Archive for the ‘Teaching Profession’ Category

The fierce urgency of now

160204CEO_011Last week our system welcomed 160 new teachers to the profession. The excitement of these teachers is infectious and after my 40 years in education, I know their work will be transformative in nurturing the heart, mind and spirits of students.

In addressing our new leaders and teachers, I urged them not to be disheartened by the negative commentary in the media, which always typically marks the start of a new school year.

Yes there are many professional challenges but I see the greatest and most urgent as the need to abandon ‘improvement’ and embrace transformation.  While teachers can’t ignore the realities and challenges of schooling in today’s world – we must seize the initiative for change without becoming disheartened.

It was Reverend Martin Luther King Jr who said that ‘tomorrow is today’ and in being confronted with a ‘fierce urgency of now’, there is such a thing in the ‘unfolding conundrum of life and history as being too late‘.

In twenty years from now, I don’t want to look back and see education as having been ‘too late’ when the urgency of now is so fierce.  This age presents significant challenges to all who learn and teach in our schools – challenges that primarily centre on the need for change.

Nobel prize winning Chilean poet and educator Gabriela Mistral said that we cannot say tomorrow to a child, when now is the time their bones are formed and minds are developed – when today is their name.

Our students should not have to wait for schooling to change.

 

How technology will make teachers more human

When Yong Zhao was last in Australia, I asked if he would consider contributing a guest post to bluyonder.  I’m pleased to say his Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 12.54.51 pmpost, which is adapted from his newly published book ‘Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 Ed Tech Mistakes‘ is below. Yong suggests that we need to consider handing over some of the tasks traditionally done by teachers to technology. Look forward to your comments on this.  

With increased ease of access to vast amount of information and learning resources online and big-data-driven adaptive learning systems, will technology ultimately replace human teachers? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe technology will help make teachers more human educators. But this requires us to reimagine the role of teachers and the relationship between technology and human educators.

“Never send a human to do a machine’s job,” a statement from the movie The Matrix, is good advice for us to reimagine the relationship between humans and technology in education. Technology is developed to extend or replace human capacities. It is designed to do things that human beings are unable or unwilling to do or do things more efficiently than human beings, either more effectively or at lower costs. By design, technology is meant to replace certain human abilities. In other words, if technology can do certain things better with more efficiency or even things that are impossible for humans to do, we should let technology do it. There is no reason for humans to compete with machines. As a result, technology has replaced human beings entirely in cases where human involvement is straightforward and simple. For example, ATMs have replaced certain banking jobs and robotics has replaced certain manufacturing jobs.

Education is much more complex than depositing a cheque or getting cash from a bank teller. It is fundamentally a human endeavor. Technology will probably never be able to replace human teachers entirely. But many tasks that have traditionally been performed by human teachers can and should be done by technology so as to free human teachers to do things that machines cannot do or do as well. In other words, technology can make education more human if used properly.

To better capitalize on the potential of technology, schools and teachers need to reimagine the relationship between technology and human educators so as to determine what can be delegated to technology and what must be done by human educators, or can be done better by them. The reimagining can happen at multiple levels, and how it looks like depends on student characteristics, present arrangements and resources, grade levels, and educational objectives. But the advice would be the same: Never send a human to do a machine’s job. To paraphrase, we should not send human educators to do things that technology can do more effectively or at lower costs, and we should certainly allow technology to do things that human teachers cannot do or are unwilling to do.

A realigned teacher-machine relationship is essential for realizing the reimagined paradigm of schooling. As previously discussed, a personalized curriculum and product-oriented pedagogy requires schools to transform from one-size-fits-all factories into personal learning ecosystems. In a personal learning ecosystem, learners pursue their interests, create meaningful products, and take on the responsibility for their own learning. To realize this transformation, schools have to provide a lot more resources and opportunities and rethink how to organize and develop them. The increase in demand for resources and opportunities cannot possibly be met by human teachers alone. Thus schools will need to rely on technology, but not use it to replace human teachers. Instead, technology is meant to expand human capacities.

An essential element of the learning ecosystem is social and emotional support and personal guidance so that individual learners are properly challenged, supported, and mentored on their personal learning journey. No technology, even so-called big data, can be as socially and emotionally engaging to the human learner as another human being. No technology can understand the psychological conditions of an individual human learner, nor can it interpret human purposes. No technology can have the same level of wisdom, intuition, and caring as a human teacher. Thus emotional and social support, as well as mentoring, can be achieved only by human teachers.

However, no human being can compete with Google in terms of how much information one can hold and give access to. No single human can present information in engaging and multimedia ways that rival the computer, nor can one single human store as much information as banks of data servers. Additionally, no human teacher can be as patient as a machine when dealing with repetitive mechanical tasks. Thus human teachers should withdraw from such tasks as information gathering, storing, and transmission, as well as tasks as mechanical exercises.

After all, there is no reason for teachers to compete with Google or YouTube!

A level playing field

There are calls for fundamental changes to be made to the funding and regulation of Vocational and Educational Training (VET) in Australia.  In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, the Federal Education Minister said he wants to boost the status of VET  so ‘students don’t feel they have to go to university to have a good career.’

It reflects the need to radically rethink VET in a knowledge age and the importance of sectors working together to ensure a consistent approach and coherent framework for providing students with optimal opportunities.

It’s interesting that the new Education Minister calls VET the ‘forgotten’ education sector.  The established view is that VET is somehow less rigorous than an academic pathway to learning.  VET is a balance between the demands of work and study as well as integrating theory with practice.  Students learn the work by doing the work. VET actually provides for a level of personalised and independent learning not always evident in traditional subjects.

We have seen VET as the alternative to an academic pathway and while there are multiple pathways to learning (made more evident by technology), there is still one external credential (Higher School Certificate (HSC) in NSW).  This has been the gateway into university and for many, the path to a more rewarding and successful working life.

The view that university is the only option can’t be sustained in a knowledge age.  It is something the new Federal Minister wants to challenge.  It needs to be challenged at  policy level as well as at university and school sector level.

The vocational choices of students should be influenced by passion not process.  The challenge for schools is how we can, as Yong Zhao says entirely personalise not nationally or globally standardise education.  We need to level the playing field by allowing students the opportunity to draw from diverse areas of knowledge and skills.  It means allowing students to map their own curriculum based on individual interests and passions.

South Korea has effectively de-skilled a generation because of a cultural drive for students to be university educated.  While graduates compete for limited jobs, there is a growing gap for trades that have to be filled by overseas workers.

The knowledge age has created an even greater need for a level playing field in education.

Edward de Bono describes the current model of schooling like a pyramid where the bottom 80% are taught so that the top 20% can go onto university.  His view is that traditional subjects and universities may have very little to do with real life.  Interestingly, he asks why there are no exams in schools in ‘practical thinking’ and ‘value creation’?

de Bono argues that every student be taught what he calls ‘life skills’ such as critical thinking etc. The more academically inclined students take additional subjects that prepare them for university while the more practical and entrepreneurial minded students take additional subjects preparing them for work.

de Bono says this would be ‘the equivalent to teaching everyone to walk and then giving special coaching to those who showed an ability to run.  This is different from the current system of coaching everyone to run and then neglecting those who are not good at running.’ 

Not every student wants to be a runner nor should they be.  The biggest hurdle for schools and learners is the way
in which assessment is currently mandated and reported.  Meaning, we are still preparing all students to run the marathon by sitting the HSC.

As Professor Patrick Griffin from the University of Melbourne said recently, we will never get away from comparative measures (how good is my child compared to their class, state etc) but the focus has to be on where students are going (year after year) not on where they have been.

The most effective forms of assessments are those that support learning and inform teaching not control learning and narrow the curriculum.  Until we get on with the task of re-thinking assessment based on personalising the learning, we continue to neglect those who don’t want to be runners.

 

 

 

 

The Black Box

In 2001, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam published their seminal article titled Inside the Black Box: raising standards through classroom assessment.  It focuses on formative assessment which according to the authors is at the heart of effective teaching.

The article suggests that the practice of formative assessment has not been front and centre in most classrooms. In fact the link between formative assessment and significant learning gains has been nebulous.

Black and Wiliam note there is a “tendency to emphasise quantity and presentation of work and to neglect its quality in relation to learning” in primary classrooms. There is also a tendency to over-emphasise grading at the expense of giving quality feedback to students about the task and their learning.

Integral to the success of the factory model of schooling has been this prevailing view to compare students and cohorts at the expense of using assessment as evidence of each student’s progress.  Black and Wiliam suggest one way of overcoming this is by creating cultures of success within classrooms supported by a school/system belief that every child can succeed.

Formative assessment becomes a ‘powerful weapon’ as teacher feedback is focussed on the task in the context of the learning target with the aim of continually trying to close the gap.  In this way, assessment forms the work of teachers as they adapt their practice to the needs of the learners.

Research shows that task, target and improvement are critical to improving student learning outcomes.  They must clearly articulated by the teacher and clearly understood by the learner.  Black and Wiliam state that students cannot be expected to ‘believe in the value of changes for their learning before they have experienced the benefits.’

The Grattan Institute’s recent report on Targeted Teaching makes reference to Black and Wiliam’s work and Hattie’s meta-analysis as the bedrock of targeted teaching.  The report identifies what teachers need to measure and evaluate but recognises a lack of time in classrooms and training needs to be addressed.

It is clear that assessment/evidence must be a priority within all schools and across all systems.  To do this, we must consider Grattan’s recommendations to develop a consistent approach to using evidence, a clear set of expectations and a common language so that all teachers can “support their judgments about student learning and determine their teaching decisions.”

Yong Zhao recently wrote that the quality of an education should not be evaluated on a mean set of scores or student performance in a few high-stakes tests but should always be geared toward the growth of each student.

Growing students cannot be done without knowing students.

 

The cult of creativity

Bill O’Chee wrote recently that the current fixation on creativity in schools is ‘anti-intellectual’.  He asserts that “while creativity is important, from sciences to the arts, what is more important is rigorous thinking.” O’Chee states that what today’s learners need from their education is to “learn how to think deeply.”

If critical thinking is the precursor to creativity, then how do we develop and assess this skill in teachers so that reading critically, analysing data and formulating ideas is intuitive?

Fareed Zakaria, author of the recently published In Defense of a Liberal Education, states that education must satisfy two important aspects: creativity and causality.  First you must be able to engage in ‘out of the box thinking’ and then have the ‘rigor and clarity’ with respect to what you are arguing about.

Zakaria makes the point that in a global age where information is retrievable in seconds, we still insist that students learn superficial facts while forgoing the deeper questions of ‘why’.  As my colleague, Dr Miranda Jefferson says, it’s about asking ‘why’ and then ‘why, really?’

In a recent blthinkerog post Yong Zhao discusses the two competing educational paradigms.  He writes that “employee-oriented education values what children should learn, while entrepreneur-oriented education values what children would learn.”

By its very nature, an entrepreneur-oriented education is classically liberal. It encourages students to follow their passions in search of deeper understanding and mastery.  To think critically is to always be asking ‘why’ and it is in this journey of student discovery that the nature of teacher’s work takes shape.

If we want schools to be places where creative modes of practice flow freely, then it requires teachers and students to be continually engaged in critical modes of thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the journey

It is always good to listen to students and staff talk enthusiastically about their individual and collective learning. Last week I visited St Oliver’s Primary, Harris Park and saw first hand how their data walls are working and how it has helped sharpen their professional focus and thinking.

While many schools adopt a holistic approach to capturing and measuring data on student achievement, St Oliver’s has narrowed the focus to two key areas: reading and vocabulary.  Principal Anthony McElhone explained they could have just as easily measured spelling or structure but this gives them a precise focus on what they see as the critical areas for their students’ growth.

Data walls capture the process and progress of student learning and the effectiveness of teacher practice. It becomes a shared learning journey for every member of the learning community.  This was illustrated when I visited an elementary school in Canada.

Every inch of the parish hall was being used as a living data wall.  As you walk around the hall, you can follow the growth of each and every student.  The data is transparent –  teachers share accountability for student learning while students accept responsibility for their own learning path.  What is so impressive is when parents visit the school and effectively cut out the ‘middleman’ by listening to their own child explain, track and describe their learning. They know where they are at, where they need to go and how they will get there.

It is visible learning in action.

It doesn’t make sense

The prophetic Steve Jobs said: It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

What happens when we replace ‘smart people’ with ‘teachers’ is the recognition that we are still hiring teachers and largely telling them what to do.  Unfortunately, this is the reality of the current industrial landscape – one that has prevailed since the early 20th century.  As Richard Elmore said, maintaining a low-skill teaching profession was a way of paying teachers less and maintaining compliance.  The thing about compliance is that it kills creativity.

Over the decades, employers and unions have vigorously defended this structure even down to how many hours teachers should spend face to face. Building a highly professional workforce is as Jobs said hiring teachers to tell us how they work best.  It is about giving teachers permission to create the most optimal learning environments and opportunities for their students.  As Ken Robinson reflects in his latest book Creative Schools, it is based on the fundamental belief: ‘the value of the individual, the right to self-determination.’

We have spent much of the last century working on the assumption that external accountability will drive internal accountability.  It’s the cart pulling the horse, which has not only been counter-productive to school improvement but detrimental to improving student learning.

Giving teachers greater flexibisurprisedgirllity by allowing them to use their professional judgment day in and day out, is the first step to building a highly competent workforce.  Michael Fullan et al has shown that individual responsibility for one’s own learning and that of every student in the school leads to a shared internal accountability.  This sense of collective responsibility for improving student learning drives the work and feeds into a bigger loop of external accountability. This way, the horse pulls the cart.

If the best way to improve learning outcomes is to raise student motivation, expectations and engagement, then doesn’t it make sense to take the same approach when it comes to teachers’ work?

 

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