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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:

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-10-35-16-am

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 Engagement & Motivation Mindset Tech & Social Media Wellbeing

Developing a Minecraft Mindset

What’s in this post:

  • How I used Minecraft to discuss Mindset with kids for whom mainstream education doesn’t work
  • Access to the materials I created in order for you to do similar if you wish

Of late I’ve found myself working with kids from some fairly tough backgrounds.

Whether it’s kids who are wards of the state, living in temporary shelter, or kids in mainstream settings who don’t hold out much hope for their future, I’ve been keen to explore how Carol Dweck’s theory of Growth Mindset might apply to these young people.

Incidentally if you’ve read Mindset or not, I’d highly recommend getting a copy of Dweck’s earlier work Self Theories, a series of essays that go into more detail regarding the research and – in my opinion at least – is a better read than her more well-known publication.

Anyhoo… just last week I had the opportunity to try something with a group of kids who attend a school that caters for those for whom the mainstream education system simply doesn’t work. Some of these students (currently all boys in Years 6-8) have severe behavioural issues, some have wellbeing issues and most have a combination of the two. I’m fortunate that I get to spend time with these boys on a semi-regular basis and so have been able to establish a bit of rapport with them.

I determined that it might be interesting to play Minecraft with them… and just see what happens. I hypothesised that many behaviours that Dweck describes as being Growth Mindset behaviours would be evident whilst the boys played Minecraft:

  • seeking out and embracing challenge
  • persisting in the face of setbacks
  • revelling in the struggle
  • taking on feedback
  • and being inspired by the success of others

I then wanted the boys to reflect on this after playing… but first the set up!

The very first thing I did was tweet out what I was thinking of doing. If you check out the comments down the side of the doc you’ll see heaps of good ideas, that either validated or pushed my thinking. Thanks in particular to:

 @eduGrunt@nickpatsianas@jeffkuhn72@dbatty1@jokay and @SteveT_AU for their input.

In the end this is what I went with…

Equipment – Given I didn’t want to impose on the school with regards to organising Minecraft Edu accounts or the like, I sourced the following…

  • Samsung 10.1 Note running Minecraft PE (My 3 year old tablet)
  • 5 x Lenovo TAB 2 A7-10 Tablets ($97 each) Probably one of the best tablets in the sub $100 category
  • 1 x TP-LINK N300 Wireless Modem Router TD-W8961N ($47) I’d originally planned to network through my 4g hotspot, but then got nervous thinking about risk assessments and kids finding stuff they shouldn’t online… So the router serves to act as a network between the tablets without allowing access to the net.

I decided to set up a scenario as such using this website… (I’ve de-identified the school for privacy reasons)

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 5.50.56 pm

In order to set up the scenario in Minecraft I built a world using a seed… a simple internet search will give you plenty. For those of you interested, I used the Minecraft PE Seed: -94440.

Screenshot_2015-11-10-11-52-46

From there I was able to switch between creative and survival mode (I found that installing a mod called Too Many Items on my Samsung made this a much simpler process) in order to hide gems around the area, and ‘bury’ villagers as well as create the sort of havoc an earthquake might cause by detonating TNT around the place and setting fire to buildings… 😈

Screenshot_2015-11-11-17-35-12

The kids had three missions:

  1. To rebuild and enhance the village
  2. To find the buried villagers
  3. To find the stolen gems

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.10.28 pmIn the full Minecraft game (on PC, Mac or Console) you can use xyz coordinates that allow gamers to know where they are within their world, but in Minecraft PE this isn’t the case. So I created a map – again by going into Creative mode and taking a Bird’s Eye View screenshot and then overlaying a grid.

Students could work out the coordinates for the villagers and the gems by solving maths problems.Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.07.31 pm

Each group of students – small groups of 4 boys or so, which is the nature of this school – had around an hour. The last 10-15 minutes or so was spent on the reflection. Which again I put out on Twitter in it’s early form:

This was the final version. You’ll note I got rid of the sword (it’s school after all!), gave space for students to identify their own strengths (thanks to@corisel) and then scaffolded the transfer from Minecraft to ‘real’ life… (although Minecraft is real life of course! 😀)

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Was it a resounding success?

Let’s not go too far. It was after all a one-off session using the most basic version of Minecraft. I’m aware many of you will be using Minecraft Edu or the full PC-based Minecraft and as such will be doing much more advanced work.

But as the boys’ regular teachers noted:

  • Kids who would ordinarily not be able to be in the same room as each other were working as a team
  • Boys were running around the classroom to answer maths questions (I know, I know… it wasn’t in the risk assessment!)
  • They were talking about their strategies and what they would do to improve all day…

Some of the boys reflections were pretty powerful too – and I’m paraphrasing a little…

  • I realise that making mistakes doesn’t make me a bad person
  • I tell myself I’m no good at something before giving myself a chance to get good at something
  • I get frustrated when I can’t do something straight away

As well as working with the boys I ran the sessions to show the teachers the power of Minecraft – or games in general – in order to get students to address their behaviours and – more importantly – their thinking around their behaviours.

The staff are now investigating how they might incorporate similar approaches down the track.

Obviously if this were part of an ongoing approach we would be able to explore our mindsets in various scenarios. I’m not saying it’s as simple as being resilient in Minecraft means you can be resilient in ‘real life.’

But I am saying for some of these kids acknowledging they do exhibit these behaviours somewhere is an incredibly important first step.

Demonstrating through Minecraft that they do exhibit the kind of Growth Mindset behaviours that Dweck talks about is – for some of the students – the first time they or anyone else have recognised they are capable of doing so.

If you think this could be of value in you classroom, you can get all my resources for this activity here, meaning you can use the seed (-94440) along with the map I’ve produced, also please feel free to change up the reflection tool to suit your context.

Would love to hear your thoughts, or other cool ideas you have for Minecraft or games in general!

Categories
Engagement & Motivation

Should You *Reward* Good Behaviour?

I’ve been doing a lot of work around Carol Dweck’s Mindset theory of late. This complements the approach I take to engagement in school (or any environment) which I largely base on Ryan & Deci’s Self Determination Theory.

The essence of what I explore is that authentic engagement is achieved when:

  • Relationships have been established built around trust, respect and care.
  • individuals have a level of choice and voice (autonomy).
  • Individuals improve for the sake of improving – not merely for the sake of a grade or a prize (mastery) and;
  • Individuals can articulate the purpose for their undertaking of a task.

I love the thought that engagement is not just about being on task but rather – as Geoff Munns of the Fair Go Project put it – authentic engagement is about being in task. 

This video gives you a brief outline of the Fair Go Project, and you can download the full report here.

Anyhow… I often hear from teachers who having attended my workshops start to question the role of their student rewards programs. Increasingly companies like this one are offering up rewards to “drive positive behaviours in school.”

When I worked in Manchester we did something similar – offering movie tickets or the like – for students who achieved a certain level of attendance, kept out of trouble or generally did the right thing. To put this into context the school I worked at dealt with some significant issues, and – on the surface at least – these strategies appeared to enhance some of the pupils’ behaviours.

Having said that, Ryan & Deci conclude that:

Extrinsic rewards are typically negative because they “undermine people’s taking responsibility for motivating or regulating themselves”. Rather, extrinsic rewards are a controlling strategy that often leads to greater surveillance, evaluation and competition, all of which have been found to undermine enhanced engagement & regulation.

They discuss rewards in education in detail in this article and conclude that tangible rewards to in fact have a significant undermining effect.

Carol Dweck and her research team recently published Academic Tenacity – Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long Term LearningIn it they say:

Although gold stars, prizes, and other extrinsic rewards may have their place for instance, as a last resort to jump-start a desired behaviour or as a symbol of competence and belonging – educators should use them judiciously, as they can easily overshadow any intrinsic reasons for a behaviour.

Clearly your approach to using rewards will be ultimately guided by your desired outcome.

If you’re keen to get kids to comply with a set of behaviours then rewards would certainly support that.

If you’re using them to encourage life-long learning, self-direction, self-regulation or authentic engagement, you may want to rethink your strategy.

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
Change Education Leadership

Stop Blaming ‘The System’

the systemI often get asked to speak about engagement.

I outline that four key considerations are essential if we are to genuinely engage kids (and staff) in our schools. They are: establishing good relationships, developing a sense of autonomy, encouraging mastery and having a bigger purpose than just chasing grades.

Sometimes I hear that whilst these ideals are admirable – ‘The System’ means we can’t achieve them.

To be honest, I’m tired of hearing this argument.

I’m not even sure what people mean when they say ‘The System’ but they often qualify their position by saying, “We need to get rid of NAPLAN,” or “The ATAR kills learning” or “There’s just too much content to get through to do the things you talk about.”

I can only assume that when people speak of ‘The System’ they mean the politicians, policy writers, curriculum writers, ACARA and state and regional departments.

I often hear that things will never change until we get rid of NAPLAN or the ATAR and we can’t innovate in the current educational climate.

Well if that’s your position then it’s a bit of a cop-out. Because let’s be honest, they aren’t going anywhere.

Now I’m not saying there aren’t challenges. Of course there are. And it’s easy to become disillusioned when we hear leaders speaking of an Education Race and the like but…

Your idea of innovation cannot be dependent on the removal of the immovables.

Innovation will only happen if we have professionals who are willing to push at the boundaries.

I’m not sure if these people who rage against ‘The System’ see teachers as separate from it but personally I see teachers as the most vital aspect of ‘The System.’

And the point is – of course – there are countless teachers who are pushing these boundaries… which makes the whole ‘System’ argument even more redundant. 

So for what it’s worth, here are some suggestions to try to achieve the four ideals I outlined above.

Establish Relationships

Good teacher/student relationships are built on three things – Care, Respect & Trust. I don’t need to go on about this surely? Saying that relationships is at the heart of education is about as earth shattering as saying the sun is most likely to rise in the East tomorrow.

Autonomy

How can you allow kids to do what they want, when they want, how they want, with who they want? How might this impact assessment and learning? How might this impact project or group work?

Unless you work at Utopia High School, this might seem impossible, but look closer, how can we offer more flexibility in our offerings at school? Technology means this has never been easier to do. For example the Flipped Classroom offers one way in which kids can access content anywhere anytime. This could go some way to addressing the ‘too much content to get through’ argument.

Mastery

How many of your kids really want to master their subjects, or do they just want to get a good enough mark to keep people off their backs? I’ve been going on about this for years.

The fact is grades kill learning. Schools become engulfed in a culture of performance, competition and anxiety. As Dylan Wiliam says here

If you write careful diagnostic comments on a student’s work, and then put a score or grade on it, you are wasting your time. The students who get the high scores do not need to read the comments and the students who get the low scores do not want to.

Get rid of grades and over time we can create a culture of learning.

And you know the funny thing? ‘The System’ agrees! That’s why every state and territory in Australia mandates that we give a grade to parents TWICE A YEAR…

Not twice a week, month, term or semester. A YEAR.

You might also want to look at Growth Mindset in regard to this aspect of engagement.

Get this right and when NAPLAN and the pressures of the ATAR come around students, teachers and parents are better equipped to deal with it.

Purpose

The easiest way to give kids a real purpose for the work they do is to make it relevant to them today. Telling kids they might need it when they’re older, or even in the exam lead them to think one thing. “Sweet, I’ll worry about it then.”

Creating an audience for your students’ work is a fairly simple way to create relevance.

Consider how you might use Quadblogging, Skype in Education or Wattpad to offer just three suggestions.

I can’t remember who said it, but I once heard someone say, when kids are doing something for an authentic audience they want to do a good job but when they are doing something for the teacher they just want to do a good enough job. Big difference.

So the next time you hear a colleague taking aim at ‘The System’ for not being able to do what they want to do, why not get them to consider what they can actually do within the boundaries they operate, because that’s where real change will happen.

Categories
Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

What’s happening in School?

Categories
Change Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership Tech & Social Media

3 Common Myths About Innovation in Education

1. We’re innovative. The kids all have iPads. It's About Pedagogy, Not Technology

To do what? To do what you already did quicker, more efficiently or on a larger scale?

In many schools the power of the iFad or whatever technology has been wheeled into the school is compromised by the way in which they’re allowed or – more importantly – not allowed to be used.

Even if we adopt the higher order thinking of the SAMR Model, how innovative are we really being?

Innovating in schools is often equated to just increasing the amount of technology in the classroom – and this I think is to miss the point.

What if innovation in education sought to (genuinely) empower rather than control students?

Instead of behaviour management, what if we spoke of unleashing students.

What would innovation look like then?

Of course technology would play a part but so would where, when, who, what and how would you teach.

I’m of the opinion that many alternative education programs that work with kids for whom the mainstream education system hasn’t are some of the most innovative. I touch on this in my latest segment for the TER Podcast.

2. I’m too old to innovate – the young teachers have got it covered anyway

A knock-on effect of believing that the key to innovation is the increased integration of technology in class is that some staff feel they have little to offer.

Imagine if told you that you were too old to offer anything of value? You’d be offended right? And rightly so.

Yet there are many who tell themselves this very thing every chance they get. Every PD day, every staff meeting, professionals actively opt out these kinds of discussions as they see it as the realm of the younger teacher.

But here’s the thing, while new – or soon to be new – teachers may well be able to post a selfie on Instagram or fire off a quick self-destructing (in every sense of the term) video clip on SnapChat, many are not the ‘experts’ that some schools expect them to be around the use of technology and the Internet – and even less so with regards to embedding technology into an effective pedagogy.

So the very premise on which some choose to opt out of the innovation discussion is flawed.

Regardless of your teaching experience, you can be innovative. And yes perhaps having a crack at new technologies, combined with your knowledge and experience of different pedagogies, may just produce a light bulb moment for you, your faculty and your school but do it steadily… and if someone tells you to just jump in the deep end with technology- have them take a look at this post I wrote last year.

But be sure, innovation pays no mind to your age.

Regardless of where you are in your career you have a choice to contribute, push the boundaries or ask “Why?” or “What if…?” 

3. We need to innovate for the sake of our children’s future

Ok, this one isn’t necessarily a myth, but stay with me…

One of the most popular ideas I hear at conferences is that, “We are educating kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” or an offshoot from that is blog posts like the  Top 10 Job Titles that didn’t exist 5 years ago genre of commentary.

It gets the juices flowing but you have to be careful, because well-intentioned types will take that to mean the most popular jobs today didn’t exist 5 years ago, rather than it merely being a list of jobs today that didn’t exist 5 years ago. 

A subtle but important different – and even then, most of these jobs you can see have morphed from an existing job. They’ve hardly sprung up from nowhere.

As a little test, ask your students, or kids in your life what career they’d like – how many come up with a job that didn’t exist 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago? (SPOILER ALERT: I’m guessing not many)

So rather than using ‘the future’ as a reason to innovate – because things get a bit ethereal here and some can switch off – let’s start using the PRESENT.

Last year, Gallup surveyed 7000 students in Years 5-12 in 36 schools across six states and found that, roughly 30% of kids have disengaged from school by the time they are 11.

How about using that as an argument to innovate?

To compound things, over 50% of Year 12’s – and yes these are the ones that have STAYED on at school – are disengaged.

How about innovating to address this?

Categories
Education Engagement & Motivation

#MakeItMatter2Me

Makeitmatter_01(1)

I regularly annoy math teachers by questioning why I would need to learn Pythagoras’ Theorem as a kid.

Or Calculus? Seriously… does that even exist?

And just to prove I’m not being mathsist, why should we care about Shakespeare?

Whilst you might this I’m being facetious when I’m doing this, I’m trying to highlight that whilst I – as a somewhat educated 37 year-old – can see the value in each of the above, I wonder if it’s as apparent to the average teenager (the one who isn’t satisfied with the exam or future rationale)?

Whilst some kids will tolerate not having a greater imperative for learning other than, it will be on the test, or they, might need it when they’re older, for a great deal of students this is the first step towards disengagement.

If it doesn’t really matter to them, why learn it?

Seriously… what do you say when kids ask you, “Why are we doing this?”

How do you make it matter?

I’m hoping we can build a resource of powerful answers to such questions.

Let’s share some ideas on #MakeItMatter2Me on Twitter or feel free to offer suggestions to “Why are we learning this?” in the comment box below.

A good start point sometimes can be to ask, “Why are we teaching this?”

It’s a powerful question than can foster real innovation in what and how we teach.

Categories
Education Engagement & Motivation

Do we get Engagement Wrong in School?

Oz Teacher Logo

I’m really pleased to say that in 2014 I’ll be writing a regular column, School of Thought, for the Australian Teacher Magazine.

My first column for 2014 is now up!

I say engagement is overused because I witness, all too often, schools confusing conformity for engagement. Measures such as attendance, grades, homework, and adherence to uniform rules etc. are all taken to determine whether students are engaged or not.

Why not go and read the full article on the Australian Teacher Website!

Categories
Education Wellbeing

Are the smartest kids also the saddest?

Late last year, the OECD published the latest of their PISA tables.

Predictably, many went into meltdown, whether it was due to their country’s position on the table, their respective government’s reaction to the results or those who detest standardised testing.

But as this article shows, the tests are not all about numeracy and literacy.

As part of the tests, students were asked to agree or disagree with the statement:

I feel happy at school.

The responses to this statement have been mapped against their test scores in the image below.

test scores v happy kids

From an Australian point of view, should we be more concerned (than it appears we are) that students in our schools are some of the least happy kids in the OECD?

What do we make of the fact that the least happy students also come from countries that top the academic tables – South Korea, Finland, Estonia & Poland?

Admittedly Shanghai (even though I’ve looked at countless maps, and I’m still not convinced it’s a country in its own right) and Singapore are ahead of Australia in both the brains and the smiles, but I’m not really interested in starting a Happiness Race.

Sure we can get into a debate about the true meaning of happiness or whether you feel school should be “fun” or not, but I’m more interested in exploring why it is that so many kids would say they are not happy at school and what the potential knock-on effects of this might be.

Just going off on a tangent here…

Far too many people do not enjoy what they do for a living. They watch the clock, waiting for 5pm, and spend their weekdays wishing for the weekend. Maybe not you, but I guarantee you can think of a friend for whom this applies. It is not an uncommon phenomenon.

Why do we accept this? When it’s pretty much accepted that humans are at the top of the intelligence tree, why do we choose to sacrifice most of our waking hours doing something we don’t enjoy – or worse – actually hate?

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When did you or your friend accept this future?

Could it be that as the OECD suggests, kids at school spend most of their day waiting for 3pm, or spend their weekdays wishing for the weekend.

Could it be that kids learn at a very early age that weekdays are just a means to the weekend?

Could it be that schools are actually doing a great job of preparing kids for the world of work that you or your friend experience?

What if, instead of the all-too-predictable response from government highlighting the “need to raise academic standards”, their response to the OECD tables was, “perhaps we should explore how we can make school more enjoyable.”

Yes we can focus on enhancing results in standardised testing – to be honest it’s not that hard.

Introduce rote learning en masse, daily repetition and cull some of the more “holistic” approaches to education and you’ll be on the right track.

But great test scores does not a happy child make.

And an unhappy child can make an even more unhappy adult. The four countries I identified above, South Korea, Finland, Estonia & Poland, have some of the highest suicide rates in the OECD.

Clearly I’m not claiming that there is a direct link between test scores and depression, nor am I saying that school should be all fun and games.

But what I am advocating is that if we focussed on engagement and wellbeing first and foremost in schools, kids would feel happier about being there and as a result achievement would rise.

This is opposed to the current trend that seems to focus on achievement at the expense of engagement & wellbeing of students and teachers.

In Australia, support is available at all times by calling Lifeline on 131 114, Mensline on 1300 789 978, and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800