Distinguished Guest Writer
Derek Hedgcock returns. Derek’s previous article ‘Contemporary Teaching Practice in the Era of NoPLAN – Error of NAPLAN’ proved such a popular article that it is timely to share this article asap. Timely, because the Australian Education Union has, obediently, asked the PM to establish NAPLAN as an entity on an online service to every school in the country. That should entrench the malicious effects of NAPLAN on schooling even deeper, pervert the curriculum further, confine teaching strategies, and test teacher professionalism to a degree never known in Australia before. We need to ask how a move to technical control of the classroom will enhance the real dynamic of learning and achieving, knowing that, with its Standardised Blanket Testing base, it merely ensures mediocrity of performance faster.
Control of online classroom activities by measurement experts from a distant location, with a fear-based, uncaring base, runs counter to the strength of a warm, teacher-controlled pupilling environment.
Derek Hedgcock, with his belief in the importance of Emotions, that are the vehicles that change the mind of the learner into matter, [ i.e. : emotional first, rational second] supports this view. Emotional stability through the three Ss : SUCCOUR [providing Acceptance, Affection and Admiration] for all in the classroom, enhancing SURVIVAL [through the Comfort, Security and Protection] in the learning environment, ensures SUCCESS [based on Achievement, Esteem and Control of learning efforts]. Hard data measurers, limited to their profound and expert knowledge of assessment, just don’t seem to understand. They run NAPLAN, a testing device. Derek, like all ethical teachers, doesn’t like NAPLAN. It is based on opposite premises.
Derek not only thinks deeply about the learning act in a school environment, he works just as persistently at combining his desire to keep healthy with a deep feeling for those not so fortunate. He’s a true-blue human being with a special interest in kids and those not so fortunate. Think of him later in the year as he and his friends set off on a 1600km bike ride to raise money for Cancer Research. Check out this website to see his track. Well known to Queensland teachers who have been ‘there, done that’, you might like to say “G’day” if you live along the track or support the effort by a buck or two to the research that he promotes :- http://www.smiddy.org.au/page/get-involved/find-out-more/news-and-events/events/Bottlemart_Smiddy_Challenge/
Techno or Emo? That is the Question!
The original derivations of technology were related to application of the arts to a means of enhancing everyday life in some way. Now it has come to include the applied sciences. So in our times, we have a duality of sorts when it comes to the word technology, as it defines itself in the varied contexts of modern, everyday living.
Dualities are commonplace when it comes to defining all manner of phenomena. To compare and contrast is normal human behaviour. We measure, scale and record much of what we do and education is no exception. So it should be, otherwise we would have nought but memory to determine the advantage or disadvantage of progress/improvement vs regress/deterioration.
Before things are measured, compared and thereby rated, either quantitatively or qualitatively, concretely or abstractly: there need to be some sort of broadly inclusive, organising parameters or domains into which the subject of enquiry or interest can be partitioned.
For educators traditionally, there have been cognitive, affective and physical domains.
The former has been readily and relatively enthusiastically embraced….. No worries? The latter has been relegated to the sports jocks and non-rainy Friday afternoons or ephemeral systemic imperatives whenever issues such as childhood obesity prevail for attention among politicians, over law and order, border security etc…. After all, can’t antagonise the fast food lobby too much by actually doing something by legislation. Do something warm and fuzzy with the kiddies! That will fix it!
Teachers can do it… easily alongside drug, sex and values education! Then we’ll NAPLAN ‘em! Sorta sounds like NAPALM but that’s OK! Technology is harmless even when misguided. So long as we don’t get any on ourselves?
The middle child has been largely abandoned as too mysterious: sorta vague and controversial…. after all we can’t brand kids with tags that might offend…. You know the sorta thing …. disinterested, emotional, over-sensitive?
Even the task of listing affective domain descriptors has proven slippery, down a litigious rope to the indefensible: all for want of agreed terminology and cultural/socio-economic sensitivity, let alone a precise rating scale.
Let’s just nuke ‘em in the leagues tables, My School… now there’s a useful application of technology that won’t hurt anybody’s feelings. Trans-parent that’s all good, clean fun for all ….. and healthy to boot!
Every parent can have their child held out for public scrutiny and we don’t even have to be there. It’s an education revolution! They can even have their own laptop…. the kiddies can… and they can access their results and even see how their school is going compared to the really, really rich school… the one with the polo fields, Olympic swimming pools and very own rifle range!
WOW! Fair dinkum technology if ever there was?
And they can learn over the internet so they don’t have to relate to anyone who might harm their self esteem by correcting their mistakes in person.
Ain’t technology grand!
Meanwhile therefore, perhaps because the vague and airy-fairy stuff has remained elusive, controversial and difficult to nail down, the cognitive/rational/statistically manageable has burgeoned well beyond its due status in the scheme of things. Actually for myself, the so-called physical domain has been problematic, simply because attitude plays a vital role in performance and therefore this domain has been to my mind, a hybrid of its co-conspirators.
In fact the trio as discrete domains has been something of an enigma. I have not encountered many over a forty-year teaching career, unwilling to concede that formal academic performance (the cognitive domain) is dependent upon a healthy robust, affective domain: to the extent, I have heard it proclaimed with absolute confidence, that the academically successful are by default, affectively endowed.
What then of the evil genius or do such personalities exist only in fictional entertainment?
What of the child with an exceptional EQ, who is more savvy than the teacher, who can daily at whim, dismantle the good order of the classroom in a nanosecond: and feel so much better for it, smug in the knowledge that teacher management outguns behaviour management every time.
All the while, “the system” blindly forges on with its techno-cognitive approach, data driven in an “Emperor with no clothes” cocoon of political isolation, hermetically sealed in its own spun hubris, from the harm they are doing affectively… to kids, teachers and parents.
Fortunately there is emerged a body of science that enables the affective to be more readily and most importantly, validly restored to its rightful place: slightly ahead of the pack. There is a widely held view among those who research the relevant aspects of neuroscience, cognitive psychology etc, that cognition is wholly subsumed by emotion: that we are emotional first and rational second: that emotion determines what we remember and what we forget.
Imagine that? Shines a new light upon free will? Challenges a few sacred cows? May put a dent in the carapace of the NAPLAN raw prawn? If we accept emotion pre-determines rational, conscious thought, how does a one-size-fits-all, pen and paper test account for the emotional wellbeing of each testee and accordingly allow for any commensurate deviation of scores?
From all that our mind/body perceives, almost all of it is forgotten. Hardly any of what we perceive moment to moment, is brought to conscious awareness, and that which is, persists only momentarily within a retained memory.
Memory retains but an infinitesimally small proportion of actual experience.
It makes sense therefore that we must possess as a species, some form of processing within brain functioning that determines what we remember and what we forget.
We do and such a process is our emotions.
Without emotional salience and therefore emotional connection, memory processes do not initiate let alone persist.
Freud himself observed that there would come a time when insight into the chemical nature of the mind may reveal the workings of emotion and personality. Such is now emerging.
There exist among the incredibly varied disciplines of modern, applied sciences, a number of findings that explain mechanisms of the human body so that the affective can now be understood in a physical sense. Much more is known about the cellular and molecular functioning of emotions which themselves are now clearly defined and agreed upon.
It is now widely agreed that there are seven universal, human emotions: fear, anger, happiness, surprise, disgust, sadness and contempt. These emotions are genetically encoded into our DNA and shared by all humans although they manifest themselves in various ways because of cultural difference.
Because we have neural networks particularly devoted to other people, separate from how we process non-human objects, we have an emotion for other persons … contempt… discrete from emotions related to the disdain of things… disgust. A food appealing to one culture may disgust another? An action pleasing to one person may anger another? The demise of a particular individual may cause great sadness to some whilst bringing joyous celebration to others. So, although emotions genetically exist in primary form limited to seven, they are epigenetically learned in secondary form, numerously and variously, by way of lived experience.
However, before continuing along this course…. a digression if you will?
One of my five grandchildren has now turned twelve and is beginning his secondary education. When he was about seven or perhaps eight I took him to the “pictures” (I am old enough not to call it the “movies”) to see the first of the “Transformer” trilogy. The show was something akin to the telephone book (I refrain from calling it the “directory” … there’s a theme emerging here but it may not be what you are thinking?) ….there were numerous characters, some with unfamiliar names and rather predictably interacting within a very thin plot.
Fortunately, the special effects were fascinating and there was some almost discrete humour to keep the adult in me slightly amused. Upon returning home when his Nan sought an opinion of the show, a one word reply, although exclaimed enthusiastically, was all she received.
No hint of logical, technical analysis, despite his Year 3, school literacy background about the narrative…. orientation, complication, resolution…. simply an emotive explication of his enthusiasm.
You see, he was emotionally connected even before the picture show. He had a toy box overflowing with plastic contortionistics, readily transformed from robotic beings into monster trucks, space vehicles etc, etc. The merchandise preceded the film’s production. He’d even read some of the books.
More importantly, he already had a rich background experience with regard to the memes that coursed throughout the cinematic plot: jealousy, acquisition of property and power. He has two younger sisters. He’d been to kindy, completed years one and two at school, played junior soccer and thugby league.
The affective is rich within us and so it is before we gain the privilege of school. The genetics of emotion and therefore character and temperament are now sufficiently understood for educators to access technology, applied sciences, that can be useful to the improvement of a student’s life and wellbeing.
The imbalance in modern education practice can therefore be addressed with informed confidence. The focus upon mechanistic technology can now be shared with an enlightened dedication of effort towards the formerly too difficult to teach, measure and report upon, affective domain.
Furthermore, it is relatively simple to enable even the very young to access and apply a default repertoire of emotions based strategies for self-determined wellbeing as opposed to authority dependent, behaviour management. Therefore, the art and science of emotions can function as a dual technology in school based learning.
EQ can become embedded into the school curriculum, asserting its rightful place as the prime determinant of a learner’s dispositional wellbeing and thereby their capacity to learn the cognitive stuff.
The great news is that we do not need a new, fandangled medium by which to do this. All the world’s cultures have been doing this sort of thing for eons past. We have story, narrative, folktale, legend… call it what you will. The sorta stuff that enthused my grandson: an engaging yarn replete with human memes with which most children are surprisingly functional, well before school age.
The use of story (oral, dance, visual/dramatic/musical/poetic arts) has long, long been the human technology by which cognitively aware, conscious application of the affective has been taught, learned and passed on from generation to generation.
Perhaps, along with the obsession for rational, measurable performance indicators in education as is arguably the case now in GERM infected countries such as ours, an appreciation of story has been lost in the hubris and hustle of data driven performance measurement of the cognitive, rational kind.
In short, have we lost our senses by way of excessive rationality? My mother always counselled that too much of a good thing is bad for one’s health.
Given that emotion determines the very commencement of memorised learning and that the only evidence of learning is memory that is observably applied in some way, it makes sense to ensure emotional connection right from the outset.
Fear is useful when considering harmful consequences might arise. However, the only thing to fear when it comes to numeracy and literacy is that of failure. Thus NAPLAN is chosen as the weapon of choice for those who seek to profit financially and politically from schools and their depredations upon them.
Therefore, why start or finish any educational endeavour on a fear basis. Therefore, why NAPLAN? The motives for so doing are not just nor beneficial.
If we want to improve literacy standards, why not begin on the basis of emotion? If we agree that expressive writing comprises the pinnacle of literacy performance, why not then begin learning to write by using emotion as a starting point?
To the making of written expression, why not apply the memetic fabric of story: something about which lived experience has enabled some degree of skill in very early childhood ( child-parent, sibling-sibling and friend-friend relational interactions).
To the widely agreed and most worthy goal of universal literacy excellence, why not apply story as the universal human technology…. the foundation of literacy and its most fundamental vehicle?
Let’s not start with the technical, let us begin at the beginning with something that every learner knows something of and with which direct experience has occurred daily since conception? There is evidence that some of the mother’s chemicals of emotion pass across the placenta and thus play a part in forming the child’s temperament. The mother’s life story is therefore first narrative and it shapes temperament: the determiners of capacity and disposition for the most basic of all human behaviours… learning.
Story is inevitably about emotion that simply arises from the juxtaposition of two sides. Although it has been said that hearing both sides of a story prevents hearing all the other sides, there are at least two sides to every story when it comes to almost all narrative:…. GOOD-EVIL, RIGHT-WRONG, WISE-FOOLISH, OLD-NEW…. to list a few.
Pick any pair of opposing kinds and start from there to decide who or what may align with each side. Use animals or fantasy critters as characters. Give them descriptors. Thereby, the following sorta thing might arise following a richly interactive discussion among a whole class group?
GOODIES/The FORCE BADDIES/The DARK SIDE
Kind shark Vicious butterfly
Clever donkey Foolish owl
Resilient jellyfish Cowardly T-Rex
What better way to examine stereotypes? Could there in fact be a vicious butterfly in the class? I’d wager if you asked the question a few pointing fingers would find a target? But of course don’t ask, for as the story unfolds by way of richly, interactive discussions over time… the subconscious minds will reach obvious conclusions, including the conscience of the said butterfly. I know this from experience having applied this approach to writing across the P-7 years.
Story is a powerful “behaviour management” technology. Such purposes are universal among human cultures. The shame in the modern era is that all-too-often story by way of video rental, i-Pad download etc has become entertainment by surrogacy. The moral/ethical elements absolutely required for enduring emotional connection remain banal and obscured at the expense of entertainment and commercial merchandising.
GOODIES/The FORCE BADDIES/The DARK SIDE
Kind shark Vicious butterfly
Clever donkey Foolish owl
Resilient jellyfish Cowardly T-Rex
Down the middle, between to the two sides appear the troublesome issues of conflict. Choose any emotion you wish. Fear is often a popular choice. So why not begin with that for which emotional connection or personal salience is pre-existing?
How is greed a form of fear, likewise jealousy or love? Why not include such questions in NAPLAN?
Ask these questions and you will be surprised at the sophistication of responses, even from young children. You see they apply this stuff on a daily basis. They learn it at home, from television and most significantly, they practice daily among their siblings and peers.
Cyber bullying, the scourge of social media causing so much angst among school-age children, will never be resolved by sanction, legislation, rules…. as they too are forms of bullying that will simply exacerbate the problem. Cyber by its very nature is intangible, remotely applied by unidentified agents who themselves lack emotional wellbeing. They cyber bully in a virtual world to pass their own fears on to others.
What a coincidence! Can we detect a pattern here? Do the very politicians who vociferously decry use of social media as a means to bully see the irony in their beloved NAPLAN? Do they realise the similarities between Facebook predations and NAPLAN: both of which being cyber, virtual world manifestations of atonement for their personal, emotional shortcomings that arise from a need for power and control over others as their scapegoats.
Back in focus folks….
Who may hold the strongest emotion/s?
Are some emotions stronger than others?
Are some emotions “good”, and others “bad”? Is it OK to be angry or sometimes bad to be happy?
Might the clever donkey ever be jealous and if so, of what /who and why?
What would the vicious butterfly love most of all?
What therefore is missing or perceived to be missing from each character’s life? How would this deficit be best resolved by the character concerned?
Would alliances occur? If so, who would gang up with whom? Who would be the boss? Who would be marginalised?
How would the dominant character seek cooperation and how can you trick a clever person?
Thus, by this sort of enquiry based discourse, where all ideas are acceptable for such is the world of fantasy and thereby sensitive topics can be vicariously covered without compromising a child’s wellbeing, the story is largely designed and all that is needed to proceed, is a WHEN, WHERE scenario….
No need for a resolution as this will invariably emerge as the story is written, proceeding as a whole group, guided writing sequence of episodes, over extended time. The ongoing writing process provides ample opportunity for technicalities such as punctuation, vocabulary enrichment, sentence structure/grammar etc, in context and within an emotionally connecting context. Revision by repetition, editing, publication etc will enable long-term memory and the “firing and wiring” of rich language patterns, orally and in written form.
Illustration can be used to embellish the written word.
Technology aides this process tremendously. Interactive whiteboards are almost as effective as butcher paper. Scanners and printers save time and allow quality reproduction. Photocopiers can be used to provide each pupil their very own copy to read, illustrate and innovate as the resilience building, writing process evolves over weeks or even months. Once made a book with some year 3’s that took more than six months. Upon publication in hard cover form, it was over 100 pages in vibrant colour and kids said things like… “We learned heaps and had to work very hard to make a cool book!”
Can’t imagine that sort of valuable life skill/affective emerging from the forces of GERM warfare and C2C?
Children will begin to innovate with their own “parallel” story. Furthermore, they will demonstrate with positive outcomes, applied insight into relational aspects of their school and home based inter and intrapersonal wellbeing. Because story is a safe, Rabbi-effect type of learning context, challenging personal and socially emotive issues can be self-resolved directly or more powerfully, vicariously.
Story is perhaps the most powerful technology we have as humans. Memetic learning from story is rapidly being abandoned, subsumed by an overly zealous, fixation and misplaced trust in the data based technical at the expense of the artistic based affective, emotional.
Where in the NAPLAN agenda does the opportunity for learners to emotionally connect, exist?
Where in the time-poor agenda imposed by NAPLAN, when schools spend precious time on practice tests, do children have a proper opportunity to engage in protracted, emotionally connected episodes of written expression, illustration and publication that cover the technical as well as impart moral/ethical values and practices for wellbeing?
How can the politicians who stridently call for the “teaching of values” in our nation’s schools, justify against this idea, their imposition of NAPLAN, a blunt instrument of fear and control by coercion and guilt?
Where in a tightly scripted curriculum such as C2C, do opportunities prevail for the affective /emotional aspects of learning to take its rightful place? If the minutiae of classroom literacy is scripted by unknown, distant dictate such as is C2C, a child obviously borne of NAPLAN the control freak, how can emotional connection or salience to the learner be afforded them, as is their right.
How can technologies such as NAPLAN that are insensitive to the emotional connectivity of learners to learning, satisfy the principle….
“We are emotional first and rational second”
This article, a brief, critical expose describing shortcomings of a lopsided curriculum, may serve to begin the next critical step in the demise of NAPLAN?
No sense complaining unless a viable alternative is proposed on the basis of protagonists’ arguments against the status quo. More importantly, no good bringing something to a close when a void is all that awaits the demise of the discarded?
Voids have the habit of being filled with whatever happens to opportunistically lurk furtively prepared to seize control. Because the forces of pure intent are preoccupied with doing their job, which does not include seeking power or status, influence or excessive material gain, they most often don’t even see the void, let alone take time to fill it.
Take a part in shaping a new deal for our kids by being prepared for the inevitable window of opportunity that will arise at the demise of NAPLAN, C2C and its unhealthy progeny!
Technology is indeed controversial. There are at least two sides to its story.
It now enables warfare without human contact, removing the element of reluctance to kill others simply because the enemy is unseen and remote. Modern technology affords NIMBY battlefronts absolutely devoid of emotional connection.
It now allows, via the internet and thus negation of any possibility for human contact, the sexual objectification of people, including very young children. Might there be a hindrance factor upon paedophilia if the perpetrators and victims were in more direct contact as opposed to behaving in a so-called virtual world?
It now allows gambling without actually leaving the couch.
Similarly, technologies are being applied to education in vicarious, don’t-even-have-to-meet-the-kids and reveal-my-inability-to-actually-teach-or-know-the-curriculum, sorta ways. All manner of non-expert corrupters of education can now send in their drones and take over central command from a remote and unassailable vantage point from which they can avoid counter-attack: exposing the innocent and defenceless to suffer under the fire drawn by their ineptitudes and unfair apportioning of guilt.
If complexity is the refuge of the scoundrel… complex technology is indeed the hidey-hole, the flat rock of the mercenary?
NAPLAN is more akin to a virtual assessment scenario than a contextually localised approach to evaluation of teacher effectiveness: a satellite TV, couch potato voyeur of contact sport rather than a being-there, participatory spectator who contributes richly to the game’s ambiance, the voyeur who can abuse without direct contact with the victim/object and thus avoidance of emotional connection with real people exacerbates the decline in human relationships.
The tests are set for all children by a remote, centralised authority. Although each testee gets to write their own name on the test paper, the tests are not at all personalised, pupil focused, flexible nor matched to the dynamics of an actively, investigative learning environment.
The mismatch of assessment when it is remote from the learning,episode, especially contextually, can now be explained because we know something of episodic memory and its significance to the human species as a brain functioning system evolved by natural selection.
Education has joined the on-line killing, gambling and illicit sex world ….on the darkening side of applied sciences.
Has education been aligned with the seven deadly sins by way of ill-advised applications of technology?
Pen and paper tests, mass production style marking processes in a location removed from the learner’s classroom and posted results on a website, parent notification in complex form characterised by jargon and lacking opportunity for quality feedback by those who set and mark the test, is perhaps not the absolute worst possible strategy? However, it is difficult to imagine anything more lacking in validity than NAPLAN as an assessment technology.
Furthermore, would those who espouse the efficacy of leagues tables, be so comfortable with the process if it were directly connected to their own children, especially if they were from a socially/economically/culturally disadvantaged background?
Likewise, the principles of C2C, a centrally scripted curriculum, increasingly enucleated by administrivia demands that detract from teachers’ opportunity to teach, is a technology applied in error.
In considering the applications of technology to any aspect of human endeavour, we ought to carefully ensure that the advantages gained thereby, abide within the lives of those most deserving. For education this is primarily the pupils and closely second, the teachers.
Some current, significant applications of technology to education, do not pass the fairness test, they do not pass the affect test and therefore ought, as a matter of urgency, be abandoned!
Even the world’s oldest profession retains direct interaction, choice, effective affect and innovation as essential practice.
So I’ve been told!