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 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?

screenshot_2016-10-15-09-34-54-1

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 Engagement & Motivation Youth

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?

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

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

Shouldn’t every class be an Opportunity Class?

The OC

75 public schools and a large number of independent schools in NSW have an Opportunity Class.

They specifically cater for “academically gifted and talented children in Years 5 and 6.”

The NSWDEC states that:

[Opportunity Classes] provide intellectual stimulation and an educationally rich environment.

Am I missing something?

Is that to suggest other – let’s call them – No Opportunity Classes are not stimulating or educationally rich?

What does that say to those kids who aren’t in the OC – as it’s often called?

Some schools (public and independent) market themselves based on their OC. Some parents believe that the OC is the golden ticket to a selective high school, which in turn is the golden ticket to university, which is – of course – a cast iron guarantee of success… isn’t it?

Perhaps that’s why we hear of stories of babies, or even better… unborn babies being placed on waiting lists for private schools. Or maybe you’ve heard about two-year-olds attending tutoring… all in the hope they’ll get that golden ticket.

All in the hope that they’ll get an opportunity.

Of course I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t cater for our gifted & talented students, but I do believe we should think in broader terms of what constitutes gifts & talents and I also believe that every class should be an opportunity class.

Categories
Change Education

Adaptability the Key to Success

WorldfaceGlobalisation and the impact of technology means that, in many ways, the world of today is barely recognisable to that of twenty or thirty years ago.

This is particularly true of the workplace. We’ve long been aware of the concept of offshoring the work force, although many of us still equate this to blue-collar work or call-centre services.

The fact is more and more white-collar work is moving off shore, and the workplace is becoming increasingly “freelance.”

We’re not sure what impact this will have on our students today, but we must appreciate that the education system was essentially designed to produce people who were categorised based on their skill set, and set on a course, that for most would keep them in the same line of work, and for many with the same employer.

Have a look at www.freelancer.com for a quick reality check. Here you’ll see graduates from emerging economies doing what Australian kids can do, but at a fraction of the cost – everything from architecture, accounting and web design to industrial engineering, market research and translation services.

Our kids will have to be super-adaptable, creative, entrepreneurial and remarkably resilient as they enter a workforce that few of their parents will be able to help them navigate.

Let’s assume that at the very least, schools should prepare kids for life after school, Professor Andrew Martin has recently published some findings from his research into adaptability in school, and I’m of the opinion schools should be looking at this as earnestly as they look at “engagement” and “resilience,” if they are to truly prepare kids for life after school.

This was also a running theme in my latest article for The Age in which I interviewed amongst others teen science phenomenon Jake Andraka and UK educator and author David Price OBE.

This was originally written for my regular Generation Next column.

Categories
Education Leadership Tech & Social Media

“Just jump in the deep end!” – Worst Advice Ever!

SwimmingThere’s a reason I started to take my then three-year-old son to swimming lessons.

It’s because, left unattended, he would have – most likely – jumped in the deep end without the pre-requisite skills to live to tell the story. Neither he or his mum were too keen on that scenario. Hence the weekly lessons.

Just jumping in the deep end is a curious idiom. I can only assume it originated from swimming, but that would seem to suggest that someone did, at some point, believe this was the best way to learn.

Obviously it’s not, yet I see this advice – virtually on a daily basis – given to teachers who are new to #edtech, or for those of you not versed in Twitterese, Educational Technology.

By the way, this is a great video about hashtags! – Seriously, watch it.

Let’s think back to the pool.

You can’t swim, you get told to jump – or perhaps you are pushed – into the deep end. First thought?

OK, well after that one… your next thought is survival. You struggle, splash, kick without rhythm,  inhale water. Iyou make it back to the side, you’re unlikely to want to jump back in too quickly. Even less so if you have to be scooped out by a teenage lifeguard.

And what would you have learned during that time in/under water? The correct technique for the dolphin kick? A bit of bilateral breathing perhaps? Unlikely.

But what if, instead of being thrown in the deep end, you were encouraged to dip your toe. What if the coach got in the water with you? What if the coach guided you over a period of weeks, until such a point that you felt comfortable to jump in the deep end?

And then over time you were coached to further develop your techniques.

Of course that’s a better model. Not only for learning how to swim, but learning in general.

I’m pleased to say that my son’s swimming coach took that approach with him, so now as a 5 year-old, when he jumps into the deep end, my first thought isn’t to dive in after him, unless it’s a race of course. (No better way to teach him resilience that whoop him in a freestyle race every now and then!) 😉

It’s easy for us to tell people to just jump in as there’s no responsibility on our part. No accountability. No follow through. People either sink or swim – and if they sink, well perhaps it’s time they got out of the game altogether… 21st Century Education and all that…

Of course I’m not saying that people shouldn’t want to learn something new. Especially teachers. One of my favourite quotes from George Couros is:

If you’re done learning then you’re done teaching.

But we must realise that if people are hesitant with #edtech (or anything else that may be the flavour of the month in your school) they’ve probably got some very real reasons for that. Blinding them with all the benefits of using it will do little to sway them. Ripping through a staff meeting clicking and flashing multiple browser windows whilst speaking a language they barely understand will also be a waste of most people’s time, including yours.

You’ll only need a couple of sessions like this to lose them completely.

Let’s be more like good swimming coaches and less like scary old-school PE teachers.

Create a shallow end for learning, and rather than telling people to, just jump in the deep end, perhaps we can encourage people to just go a bit further towards the deep end. And let them know you’ll be there as and when they need you.