EMO or TECHNO?

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/

Phil Cullen

Techno or Emo? That is the Question!

Derek Hedgcock

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.

“Awesome!”

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.

To proceed….

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!

Derek Hedgcock,

Murky dealings in New Zealand education.

(Originally posted here)

One of the hidden educational policies leading up to the 2011 New Zealand general election was to introduce charter schools. Well, to be accurate, it was hidden from the general public, as the trail goes back to 2009.

However post election, the National Party, who had retained the largest vote in the election, while falling short of an absolute majority, arranged a coalition arrangement with John Banks, the one-man band ACT party member, which ostensibly included an agreement to implement ACT’s policy of charter schools.

This process has now started in a very underhand and deceitful way, such as implementing establishment processes before the legislation has been passed, and also by the withholding of key information. A complaint was made to the Ombudsman about this and to no-one’s surprise the Ombudsman found that Banks had withheld information without valid reason, including:

‘Charter schools would get money for set up costs and property funding that their private-sector backers would be able to keep if a school folded.’

Excuse me?  Overseas corporates will get paid to set up regimes to enable them to take profits from New Zealand children?  Risk free and taxpayer funded? Like the Warner Bros deal over The Hobbit, with added extras? Heard of the Robertson Foundation?

The Robertson Foundation is one of the new breed of so-called ‘philanthrocapitalists’, private sector investment funds and trusts that view charity not as altruistic giving, but as just another  business investment opportunity to influence government policy and the delivery of public education. And, to do so by lobbying behind closed doors, completely outside the democratic process.’ 

However the underlying issue isn’t so much as charter schools and shady deals, but the government’s overall education agenda.

There is no problem with New Zealand education, other than those imposed by politicians and the unseen influences behind them.

There wasn’t any problem with New Zealand education in 1987 either, but then, as now, problems were created – a standard disaster capitalism technique, through using or creating a ‘crisis’ to justify privatisation.

National standards have been, and still are, the government’s trump card in justifying ‘reform.’

It is vital to their agenda that these standards are manipulated to show two things: New Zealand schools have been failing to lift ‘achievement’ and that National’s policies since 2009 have started to address this.

Over the last few months a disturbing trend has become apparent. In order to explain this, it is first necessary to review the national standards processes that are in presently in place – apologies if the next section gets technical.

Readers may not be aware that back in 1999, the then Minister of Education, Nick Smith, had signalled, in a never-to-be forgotten and truly mind boggling rant at the NZEI Annual Meeting, that national testing would be developed should National win the 1999 election. Seems a mother he met at the local market had complained about not knowing how her kids were doing at school…

Since National lost the election in 1999, we were spared the testing regime, only for a variation to reappear in 2009. Same agenda, different delivery.

This variation chose to establish ‘national standards’ of achievement in literacy and numeracy for all public school children commencing from the end of the first three years of schooling, and for each level from year 4 onwards. It is has never been explained why these have been deemed as not necessary for private schools and now charter schools.

The very short time frame for the development of national standards, combined with their dubious educational value, resulted in considerable fall out in the Ministry of Education. This led to the departures of many of the key people behind the development of the New Zealand Curriculum, and, presumably, their replacement by more compliant staff.

Recent news about problems within the Ministry is not surprising. Guess there’s a price to pay for demanding adherence to politically imposed and educationally suspect policies.

Given the decision not to test children, the government chose to require all classroom teachers to ‘assess’ each child’s achievement against relevant standards using their ‘overall teacher judgement,’ (OTJ) based on evidence collected over the year, and comparing this with published exemplars – a very time consuming process.  This process was not based on research evidence and has resulted in ‘square peg in round hole’ syndrome that has left New Zealand and international assessment experts rather bemused.

This syndrome has resulted in two predictable problems:

Problem number one: teachers are required to use their judgement (a necessarily subjective process) to rate each child’s achievement for reporting purposes.

This leaves us to the conundrum that teachers have to use a subjective judgement to get an objective outcome.

Problem number two: Since teacher judgements are subjective, then it is necessary for there to be a moderation process, so teachers of similarly aged children in the same school establish some level of consistency with their judgements. Several meetings needed.

So far, so good, and in fact these kind of moderation processes have been used in schools for many years, although not overburdened by sheer volume of national standards.

But….. while teachers of similar class levels can relatively easily moderate judgements, there also has to be moderation with teachers of older and younger classes, so that there is internal consistency throughout the school. More meetings.

Whew, after many meetings, reviewing judgements in reading, writing and mathematics, each school should now be satisfied that the national standards rankings for all children are ‘accurate.’

Not so fast – how can each school be certain that their internal rankings are consistent with neighbouring schools? Or with schools across the country, in city or rural areas?  The impossibility of nationally moderated should be obvious to all but the ideologically blind.

Or is this the case? Are these ideologues really blind to the problems?

How have schools tended to cope with the challenges, both with workload, and with moderation?

Many/most have fallen back to pre-existing tests, developed for diagnostic, not ranking purposes, but which do provide a basis for national comparisons.

STAR (Supplementary Test of Achievement in Reading) was developed by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) over a decade ago, and has recently been upgraded.

Another test, e-asTTle (electronic – assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning – an acronym that helps explain dazed looks in teachers’ eyes) is more recent, and provides for online assessment of reading, writing and mathematics.

Overseas readers will be aware of the issues relating to online testing, but these have yet to impact on New Zealand teachers.

The third test, still widely used, is one familiar to many who have long left primary schooling – the Progressive Achievement Tests (P.A.T.).

This now means that a national test programme is developing by default as schools strive to be as accurate and fair as possible with the assessments of all children’s achievement, and as an inevitable response to workload issues. Teachers don’t have time to spend hours on OTJs and moderation meetings, preferring to put their efforts into planning and teaching. Fair enough.

There’s a very big BUT here. Towards the end of 2012 schools found that their students’ nationally benchmarked scores on these tests had mysteriously jumped, so that the bulk of children were now achieving relevant national standards. A principal of a lower socio-economic school suddenly found that the majority of his school’s pupils were now at the national standards in reading according to STAR results.

Two possible reasons for this: the first being that all schools had now become extremely effective due to the benefits of national standards, while the second, for the more cynical ones amongst us, is that something untoward had happened to the tests.

And this has turned out to be the case. The way test scores are normed has been changed for both STAR and e-assTTle, so that children are now shown as achieving at a higher level. Instant fix.

This then will reflect on school’s national standards results that are submitted to the Ministry of Education, and then published in league tables by the media.

This year’s results will be submitted to the ministry in early 2014, will be available to the media some months before the election and will inevitably be compared to previous years’ results.  Surprise, surprise, national standards results will show that New Zealand schools are now much more effective at raising achievement, just time for the election campaign.

Is that rat starting to smell yet? There’s an even bigger and nastier rat in the cupboard – the subject of a future article.

Naturally, the Ministry of Education are ‘now aware’ of the issue (even though their fingerprints are all over the test revisions) and will investigate, following on from an article in the Listener, which in itself was based on inside information from educational commentator Kelvin Smythe: Article on e-asTTle and STAR coming up in Listener

To conclude, a couple of quotes from Kelvin:

‘The politicians want to free up the tests so certain actions by the review office or by the Wellington bureaucrats can move the results up or down for advantage in the election cycle.’

And;

This is the Novopay [a shambolic teacher salary payment system that was introduced in August 2012 and which is proving to be a total crock] of testing: old reliables (for instance, PAT) have been distorted by the high stakes’ national standards environment; and now we have this colossal mess up with two widely used literacy markers, and Parata  [Minister of Education] calls this ‘quality data’. We had quality data, now we have the rubbish.”

Indeed.

Allan Alach
March 27

For Principled Pupil People : Be brave, Kids.

For Principled Pupil People who sincerely like children and believe in PUPILLING – honouring the contract between a teacher and a learner.

PUPIL PEOPLE believe….

  • When the affective is secure, the cognitive is limitless – no fear tactics.
  • Schools are learning places – not warehouses for the wealthy.
  • Standardised Blanket Testing creates fear and discomfort in classroom; and creates a dislike of fundamentals.
  • The exercise of professional ethics in all school matters is paramount.

BE BRAVE, KIDS

You’re the target for the money hungry.

Murdoch is on the Move

Hang in there, kids. He’s going feral, while you are busy preparing for his NAPLAN tests in a few weeks, and those who should care for your welfare and development don’t seem to give a stuff. You are presently working in a warehouse for the wealthy, a NAPLAN site. Sadly, NAPLAN , the evil that controls this sort of schooling and your future is becoming embedded in everyday language as ‘something that kids do at school.’ The BIG QUIET is under control. Very few will worry about your stress and concern, and the unprincipled, uncaring wont allow the whole truth to be known. They’ve been muzzled. Your parents and their friends won’t read much about it in any paper, magazine or ‘professional’ journal produced by principals, teacher unions or general organisations. There is strict control. Herded like Cardinals into Sistine silence, your carers are not allowed to speak up, speak out or, it seems, to mention the truth about NAPLAN in their newsletters and journals. Pavloved by their Murdoch-henchsuperiors, any principles that ‘conflict with the demands of the corporate elite drift into the blue yonder like thistledown.’ as George Monbiot points out. http://www.monbiot.com/2013/03/04/a-capitalist-command-economy/

image[1]GERM inspired tests are run for the benefit of unelected oligarchs with little connection to beneficial teaching and learning. The heat is being turned up this year for you to endure heavily structured, fear-based learning styles that maintain mediocrity with, hopefully, a few little spikes in measurable scores of the simplistic. As critical cogs in the publishers’ measuring machinery, you will have to work harder than ever. So will your teachers and principals. Why?

Rupert Murdoch, the controller of all GERM schools as owner of the biggest publishing business in the world is having problems with the newspaper section of his empire. At present, his school testing section incorporating on-line teaching/ testing programs are proving to be so rewarding that they are making up for the newspapers’ losses. We are talking BIG, BIG business, here. Rupert says that this section of his business empire is worth billions in the US alone. It is so profitable that he has recently reshaped his over-all organisation to make the most of making more money out of your misery. GERM-style testing [by bubbles on paper and on-line] in GERM countries constitute a very, very, lucrative business. The heat has to be turned up. So….

He has appointed another Aussie, Robert Thomson, to run the new-look News Corporation. Joel Klein, our iconic founder of NAPLAN schooling in Australia has moved on and up. Mark Baker of ‘Good Weekend’ in last week-end’s SMH suggests that Murdoch will spare no effort to make News Corporation even more financially successful. This has nothing to do with developing your learning, kids. This is about demolishing your learning instincts in the Gordon Gekko style quest for more money; and, as Monbiot suggests [referring to England’s Michael Gove’s publishing of misleading statistics]: “Neither truth nor principle stands in the way of any demolition programme.”

With two expatriate Aussies at the helm, watch out! They have a fertile field in their old home-town for continued and improved methods of demolition. Their interests are more vested than most. The field has been well prepared…. better than all other GERM countries. Pathways have been laid.

The AEU, supportive of NAPLAN activities, basing its beliefs on the notion that kids have to get ready to contest the HSC as soon as they turn seven or earlier, has already laid the foundation. Plenty of blanket testing is good for you, kids. You don’t realise it now, but you will appreciate it when you line up for an apprenticeship in ten year’s’ time. So there. Be grateful. Shut up. Buy up. Buy 2 get a 3rd FREE.

The AEU has written to the Prime Minister to request that testing on line be installed as soon as possible. That background noise is Rupert and Robert rubbing their hands together. The two Rs will be able to say In Rugby League’s Jack Gibson lingo : ‘Ya done good.”

The control of charter schools [aka Independent Public Schools] is part of this year’s campaign, by the way. Easier to access.

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Sadly. Corporate reforming vampires supported by cowed holier-than-thou testucating organisations….”are draining children of their life-force, killing them with high stakes tests, and the blood in this instance is the data.. Corporations feed off the data that they drain from children and use to reap billions of dollars of profits and gain control. What vampires crave more than anything is power.”

http://educationalchemy.com/2012/11/25/vampire-corporate-ed-reformers-tell-them-to-go-away/

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$$$$$ Start your own on-line business, for example:

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Join the NAPLAN marking team

Each year about 500 teachers gather in Brisbane for three weeks in May and June to mark approximately 230,000 NAPLAN writing task papers completed by Queensland students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

By joining the marking team, coordinated by the Queensland Studies Authority, you can:

gain unique insights into how students respond to an “on demand” writing task

view student work from across Queensland

recognise how different teaching approaches can be effective

network with colleagues from many schools and backgrounds.

A further bonus is that NAPLAN marking provides up to three days’ continuing professional development towards registration renewal with the Queensland College of Teachers.

The current hourly rates of pay for training and marking are:

group leader $43.03

senior marker $40.42

marker $37.02.

Visit the QSA website for more information and to apply.

SOURCE: QSA WEBSITE

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HOW MUCH ?

Marking the papers is restricted to teachers. Some hands will shake, but, HEY it’s money! That’s what the whole circus is about. 208999_10151568024229188_1926260847_nYou don’t worry about conscience in this tent.

Some NAPLAN quiz questions for taxpayers :-

  1. If 500 people are paid $38.00 per hour for a five-hour day over 15 days, how much will it cost to mark NAPLAN tests for Queensland? Round off, [a] $1million, [b] $2.3 million [c] $1.7 million [d] $1.4 million
  2. If 500 people are required for a population of 4.5 million, how many are required as markers for Australia’s population of 22 million. Round off. [a] 22, 000 [b] 24,000 [c] 20,000 [d] 30,000
  3. If 24,000 are paid $2850 each to mark NAPLAN tests, what does the marking cost Australian taxpayers?: Round off [ $68 million [b] $56 million [c] $62. million [d] $71 million

That’s only marking costs…conservative at that! Think it’s worth the damage to our children’s future abilities? Couldn’t the money be better used in classrooms?

THEN. What does NAPLAN control also cost? State control organisations [e.g.QSA]? How much time and money? District supervision? How much time and money?Time & money diverted from important curriculum matters intra-school, intra-district. intra-state? Publishing tests? Preparing on-line material? Costs of on-line equipment?

WHY? JUST TO RUN SOME INVALID AND UNRELIABLE {USELESS} TESTS FOR THREE DAYS IN MAY with STERILE RESULTS IN SEPTEMBER !!!

What are the real costs to child learning development, human emotions, confidence, children & teachers’ mental health?

The damage to Australia’s intellectual capital is enormous and irretrievable.

NAPLAN IS, CLEARLY , A POLITICAL PHENOMENON THAT AUSTRALIA CANNOT AFFORD IN MONEY TERMS NOR INTELLECTUAL INVESTMENT.

Phil Cullen

07 5524 6443

cphilcullen@bigpond.com

Let’s Get This Right

Distinguished Guest Writer

Pat Buoncristiani has a remarkable bi-cultural background. For instance, she has been the principal of a school in Victoria, Australia and in Virginia, USA. for several years each. She says “ Perhaps it is only when you look at an environment from the outside that you see it for what it really is. It was only when I went to the USA that I appreciated what we had in Victoria. The sad thing is that over the past few years I have watched the Australian education gradually but inexorably come to more closely resemble the flawed USA system. And this is happening just as the USA begins to wake up…”

She speaks of having no power as a US principal, controlled, as Australian principals are, with ‘laser like precision’ because nothing mattered but state tests.

The school days were extended for failing children; term breaks disappeared for failing children; and they were allowed only 15 minutes of free play during an entire school day. “When I demanded that a 30 minute rest period be scheduled for my 4 and 5 years olds – I was told that they come to school to learn, not to rest……time was devoted to the raising of scores, not the education of children.”

Now, that’s robust control!

{Phil here.. I once asked Mr. Pyne, Australia’s shadow Minister for Education what he meant by a ‘Robust Curriculum’. He didn’t answer. I guess that this is what he means. [Watch it, kids. He not only has a jaundiced view of what should happen in classrooms but he has a bad temper.]  Compare the view of the shadow Minister for Education in New Zealand! }

Pat Buoncristiani, a former teacher educator, has had consultancy stints in a number of Australian states and is an accredited Habits of Mind trainer. She co-authored “Developing Mindful Students, Skilful Thinkers, Thoughtful Schools.” with her husband in 2012. She’s really immersed in matters that help children to enjoy learning and to reach for their ultimate.See: http://ThinkinginTheDeepend.wordpress.com

Pat’s article needs to be read by every parent of every school child in Australia and by every teacher who has anything to do with NAPLAN. It should be made compulsory reading for all political candidates, who don’t understand what is going on in schools. It tells it as it is.

Phil Cullen

Let’s Get This Right

Patricia Buoncristiani

Pasi Sahlberg has called it GERM – the Global Education Reform Movement. It’s an apt acronym because it is infectious and it is doing us no good at all. In fact it is doing what all infections do – weakening us and making us vulnerable to all sorts of other opportunistic infections.

A GERM infection happens when policy makers see that something is wrong with education and instead of drilling down to find out what is causing the problem and then seeking solutions, they decide to measure what is wrong and then try and use that metric as a solution. That is tantamount to taking the temperature of a child with the flu, discovering that it is too high, and putting him outdoors in the snow.

In all GERM countries we see the same scenario:

  • blanket standardized multiple choice style testing of all kids – in the belief that this one test is a measure of the effectiveness of everything important that goes on the school
  • shock horror reactions to the published results, followed by the apportioning of blame – and the imposition of sanctions against low scoring schools and teachers
  • mammoth efforts to lift the scores in the next round of tests leading to narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the test, teaching of test taking skills, loss of free play time, development of scripted teaching programs that de-skill teachers, devaluing of subjects that are not tested

The USA is deeply enmeshed in this epidemic with the majority of school districts GERM ridden. One of GERM’s prominent advocates Joel Klein invited Australia’s Prime Minister and Minister for Education to discover what the infection had done to his New York City schools. The inevitable happened. When you are exposed to GERMS you become infected. That infection is spreading through the Australian school population.

There are a few school systems that remain immune to GERM – Finland is one – but without action this growing epidemic may become a pandemic.

The root of the problem lies in the belief that one standardized test, administered in the same way, to every child, in every school at the same time is capable of measuring the complex, rich, varied nature of education and, more importantly, is capable of measuring our children. It is not.

Let me tell you just how bad it can get – this relentless striving towards the ‘benchmark’. It reaches a pinnacle in the creation of the Pacing Guide. This nightmarish document becomes the focus of everything the teacher does in the classroom.

How is it created? Not by evil trolls beavering away in subterranean caves, lit by the flickering fires of hell. No. It is created by well-meaning souls who believe they are doing Something Good for education.

And it’s done more or less like this.

A careful examination of past standardized tests reveals the sections of the mandated curriculum that have been tested most frequently as well as the number of questions that relate to each area of the curriculum.

Each section of the curriculum is given a loading based largely on the proportion of questions it attracted in these past tests. This analysis will form the basis of the content and timing of the Pacing Guide.

A curriculum is developed for each grade level based on this analysis, making sure that previously untested areas of the curriculum are not left out entirely, but ensuring that the topics attracting the largest number of questions also get the most time.

The school year is broken up into, for example, nine week units or terms. The curriculum is similarly divided.

A test is devised for the end of each nine week period/term. Its format will closely resemble the high stakes test to be taken at the end of the school year. It will test exactly what was in the nine week/term curriculum and its questions will reflect the same priorities that went into the decisions about the content focus – the more likely it is to be tested, the more questions we focus on it.

The data obtained from these tests will be provided to principals quickly so that they can call to account every teacher whose students are not meeting expectations. There will be an accountability meeting with each of these teachers in the principal’s office.

We now have a system in place that provides a ‘laser-like’ focus on the material to be tested by the State. From time to time an Assistant Superintendent will visit the school and pop into classrooms. Her task is to make sure that on this particular Tuesday, or Friday, or whenever, every teacher is teaching exactly what is expected according to the Pacing Guide. The teachers know better than to deviate from the Pacing Guide because its content will be tested at the end of the nine weeks and they will be held to account. This is exactly what I experienced in my school in the USA.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE KIDS?

Let’s get something very clear here and now.

The role of the kids in these schools is to pass the tests so the schools are accredited and the district isn’t penalized.

The students’ task is to make sure the district doesn’t look bad.

This is how bad it can and has become.

It doesn’t matter if there is a violent thunder storm rolling about over the top of the school, fascinating the kids. We can’t talk or read or write about that. It’s Wednesday and the Pacing Guide says we should be learning about Mali.

It doesn’t matter that James has just come back from a holiday in Mexico and saw a parade on the Day of the Dead. He has photos, and a head full of questions. But it’s Monday and the Pacing Guide says we need to work hard on understanding the water cycle.

It doesn’t matter that Timmy still doesn’t understand the multiplication of fractions. He has to move on or he won’t have covered the rest of the topics by the end of the nine weeks. He can come back after school, at the weekend, in the summer … to plug the gaps in his understanding. We know that the building of mathematical understanding is a cumulative process and a misunderstanding now will undermine everything that comes next, but we just have to move on.

Yes, this is how bad it gets.

Perhaps the greatest evil of high stakes standardized testing is that it takes our eyes away from the children and focuses them instead on the tests themselves.

Children become sources of data.

Learning becomes something that is cut, sliced, packaged and weighed.

Until we rid ourselves of this impediment to education and find valid, humane, child centred forms of assessment, testing will continue to STOP our children from learning.

Why is it that so many of our schools continue to be run as if they were nineteenth century factories? We focus on standardization and its measurement. We process in batches. We talk about ‘value added’ assessment as if we viewed our children as raw material to be processed in some kind of assembly line. We focus on eliminating outputs that do not meet our predetermined standards of quality for the end product.

We do our best to standardize the inputs in the only way we know how – by original date of manufacture or birth date. We then develop processing techniques that we try hard to standardize across every factory/school . These are the curricula and teaching practices that are required in each school district in order for the process workers/ teachers, to get positive evaluations. We design cheaply administered tests to ensure that every end product/child meets the same criteria of successful processing/schooling. At the end of each processing year every module/child submits to the same test to determine the value added to the raw material. Faulty modules/children who do not meet the standard are reprocessed through either the repetition of the previous processing system or some form of modified processing, until they do meet the standard.

The core of the assembly line factory, the practice on which its products would stand or fall, was standardized measurement of quality. It is precisely this practice permeating current education systems, that will destroy education and ensure that our children fail in the 21st century.

Why? Because our children are not widgets and learning does not work like that.

Real, transformational learning takes place when we are fascinated by something, when we develop a passion for a subject. Our strength as a species comes from our diversity not our uniformity. Every child has the capacity to be fascinated by something different and schools, with their standardized curricula and testing, will stifle this diversity, to ensure that every kid learns exactly the same thing.

We learn best when we take risks, when we chance failure because even though it is really difficult material, it fascinates us enough to make the risks and the hard work worthwhile. I recall my horror when I was informed by a group of young women in the final year of their undergraduate degree that they were withdrawing from my subject because they felt they would not get an A and that would have a negative effect on their Grade Point Average. Our testing regime, our relentless focus on end of manufacture measurement, is stopping our kids from learning.

Seth Godin, in a recent TED talk (http://getideas.org/resource/seth-godin-stop-stealing-dreams/?v=1352307111) uses a powerful analogy. He says that we are focused on getting our kids to collect dots and we measure success by how many dots they have accumulated by the end of the school year. Instead, we should be teaching them to connect the dots, and this we are failing to do.

There is one thing we need to focus on in education – thinking. Google has made the belief that there is some set of facts that is somehow mandatory learning for every student an archaic notion. You cannot think without something to think about. The content of any curriculum should be determined and judged by one fundamental criterion – how does it advance the students’ ability to think?

We need more brave schools, prepared to turn their backs on the factory model and actually encourage kids to try to do things that are too hard. We need more people in positions of influence to say, “Our kids want to come to school every day. They are intrigued by the things we do every day. They create new ideas, they innovate, they take risks, they are excited about the things they have already learned and they want more. And I can’t focus on your standardized test. We are doing something much more important. We are educating.”

Don’t get me wrong. We need standards if we are not to flail around in a free for all soup of educational practices. The standards as expressed might well be sound and significant but the dangers lie in the implementation and evaluation.

Let’s not fall for the standardization myth, the one that says unless every kid reaches the same standard with the same material in the same time frame, our system has somehow failed. Our kids are not assembly line products. The assembly line, quality control model works well for cars and hamburgers. But some kids grow up on farms and others in high rise tenements, some kids love to bury their noses in books, others need to push their bodies around, move and do stuff with their hands. Some kids’ brains are eager to accept abstract concepts at an early age and some want images, pictures and sounds with their learning. Some kids can’t sit still. And we really don’t have a clue what they will need to be successful in thirteen years’ time – except for one thing. They will need to be able think flexibly, creatively, effectively and efficiently. Whatever the world looks like in 2025, we know this ability will be a foundation for whatever their lives look like.

My hope is that as we continue to reform our education systems in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, we don’t lose sight of the fact that the declaration of standards needs to remain flexible, adaptive to the needs of kids and open to change. The teaching of thinking needs to be explicitly embedded within the standards. It should be foundational, not incidental. In addition, our methods of assessment need to reflect the rich and totally desirable variation among children.

patbuoncristiani@gmail.com

Let’s trade our Labor Party for the NZ Labour Party

For Pupil People who sincerely like children and believe in PUPILLING – honouring the contract between a teacher and a learner.

PUPIL PEOPLE believe….

* When the affective is secure, the cognitive is limitless – no fear tactics.

* Schools are learning places – not warehouses for the wealthy.

* Standardised Blanket Testing creates fear and discomfort in classroom; and establishes a dislike for fundamentals.

* The exercise of professional ethics in all school matters is paramount.

Let’s Swap Labo[u]r Parties with N.Z.

In a recent address to the Auckland Primary Principals’ Association, the NZ Labour Party’s shadow Minister for Education, Chris Hipkins, spoke of matters that relate to the improvement of schooling, that the Association has described as …”The speech we have been waiting for.”

Here are a few extracts for your consideration…. [Note his name: Chris Hipkins. Note his party: Labour Party.]

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“New Zealand has one of the best education systems in the world, and our curriculum is widely recognised for its competency-based approach and for the flexibility it provides.”

“I mentioned every school being a great school. I totally reject the notion that increasing competition between schools will lead to better outcomes for everyone.”

“So let me be very clear about Labour’s position on charter schools. We see no place for them. And any charter schools established under the current government will have no future under Labour.  Our focus will be on ensuring that every school is a great school.”

“One of the most destructive things this government could do to quality education in New Zealand is introduce so-called ‘performance pay’ based on a narrow range of student achievement measures. If the alarm bells aren’t ringing, they should be.”

“National Standards [NZ version of NAPLAN] results are no measure of effective teaching. National Standards [aka NAPLAN] narrow the focus of teaching, encouraging teachers and students to focus time and attention on getting students over an arbitrary hurdle, rather than supporting that child to achieve full potential. National Standards [NAPLAN} are being used to stereotype schools through league tables [‘My School’ in Australia] that don’t measure pupil progress, only the number of students jumping the hurdle at a particular time.”

“We recognise that parents want to know how their kids are going, but they’re just as interested in how their kids are doing in Art and PE as they are in reading and writing. Parents want to know how their kid’s social interactions are developing. National standards [NAPLAN] tells them nothing about any of these things.”

“But we need to make sure that parents understand that league tables [i.e. “My School’] that aggregate a bunch of inconsistent data don’t provide any reliable basis for comparing the performance of schools. And without a doubt, we need to recognise many of our out-of-school factors that influence student achievement.”

Read full script:

http://leading-learning.blogspot.co.nz/2013/03/success-for-every-student.html

or

http://www.networkonnet.co.nz/index.php?section=latest&id=229

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Imagine! A Labour Party acting like a Labour Party….and it’s just across the ditch .

Imagine! A Minister for Education [real or shadow] knowing something about schooling. We salute you, Mr. Hipkins. Shift across. We need you.

HOWEVER…

Imagine! A learning future for kids, when Australia has a Minister organising a nasty dysfunctional system that suits only wealthy predators.

Imagine! A cheerful learning future for kids, when Australia has a stand-by Minister who is a bad-tempered tyrant wanting to make the learning climate ‘more robust’.

Saying No to NAPLAN is the ONLY option for voters. Whichever party says this, vote for it. We need to CARE FOR KIDS…..SERIOUSLY.

Phil Cullen caring for kids.

cphilcullen@bigpond.com.au

Educational Readings March 22nd

Educational Readings

By Allan Alach

Another week, ho hum. Easter break coming up so I hope all teachers are planning for a ‘no school’ weekend!  I will help out by not compiling a readings list for next week!

The bright spot on the New Zealand education horizon has been the speeches by Labour spokesperson for education, Chris Hipkins. As you’ll see by this http://chrishipkins.org.nz/?p=1030  and this http://chrishipkins.org.nz/?p=1036 he is very much heading in the right direction.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allan.alach@ihug.co.nz.

This week’s homework!

Bill Gates’ classroom of the future

One of life’s great mysteries is why a man who made his fortune by through buying another company’s software (e.g. MS-DOS) or ‘borrowing’ ideas from Apple (Windows) is now seen as an educational expert.

“Being there physically doesn’t add much value…”

http://cnnmon.ie/XLUW4A

Why Students Learn Better in a Playful Environment

Learning, creativity, and problem solving are facilitated by anything that promotes a playful state of mind.

To help cleanse your mind of the rubbish from Gates, this article is written by someone who knows what he is talking about.

http://bit.ly/10XjJzD

Contemporary Teaching Practice in the Era [Error] of NOPLAN

Australian Derek Hedgcock wrote this article for The Treehorn Express. While it’s focussed, on the first instance, on Australia, there is so much of value for all teachers, and is a very powerful rebutting of the Gates’ led nonsense about ‘teaching.’ If you only have time to read one article from this week’s listing, this is THE ONE.

http://bit.ly/ZChVLm

The Exhaustion of the American Teacher

And the Australian teacher and the New Zealand teacher and the English teacher…. some home truths here that all teachers will relate to; however good luck in trying to get politicians to accept these!

http://bit.ly/Ylc2AG

The problem finders (via Bruce Hammonds)

‘ICOT 2013 keynote speaker Ewan McIntosh explains the thinking processes used by many creative professionals and how these can create dynamic and deeper thinking that will better equip students for their future.’

This is an excellent video to watch – set aside an hour or so, and enjoy.

http://edtalks.org/video/problem-finders

There Are No Best Practices (via Bruce)

One particularly tiresome piece of jargon is ‘best practices.’  When you really ponder on this, you’ll realise it’s as empty as ‘raising achievement,’ ‘school effectiveness’ and so on. Suggestion – every time you catch yourself using these kind of phrases, consider them to see what they mean, if anything and ask yourself why you’re using them?

http://bit.ly/YJmAZw

Heads Up, America! Your Schools Are in Danger (via Bruce)

Another chance to play ‘spot the similarities.’ As most of the GERM agenda comes from USA, we all need to pay close attention to events there, as we can be sure that variations will arrive in our backyard before too long.

http://bit.ly/ZQd2OM

Contemporary Teaching Practice in the Era [Error] of NOPLAN

 Distinguished Guest Writer

Derek Hedgcock is a renowned and respected former State Primary School principal who developed innovative, progressive and successful programs based on awareness of emotions and what can be lived and achieved with a happy/green brain. He believes that schools should “construct live experiences that ‘wire’ habitual hope as a default pattern that ‘fires’ pathways to goodness and well-being.” He was able to demonstrate, very clearly, ‘how we can live a self-determining life by learning about the physiology and the psychology of our emotions’. He based teaching-learning programs on the notion that cognitive development is assured when the affective is secure. Productive classroom behaviour relies on SUCCOUR [being Loved, Popular and Accepted]. SURVIVAL [being Safe. Comfortable, Peaceful] and SUCCESS [being a Winner, in Control and Confident]. He quotes from G.S.Patton: “If everybody is thinking alike then somebody is not thinking” in an amazing Handbook called ‘Emotions Awareness for Behaviour Change’ that Derek produced for staff and others. It’s a remarkable tract.

His work at Mundingburra State School in central Townsville was truly ground-breaking. He knew what ‘autonomy’ meant and he took it. He and his staff and pupils challenged many of the established beliefs of ‘behaviour management’ and the outcomes were outstanding.

Such notions of Succour, Survival and Success run counter to the cruel psychology of NAPLAN and the beliefs held by testucating sciolists who have taken over schooling in Australia and other GERM countries and installed Fear, Disrespect for human feelings, Dominating adult-controlled teaching styles, Practice, Practice, Practice.

Derek'simageIt’s an ugly, confused, dysfunctional and confused education landscape that children and their parents now inhabit. It’s sad; and things look like getting worse.

Derek Hedgcock retired to Emerald in Central Queensland where his wife continues to do her best under the prevailing, politically-imposed conditions in the classroom. His artistic bent, disposes him to work with metal as his ‘ghoti’ [Pyne Phonics] here shows. He likes bike-riding and is soon to join a group for the second time as they pedal 1,600 kms. from Brisbane to Townsville to raise funds for Cancer Research.

You’ll enjoy his coda, attached.

naplancausesstressnaplancausesstressnaplancausesstressnap

CONTEMPORARY TEACHING PRACTICE in the ERA of NOPLAN…ERROR of NAPLAN

Derek Hedgcock

The current $50K offer to teachers by the Queensland Government, enabling them a choice to quit teaching and “retrain”, includes a proviso that applicants demonstrate a “lack of contemporary teaching practice”.

Fair enough one might think?

Although a cycling acquaintance of mine, after my mention of the redundancy package and its eligibility based upon lack of contemporary practice, suggested in all seriousness that such a lack “would be an advantage wouldn’t it?

Get rid of the dead wood and make way for an embarrassing oversupply of neophytes keen to enter the profession, providing our children the most valuable, anticipatory or potential resource we have, a quality education for future generations?

What better way to improve learning than to use strategies that improved teacher quality?

However, a quick fix is not always the long-term solution as we well know. Resolving the issues of teacher quality is not simply a matter of replacing the old with the new. The most salient issue here is that of

“contemporary teaching practice”, which itself raises a number of questions, including perhaps the following?

  • What is contemporary teaching practice? Is there a consensual understanding of such a thing? Does it suffer the “Red Queen” effect … frenetically hurrying along in a vain attempt to blend with a changing landscape? The “is there anything new under the sun?” conundrum.
  • Is contemporary better than traditional and are there essentials to the latter that should always prevail in formulation of the former? The “baby and bath water” conundrum.
  • Does contemporary curriculum include within its design, explicit essentials that embody quality pedagogy, proven by authentic assessment practice that of itself embodies useful learning, life-long? The “does the big picture differ from the small picture or is it simply fractal?” conundrum.
  • Who decides these things, how and where? Is modern education maintained as a complex adaptive phenomenon or is it rigidly over- ruled by “power” people devoid of education principles and know-how? The “no idea is dangerous unless it is the only one you have” conundrum.

Was it Winston Churchill who said? ….”The dangers of democracy are soon revealed by a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

Education determined by populist, anachronistic, vote winning and ephemeral fads has always failed miserably, wasted vast amounts of money and significantly underachieved with respect to fulfilment of learner potentials and needs…. let alone their life-long, positive regard for education and learning.

Unless these conundrums are properly considered, resolving in ethically legitimate education reforms that are applied with learning in mind, as opposed to populist, political expediency, any process that culls teachers for purely political and financial reasons, such as is the true nature of the $50K tactic, will most likely be counterproductive.

In fact, whilst the nation’s governance of education remains reductively, political/fiscal there will never be a satisfactory resolution to the exponentially, increasingly vexatious challenges confronting that of teacher quality.

The only way to enhance and sustain enhancement of teacher quality, as is rightfully demanded by an increasingly complex and diverse society, is to keep learning front and centre of the education agenda and holistically at that. All modern education systems should display a very large and proudly demonstrative “L” plate: “L” for learning constantly, as opposed to lurching dangerously. All learners possess fundamental behaviours that can and should be addressed similarly, with increased attentions provided according to their social and economic circumstance.

Equity deficits are perhaps NAPLANS most insidious failing. Parting company with teachers on the basis of “lacking contemporary practice” when no clear understanding nor applied definition of precisely what such a dubious criteria is, is equally heinous, callous and mercenary: populist political/bureaucratic nihilism of education as an art form!

Conflicting and ever changing, complex social parameters require attention in order teacher quality be enhanced. They will never be resolved whilst politically devised strategies are summarily applied; being short-term and narrow in scope, such as is the current redundancy package…. whilst $50K, thanks for coming, see you later, sorry you don’t deserve a T-shirt, disposal…… is all that seems to be done?

There are many challenging questions confronting modern education. Simplistic solutions do not suffice to resolve them. Neither will vague, faddish criteria serve us well in our quest to resolve the plethora of current challenges modern societies confront regarding education.

Applying the term contemporary practice as a measure of teacher quality raises important considerations, including perhaps the following?

Consider teachers who are frustrated by seemingly endless, repeated years, deprived of due recognition for sound practice, dedication and perhaps even demeaned for their refusal to apply “contemporary practices” that are as yet unproven…. whilst constantly ambushed by faddishly flashy and cosmetically attractive, curriculum-guerrilla-warfare-like sorties that are randomly imposed upon them. Teachers who live by the adage “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”……a true professional who questions critically, systemic curriculum change on the basis of their proven track record, can be easily discarded when ephemeral cleansing tactics are employed by a bureaucracy that is remote and disconnected from classroom learning.? Furthermore, who makes the call? Most often the self-evaluating professional is its own harshest critic and as such should not be left alone to the task of self-determined redundancy. Professional “suicide” is not healthy, neither for the individual nor the system. …. I apply the term “system” cautiously.

Consider teachers who endure seemingly limitless change “initiatives” that disappear almost as quickly as they suddenly arise, leaving a tide of confusion, instability and curriculum chaos by which even the fearless leader, the omni-absent, nameless one, is pressed to define the state of play without resorting to jargonised platitudes? Consider being scatter-gun impacted by all manner of emerging technologies that are often imposed by unqualified, exploitative entrepreneurs who consider them well suited to classrooms. Teachers are often given little or no training, whilst lampooned as troglodytes for maintaining that which has served their pupils well in the past and genuinely continues to do so? Someone once said and rightly so…. “Any teacher who fears being replaced by a computer, ought to be!”

Consider the teachers who take the $50K package and are immediately employed by the non-government school, just down the road? Are so-called ineffective teachers who “lack contemporary practice” really the target? Or, may it well be healthy enquiry, informed scepticism and stoic loyalty to pupil learning above personal comfort, that is being junked at a mere $50K a pop? Has teaching become so untenable for skilled teachers of high professional integrity that they may be willing to swallow their pride, take a deep breath and leap somewhat reluctantly into a $50K life-raft?

Much of Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” centres around a character who self-trained at life-raft survival at sea and he was considered the crazy one? There’s a deal of truth in fiction indeed.

Let’s attempt a brief critical look at the questions raised earlier.

Firstly, is there anything new under the sun?

I counsel caution whenever learning is re-jigged by way of technology, for technology of itself is not learning. It is merely a tool and perhaps a maladaptive one at that.

David Suzuki is credited with the counsel ...”the generation that devised the silicon chip, spent its childhood exploring ponds and streams using jam jars and hand-held lenses”. This noted futurist cannot be readily dismissed as a non-critical thinker lacking contemporary practice?

In an age of increasing uncertainty, when the only certainty is change itself, the human brain, the organ of learning, the “technology” that spawns all other technologies remains essentially unchanged. We need to be careful that we don’t compromise its monumental capacities for learning by use of any machine of relatively limited scope: relatively limited that is, in comparison to learners being engaged in richly interactive discourse among other humans and real-life contextualised learning experiences to which they are truly, emotionally connected.

Not all technologies that purport to be multi-stimuli, qualify as richly interactive… Case in point!

The “activity sheet” is perhaps modern education’s greatest and saddest of all oxymorons. Schools devote immense amounts of time and money to this technology. When the photocopier is defunct, so too is the school…. almost.

Too much seated at the desk, stimuli devoid, disjointed busy work is enabled by this form of reprographics technology and its ilk. In direct proportion to the increase in paper use by way of the photocopier, there has occurred a decline in the extent and frequency of pupil exposure to extended passages of rich, flowing prose, vocabulary enrichment in context and dynamic, socially interactive analysis and making of rich language, spoken, written or read.

Likewise, much mathematics becomes arithmetic when conveyed by “activity sheet”

How can the brains of young learners become imprinted with rich language structures and their enjoyment, when most if not all of their language learning is centered at pieces of paper that do not speak expressively nor contain prolonged text that engages and sustains stimuli rich, multi-modal engagement. Nothing dulls norepinephrine levels more so, than the ubiquitous “activity sheet”. Norepinephrine is a neuro-chemical with a key memory fixative role. Its levels and effectiveness are directly proportional to physical activity.

How can pupils learn resilience if they do not ever encounter challenge that is sustained over an extended timeframe, requires persistence and repetitive re-visiting to result in polished, rehearsed, performances that demonstrate learning…? Do short, fragmented paper based “lessons” as per photo-copier technologies, suffice? Does the shift to interactive whiteboards suffice when they are as seems a common practice, not utilised to their potential, but are applied merely as light-show representations of the photocopier?

Does a battery of un-contextualised, culturally unfamiliar (unless practised) pencil and paper tests when supporting and encouraging learners is cheating, such as is NAPLAN, suffice as learning focused assessment?

Does the current C2C, Queensland extrapolation of the National Curriculum pass the norepinephrine test, the resilience test or the emotional connection/salience test…. let alone the does the activity match pupil cognitive maturity test?

Many children in contemporary culture have scant exposure in their most formative years of brain wiring, to rich prose and discursive language…… curse-ive maybe… but not richly descriptive, exciting and imaginatively stimulating. They spend countless hours playing computer based games, watching television programmes predominantly comprised of sound effects, vocabulary scant, poorly structured dialogue, devoid of descriptive language (replete with put-downs) and other essentials to acquiring capacity and inclinations for rich, high level language skills orally, least of all, in written form.

Perhaps therefore, we need to be most careful we do not junk the teachers who talk with children, read to them expressively from books and who supplementarily use modern technologies such as the abundant array of multi-media forms of quality literature, not only to entertain but to actually teach the diverse array of messages they contain…. both the technical/structural/generic but most importantly their cultural/ethical/moral. The latter takes time, insights and rich knowledge that often do not exist among the “contemporary” for that is the nature of age challenged brains that have wired wisdom.

Does experience count as an attribute of contemporary practice?

Could $50K be better spent by retaining the experienced to mentor the neophyte and if it really is about getting rid of the junk, there are well formulated diminished performance procedures. All it takes is a little courage and systemic support?

If “contemporary practice” is defined by wisdom and the opportunity to choose best pathways for learners: if “contemporary practice” is defined by education as opposed to schooling: if “contemporary practice” is defined by giving teachers the opportunity to be imaginative and selective…. OK.

Could the $50K be better spent for rejuvenation of teachers who have great skill and experience but simply have become battered and bruised by constant, feckless change, a misplaced sense of inadequacy, lack of reward and recognition or worst of all, plagued by constant relegation to the “oldies” scrap bin?

I suspect “contemporary practice” is being used as an instrument of coercion and fear to scapegoat teachers and abrogate political/bureaucratic leadership responsibility.

This raises a connection to the second question…. that of continuity, preservation of that which remains salient and knowing what to keep. Somewhere from collective cultures of Chinese wisdom, emerged the proposition…. “Beware they who know the answer, for they may not know the question!”

How do we separate the baby from the bathwater when there are no clear demarcations regarding which is which? Who decides and how? Do the decision makers actually visit classrooms repeatedly over time, qualified to make these judgements, providing adequate coaching that allows shortcomings to be addressed?

If contemporary practice is founded upon a centralised, scripted, “workbook” approach to which all schools must adhere, as is the nature of “C 2 C”, Queensland’s interpretation of the National Curriculum, we need to be a little apprehensive.

If contemporary practice comprises meek compliance with NAPLAN, a one-size-fits-all, blunt instrument of fear, almost devoid of genuine, defensible, learning based value and principle, and/or comprises data based judgements conducted by management approaches that are remote and removed from classrooms and the learning that daily occurs within them: lacking clear, collegial, teacher moderated criteria and benchmarks for evaluation of teacher effectiveness and assessment of pupil achievement, we ought to be concerned.

If contemporary practice is about computer-based technology competencies, we ought to worry, for most classrooms are filled with kids who will always be ahead of some teachers when it comes to savvy regarding the latest computer trickery.

If $50K is all that a government is willing to pay, with a never-to-be-employed-again caveat, we ought to panic indeed.

Before anything restorative can be done, including discarding under-performing teachers, there needs to be a purging of an underperforming curriculum.

But what of the National Curriculum I hear protestations?

Sure! A National Curriculum is an absolute necessity. Now that we have one… a newborn… it remains in the old bathwater, for it is knowledge based steeped in the traditional, Dickensian subject demarcations of knowing stuff. Furthermore each jurisdiction is currently hell bent on writing its own interpretation…. So back to a state-by-state based mess, it seems.

Contemporary practice demands clear and concise cognisance of learning as the most fundamental of all human behaviours.

A learning based curriculum as opposed to a subject/content, discipline or knowledge curriculum framework, with some form of learning based (not subject based) problem-solving, pedagogically sound foci at the centre, would surely pass as a sound basis for contemporary practice?

A curriculum which sets pupils up for learning…. establishing dispositions and capacities for learning…. before they are bombarded by the stuff of specialised knowledge based disciplines. Surely, in an era when discovery is more about that which emerges from the cracks and boundary areas among knowledge domains, is in fact the contemporary knowledge economy, it is important to take care when discrimination the old from the new?

Content based curricula are an anachronism if ever there was one! But pupils will always exist and need to be educated, with hopefully, a focus upon learning. Thus we arrive at the third conjecture?

Those who teach kids as opposed to those who teach subjects will never lack contemporary practice.

Phil Cullen … (if you don’t know Phil…. google “Treehorn” and you will soon become acquainted. Then again, if you’re reading this???)…

Anyway, Phil once said something about the pupil being in the frontal centre of the eye.

When defining contemporary practice “does the big picture differ from the small picture or is it simply fractal?” deserves consideration?

If it suffices for education to simply continue its existence under the “Red Queen” effect (cf Alice in Wonderland) , beetling onwards as if the only change necessary is to re-jig the content and every now and then apply some “new” technologies, why do we continue sliding in the performance ratings? Why are the billions being spent on education nationally, failing to match their deserved expectations?

Why indeed does the alleged parlous state of modern education allow travesties such as NAPLAN to thrive… as did Nazism emerge in Germany? Such emergences are surely signs of a society in chaos. Chaos cannot be subdued by fear, political populism or quick-fix strategies. Chaos requires calm, deliberation and least of all a rush back to the very past that has caused the problem…. Nor can complex deficits in something so important as a nation’s education provision for all and equitably so, be resolved by way of fear based compliance, cleansing good-riddance of the wise and experienced, silencing of critical analysis and perhaps most of all ignorance and layered simplicity.

Such is the nature of NAPLAN and all manner or superficialities, including the $50K wet-fish handshake, that are being applied to education in this country right now.

Is it possible that we don’t yet have a widespread, proper understanding, let alone awareness of the existence, of the real question? Is the dogma barking up the wrong tree? Is the content (an unfortunate word when there is so much disaffection) cart disconnectedly placed before the learning horse?

After all, whenever the cart is before the horse, the driver has reduced opportunity to appreciate the true quality of the manure, other than by second-hand observation or some other remote from the true source perspective. The manure is left untended and completely disregarded save by others who might come along behind…. A wonderful analogy for NAPLAN is the dogma cart before the horse?

Might we perhaps look at what we really should be on about? Should contemporary practice be based upon universal fundamentals to learning as a basic human behaviour? Should the maladaptive, silo based traditions of schooling as a subject/discipline framework be reconsidered and accordingly, delayed until the tertiary tier of contemporary education practice? Delayed specialisation is probably a wise approach in times when knowing more and more about less and less is the norm at the cutting edges of the knowledge economy?

Is it not wise to construct an understanding of learning as a developmental behaviour that is both the little picture and the big one at the same time? Dichotomous approaches such as mind and body etc have been discounted for some time now. Likewise, we ought to discontinue fragmentation of learning into discrete disciplines, at least for most of a pupil’s school based education and simply focus upon learn to learn….

Sorta like the old idea of learning to read before reading to learn. Sometimes we just have to swallow a bit of hubris and admit that some oldies are goldies? As much as it might grate upon those who lurk in gleeful anticipation of handing out the $50K lolly bags to the readily dispensable and non-contemporary?

Learning has been, still is and always will be, both the big and the large of education. Managerialism has nothing more than a supportive status. It is not the solution!

So, in my opinion, the decision has been made for us, and some time ago at that.

It is probably forgivable that we err?

Just as we retain behavioural patterns below our levels of conscious awareness, simply because they were “fired and wired” prior to language acquisitions and thus there remains our incapacity to, by verbal articulation, bring them into our own awareness, perhaps as a species, learning itself has such ancient roots, we continue a failure to keep it front and centre of contemporary practice.

So who decides?

Can’t put that onus upon the teacher without a fair and proper definition of what contemporary practice is and should be, let alone a complete lack of objective measurement to determine how much is missing before a lack is deemed to exist.

Can’t trust others to do it from outside the classroom context for these folk are either overcome by a multitude of disparate, ephemeral, systemic imperatives; don’t have any education expertise other than once having been to school in an era when practice was contemporary then but not now… apparently? …. Or, they are formulating and imposing the imperatives themselves, without knowing the answers, or the most important question of all.

What is the imperative question?

Surely it is not NAPLAN, an underperforming curriculum, political populism, ephemerally faddish change or the occasional, cheapskate $50K pay off?

It’s simply this.

What is learning and why are we not doing it with all that we now know about it, on the richly diverse bases of validated, modern scientific discoveries?

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Let’s stop the Murdoch gravy-train, full of unloved kids heading for Mediocracity.

Phil Cullen Former Teacher

Derek Hedgcock – poem