuss what had worked in New Zealand, which I found interesting…

Hattie says, “There needs to be a constructive alignment particularly in high schools between what we say we’re going to do and what we actually assess.”

One of the reasons New Zealand have significantly improved their retention rate is because they changed the upper high school assessment system.

“We got away from this notion that you can only be excellent in physics and chemistry and we said you can be excellent in many things,” he says, “And we showed that even kids who wanted to be water polo coaches or baristas could be excellent at those things and could learn skills right till the end of high school.”

Sounds good to me I thought… how did that go down?

“[Because] it was privileged along with physics and everything else it made many of those teachers very upset. It’s been a traumatic transformation but it’s been a very positive one; it hasn’t been without its problems,” he says.

“Its critics are still out there claiming that we’ve got rid of Shakespeare and calculus and chemistry. And for some kids we have, as we should have done.”

I wonder if that’s the key to a 21st Century education – having diversity and a flexibility in the curriculum that is equally valued based on the needs of students and communities?