Posts tagged ‘Student Learning Outcomes’

Creativity crisis

There has been a lot of discussion around the topic of creativity.  Educators and society in general seem to agree on the importance of creativity – but do our schools provide a fertile ground for our teachers and students to develop and cultivate this attribute?

In Will Richardson’s blog, he argues that on the whole schools do not do a very good job at cultivating creativity.  He refers to behavioural therapist, Andrea Kuszewski‘s article The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience in which she argues that children are taught from a young age at school to pay attention, watch the teacher, imitate what the teacher does, stay in your seat, don’t question authority, and receive praise. This, Kuszewski argues is not teaching children to think; we are teaching them to memorize – instead of encouraging them to innovate (or create), we expect them to follow the outline and adhere to rules.    

Kuszewski refers to findings from researcher, Alison Gopnik​ who found that too much direct instruction—showing a child what to do, rather than letting him figure out the solution himself—can severely affect his ability and/or instinct to independently and creatively solve problems, or to explore multiple potential solutions.

America is experiencing a creativity crisis as noted in Richardson’s blog and Thomas L Friedman’s That Used to be Us. In Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s article The Creativity Crisis, research is showing that students’ creativity levels have been falling since 1990 – particularly among those from kindergarten through sixth grade.

According to Bronson and Merryman, American teachers are overwhelmed by curriculum standards and don’t have room in the day for a creativity class. University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls this “art bias” – the age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. The following paragraph taken from Bronson and Merryman’s article highlights an important point about integrating creativity into the classroom.

Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process. Scholars argue that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way.

Earlier this year, Rupert Murdoch spoke at the G8 Forum about how there has been innovation and progress in all areas of life except education. He calls this a colossal failure of imagination.  Murdoch provides a sobering example of how in every part of life, someone who woke up after a fifty-year nap would not recognise the world around him – except in education. Today’s classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age: a teacher standing in front with a textbook, a blackboard and a piece of chalk.

Rupert suggests that in order to excite the imagination of our students we need to use technology as the vehicle to personalise the learning experience.  He makes the point that technology will never replace the teacher, but it can relieve the drudgery of teaching by taking advantage of the increasingly sophisticated analytics that will help teachers spend more time on things that make us all more human and more creative.

Ken Robinson’s argues in Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative  that contrary to popular belief, being creative is something that can be learnt, and not just for a select few. Creativity, according to Robinson is a step further on from imagination.  Being creative is doing something – it’s a process of putting your imagination to work.  It is applied imagination.

The question is how can educators and students develop creative potential in schools?

McKinsey 2010

The McKinsey report into ‘How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better’ was released last week.

McKinsey examined 20 school systems around the world that are somewhere along the continuum of fair to great.  These include Singapore and Ontario but also systems in developing countries like Brazil and India.  These education are considered to be making promising starts in improving student learning outcomes.

While we all aspire to achieve the success of Singapore and Ontario, I think we can be assured that we are on the right track.  The report is valuable in that it identifies and unpacks the elements common to these high performing systems.

It confirms that improving student learning outcomes does not happen overnight.  Singapore and Hong Kong took twenty plus years to move their schools from good to great.

For me, this school improvement model is like a tightly woven ball of wool with great control, focus and energy on improving the learning and teaching processes.  As instructional practice improves and teachers begin to collaborate, analyse data and adapt strategies, the ball unravels and innovation spreads.

I think the document is a must read for all educators as we have a responsibility to ensure that we learn from each other about what works, and more importantly what doesn’t.

Our educational canon

As our state and federal governments prepare for upcoming elections, it’s been interesting to examine their policy positions on education. 

As always, the incumbent  party’s position is rejected by the opposition with no middle ground. The rejection usually focuses on cutting (mostly) or increasing (rarely) funding for a range of programs. Never do we have a carefully crafted policy framework that reflects the best we know about good education theory and practice.

This is a poor approach to developing a sustainable and effective educational policy framework for schooling in today’s world.  Like all systems committed to improving student learning outcomes, we have built our own ” educational canon” that informs our understanding of what makes the difference to improving student learning and builds teacher capacity.

The canon becomes our touchstone for good practice and represents two decades of good educational theory and research. It continues to expand as we learn more about student learning and teacher practice.

In most cases, educational policy is not often developed from the canon but from ideological preferences and a traditional understanding of learners and the process of schooling.

Schools learn from exemplar schools; systems learn from exemplar systems because good theory is actually good practice. While implementation may vary at the local level, the fundamental elements of improving schooling should be common to all education systems.

Our canon:
Bransford et al – How People Learn
Michael Fullan – Six Secrets of Change
John Hattie – Visible Learning
Jim Collins – Good to Great
Helen Timplery et al – Teacher Professional Learning and Development
Viviane Robinson et al – School Leadership and Student Outcomes
MCEETYA’s  Learning in an Online World
NSW and ACT Bishop’s Pastoral Letter – Catholic Schools at a Crossroads

The work we do

When Professor John Hattie visited our diocese last year, he mentioned something quite astounding and profound. When teachers are together in staff rooms, they only spend five minutes on average, talking about teaching.

We know that when teachers are in learning spaces they ‘do’ the business of teaching, but we also know that it is just as important to ‘talk’ to colleagues about what they do when they teach.

Bransford et al make this point powerfully in “How People Learn” when he talks about meta-cognition or put more simply learning about learning.

The work of teachers is more complex than rocket science (Elmore). It takes place against a background cluttered with noise – diverse views, fragmented policies, competing agendas and is mostly characterised by an environment of mistrust and suspicion.

How do we support, sustain, develop and drive the continuous shift needed to ensure a relevant 21st century schooling experience if we don’t reflect and talk about what good learning and teaching is in today’s world?

I think there is a very simple and obvious answer – look to the theory and the good practice that stems from the theory. Since the beginning of the 1990s, there has been a wealth of research linking theory to practice.

The work of Andy Hargreaves, Michael Fullan, Richard Elmore, Hedley Beare, Viviane Robinson and John Hattie demonstrates the link. The problem with our current educational approach is that it relies too heavily on what I call the ‘opt in/opt out’ model. That is, what a teacher thinks or feels about a learning strategy defines the implementation process.

It is the antithesis of evidence-based decision making. Elmore calls this a ‘theory of volunteerism in education’. That is, if I like it I may choose to participate, adopt or implement otherwise I will stay the current course – often to the detriment of the learner. If we accept responsibility for our own and students learning, then we cannot tolerate volunteerism.

Schools exist as places of learning for students as well as teachers. The work of the above authors shows how we can improve learning and teaching. While each comes at it from different perspectives, they share common themes. These are:

  • teachers make the difference
  • teachers get better at their work by doing the work
  • teacher collaboration is critical to influencing practice and sustaining change
  • leaders must support and participate in teacher learning
  • data and feedback must inform decision making
  • the implementation process needs to be localisedWe call our change imperative, the ‘theory of action’ and it is underpinned by two decades of theory and research into what makes the difference to student learning.Teachers drive change by changing what they do. School leaders sustain change by identifying what teachers need.

    This simple approach is powerful in practice.

  • Leading learning

    I’ve just finished reading Tom O’Donoghue and Simon Clarke’s ‘Leading Learning: process, themes and issues in international contexts’ – a great book for reflective practioners.

    O’Donoghue and Clarke map the territory for learning and leading with brief descriptions of the significant themes, trends and innovations from around the world.

    The real strength of this book is its bibliography –  an invaluable resource of work from leading practioners and academics.

    The chapter on teachers leading reinforces (again) the fundamental link between teacher quality and student learning outcomes.  It is what drives our system agenda and our work with system leaders.

    Teachers, therefore, need to be powerful learners if  they are to maintain a high level of professional performance in an occupation that has become increasingly difficult.  They also need to be powerful learners so that they are able to present role models to their students as well as the community as a whole. In this sense, a teacher’s capacity to learn constitutes an important form of leadership in itself.

    And therein lies the challenge we face – the re-education of teachers who ‘eschew professional learning because they have been ‘done’ on completion of their initial training’. (p93)

    Learning doesn’t end after four years of university – it just begins as a classroom practioner.

    Art of precision

    Professor Helen Timperley from the University of Auckland was working with our school leaders last week. It was a great professional learning experience and builds on the work we have been doing for some years now on how continuously improve student learning outcomes. Helen has such a sharp and pragmatic focus.

    For me, it is about teachers learning about the art of teaching.  They do this best by engaging in substantive conversations with colleagues at every level on what students are actually doing not on what teachers think they should be doing. It requires precision on the language and nature of learning and a daily focus on professional learning and teacher practice.

    As Helen says, teacher learning is powerful and schools are places for both student and teacher learning.

    The ‘teacher effect’

    Last Friday, the Sydney Morning Herald published the results of a University of  New England Study claiming ‘teacher effect’ only plays a minor role in student learning.

    St Michaels 045In response, I refer again to John Hattie’s book Visible Learning in which he claims: ‘ what teachers do matters’.  As educators, we should no longer be satisfied with simply reaching minimum standards or getting over the line.  (Read Adele Horin’s powerful comments from 25/7/09 on teacher quality)

    As Hattie says, rather than asking ‘What works?’ we should be asking ‘What works best?’

    We do know there is a growing body of research showing that excellent teachers positively influence student learning outcomes.  Why?  Because expert teachers don’t simply teach: they recognise when learning isn’t happening, then employ and monitor personalised strategies that as Hattie says ‘work best’ for each learner.

    My views on teacher quality in last Friday’s Sydney Morning Herald is really a call to action.  This is the time to step-up to the demands of the profession by addressing the core issues preventing us from making quantum leaps not just superficial steps.