Archive for the ‘Leading Learning’ Category

Crowding the curriculum

Some interesting articles in the weekend papers calling for the teaching of martial arts and alcohol education in schools to address the issues of bullying and binge-drinking.

It seems that whenever there is a need to change behaviours or address attitudes we look to the curriculum.  Is this the role of a curriculum?  Is it the responsibility of schools?

If the role of schools is to promote the growth of students and their learning – to teach students them how to be critical thinkers and responsible citizens, then shouldn’t this naturally lead to a change in behaviours?

I think the calls to introduce things like for example, alcohol education, while important social issues, only muddy the waters.  As John Hattie has said debate seems to be fixated on the test-outcome-based questions rather than an intelligent debate about what is worth ‘preserving in our society, and what is worth knowing in order to live the desired ‘good life’.

In an era of information and curriculum overload, it is important for the profession to discern which knowledge is significant and timely.  Just-in-time learning (learning that is relevant to students’ lives) must be given priority over the just-in-case learning which can so easily crowd the learning.

As Michael Fullan says we must be relentless focussed on the things that actually make a difference.  This means continually reminding ourselves of what’s really important in the work of the school.  Martial arts and alcohol education may be helpful but is it essential?

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli made an excellent point in relation to alcohol education, which is parents also have an important role in educating their children.  Pauline Lysaght, Associate Director Early Start at the University of Wollongong believes that while teachers are influential in reinforcing behaviours within the school context, the responsibility for establishing a knowledge base and encouraging behaviours rests with parents.

When there are vigorous calls to continually pare down the curriculum (similar to Singapore’s approach), why do we waste valuable time proposing ways of over-loading it?

 

Above all, try something

There is a wonderful quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt in David Price’s new book ‘Open’. Speaking at a commencement address in 1932, Roosevelt said: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation.  It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.  But above all, try something.”

David Price was in Australia last week talking about his new book and the changing world of work, life and learning.  We live in a world that is increasingly transparent and open: open source, open learning, open communities. Price makes the point that we cannot control or contain knowledge so it is no longer powerful. What has become powerful are the social connections arising from the co-creation of knowledge locally and globally.

This is not explicitly about technology but how it is enabling new ways of thinking, working and learning. The focus is very much on people and how we are using the tools to connect and reshape communities in a more collaborative way.

‘Open’ fleshes out this new landscape by providing a lens from the outside in rather than the inside out as so often happens.  The book presents a sharp synthesis of what is happening in today’s world and importantly, how the education sector can learn from those who are successfully weaving the threads of social, open and informal learning into classrooms such as High Tech High in California and School of Communication Arts 2.0 in the UK.  These diverse examples illustrate how being open to new ideas, tools and importantly new ways of learning and teaching are changing the nature of schooling.

Price makes the point that ‘because education has such a deep-seated resistance to change, that what to them (e.g principals of  and ) seems logical appears radical to others.”  Price goes on to say that governments don’t do radical and so the responsibility to be different and “innovative needs to come from schools themselves, and unless innovative new approaches become more disruptive, the reality is that they will fall further behind the pace of change of ‘open’.”

We are living in uncertain times but to echo Roosevelt – schooling today demands bold, persistent experimentation so that schooling becomes truly open, relevant and meaningful well into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better learners, better citizens

Schooling will be out of business if we don’t ‘revamp’ schools.  This was Michael Fullan’s reply to my question last week of whether he thought there was a growing gap between schooling and learning.  Interestingly, Fullan doesn’t believe we need to start from scratch.  Rather, he suggests looking at ways of extending the boundaries of schooling; making them more permeable in today’s world. Technology can be a great tool to help bridge this gap.

While Fullan admits that while technology is a ‘pull’ factor for students and one of the game changers for schooling, the vast majority of digital use in schools is superficial.  What is needed is an engaging pedagogy to pull students in and equip them with 21st century skills.  This contemporary framework is built on the 6Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, citizenship and character. As Fullan says better learners, lead to better global citizens and the better the learning for students, the more focused the work of teachers.  Schooling becomes an open-ended and collaborative experience for students as well as teachers.

The next wave in education will be combining digital and student agency to deliver improved learning outcomes.  Gaining greater understanding of student learning by assessing how students like to learn, whether they feel they belong to their school community and what are their expectations. The good news is these factors are not fixed – they are able to be leveraged because student engagement and learning success is inextricably linked.

How students participate in their learning, experience it and succeed is the next chapter for many education systems. Powerful mobile connected devices will not do anything to improve student learning on their own. Schools need to design realistic learning experiences which engage and stretch students and use the devices as enablers. This involves both the teacher and the student in a complex process of learning together. This moves our understanding of learning and teaching today from a mechanistic and didactic process to an organic and transformational one.  Of course, passionate and proficient teachers working together in this way show us what teaching needs to be in a knowledge age.

 

From compliance to creativity

Earlier this week, together with our schools leaders, I spent time in a workshop led by Michael Fullan. The focus of his work was on improving student learning outcomes for all students and this involves a commitment to continuous improvement.  Fullan states that improvement and innovation is not an either/or proposition.  Schools need to be on the road to improvement while constantly anticipating the ‘where to next’.  This is what Fullan defines as innovation.

How do schools become centres of innovation and excellence in the 21st century?  I invited one of our teaching educators, Dr Miranda Jefferson to reflect on this question in a guest blog.   

It takes courage to play a whole rugby league grand final with a broken cheekbone. But it takes more courage to transform schools into centres of innovation. It takes courage because it is an act that disrupts the well-established comfort zone into which much of education has nestled.

The comfort zone in education is neatly contained by compliance, standards and Naplan tests and it has unwittingly influenced teachers to think ‘within the square’. In Teacher Professional Learning in an Age of Compliance (2009) Groundwater-Smith and Mockler argue that the rise of the audit culture in education has given equal rise to a fear of risk, uncertainty and complexity to develop authentic and progressive schooling. Compliance is in tension with the capacity to be creative and innovative in our schools.

Education must foster creativity and critical thinking in order to to meet the demands of increasing globalized markets and competitiveness, the rapid pace of change through technologies, automation and connectivity and the shift to a knowledge based economy generated by creativity and innovation.

At a psychological level, creativity is essential to human development and forms a lifelong zone of proximal development contributing to the sustained development of a creative personality (Moran and John-Steiner on L.S. Vygotsky, 2003). In other words, for learning to be truly transformational, development depends on creativity and creativity depends on development.

Is education at the school, systemic and policy level really focused on creativity and innovation? Is the learning deep and transformational? If schools were centres of innovation they would be constantly transforming, critiquing and generating new ideas through collaboration with others and communicating those ideas for maximum impact. They would be acting on and creating research based on a body of evidence rather than responding to a body of opinion.

Parker J. Palmer wrote about the inner landscape of a teacher in The Courage to Teach (1998), and said, “We teach who we are”. As I work as a teaching educator in schools, I am struck by the amount of courage it takes for systemic and school leaders and teachers to take risks and re-imagine the creative possibilities of schooling.

The irony is that learning, like creativity, is to go from the ‘known to the unknown’. Yet education seems fixed by compliance to the ‘known’. Protecting comfort zones and vested interests and meeting compliance by ‘being seen to be good’ rather than ‘doing good’ is in the long run a very unsafe place to be. By not moving to the unknown there is no progress.

If schools are centres of learning, creativity and innovation there has to be courageous school leaders and empowered teachers promoting and nurturing the Four C’s – Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration – in their own work lives and work places. If we are what we teach, then future generations depend on educators who generate and communicate ideas that defy the crowd, work in creative collaborative teams in and across schools, and challenge and critique each other to think and act locally and globally.

Innovation in education can be achieved through active involvement in research. It takes vision, respect, relationships, mentoring and pedagogies that challenge, take risks and go into the unknown to make new and deeper connections. Schools as centres of learning and creativity have to be dynamic and shifting at their very core.

If schools teach for learning, creativity and innovation, they will more than meet compliance. They will exceed it. If you choose to think outside the square, you’ll know what’s in the square, who made it and why it is the way it is.

Innovation in schools is a decision. It is a courageous decision to reach beyond the status quo and come up with something new, that when combined with research and relational wisdom, will better serve our young peoples’ social and economic futures.

Beyond curriculum

I have lost count of the number of curriculum reviews I have lived through as an educator and I’m yet to be convinced that past or even current curriculum reviews actually address the real issue of how teachers’ work.  It is one thing to strip back a curriculum to allow teachers greater flexibility and freedom to go deeper into the learning but there needs to be focus on how we develop teachers’ capabilities to teach a contemporary curriculum.

My concern with the latest curriculum review is that it distracts attention from the critical issue of how teachers’ work and how we make decisions about the quality of that work to improve student learning.   I agree that we must focus on literacy and numeracy as the foundation to good learning but it is contingent on teachers who not only know how to teach the basics but also continue to builstudent teacherd on and deepen student knowledge through challenging tasks and activities.

One of the main problems with a prescribed curriculum is it focuses on delivering content. While content is important, what matters is how students understand it, construct it and apply it.  Effective learning relies on effective teaching and in Singapore for example, there is heavy investment throughout teachers’ careers on developing their pedagogical and content knowledge.

Now we’ve had the government’s review of the what (curriculum), I believe we need a teacher led symposium on the ‘how’. How do we engage all teachers in the type of inquiry and critical reflection that we expect students to engage in to become independent learners and critical thinkers?

Curriculum will always be subject to heated debate and ideological divides so the opportunity for real change lies in exploring new ways of working, new modes of teacher practice that reflects the changing nature of the world, the tools and today’s learners.  As my colleague, Br Pat Howlett, Principal of Parramatta Marist High says how can you teach in a traditional way and expect students to think critically and work collaboratively.

As Richard Elmore et al Instructional Rounds in Education notes:

….if your improvement strategy begins with a curriculum solution … then you have to invest in the new knowledge and skill required of teachers to teach that curriculum if you expect it to contribute to new student learning. A failure to address teachers’ knowledge and skill as part of a curriculum-based improvement strategy typically produces low-level teaching of high-level content.   There are only three ways to improve student learning at scale. The first is to increase the level of knowledge and skill that the teacher brings to the instructional process. The second is to increase the level and complexity of the content that students are asked to learn. And the third is to change the role of the student in the instructional process. That’s it. If you are not doing one of these three things, you are not improving instruction and learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The power of now

I’ve recently discovered the work and energy of Tim Longhurst. Tim is an Australian futurist who is helping us to make sense of what is happening in a hyper-connected world and how we, as educators, can harness the power of now.

Tim suggests that today’s learners are part person and part mobile phone.  The ubiquitous nature of these devices means that students are informed and supported 24/7 and because of this, students see themselves as multifaceted global contributors – leaders, advocates, entrepreneurs, marketers and activists.  It fundamentally changes the way in which we share our stories and how we share our knowledge and assets on a global scale.

According to Tim, the three key trends are:

  1. The power of small (ability to change the world with fewer resources e.g Pebble Smart Watch)
  2. Barriers are collapsing (Khan academy has taught 100 million students for free)
  3. Wisdom of the group (Open Ideo)

These trends reinforce what is possible today using the power of technology.  We can’t predict the future but we can imagine what is possible by being curious and asking two critical questions: what is happening in the world and what are the possibilities for learning from each other using today’s tools.

As Tim says in a non-linear world, it’s OK not to know because we have a billion advisers at our fingertips willing to help and share an idea. Today’s learners have already worked this out: ask (on-line) and you will receive.  That’s the power of the device and we can learn from people like Tim who have their fingers on the pulse.  As Tim writes on his blog, if children are going to be in formal education for 12 years, then we owe it to each of them that schooling….

allows them to develop their understanding of themselves and the world. The qualities we ought to instill in learners include: curiosity, collaboration and creativity. Curiosity, because it’s the spark that turns us into lifelong learners—essential in a fast changing world; collaboration because knowing how to bring out the best in others and work in team environments is such a big part of realising our own potential; and creativity because that it is an act that puts these amazing supercomputers between our ears to work in ways that inspire ourselves and others.

 

 

Mindful learning

The challenge of re-imagining schooling is not about changing structures but mindsets. This was the theme of my keynote address at the ACE National Conference in Adelaide recently.  It is time for a new professional maturity.  Let me be clear that professional maturity is the courage to think differently, respond creatively and to act boldly against a dominant and outdated educational narrative.

There have been two books this year that have influenced my thinking on how we think more mindfully about learning and teaching.  The first is Carol Dweck’s Mindset.  The other is Ellen Langer’s ‘The Power of Mindful Learning‘.  Langer is Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and has devoted much of her career to the theory of mindfulness.

Like Dweck, Langer stresses that myths and mindsets about education undermine the process of learning.  The desire by educators to personalise learning isn’t a new concept but Langer suggests a new approach – teaching students how to make meaning of content themselves.

Langer talks about enabling students to draw their own distinctions and to frame learning in such a way as to see more than one answer or angle.  When students are able to contextualise material it allows them to ‘create working definitions that are continually revised.’   In her experiments over the years, Langer has found that when information is presented as ‘could be’ rather than ‘is’, it immediately opens up the possibility of seeing things from different perspectives or more mindfully.

Reflecting on her own teaching practice, Langer says we should see that every inadequate answer a student gives is often an adequate answer when viewed in another context.  Langer writes:

If we respect students’ abilities to define their own experiences, to generate their own hypotheses, and to discover new ways of categorizing the world, we might not be so quick to evaluate the adequacy of their answers. We might, instead, begin listening to their questions.  Out of the questions of students come some of the most creative ideas and discoveries.   All answers come out of the question.  If we pay attention to our questions, we increase the power of mindful learning.

DaliOften when I hear educators talk about the challenges of learning and teaching, they begin with ‘The reality is…….’.  As Langer shows, the reality is one perspective or one way of looking at the issue.  This notion is wonderfully illustrated by Salvador Dali in his painting The Persistence of Memory which challenges our concept of time.  There are as Dali depicts, multiple realities and many ways of seeing what ‘could be’ if we begin to view things differently – more mindfully.

The imperative we have to deliver a more relevant and personalised learning experience for all students demands that we think and respond differently.  John Hattie encourages teachers and leaders to adopt new mind frames.  He says these must ‘pervade our thinking about teaching and learning, because it is these ways of viewing our world that then lead to the optimal decisions for the particular contexts in which we work.’

Mindful learning must begin with mindful teaching.  And the challenge of re-imagining schooling begins not with what is but what could be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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