Saturday, November 22, 2014

Educational Readings - the Maker Movement/purpose of education/Seth Godin and need for creative teachers

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This weeks homework!

Good thinking in this article by Gary Stager.

Piaget teaches us that knowledge is a consequence of experience.Schools and teachers serve students best when the emphasis is on action, not hypothetical conversations about what one might do if afforded the opportunity.
Papert was sadly correct when he said, “When ideas go to school, they lose their power.”’

Self-Directed Learning: Lessons from the Maker Movement in Education
Continuing the Piaget theme
Learning through the making of things is a concept as old as education. As psychologist Jean Piaget argued, knowledge is a consequence of experience. But somehow, with the exception of a
The Maker Movement manifesto
small number of schools and vocational education programs dedicated to experiential inquiry-based learning, our nation
s schools strayed from this hands-on approach to education, spending much of the past 50 years focusing intensely on the memorization of information. Information matters, of course, but a growing number of schools and educators are reclaiming our educational roots, aiming to help kids learn by making stuff but this time with a technological twist.

The Purpose Of Education
Ivan Snook NZ
Somehow we need to reassert the traditional belief in education for its own sake(which really means for life in all its complexity) rather than for conformity, jobs and the national economy. I dare to hope that teachers themselves, who have kept so many educational ideals alive despite constant attacks, might lead the way to an enlightened view of the purpose of education.
Derek Weymouth NZ

The conflict continues
Heres a response to the call from England for a return to chalk and talk teaching.
So that's it then let's sit back and watch the pendulum swing. With politicians and university professors professing it to be so it must be correct right? Wrong. Let's put a bit of perspective on things shall we.

The worst possible model” – how charter schools have been introduced in New Zealand
Associate Professor Peter OConnor takes another look at NZ charter schools 3 years after they
were first announced. Here, he discusses the model, funding, conflicting messages from government, the way charter schools are being rolled out into high growth areas in place of state schools, and more.

Rethinking The Use Of Simple Achievement Gap Measures In School Accountability Systems
Albert Shanker USA
This is a very important article.
Finally, we should also stop using gaps and gap trends in our public discourse about school performance per se. They are measures of student performance (and, when measured within schools, limited ones at that). The goal should be to provide educational opportunity for all, not try clumsily to ensure equal outcomes by rewarding and punishing schools based on the degree to which they exhibit those equal outcomes. In an accountability context, there is a crucial difference.
Nick Meier USA

Emotional Intelligence
This leads me to challenge what we just take for grantedwhat is the purpose of schools. Most of use rarely think deeply about this question, and assume it is self evidentand that it is primarilyacademic. But how about this thought experiment; What if we turned this on its head? What if we thought the primary responsibility of schools was to get a citizenry that has a strong social/emotional education?

New Research: Students Benefit from Learning That Intelligence Is Not Fixed
Teaching students that intelligence can grow and blossom with effort rather than being a fixed
Check out link to Carol Dweck
trait they
re just born with
is gaining traction in progressive education circles. And new research from Stanford is helping to build the case that nurturing a growth mindsetcan help many kids understand their true potential.
This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Time to return the focus back to encouraging creative teachers - the only real way to transform our education system.
Creative classroom from the 70s!
Bruce has been a leading voice in promoting real education in New Zealand for many years, and was a major inspiration to me in my own school principalship. In this article he reviews things as they were, before GERM arrived, and stresses the need for creative teachers to reclaim education.
I believe it is vitally important to encourage creative teachers who focus on providing engaging programmes and who develop personalised programmes able to develop the gifts and talents of all students.

Project Wildthing
Bruce's comment:
Real learning through senses
Great movement to reconnect children with nature. Children need to swap screen time for wild time. Are our children overprotected? There is need to match an hour outside with an hour on screen. Technology is stealing childhood from our children. We need to get back to the nature habit even just a few minutes a day to encourage observational awareness. Check out the website Project Wildthing. We need to cut back on the indoor time.

Bruce continues: Read the below blogs for further inspiration.

Dear Time Magazine
I am furious, incensed, and irate at your November 3, 2014, cover depicting every American public school educator as a Rotten Apple and a billionaire from Silicon Valley as the savior of American public schools. So forgive me, if this Rotten Apple, tells you exactly what I think of your reporting since you never bothered to interview a public school teacher for your piece.
States Listen as Parents Give Rampant Testing an F

Test crazy systems killing learning
Bruces comment: WARNING! Tested to death in the USA time to change directions and certainly a path not to follow. Who would want to be a student or a teacher?

Florida embraced the school accountability movement early and enthusiastically, but that was hard to remember at a parent meeting in a high school auditorium here not long ago.
Parents railed at a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning.

Secrets of the Creative Brain
Not always easy in our School system
A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQand why it is so often accompanied by mental illness. “
Bruces comment: A rather long but important read. Do schools foster the creative brain I think not. And schools are certainly no place for creative teachers.

From Bruces oldies but goodiesfile:

Do we have the wrong schools for an age based on connections? Seth Godin
Seth sees schools reflecting the needs of a past factory based  industrial age - one that provides workers who were compliant, schools where productivity can be defined and measured.The development of such factory like schools, he believes,  is not a coincidence. Now,  he writes, is the time for a new set of questions and demands  and to consider how schools need to change to develop the new dispositions young workers need in a connected age.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time to return the focus back to encouraging creative teachers - the only real way to transform our education system

Educating for unknown horizons

I began this blog in 2004 after the website I shared with myfriend Wayne Morris was ended.The intention of the blog (and the website) was to encourage and share the ideas of creative teachers – ideas we both felt were largely ignored by those who determine our education system.

NZCF Straight jacket
The impetus came from the need to oppose the New Zealand Curriculum Framework introduced in the late 80s after the introduction of Tomorrows (‘self-managing’) Schools. This was a curriculum which introduced a technocratic approach to learning- a curriculum based on learning areas with objectives to be gained at defined levels; it was ‘death by strands, levels and hundreds of objectives’. It overwhelmed schools and teachers with accountability problems and side-lined the very creative holistic approach to teaching that New Zealand was internationally admired for.

At this time my blog focused on encouraging schools to leave the excesses resulting from having to comply with the onerous requirements of the New Zealand Curriculum Framework and later to take advantage of the freedom offered by the 2007 NZC. Many school principals, under considerable pressure to comply, had introduced assessment requirements that were destructive to creative holistic teaching. Such an audit and surveillance culture, once established, is hard to escape from – particularly when so many school ‘leaders’ were complicit with such accountability measures.

The election of a National government, after two terms and now entering a third, has with their unwelcome introduction of National Standards all but side-lined the liberating intent of the 2007 NZC. 
2007 NZC now sidelined
The technocratic emphasis of the original New Zealand Curriculum Framework has returned with a vengeance!  Schools are now forced to focus on showing achievement for students based on a limited focus on literacy and numeracy. As a result creative activities (never a strong point of schools) are now of less value as the curriculum narrows to improve student achievement.

Sadly there is a lack of school leadership (difficult with competing self-managing schools whose reputation relies of improving National Standards) to fight for a holistic approach to learning – one that recognises and values student achievement in areas other than literacy and numeracy.

Now schools reflect a formulaic approach to learning – based on improving achievement perhaps but not valuing student uniqueness and creativity. Education is increasingly being standardised in
an era that above all things needs to be personalised so as to develop the diverse talents of all students.

 A visit to classrooms will provide evidence of such standardised procedures. Examples to be seen are: WALTS (‘we are learning to’), success criteria (defining what the teacher thinks indicates success), and teaching to objectives (‘intentional teaching’). All indicate outcomes defined by the teacher. As a result, the work on display indicates conformity of achievement rather than a diversity of student creativity. As one commentator has said, ‘literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the entire curriculum’. This is a ‘colour by numbers’/ ‘one size fits approach to learning’. Evidence of authentic inquiry based learning (other than Google ‘cut and paste research’) will be hard to find. 

Inquiry learning
In the few remaining creative classrooms such studies provide the intellectual energy for much of what evolves (not always pre-planned) and in such classrooms literacy and numeracy have been ‘reframed’ to contribute to such authentic inquiry.

Add to this obsessive time hungry recording of achievement data (data which excludes as much as it records) the growing use of ability grouping, setting and streaming makes the possibilities of creative integrated teaching all but impossible. That is unless the school is lucky enough to have creative leadership.

Thankfully there are still such principals to be found.

With the re-election of the National government with its market forces ideology it is time for my blog  to return the focus to supporting individual creative teachers.

New Zealand gained it reputation for innovative primary education from the work of creative teachers who, in their time, had to fight for approval.

Elwyn Richardson
 In the 50s the work of Elwyn Richardson and Sylvia Ashton Warner come to mind.  Elwyn created a ‘community of scientists and artists’ exploring their environment and students personal thoughts in his rural school in the far North. Sylvia based her reading on the ‘stuff inside her students’ heads’

The 60s (an era of creativity, individuality and anti-authority attitudes) provided impetus for creativity in education.

 Juniorschool teachers with their language experiences and developmental programmes were integral to such creativity. Advisory teachers also helped spread creative child centred ideas. Art advisers, in particular, recognised and supported creative teachers particularly in rural schools well away from the hierarchical control of larger urban schools. To add to the mix there were a number of American writers critical of traditional schooling loosely grouped as part of an open education movement as well as books celebrating English child centred learning. Exciting times to be a teacher.

Taranaki room environment
Teachers involved developed anemergent curriculum based around exploring the local environment, tapping intostudents’ interests and questions, valuing creative expression, and creatingstimulating classroom environments. We believed in ‘doing things in depth’‘doing fewer things well’ and the importance of ‘slowing the pace of learning’ so as to come alongside the learner to assist them achieve their ‘personal best’. Other groups existed in other parts of New Zealand – often well away from the centres of educational authority.

In the 70s I taught for a number of years to implement the ideas myself. An important experience for anyone who wishes to give advice about teaching! One thing I refused to do was to use ability grouping and instead I integrated as much of my reading and maths programme into class studies . I had an overriding concern to develop positive attitudes towards learning – many students, even at age 10, had already given up on such things such maths and reading.
Teacher in 80s

The teachers of this era have by now been well retired.

In the 80/90 the biggest move was to whole school development.

 I was lucky enough to be appointed principal of an urban school where creative ideas were introduced across the school and across the curriculum. Sadly I never was able to convince teachers to move away from ability grouping but all agreed to introduce mixed ability family grouped classes. A number of Taranaki schools became nationally recognised for their quality work.

Then, in 1986 came Tomorrows Schools followed by the introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum with all its strands, levels and objectives. This was to be the beginning of the end of teacher led creative education.

All of the teacher led developments prior to Tomorrows Schools were been put at risk as schools were forced to comply with the demands of the new curriculum by regular visits of the
It takes courage to resist!
newly established Education Review Offic
e. Formulaic approaches to learning and assessment were introduced through contracted facilitators (the old advisory system had been disbanded) for schools to be ‘encouraged’ to follow.

The Ministry (under a Labour government) seeing the error of its way introduced a ‘revised’ New Zealand Curriculum in 2007. This innovative curriculum had far more in common with the holistic beliefs of innovative primary teachers. A key phrase was for each student to be ‘a seeker, user and creator of their own knowledge’. 

It was to be a short lived development.

 With a new government came the unwelcome imposition National Standards and with it its accountability demands came a narrowing of the curriculum around achievement in Literacy and Numeracy. 

These developments are now seen as part of a Market Forces ideology held by the government known as the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). This is an ideology that is based on comparative achievement data and focusses on blaming the teachers for what has come to be known as the ‘achievement gap’; in reality, the one in five ‘failing students, are suffering from more an ‘opportunity gap’. It is an approach that ignores the effects of poverty on student achievement.  In other parts of the world failing schools (based on narrow achievement data, national tests and league tables) have been privatised – Charter Schools!

It will get worse.

As consequence my blog is re-dedicated to sharing ideas of creative teachers, or ideas that will support them in their difficult endeavours

I have no idea how many creative teachers are out there, or how tocontact them, but this is no constraint to having a go. I am aware of a number of schools that hold true to a holistic creative philosophy and, as well, a number of blogs sharing innovative ideas.

I believe it is vitally important to encourage creative teachers who
Developing the talents of all
focus on providing engaging programmes and who develop personalised programmes able to develop the gifts and talents of all students.

 Perhaps the recent development of Modern School Environments (MLE) with their genesis in the open schools of the 70s will provide an answer but they do seem to be in conflict with the conformist demands of the National Standard.

 Time will tell.

New Zealand’s future lies in encouraging and tapping thecreativity and talents of all its citizens so as to develop an innovative,entrepreneurial and inclusive culture

The only place where this future can be kick-started is in creative schools dedicated to the development of the talents of all its students

To place the focus on creative teachers  education at all levels school cultures need to change.

There is no doubt about the value of being irretrievably committed to developing teacher creativity. As they challenge the status quo their path is not always easy. Far easier to comply.

 As Margaret Mead has said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens (teachers) can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ All the best ideas come from the edge but they need to recognized and shared.

No one is saying it will be easy but what is the alternative?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Educational Readings - technology, creativity and school failure

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This weeks homework!

Integrating technology into learning
UK academic Steve Wheeler - if you ever get the chance to attend one of his presentations, take it!
Technology is not a substitute for good teaching. No amount of technology can replace a great lesson that has been delivered in a passionate, inspirational and focused manner.

Digital reflections
Steve Wheeler continues
This post examines some of the categories of technology and the places they might occupy when they are integrated into the learning process. It's important for teachers to consider that integrated technology can provide a doorway to deeper learning, characterised for example in critical analysis and personal reflection.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) is Actually Correlated with Creativity and Achievement
Food for thought.
Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs Would Be Diagnosed with ADHD If They Were Born In This Decade.

Edison thought books would be obsolete
Classroom technology can make learning more dangerous, and thats a good thing
The latest movement to add more technology into classrooms is repeating the same mistakes, focusing on how tech can help teachers by churning out more data about students, saving time and raising test scores. Heres a crazy idea: What if we focused less on selling technology to teachers by convincing them it makes learning more efficient, and more on how computers, like a bicycle, might make learning a little more dangerous?

Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack
This document will keep you occupied
A global study of threats or deliberate use of force against students, teachers, academics, education trade union members and government officials, aid workers and other education staff, and against schools, universities and other education institutions, carried out for political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic or religious reasons in 2009-2013

Questioning Gagné and Blooms Relevance
Time to kick a sacred cow or two
Do you have research support for putting a verb in one category or another? Neither did Bloom. As far as I know, Blooms taxonomy was meant to be a theoretical framework and was not based on any sort of research.

To Teach Facts, Start with Feelings
While it's easy to assume that student apathy is related to laziness or an attitude problem, it actually makes perfect sense that so many students don't care about what they're learning because theyve never been taught how to care.

This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Kids Do Well if They Can
Bruces comment: A four minute video that makes a lot of sense

One Dozen Qualities Of Good Teachers
Bruces comment: Take the focus off standards and think about 12 qualities of good teachers.
Much of the discussion today about good schools, classrooms and teachers revolves around test
scores, teacher evaluation formats, and the Common Core standards. In this commentary, I want to try to bring back the discussion to what is really important to think about with regards to good teaching and good teachers. Below is a list of twelve qualities of good teachers that dont get discussed very often, yet are important and relevant to consider as we try to improve teaching excellence.

Too Many Kids Quit Science Because They Don't Think They're Smart
Bruces comment: Gain insight into Carol Dwecks research about why kids give up on learning.
For most students, science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) subjects are not intuitive or easy. Learning in generaland STEM in particularrequires repeated trial and error, and a students lack of confidence can sometimes stand in her own way. And although teachers and parents may think they are doing otherwise, these adults inadvertently help kids make up their minds early on that they're not natural scientists or math people,which leads them to pursue other subjects instead.

All the Time They Need
Bruces comment: Teachers were taught about wait timein the 80s worth revisiting today?
Waiting in silence for students to think before responding can, at first, be uncomfortable for everyone. But oh, the insights they'll share!

From Bruces oldies but goodies file:

Bruce comments: Two popular blogs from the past. Looking at reasons for educational failure.

Educational failure - it is all about poverty
In the New Scientist article large scale UK research found, 'that babies born in the poorest areas have slower cognitive development, which compromises their education and prospects in earlier life....Overwhelmingly the poverty into which a baby is born is going to be a big influence.’”

Why do so many students fail to achieve at school?
School is irrelevant for too many students. The age of knowledge transmission is over - students need to be helped to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge' ( NZ Curriculum 2007)

Bruce comments: And an answer authentic learning. problem based learning.

Basing education around student inquiry.
PBL is a far more evolved method of instruction. Well-executed PBL begins with the recognition
that, as in the real world, its often difficult to distinguish between acquiring information and using it. Students learn knowledge and elements of the core curriculum, but also apply what they know to solve authentic problems and produce results that matter.

This weeks contribution from Phil Cullen.

What is Happening to Our Profession? Quo Vadis?
The end of teaching as a profession - what do you think?
The money-hungry mongrels have had their way, we placid folk have capitulated and we are now
heading for a universe that has never existed before.  Teaching is now just a job. Amen. Once high in the group of noble service professions, it is so no longer.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Educational Readings - how much have schools changed for the good?

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at 

This weeks homework!

Am I the only person thinking this about the teaching profession?
Why do we follow the US not Finland?
Heres a New Zealand teachers pondering on the dismal state of education in New Zealand. Ring any bells for you?
I've been wondering.... wondering if we're becoming so obsessed with professionalising teaching we're losing sight of the individual teacher. This may be controversial.  But I think if someone is not willing to stop and challenge this road we seem to be travelling, we may go too far down the road of no return.
Why the Best Teachers Don't Give Tests
Alfie Kohn - say no more
When teachers test their students, the details of those tests will differ from one classroom to the next, which means these assessments by definition are not standardized and can't be used to compare students across schools or states. But they're still tests, and as a result they're still limited and limiting.

The Myth of Chinese Super Schools
The battle for education is truly international. I was sent this link by Antonio Dias de Figueiredo, from Portugal.
Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch:
The United States is already ensnared in the testing obsession that has trapped China. It is not too late to escape. Parents and educators across the nation are up in arms about the amount of instructional time now devoted to test preparation and testing. Yong Zhao offers wise counsel. We should break our addiction to standardized testing before we sacrifice the cultural values that have made our nation a home to innovation, creativity, originality, and invention.

The cerebral life of schools
A warning that we shouldn't disregard teacher expertise in school development:
The revolution of the rationalcould give birth to an equal or greater absurdity than the irrationalityit usurps. Let us make sure that the best of what already exists in our system, our schools, our classrooms and our minds always forms the basis of what is to come.

My alternative school proof you dont need grades and the curriculum
Josh Chapman
More than 10 years ago in downtown Roanoke in Virginia, US, a group of parents, many whom were college professors, opened an alternative school. They were frustrated by the standardised curriculum taught at most public schools, and wanted to create an environment that encouraged children to learn independently and imaginatively.

The Value of Connecting the Dots to Create Real Learning
Testing and grading not learning.
Open Connections is based on the premise that learning is natural and self-motivated, does not have to be compelled, and is experiential, as in the Confucian proverb, I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand,’” Bergson says. Its other core beliefs: There is variation in human development; there is inherent value in free play and taking pleasure in learning; collaboration is more useful than competition; learners have the right to pursue their own interests; and people learn best in mixed-age groups, in an atmosphere free of the anxiety generated by artificial grading and testing.

Neophobia (fear of the new) - not new but it's damn annoying
Neophobia, fear of the new, is not new. No doubt some wag in some cave was asking their kids to put those axes away, theyll be the death of you. From Socrates, who thought that writing was an ill-advised invention, people have reacted with predictable horror to every piece of new technology that hits the street. It happened with writing, parchments, books, printing, newspapers, coffee houses, letters, telegraph, telephone, radio, film, TV, railways, cars, jazz, rock nroll, rap, computers and now the internet and especially social media. The idea that some new invention rots the mind, devalues the culture, even destroys civilisation is an age-old phenomenon.

Geoff Marshall ACER
Education Chief Says Market-Based Policies are Ineffective
First, the countries that have been pursuing this strategy tend to be the countries that have experienced the greatest declines in student performance over the past decade. Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, and Sweden have all seen their school results decline despite the introduction of market-based policies.

This weeks contributions from

Bubble science
ExpeRimental: A series of short films making it fun, easy and cheap to do science at home with your children.
Bruce's comment: Some excellent science activities to excite your class.

Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
A must read!
Bruces comment: If you havent caught up with Carol Dwecks research check this out!!
The consequences of believing that intelligence and personality can be developed rather than being immutably engrained traits, Dweck found in her two decades of research with both children and adults, are remarkable.

Teachers told: spend less time marking books to cut excessive workload
Bruces comment: Sounds like common sense.
Ask any teacher and theyll give you at least two more examples like that: whether its having to highlight their lesson plans in five different colours or inputting every pupils marks into countless different spreadsheets in countless different ways at regular points in the year.
Why Daydreaming is Critical to Effective Learning
Bruces comment: Is multi tasking a myth and how to achieve quality work.
Many people believe they are skilled multitaskers, but theyre wrong. Neuroscience has shown that multitasking the process of doing more than one thing at the same time doesnt exist.

From Bruces oldies but goodiesfile:

The Right to Learn - an agenda for the 21stC; challenging the status quo.
Bruces comment: The right for all students to learn but to do so schools have to change first.
As we enter the second decade of the 'new' millennium what has changed in education? Not much.We can do a lot better. What is needed are fresh perspectives.So far reforms have not changed the basic assumptions of traditional schooling. A new vision is required.
Dysfunctional Schools
Bruces comment: How school practices (like streaming/ability grouping) harm schools.
I don't think teachers like to face up to the fact that schooling actually harms many of their students but it is clear , reading Kirsten's Olsen book, it does. Obviously this harming is not done intentionally but it is all too easy to blame failure on dysfunctional students. Certainly too few students leave school with their joy of learning alive and their unique gifts and talents strengthened - not even the so called successful students.