Education Readings December 19th

By Allan Alach

This will be last list of readings for this year. I’ll be taking a break until the end of January, but then will return, fully refreshed, to the fray.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Forget about education, schooling, GERM, etc and focus on what really matters – on yourself and those near and dear to you.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

A couple of week’s back I posted a link to an article about Finland’s intention to downplay the teaching of handwriting. Here’s another perspective.

“But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Dan Pink: How Teachers Can Sell Love of Learning to Students

Bruce’s comment: An interesting look at education from Daniel Pink. Selling the love of learning. Since learning is the inborn default mode you have to wonder where it went!

“In his new book To Sell is Human, author Daniel Pink reports that education is one of the fastest growing job categories in the country. And with this growth comes the opportunity to change the way educators envision their roles and their classrooms. Guided by findings in educational research and neuroscience, the emphasis on cognitive skills like computation and memorization is evolving to include less tangible, non-cognitive skills, like collaboration and improvisation.”

Igniting Student Writer Voice With Writing Process Strategies

Bruce’s comment: Help students discover the power of writing.

Learning how to write can be further challenging when a student lacks confidence in his or her skills as a writer. How we mediate student perception of writing is as important as teaching the skills. Using diverse strategies via the writing process, any teacher can ensure that when a student struggles to write, a different approach is readily available.”

7 Ways to Use Technology With Purpose

Bruce’s comment: Using technology with purpose – is technology still oversold and underused?

“In order to make sure you are using technology the right way, you must first “start with why”. If your students understand the “why” behind your technology use, then the class will have a purpose and technological glitches and issues can be worked through. If they don’t understand the “why” then any small issue could turn into a major problem.”

Outlook on instruction: Class around the clock

Bruce’s comment: An interesting overview of educational trends for 2015. Worth reading to see how things might unfold in the US.

“Some exciting advancements are on the horizon for classrooms in 2015. While they sound technical, the biggest changes aren’t going to be driven by an app, a computer program or a new kind of tablet—they will come from new theories about how to engage both students and teachers in the classroom.”

Provocations for Early Childhood Education

Bruce’s comment: Just read a few of the postings on this blog to remind us of the kind of childhood we used to have and what the young need today – an exploratory childhood  based on play – that some characterise as ‘benign neglect’.

 “Just today I really started to piece more things together, to see the connections to who I was as a child and who I am now as an early childhood education practitioner.  My passion for envisioning, creating and enhancing spaces for children is most definitely genetic first, then fueled by my studies and work with children, and set ablaze by 16+ years of exploring/applying lessons from the Reggio Approach – that whole nature versus nurture thing.”

Declaring your incompetence

Bruce’s comment: Some good advice if you really want to be a learner.

“What I find time and time again in my work with people is that the hardest part of the learning journey or of making changes is the admission of the inability to do something or of the struggle. Once that step has been taken the process is usually simple, if not easy. Surrendering to the learning journey by declaring one’s incompetence is the doorway to beginning to change.”

Tinkering Is Serious Play

Bruce’s comment: Making things is very serious play – back to the real basics of learning.

“The maker movement celebrates creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship through the design and construction of physical objects. Maker activities may come across as playful, even slightly wacky, explosions of inventiveness. But in education contexts like schools, museums, libraries, and after-school programs, research shows that if the invitation to creativity is accompanied by intentional structure and guidance, maker activities can be channeled to support deep student learning.”

Passion-based learning in the 21st century: An interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

Bruce’s comment: This article/interview with Sheryl Nussbaum- Beach really resonates with me.  Really good advice for teachers who want to equip their students for the future.

“In this interview, Sheryl describes the “shift” she believes must take place in teaching and learning practices if elementary and secondary schools expect to remain relevant in an era when information and communication technologies will continue to expand exponentially.”

To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society

Contributed by Bruce’s colleague Wayne Morris.

Because disaffection with the education system reflects a much deeper societal malaise, it’s imperative that we first figure out what kind of world we really want: a world populated by responsible adults who thrive on interdependence and community, or a world of “customers” who feel dependent on products, services, and authority figures, and don’t take full responsibility for their actions?”

Practices to Engage All Learners

Bruce’s comment: How to engage learners – a more important issue than  current obsession testing and a narrow orientated accountability.

“Teaching students who are at risk requires energy, dedication, talent, and commitment. These exemplary educators consistently and continuously remain connected and engaged with their students. By keeping their students’ needs, interests, talents, and learning styles in the forefront, these teachers successfully reach and educate the students who need them most.”

From Bruce’s ‘oldies but goodies’ file:

Environmental awareness for pre-schoolers – from ‘On Looking’ by Alexandra Horowitz

Bruce’s comment: The above article made me think of this excellent book about exploring your environment through a range of perspectives.

In this interview, Sheryl describes the “shift” she believes must take place in teaching and learning practices if elementary and secondary schools expect to remain relevant in an era when information and communication technologies will continue to expand exponentially.

“For many of us our experience walking is un-remembered because we  fail to pay attention and we miss the possibility of seeing what is in plain sight of us.”

Learning from outdoor play

Following on, Bruce draws attention to this ‘oldy but goody’ blog about creating in early education an environment for the young to learn through play.

“Young children are programmed by evolution to learn from their experiences. By the time they arrive at school they have already developed the ability to walk, talk, draw, ask questions and develop theories about everything.Teachers need to build on such achievements and do nothing to blunt the amazing curiosity young children bring with them. Classroom environments, at all levels, should celebrate students’ interests, questions, and their theories.”

We have lost so much over the past 50 years. We need to return leadership back to creative teachers.

“In recent years the myth of the principal as the key to school transformation became persuasive and as result the principal’s status has gone up commensurably. Crowther questions this myth, believing that the reality has not lived up to the rhetoric. The so called ‘heroic leader’ may effect short term change but all too often this is a temporary transformation.”

Reflection on my teaching beliefs

Bruce’s comment: unfortunately we still haven’t escaped the surveillance and audit culture!

“Recently I read an article by educationalist Andy Hargreaves who wrote about ‘Four Ways’ of educational change since the 1960s. His thoughts reflected many of the thoughts about educational changes that have concerned me over the years. It is obvious that what ‘officially counts’ in education is driven by forces beyond the classroom. The creativity of the 60s that ’emerged’ out of the decade of security following the Second World War, is a good example and was when my education journey, or story, began.”

Criteria for a quality Classroom.

Bruce’s comment: It’s a bit late for Southern Hemisphere teachers to do much about the ideas in the blog as most schools have closed for the year but it might be worthwhile reflecting about the ideas about criteria for a quality classroom and maybe keep in mind for the new year? The only things I would add to the list of quality learning criteria is that quality classrooms have moved away from the use of demeaning ability grouping and have ‘reframed’ literacy and numeracy as an integral component of class inquiry studies.

Fundamentals in education

Bruce’s comment:

 On re-reading this I  was struck by how little my basic beliefs have remained unchanged over the decades –  at the core of my beliefs is the simple idea of the importance of the creative mind continually responding to experience – continually reshaping itself as it goes. It is strange how ideas re-emerge as today I wrote a blog which had the same message – that how the brain ( one’s identity) is unconsciously shaped by the culture it is exposed to and that we ought to be focussing on the culture we create as teachers rather than being side-tracked by accountability demands. Earlier today  I re-discovered a booklet I put together  in 1970 about the kind of creative teaching of a group of teachers I worked  had developed. Once again  this booklet still reflects my current beliefs.  It is almost that, over the decades, in the process of coping with imposed compliance demands, I have been forced to dance to others tunes and in the process compromised my beliefs.  I have the feeling I have come full circle. Let the others comply if they wish – let’s stick to what we really believe in.

Education Readings December 12th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!


Just say no! Questioning the value of topical research

Jamie McKenzie is always worth reading.

“Schools should outlaw topical research as being mind-numbing and substandard.

Around the globe goals have been raised to focus on imagination, invention, synthesis and problem-solving. Topical research is an ancient, outmoded practice that should join many other unworthy rituals in the dustbin of history.”

The Need to Address Noncognitive Skills in the Education Policy Agenda

“This paper contends that noncognitive skills should be an explicit pillar of education policy. It contributes to the growing interest in these skills by reviewing what we know about noncognitive skills, including what they are, why they matter, and how they enter into the education process.”

Arts Education Matters: We Know, We Measured It

“Arts experiences boost critical thinking, teaching students to take the time to be more careful and thorough in how they observe the world.”

This Will Revolutionize Education

Set aside 7.22 minutes to watch this powerful video – is technology going to be the holy grail of education? Khan Academy?

“I think it is instructive that each new technology has appeared to be so transformative. You can imagine, for example, that motion pictures must have seemed like a revolutionary learning technology. After all they did revolutionize entertainment, yet failed to make significant inroads into the classroom. TV and video seem like a cheaper, scaled back film, but they too failed to live up to expectations. Now there is a glut of information and video on the internet so should we expect it to revolutionize education?

What Aristotle Knew

“The distinction between those who can solve a problem and work their way out of a situation is in the ability to ask the right, critical questions to identify the problem, and then ask what it takes to solve it.”

Even in our digital age, early parental writing support is key to children’s literacy

“We have found that scaffolding is a particularly beneficial activity, because the parent guides the child. And, if that parent guides the child and also demands precision in a sensitive and thoughtful way — i.e. ‘what did you mean to write here? Let me help you’ — this definitely develops the child’s literary skill set.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Tanith Carey: Tiger Parents – and Tiger Schools! Relax and have more fun!

“It is obviously important, Tanith writes, that we must help children reach their potential but that this ought to be based on their individual strengths and not be set by ‘the standards of schools intent on boosting their reputations on league tables – or the economic goals of governments’.”

Are we on the verge of an end to test-based accountability?

Bruce’s comment: All this test based accountability is under attack but what is the alternative?

“In short, we’ve seen dissatisfaction with the status quo of education reform, and we’ve seen acknowledgement of that dissatisfaction. But what we’ve not seen is a widespread, deeper rethinking of school improvement or an embrace of an alternative – and there’s the rub. It’s highly unlikely that the nation will move away from the status quo until it has a different pathway forward.”

Project-Based Learning Through a Maker’s Lens

Bruce’s comment: The importance of ‘making’ in project based learning. This ought to be the emphasis in our schools not judging achievement on things many students are not interested in. It’s what the progressive teachers of the past believed in.

“A Maker is an individual who communicates, collaborates, tinkers, fixes, breaks, rebuilds, and constructs projects for the world around him or her. A Maker, re-cast into a classroom, has a name that we all love: a learner. A Maker, just like a true learner, values the process of making as much as the product. In the classroom, the act of Making is an avenue for a teacher to unlock the learning potential of her or his students in a way that represents many of the best practices of educational pedagogy. A Makerspace classroom has the potential to create life-long learners through exciting, real-world projects.”

Makers in the Classroom: A How-To Guide

Following on …

“We all construct our own meaning of the world around us; Making just gives us a context to construct our understanding in. It engages students’ hands in the work of their minds in order to help them construct deep conceptual understandings.”

Design Thinking: A Lesson That Connects Classmates

Bruce’s comment: Teaching design thinking – and the dispositions encouraged in the process.

“Design thinking is a creative problem-solving process that calls for thoughtful solutions to real-world situations. Design thinking in the classroom provides a motivating and engaging learning experience for students. Within the design thinking model, individual learning styles can be validated through a project based learning experience.”

New Teachers: Creating a Shiny, Happy Classroom

Bruce’s comment: The ‘real oil’ on classroom management – well worth the read.

“What I prefer instead is to develop a classroom that does not require a system to handle misbehavior because it so rarely occurs. No checkmarks on the board, no list of consequences, no rewards. Just engaged, productive, friendly students.”

Five Fun Ways to Spark Self-Discovery in Youth

Bruce’s comment: The power of the teacher to spark learning – some practical ideas.

“A “spark” is the inner light that gives us energy, motivation, purpose and focus. It makes us feel alive when we’re doing what we love. Sparks are expressed as talents, qualities or passions. And when we operate from our sparks, we shine and offer something good, beautiful and useful to the world.”

From Bruce’s ‘oldies but goodies’ file:

Who am I ?

Do we focus enough on developing in every learner a positive sense of self?

“A positive sense of self provides a role in making future decisions, and positive memories allow us to imagine possible futures. The past and our memories are the making of who we are. Our classrooms ought to reflect such students’ stories past and present. It helps students answer the question ‘How do I know who I am?’”

Inquiry Learning; an educational agenda for a future era.

Inquiry learning – the default way students learn – except at school?

“Inquiry education has a long history going back to John Dewey (‘learning through experience’) and was, and still is, in conflict with traditional content transmission teaching which still underpins much of current practice. Until this dilemma is faced inquiry education will not be successful.”

Driving into an exciting future!

Bruce’s comment: the future demands new organisations and this includes schools.

“In a future that will demand collaborative teamwork, networking, individual initiative and creativity and to prove such qualities we need to urgently ‘re-imagine our schools. We will need a new ‘educational vehicle, new driving skills’ and a whole new sense of direction. The key will be for schools to see future discontinuity as opportunity and to develop new flexible educational organizations to thrive in such times.”

I’m a Primary Principal

The Treehorn Express

Treehorn is the hero of a children’s book called The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heidi. It’s about a small boy with enormous problems, who remained totally ignored by all adults, including his parents, teachers and principal during an important period in his life. Like all young school pupils, he came to learn that adults don’t take much notice of school kids, no matter how dire the circumstances. Children are left on their own to survive, despite the stress that some very cruel adults impose on them – like the operators and users of NAPLAN the Wombat tests. The Shrinking of Treehorn is a powerful story with a morally-stunning conclusion.

I’m a Primary Principal

This is about the greatest job in the world. It is a task in which the pressures are continuous, demands can be contradictory and the days unending. It requires a high professional conscience, continuous personal development, superhuman energy, decision-making capacities as to what drives conflict resolution regarding the school’s curriculum and what should; and a level of personal reconciliation with professional ethics beyond the normal.

It’s a tough job, but it has an endless array of unusual, wondrous fringe benefits that other jobs don’t. The Practising Administrator once said that it has special perks. It asked in what other job can you….

Start the world all over again at the beginning of each school year and have an opportunity to influence its direction.

Touch a child and see your fingerprint.

Look around and see 100 kids trying to imitate some personal mannerism you didn’t even know you had.

Have the mother of a five-year-old faithfully entrust the dearest thing in her life to your care.

Have a seven-year-old show you his skinned knee but blink back his tears because he doesn’t want you to see him cry.

Feel a tug on your coat and look down to an enormous set of brown eye asking, “Do you know who I am?”

Feel the rush of success when you reply, “Of course I know you, Susie.”

Overhear one child tell another, “That’s our principal. He owns this school.”

See a young chap greedily eye the chocolate cupcake in his lunch-box – and then offer it to you.

Practice dentistry without a licence.

Have an excited teacher burst into your office shouting, “It worked!”

Hear a grateful mother say, “You were right. That’s what he needed.”

Watch a skilled teacher at work and remember how many times she came to you in tears in her first year.

Having hundreds of adults and children try to sing “Happy Birthday to You” with gooey icing from the tuckshop mothers’ cakes still in their mouths.

Watch your wife’s face, when a Year 1 points to her and announces confidently “That’s the principal’s mother.”

It’s the kind of job that makes one realise that there is a divine plan and that one has been chosen to play a special role in some children’s lives.

Phil Cullen 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point Australia 2486 [3rd left from Q’ld.] 07 5524 6443        

Education Readings December 5th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!


Hattie’s research: egregious errors

Distinguished New Zealand educator Kelvin Smythe has vehemently disagreed with John Hattie for many years. Here’s his latest salvo that attacks the dubious basis of his ‘research’  and subsequent conclusions, which are then used to reinforce neoliberal education agendas.

“Hattie does not really discuss, present, or defend his curriculum or education conclusions on the basis of the range of known arguments but on what his statistics demonstrate. In this age of the obsession with certainty based on numbers, Hattie has settled on a winning combination, and when presented by a professor of considerable standing, his conclusions are difficult to touch let alone challenge. And with Hattie it is not just numbers but numbers gigantism.”

All artists have ADD, me included says Sam Neill

Consider the points that Sam makes when considering the children in your class. Are you overlooking the artists?

If I could have your attention for just one minute please… if you would… all right, half a minute would be fine then, if that’s all you’ve got. If I might ask, exactly how distracted are you? Do you have, like me, the concentration span of a mosquito? Can you get to the end of this article without wondering what leftovers are in the fridge, if QI is on the telly tonight, or if indeed it is Thursday at all? I ask this because we have some of what ‘experts’ call Attention Deficit Disorder in my family.”

The Myth of Multitasking And What It Means For Learning

“Supported by research into how the brain functions, Dr Deak argues that the brain is only able to focus deeply on one task at a time. And not only that, trying to do too many things at once causes the brain to lose the capacity for deep thinking altogether.”

The Rock Lady

Another essential read from Kelvin Smythe, this time describing REAL learning.

‘“If you want to explain the holistic, holistic evaluation, an example of the structure of an holistic activity, an holistic question, the ideal of teaching as it used to be, how to be a great teacher, the antithesis of John Hattie’s philosophy – the true story that follows is it. For me, this story from the ‘80s is an icon. If someone asks me: How could I be a better teacher? I say, read this, absorb this, now go forth and teach.’

25 Things Skilled Learners Do Differently

“Why some of us master them earlier than others is another topic, one that may have something to do with parenting, environment, and even genetics. But the point is, we’re all capable. The smartest, most successful people in the world wouldn’t be where they are today if they weren’t skilled learners. So let’s examine which strategies we should be perfecting and how they can serve us in the long run.”

A therapist goes to middle school and tries to sit still and focus. She can’t. Neither can the kids.

I can relate to this!

“Except for brief periods of getting up and switching classrooms, I’ve been sitting for the past 90 excruciating minutes. I look down at my leg and notice it is bouncing. Great, I think to myself, now I’m fidgeting! I’m doing anything I can to pay attention – even contorting my body into awkward positions to keep from daydreaming. It is useless, I checked out about forty-five minutes ago. I’m no longer registering anything the teacher is saying. I look around the room to see how the children a few decades younger than me are doing.”

Seriously, Why Are You Still In Education?

“Why are our reform voices not being heard above the clamor and strife of recent events? Not that it’s pleasant or easy. No one relishes staring down racism, confronting poverty and calling out injustice. But this is the cancer eating away at society. Either we fight it aggressively or accept a terminal diagnosis. To beat it, we need a new kind of leadership in education; educators who have a seriousness of mind and commitment of purpose to push the profession past where it’s stuck.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Why Learning Innovation Can’t Come From Teachers Alone

Bruce’s comment: Who is right does an over focus on standards limit creativity?

“When is the last time you’ve walked into a classroom and seen real joy for learning and understanding? Not simply a fun activity, or students enjoying working together, or even vague engagement, but rather resonating, engrossed, curiosity-driven and rigorous learning that changes kids from the inside out?”

Arts Education Transforms Societies

Bruce’s comment: Importance of the arts.

“Although many people may agree that arts (music, theatre, dance, visual, media, literary and more) are an important part of education, they may not realize the powerful trickle-up effect of arts education on a modern, innovative workforce. Indeed, arts education has the power to transform societies for the better.”

Accountability: Do we mean the same thing?

Food for thought…

“So, the word accountability is thrown around a lot in education, but the more I hear the word, the more I think we are really saying different things…”

Bruce comments: Got a bee in my bonnet about ability grouping at the moment… the unintended consequences of ability grouping.

Research Spotlight on Academic Ability Grouping

Bruce’s comment: A taken for granted assumption underpinning most school is the unquestioned use of ability grouping or in some situations streaming. What are your views on the use of ability grouping. We see them as the most destructive element of traditional education. The trouble is with things taken for granted , as Abraham Lincoln once said, is that they’re taken for granted!  Personalised programmes require rethinking about the use of ability grouping/streaming, setting etc. The trouble is as school are increasingly being compared by achievement results there is pressure to use ability grouping.

“The educational practice of ability grouping emerged around the turn of the 20th century as a way to prepare students for their “appropriate” place in the workforce (Cooper, 1996). Students with high abilities and skills were given intense, rigorous academic training while students with lower abilities were given a vocational education.”

Is Ability Grouping the Way to Go — Or Should It Go Away?

Bruce’s comment: Should we untrack our schools? Does streaming within class ( ability grouping) or school wide  (division of students into specialised academies) do any good?

“So is tracking a fair way for educators to deal with the wide disparity in students’ abilities? Or is it a form of discrimination that has few benefits for students and ought to be outlawed? The issue has been the subject of debate for many years—and will be for years to come. One thing is certain: Further research is essential for educators (and, perhaps, for the courts) charged with making informed decisions about the advantages or disadvantages of ability grouping.”

From Bruce’s ‘oldies but goodies’ file …

More on ability grouping …

Ability Grouping – unintended consequences for learners and teachers. 

  • A need for a new transformational mindset for teaching to develop the talents and gifts of all students.

“When I taught I chose, against advice of the school, not to use ability grouping instead choosing to help students individually, or in small groups skills required and then returning students back to whatever they were studying. The teachers who were advising me seemed to spend most of their day worrying about reading and mathematics whereas I wanted to focus on inquiry studies, language and the creative arts.”

Teachers using ability grouping contributing to growing inequality in schools!!

Bruce’s comment: And some NZ research about teachers with the highest expectations of students who choose not to use ability grouping. This research shows that the use of ability grouping is adding to the growing achievement gap in schools. Time to change.

“Several studies have shown that high expectation differ from low expectations in three key areas: they do not  use ability groups, they create a warm class climate, and they set clear learning goals with their students. At the heart of these difference, in my opinion is the use of flexible groupings rather than ability grouping.’”