Education Readings April 24th

By Allan Alach

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

This week’s homework!


Wobbly no more: Work on analogical processing helps children learn key engineering principle

Vygotsky in action?

“Children love to build things. Often half the fun for them is building something and then knocking it down. But in a new study children had just as much fun learning how to keep their masterpieces upright — they learned a key elementary engineering principle.”

Education reform: Jekyll or Hyde?

This article, by Warwick Mansell, a freelance journalist and author of Education by Numbers: the tyranny of testing (Methuen, 2007), is about United Kingdom education policies in the run up to their forthcoming general election. As is usually the case, this article has relevance all over.

“The question is whether it is possible to talk meaningfully about supporting teachers to do their jobs well while at the same time espousing ‘zero tolerance of failure’ when the schools in which they work underperform. I think this is a very difficult circle to square, in the reality of how schools operate: the hunch must be that if you use ‘zero tolerance’, so making schools extremely fearful as to their next bad set of results, you probably will make them unattractive workplaces for many teachers or would-be teachers.”

How Visual Thinking Improves Writing

“Younger kids typically love to draw and aren’t too worried about the outcomes of their artwork — until they get older. By the time they’ve learned to read and write, art takes a back burner to academics, primarily because of what most schools prioritize. Over time it becomes harder for kids to think in pictures the way they once did. But what if students were encouraged to think in pictures alongside words?”

The 4 biggest mistakes that teachers make when integrating technology

“Being a passionate educator, leader, and coach, I hope for a classroom where everyone (including the educators) are willing to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them; where technology is used as a tool to enhance learning and pedagogy..

Pedagogy before technology! Get integrating, be willing to take risks and immerse your students in the wonderful learning opportunities that technology provides.”

To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society

“The formal school system needs to be “turned upside down and inside out.” It should be based on the biological system of weaning — i.e., gradually reducing children’s dependence on teachers. Teacher-student ratios should be high in the early years, then decrease dramatically in adolescence, when “the whole community has to become a place of learning,” with mentorships, apprenticeships and other hands-on learning experiences complementing highly self-directed classroom learning.”

Ten obvious truths about educating kids that keep getting ignored

This list, by Alfie Kohn, has been around for some time, but its well worth revisiting.

“If we all agree that a given principle is true, then why in the world do our schools still function as if it weren’t?

Here are 10 examples.”

Story Hui: Bringing Data To Life Visually

(Thanks to Liz Stevenson)

This downloadable booklet from Story Hui is targeted at a New Zealand audience, but there’s a wealth of useful suggestions for teachers all over. Note –  ‘hui’ is a Maori word for a gathering, a meeting. Another Maori word used in the booklet is ‘whanau’ which is an extended family group. Also, ‘koha’ means ‘precious gift’.

From Liz’s email:

“It is a tool for evaluating learning and is not standards based. It’s about using story, drawing & questioning to show clear evidence of engagement, wellbeing and interpersonal capabilities. The feedback from teachers who have trialled it has been overwhelmingly positive and in many cases it seems to have removed a lot of stress. People feel that at last they can really show the whole child’s learning – and if a literacy judgement is not great – then that is only a small part of the bigger story.”

Hattie’s research is wrong: Part 1 and Part 2

Distinguished New Zealand educator Kelvin Smythe has major concerns about John Hattie’s ‘research’ and as a result is writing a series of articles outlining his concerns. Here are the first two parts:

So influential has Hattie’s research become and Hattie along with it, that to critically examine it, whatever the outcome, if integrity and validity of policy information is valued, should be welcomed by all in school education, in academia, in government bureaucracies, by governments, and by Hattie himself. If readers take a stand (as I have) that the egregious errors are just that, the only path remaining is that Hattie has been astonishingly careless and ignorant in the maths, statistics, research design, understanding of curriculum, and presentation.

Part 1:

Part 2:

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Have we lost sight of the purpose of education – to create the conditions to ensure all students develop their creativity or is it about testing and accountability?

“If only New Zealand schools would take the current Zealand Curriculum (2007) seriously. Imagine if every student left our school system as a ‘confident life long learner’ ,  all with a  positive  ‘learning identity’,  and all  able to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’.

I live in hope.”

National Stigma – two teachers speak out

This is a letter from two teachers, posted on the Save Our Schools New Zealand website, that expresses their angst at the impact of New Zealand’s National Standards on children in their classes. National Standards are not too far removed from the Common Core Standards in USA  (of course that’s a coincidence) but instead of a testing regime teachers are required to use their judgement to rate children’s achievement against relevant standards.

“We are two teachers who have been teaching for about 21 years each but we have never had to deal with anything as heart-breaking as reporting to parents about their child’s achievement in relation to national standards. We feel we have been ‘bullied’ into implementing these standards, have not been consulted during any part of the process and labelled as uncaring and unprofessional when sharing our concerns. Here is the reality of National Standards for us.”

Build an Innovation Culture – With the Right Leaders

Bruce’s comment: A short but powerful suggestion about the need for leaders to develop a creative culture. As they say – ‘culture counts’.

“But building a culture of innovation is not easy. Any change initiative is challenging building a culture of innovation is one in which many organizations fail. At the center of it all is the leader.”

Evolution of the “good” teacher

Bruce’s comment:

A great read for the thinking teacher! What is good teaching? Does any body really know? The below link struggles with some possible answers. What is clear is that no approach fits all students.Teaching is in the middle of a change, an evolution, a revolution — the intensity of the description depends on whom you ask. One could argue that this change is natural and part of an ebb and flow cycle, but this change feels faster, and possibly more frenetic — likely due to technology’s role in the change. Is good teaching now for the 21st-century markedly different than it was previously?

Developing a Growth Mindset in Teachers and Staff

Bruce’s comment: I still run across teachers who have not heard about Prof Carol Dweck and her notions of fixed or growth mind-sets – here is a link from Australia  for those who want to catch up or just refresh themselves.

“However, in my work, I have found that the notion of developing a growth mindset is as equally applicable to staff and teacher performance as it is to students. This article begins with a brief discussion about the difference between the two mindsets, what that means for education, and concludes with some ideas for how school leaders might seek to develop a growth mindset amongst their staff.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Teachers’ key role in fostering creativity.

Bruce’s comment: So what is the teacher’s role in a creative classroom?

“Essential characteristics of creative teachers, according to one US researcher, are a commitment to: deepen the understandings of the world of each learner; believe in the creative ability of all students; encourage empathy in students; value creative expression in learners; teach in ways that facilitate it; adapt the curriculum to meet students individual needs.”

Slow learning needed for fast times!

Bruce’s comment: In this fast paced world maybe it’s time to slow down, enjoy the experience, and and do fewer things well?

“Slow learning they believe is essential for our lives and learning by giving depth to our experiences and providing insight for creativity and ingenuity. All too often, in contrast, students are rushed through learning to cover curriculum material. First finished is best seems to be the order of the day! As a result ‘slow learning’ is neglected in schools.”

We need leaders not accountants.

“It was interesting to read an article by Elizabeth Moss Kanter saying, ‘number, numbers, numbers – is that what preoccupies the school system today – tests and school performance statistics’? It is not that she doesn’t believe in measures but if school systems focus too much on complying with such demands they are in danger of being taken over by accountants not leaders.”

Education Readings April 17th

By Allan Alach

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

This week’s homework!


Report debunks ‘earlier is better’ academic instruction for young children

Are you surprised? New Zealand has a wonderful early childhood curriculum (Te Whāriki ) but how long will it survive under the present government?

‘Rather, she says, the research suggests that “preschool programs are best when they focus on social, emotional and intellectual goals rather than narrow academic goals” and provide “early experiences that provoke self-regulation, initiative and …sustained synchronous interaction in which the child is interactive with others in some continuous process, rather than a mere passive recipient of isolated bits of information for stimulation.”’

For Pearson, Common Core is private profit

While this article discusses the USA, Pearson Group is a major threat to education all over. Do you want your country’s education to be defined by a multinational corporation? A definition that just happens to include both their testing and instructional products?

“Taking inspiration from Margaret Thatcher’s motto “Don’t tell me what, tell me how,” Barber rarely discusses what schools should teach or cites scholarship on pedagogy. Instead, the book emphasizes again and again that leaders need metrics — e.g., standardized test scores — to measure whether reforms are helping children become literate and numerate. Of course, Pearson just happens to be one of the world’s largest vendors of the products Barber recommends for building education systems.”

In the Digital Age, How to Get Students Excited About Going Outdoors

Thanks to Innes Kennard for this.

“Louv has since become famous for coining the term Nature-Deficit Disorder — not as a medical diagnosis, but as shorthand for what’s happening to kids who stay, for the most part, inside, away from nature, for the majority of their young lives. He uses strong research to support his claims that rising rates of obesity, depression and anxiety, and ADHD symptoms could well be linked to kids’ disconnection from trees, fields and streams.”

Demystifying the Muse: Five Creativity Myths You Should Stop Believing

Another one from Innes – I may have posted this before …

“We’ve built up an image of what creativity is that is completely wrong. If you don’t believe me, here are a few of the biggest myths about creativity that most of us still believe:”

How Bad Journalism Is Driving the Collapse of Our Once-Great Public Education System

This USA story is easy to transfer to other countries.

“Be afraid, be very afraid, any time you see a reporter in the business media turn his or her attention to education and public schools. What will likely follow is a string of truisms used to prop up a specious argument, steeped in biased notions that were themselves picked up from ill-informed conversations promoted by other clueless business news outlets.”

Modern Learning Environments – the underlying philosophy to success

“Modern Learning Environments (MLE) are all the talk in educational circles right now. Schools, around the world, are knocking out walls and creating bright stimulating classrooms with multi purpose furniture and giving students access to technology. On the surface it looks fantastic, however I am concerned that without a big pedagogy shift, students will be simply just learning the same way many teachers have been teaching – just in bigger classrooms with new furniture.”

MLE and MLP- a returning fad, or something that could be truly transformative?

In a similar vein:

“If nothing else changes except collaborative spaces and collaborative teaching then the end result will not change. You are just repeating the open plan experiments of the 70s and 80s and it will fall over sooner or later. If you are still taking reading groups and writing groups and math groups in the same way, just on a bigger scale with more teachers and with several classes, then you are just streaming and making more work for everyone, because of the communication and organisation required. You are teaching traditionally in a shared space. You are using a MLE, but not practising MLP.  There is a huge difference.”

Go Team: Why Teacher Teams Struggle To Work Effectively Together And How Schools Can Create The Conditions For Success

Following on, teacher teamwork will be vital if any modern learning environment is to have any chance of working.

“Even when schools recognize the potential of teacher teams to have a measurable impact on improving teaching and learning, many teams fail to achieve the results they seek. Is it simply a case of good or bad chemistry, or are there concrete steps schools can take to cultivate collaboration that works?”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Why Talking About the Brain Can Empower Learners

Bruce’s comment: Every teacher should know about Carol Dweck

“Stanford University professor of psychology Carol Dweck, who has been leading the research in this field, discusses “The power of believing that you can improve” in this TED talk.”

The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in schools

Bruce’s comment: An easily read but challenging document about technology and its transformational implication for education. My advice – set aside a wet afternoon to read and think about the implications. The diagram on page three is a good summary.The report is  all about in-depth learning; technology enhanced learning; authentic learning; user friendly technology ; user friendly technology, the changes  (for some) of the role of the teacher; new modern learning environments  and personalised learning;  and other considerations.

A Brave New World for “Personalized Learning”?

Bill Ferriter:

‘”Relax, Bill!” I’ll say in the middle of my incoherent ramblings and cold sweats.  “SURELY there are good people at big corporations who are developing products with PURE intentions.  It’s NOT about capitalizing on fears and making a fast buck. It’s about improving schools FOR THE CHILDREN!”’

Effective Communication Needs Common Language and Goals

Bruce’s comment:

To develop a quality learning across a school you need agreement on common goals/ teaching beliefs – a common language to align all teaching behind and to evaluate teachers progress and to provide appropriate feedback and help. A great idea as long as it encourages individual teacher creativity as well. To greater enforcement of consistency (of Common Cores or National Standards)  can be counter productive.

“So, how can schools ensure that all leaders are communicating effectively and keeping the school on the right path? By making sure that everyone—teachers, administrators, and support staff—uses a common language to work toward common goals.”

Evolution of the “good” teacher

Bruce’s comment: A great read for the thinking teacher!

“What is good teaching? Does any body really know? The below link struggles with some possible answers. What is clear is that no approach fits all students.Teaching is in the middle of a change, an evolution, a revolution — the intensity of the description depends on whom you ask. One could argue that this change is natural and part of an ebb and flow cycle, but this change feels faster, and possibly more frenetic — likely due to technology’s role in the change. Is good teaching now for the 21st-century markedly different than it was previously?”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Creative teaching

Bruce’s comment: Elwyn Richardson’s thought are more relevant than ever. We have standardised teaching (or in Elwyn’s words ‘normalised’) and as a result creativity has been all but lost. Even art, the most creative of learning areas, is now clone like – the result of zealous over teaching of criteria and oppressive feedback. Poor old Vincent van G wouldn’t last 5 minutes. It’s now a paint by numbers education system and no colouring outside the lines.

“A ‘good’ classroom should develop in students a personal commitment to their learning. Teachers can do this through: talking, discussion, focusing students’ attention, helping them look closely at things,by taking trips into the immediate environment, and by tapping their personal experiences. From such activities students develop ideas to research and share and emotional feeling to express through words, poems, paintings and other art media.”

Education for a Creative Age

Bruce’s comment: ‘Teacher the Geranium on the Windowsill just Died and you kept on Talking’ – more on the death of creative education.

“At the very least schools talk about the ‘Information Age’ but, according to perceptive commentators, this ‘age’ has already passed its ‘use by’ date. According to Juan Enriquez, in his book, ‘As the Future Catches You, the ‘future belongs to countries who build empires of the mind’.”

Importance of Observation.

Bruce’s comment: And an antidote might be to return to encouraging focused observation – interesting that some of schools where Silicon Valley parents sent their students to are computer free!

“Drawing is an ideal way to break through habitual ways of thinking. All too often our students see but they do not look. Observational drawing has long been an important means for some teachers to develop deeper consciousness in students – to assist students see through their habitual ways of seeing and to develop new awareness.”

Education Readings April 10th

By Allan Alach

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

This week’s homework!


Sir Ken Robinson: ‘Creative’ with the truth?

This article by Donald Clark may rattle a few cages out there:

“It is difficult to go to any educational conference without being assaulted by the accusation that ‘Creativity’ has been sacrificed on the altar of traditional education and schooling. Robinson’s main thrust is that all children are born ‘creative’ and that school knocks it out of them. I’m not so sure.”

A World at Risk: An Imperative for a Paradigm Shift to Cultivate 21st Century Learners

A lengthy and detailed article by Yong Zhao but don’t let that put you off reading it – this is very good.

“America is not the only nation that has “been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament” in the world. Over the past few decades, many Western democratic and developed nations have engaged in such suicidal educational reforms. Led by the same mistaken assumptions that gave birth to A Nation at Risk, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and others have made or are about to make similar changes in their education systems. These changes, just like the changes the U.S. has made, are simply trying to do the wrong thing more right. They are putting the world at risk.”

Why the conventional wisdom on schooling is all wrong

A very good article by Marion Brady.

“Educators can solve this problem, but there’s no point in their even trying as long as the rich and/or powerful are on their stumps peddling the myth that what ails America’s schools are educators clinging to the status quo and kids with insufficient grit to do what they’re told to do.”

Telling Time with a Broken Clock

“What if standardized test scores aren’t telling us what we think they are telling us? What if the scores are illusions that are giving us false confidence? What if our reliance on standardized testing to judge our schools is like relying on a broken clock for time?”

What If Education Reform Got It All Wrong in the First Place?

A very good question ….

“That’s the conclusion of a growing number of researchers who argue that 30 years of test scores have not measured a decline in public schools, but are rather a metric of the country’s child poverty and the broadening divide of income inequality.”

The Importance of Art in Child Development

A topic close to Bruce’s heart…

‘When kids are encouraged to express themselves and take risks in creating art, they develop a sense of innovation that will be important in their adult lives. “The kind of people society needs to make it move forward are thinking, inventive people who seek new ways and improvements, not people who can only follow directions,” says Kohl. “Art is a way to encourage the process and the experience of thinking and making things better!”’

Robots as teachers?

“…the concept of am instructionally oriented teacher being replaced by a robot like this doesn’t exactly excite me – it’s rather like replacing the traditional paper based exam with an online equivalent and calling it an advance in assessment.”

Standards Based Education is Bad Education Theory

This is a must read article.

“What is the root of the persistent and two millennial old tendency for politicians with minimal knowledge of education creating education standards and mandating testing accountability? It originates in a deep rooted innate and evil desire in humans to control other humans. If we do not fight this tendency, we are doomed to live in an authoritarian society where political elites ensure subservience by controlling education standards enforced by standardized testing.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Pivot Point: At the Crossroads of STEM, STEAM and Arts Integration

Bruce’s comment: A move from STEM to STEAM  a positive shift towards integration. A way of teaching that creative NZ teachers used – and hopeful still do . Maybe the key to unlock the all too often unrealised potential of Modern Learning Environments (MLEs)?

“In addition, there has been a movement over the last few years to change STEM to STEAM — adding the arts to the mix — as a way of further integrating creativity and artistic skills and processes across content areas. But there is also the arts integration approach to education, which teaches the selected content in and through the arts. With so many choices for integrated learning, it can paralyze us with fear of taking the next step.”

Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist; Inventor; Artist.

Bruce’s comment: Anyone want to learn about Leonardo the original STEAM learner – mind you Leonardo didn’t go to school? He home schooled himself through curiosity, observation , drawing and note taking.

4 Tips to Transform Your Learning Space

Bruce’s comment: Some good ideas for transforming libraries.

“Recently, I wrote about the transformation of libraries from archives of resources to active learning commons that encourage exploration, creation, and collaboration. However, in that post, I profiled a number of locations that made significant financial investments in their redesign. Million-dollar learning spaces are often not a reality for most schools. However, that is no reason to abandon the concept of transformation.”

Don’t Become a Teacher, Advises Award-Winner Nancie Atwell

Bruce’s comment: Scary stuff – who would want to be a creative teacher in America.

“An influential language arts teacher who recently won a $1 million international teaching prize has some surprising advice for young people considering joining the profession: Don’t.”

Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous

Bruce’s comment: So much for this STEM education agenda

‘A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy. When unveiling a new edition of the iPad, Steve Jobs explained that “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”’

From Bruce’s “goldie oldie” file:

Educational change and leadership – bottom up!

Bruce’s comment: The principal’s role in creating conditions for teacher creativity rather than conformity.

“Like the class teacher the principal’s role is to ensure such gifts are affirmed and shared with other teachers. The principal’s role is to create the conditions for the expertise of teachers to be shared and to develop an overarching vision and agreed teaching beliefs for all to hold themselves accountable. A with a creative class teacher the principal’s job is to ensure all teachers do not move away from what they have agreed to – that is unless new ideas are developed that need to be included. “

What do good learners do?

Bruce’s comment: What do good learners do ( and this includes principals and teachers). Some attributes of good learners from a book ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity’ in the 60s. Are your students realising such powerful learning habits?

“Good learners seem to know what is relevant to their survival and what is not. They are apt to resent being told that something is ‘good for them to know’, unless, of course, their ‘crap detector’ advises them it is good to know – in which case, they resent being told anyway.”

An idea whose time has come; schools and teachers working together

Bruce’s comment:

The government is proposing an expensive scheme to ‘super’ principals and teachers to work with other schools. A bit ironic because the original intention of Tomorrow’s School was to compete not collaborate . The idea of empowering teachers to share ideas has long been part of educational thinking. The link below has a few suggestions and an idea suggested just before the introduction of self- managing schools.

“As the focus is increasingly on student learning then developing the capacity of teachers as leaders is an imperative. Teacher creativity, not imposed standardisation, is central. Teacher creativity needs to be celebrated, recognised and shared. Principals who can share leadership with their teachers and then with other schools will be seen as the real future leaders.”

Humour in the face of the Horrible

Humour in the Face of the Horrible

The Horrible The English-speaking countries of the world have little-to-no interest in the social and intellectual health of school children. When large-scale, high-stakes issues arise in school systems, their publics prefer to condemn teaching practices, teachers and children’s social circumstances than to examine the full circumstances of an issue with professional integrity. Schooling is such a soft target.

Every decade or so, a ‘Standards’ Meme dominates activities throughout these English-speaking education authorities and is maintained by vested interests of some kind. The link between them is the common English language. The general hoity British public school culture prefers things that way. It’s only kids. Too many other things to worry about, old chap.

Things become quite horrible. Operating under Stockholm and Eichmann induced conditions, the school itself, in some instances becomes the enemy of positive schooling.

Those of us who lived through the last standards meme with its venomous effects and its consequences, can assure you that this one is much more dangerous for those English-speaking countries which are forced to tolerate this sort of controversy. Children’s freedom to learn and to achieve and finding ways of satisfying our country’s need for high-achieving lateral thinkers and doers is never high on the agenda of inter-generational conversation. Knowledge of spelling and tables becomes the main issue of the day. The meme turns into a low-level discourse and maintains itself on its own offal. Who cares about kids heading for an uncertain kind of future, full of inspiring challenges, in a country that just doesn’t care much about where it wants to go, despite programs like Australia’s recent “Challenge of Change – 2015 Intergenerational Report……. for ‘Adults Only’, of course. You can wager that the state of schooling will not get a jersey. Children are not part of anyone’s generational interest. Since this over-bearing 2008 Meme is politically operated, staked by some of the biggest businesses in the world, it does not look like disappearing for some time, even though the cries from the likes of Dr.Karl are very serious. The meme can only disappear when classroom teachers, parents of ‘ordinary’ social-class parents and the older pupils, all now used as pawns, say NO to testing. Then we can ask what we need for our present crop of kids to be “resourceful”.

It will take some time because, in Australian parlance, our now-established, anti-resourceful, unimaginative, pervasive Standards Meme, converted to NAPLAN, is a ‘corker’.

While Australia tries to produce automatic robots at the same naplannic level of mediocrity, Dr. Karl’s TV adverts of the moment, emphasise the crucial need for Australians to be more creative and innovative and diligent !!! Fat chance while NAPLAN exists. Indeed, NAPLAN’s depressing control of a creative, holistic curriculum will certainly make Australia more vulnerable to exploitation than it has ever been.

There is little doubt that the products of English-speaking ‘western’ schools of the world will be the poor ‘cotton-pickers’ of tomorrow’. Sorry Dr.Karl. I reckon you’d agree that we need to start at the beginning. We can’t. The mess is almost too vast for the youngest cohort. Its sterility is becoming entrenched. It requires the kind of resourcefulness that is in short supply.


In the meantime, humour helps people to maintain their spirits. It varies in kind. A former Australian primary school principal, whom many of us knew and whose war experience parallels that of the American hero in the movie “Unbroken”, was made to kneel during an incident at Hell-fire Pass while his guard punched him viciously in the back. It was his birthday and his colleagues, keeping time with the punches, sang “Happy birthday to you”. That’s morbid humour and there are other many kinds. Power humour helps those of us, who love children and are distressed by the sadness of what is happening to them, to cope.

Things are very sick at the moment and those who care about kids need some bright light. .

Power Humour The extraordinary talents of The Bad Ass Teachers’ Association provide support for the wounded school-based victims [classroom teachers and children] of corporate greed and political chicanery in an entertaining way. Who would ever have thought that schooling issues would ever need to use such tactics? Treehorn hopes to supply one or two laughs-a-day or a pithy illustrated comments for those in Australia who are enjoying a well-earned break at this time of the year. Here’s the first…..

[Thanks to BAT]

The Bad Ass Teachers’ Association is an association that is for every teacher
who refuses to accept assessments,tests and evaluations imposed by those
who have contempt for real teaching and learning.


Phil Cullen 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point Australia 2486 07 5524 6443

Education Readings April 3rd

By Allan Alach

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

This week’s homework!


Would you try competency-based education in your class?

“Time is the first element of individualization of learning — or at least it should be. We all have our own ways of processing the information that is thrown at us in formal education. It is foolishness to imagine that all students would take exactly the same time to process things to be learned. This is exactly why I LOVE competency based education: when you are done learning one concept/topic, you can move on.”

There Is No ‘Proper English’: Never mind the grammar scolds. If people say it, it’s the right way to speak.

Interesting article that makes the idea of English ‘standards’ even more unsound.

“The grammatical rules invoked by pedants aren’t real rules of grammar at all. They are, at best, just stylistic conventions: An example would be the use of a double negative (I can’t get no satisfaction). It makes complete grammatical sense, as an intensifier. It’s just a convention that we don’t use double negatives of that form in Standard English.”

The Writing Paradox

“I started looking at the responses of the survey that OUP ran regarding writing in the classroom, the comments from around the world had a similar theme, ‘they don’t even write in their own language’, ‘pace of life is very fast and they don’t have time to write’, ‘writing is a bore’.  This created a curious paradox in my mind.

The written word is becoming more and more important in terms of communication – emails, texts, tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube comments all require writing skills. Yet students don’t see a link between these and what they are doing in class.  So what are the differences?”

Learning in Flocks, Hives and Swarms

In a world of new tools, evolving curriculum expectations and innovative learning strategies, the learning of any single teacher triggers ripple effects that impact the entire learning community. Now more than ever, there is incredible potential for the inspired individual to influence the whole. Using models of group behaviour from the natural world, let’s consider the many ways an individual might participate in and subsequently impact a learning community.”

How to design a primary school where learning has no limits

Interesting article from Cambridge, England.

“Taking inspiration from the book Creating Learning without Limits, based on a Cambridge University project focusing on teaching and learning without ability labelling, Barfield sought to create a school with a strong presence at the centre of its community, and democratic feel within where every voice mattered. The desire to ensure the school had a “heart” led her to the notion of a courtyard, linking the school architecturally to the Cambridge college courts.”

The tip of the iceberg

This article looks at the contrast between public perceptions of teachers, and need for ensuring the best quality teachers work in our classrooms.

“Teaching needs to be seen as a profession not a job so that teachers themselves are responsible for making the best decisions for learning and teaching.

As Finland has demonstrated, minimum academic standards for teaching are just the tip of the iceberg.”

For the Love of Reading: Engaging Students in a Lifelong Pursuit

“Reading will hold little appeal if a student has trouble decoding or has problems with comprehension.

But what if a student is a fluent decoder and generally understands texts that she tackles? What if she just doesn’t often choose to read? What might be done to motivate her, both at school and at home?”

The idea you can put a number against a child’s ability is flawed and dangerous

“This is not about being soft and fluffy. It’s about believing that listening to pupils matters,” she says. “The assumption that you can reliably put a number against what a child is capable of is flawed and dangerous. Potentially, it leads to the individual and the people around them having a very limited set of expectations.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

101 Things I’ve Learned So Far In Teaching

Bruce’s comment: This is a great list to quickly read – what would be your top 10 or 20?

“The title is self-explanatory and the context is fairly clear. Well, actually it probably should’ve been title “101 things I think I think about teaching,” because what I think I think changes almost daily. Here we are nonetheless.”

Fostering Critical Thinking Skills with Online Tools

Bruce’s comment: ICT and thinking skills

“Fostering critical thinking skills is always a challenge in teaching. Educators still honor Bloom’s Taxonomy as the basis of learning. But with that giving way to its revised and updated interpretations, we now have tools that can help in all of the key components of critical thinking skills.”

12 Ways to Teach Critical Thinking Skills

“Here’s a question to critically think about: What exactly are critical thinking skills, anyways? It’s more than just thinking clearly or rationally—it’s about thinking independently.

The idea with critically thinking about something is to formulate your own opinions and draw your own conclusions about it, regardless of outside influence. It’s also about the mental discipline of analysis, and being able to see the connections between ideas.”

Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson

Bruce’s comment: One more to throw into the mix – an interview with Sir Ken Robinson.

‘But creativity isn’t just about coming up with new ideas; some ideas might be completely crazy and impractical. So an essential bit of every creative process is evaluation. If you’re working on a mathematical problem, you’re constantly evaluating it, thinking, “Does that feel right?” If you’re composing a piece on the piano, part of you is listening to what you’re doing and thinking, “Does that work? Is that going in a good direction?”’

 Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best

Bruce’s comment: The importance of the arts as ‘basic’ to school achievement.

‘”Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence,” sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has said. Arts education, on the other hand, does solve problems. Years of research show that it’s closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.’

Nine Dangerous Things You Were Taught In School

And now for something different …

“5. There is a very clear, single path to success.
It’s called college. Everyone can join the top 1% if they do well enough in school and ignore the basic math problem inherent in that idea.”

From Bruce’s oldies but goodies file

Guy Claxton – building learning power.

Bruce’s comment: Guy Claxton, well known to many NZ teachers, provides good advice to engage learners- to help them see ‘the point of school’ ( the title of his excellent book)

“I agreed with Guy Claxton when he said that much of what is seen in many classes makes little impact: thinking styles -we all have our own style; de Bono’s hats – more displayed than used; and mind maps – poorly used. Not that, he said, they all can’t be useful. And all that drinking of water! With much isolated thinking skill teaching their is little evidence of transfer into new situations. Teachers have to help their students develop this facility in new situations; use it or lose it.”

Power through reading!

Bruce’s comment: Literacy is all too often these days is reduced to measuring achievement levels and arguments about the place of such things as phonics when really it is all about empowering learners. It is as much a political act as it is an educational one – in reality it ought to be one and the same thing. Dictators know about the power of reading – that’s why the first thing they do is burn books and hunt down alternative thinkers. Creative teachers see reading as a means to an end – ensuring all students see themselves as meaning hunters.

“In New Zealand, one such pioneer, was Sylvia Ashton Warner who developed her ideas in the 50s. Thankfully there are still some creative teachers who still utilize aspects of her ideas. She called her approach ‘Key Vocabulary’ and started her students reading and writing with words from their own experiences. She saw her young students as having a mind ‘inhabited by instincts; wants, fears, desires and loves, hates and happiness.”

Are you a creative thinker?

Bruce’s comment: Recently I attended a stimulating presentation in my home town by a visiting lecturer whose thesis was the value of the integration of the arts and the sciences. This ‘old’ blog reflected his ideas. Prof Bruce  Sheridan   ( born in our own province) is now the Director of the biggest media centre in the US ( Chicago). His studies showed that brain research shows integration , creativity, making, play and collaboration are vital to develop modern thinkers. That schools do not feature such things is a real concern – they unintentionally mis-educate. More about his ideas to come.

“Schools ought to be about fostering creativity of all students rather than focusing on academic achievement. If they were to foster creativity they would value their students curiosity, passions and talents and to assist them push the boundaries of their own personal discoveries.”

Teachers and professionalism

Teachers and Professionalism

By any measure of professionalism, teaching has to be, far and away, at the top end of the totem pole of the caring professions. Recruits from an academic background, with special knowledge and abilities denied to others, especially a high esoteric mastery of all elements of teaching and learning, they are also conformers to strict self-regulatory codes of conduct, usually members of a learned society that is dedicated to professional development…..and, in particular…… contributing to society’s welfare in large measure, claiming high levels of autonomy of performance, engaging in creative and intellectually enlarging work, and ideologically neutral in the work-place. Although a high standard in maintaining these criteria can be very difficult and demanding, parents can feel very proud of Australian teachers who do,… Sam Pidgeon, below.

If one listens to talk-back radio or attends public meeting that focus on educational topics, however, one will know of the increasing public assault on teacher professionalism and pupil performance which the Australian profession has tolerated since 2008 when corporate power took control of education policy. It’s no coincidence. It’s now a popular pastime . It will increase in exponential proportion to the gimmickry that comes with NAPLAN testing, as we all know, because degradation of teacher performance is an essential part of the Klein design. We knew that from Day 1. Our professional societies knew that. The general public knew that; and have made the most of it. One cannot help but feel that the assault on teachers is actually enjoyed by our testucators, the on-the-job proponents and approvers of NAPLAN testing. .

Our reactions, sadly, are always passive. We don’t resist because it is not in our nature. Despite the enormous damage to the spirit of schooling we remain dumb. We are a placid, compliant group. Some say that timidity is part of our cooperative nature, a teaching requirement; and our school leaders are of little help because they more disposed towards brown-nosing than to ‘sticking-it-where-it-belongs’.

Canadian Cory Steeves, in a telling article concerning the de-professionalizing of teachers suggests that de-professionalization of the teaching force is essential to the corporate attack on public education. The consequence of our mild-mannered interest in the policy of education makes it easy for them.
“If teachers are not involved in the creation of the policy, and yet are held accountable for its results, then clearly this is something that is being done to teachers rather than with them, and thus represents on attack on public education. As Steeves puts it, “I believe that if teachers are not meaningfully influencing policy-level discussions about what constitutes teachers’ work, then public schooling might be seen as under attack, or ‘terrorized’.” Teachers become ‘technocrats,’ objects of policy which is determined by business interests, and are held ‘accountable’ via the surveillance of testing without ever being asked for their input. This ‘accountability’ disperses power through teachers (and their evaluations based on test scores, for instance). The professionalism of teachers, which assumes the ability to make decisions, is thus greatly denigrated. Teachers become the tool for increasing test scores, which Steeves calls ‘accountingization’, rather than professional decision makers concerned with the complexities of educating (not the simplicity of ‘achievement’) the students they are entrusted with.”

If teachers are not involved in the creation of the policy, and yet are held accountable for its results, then clearly this is something that is being done to teachers rather than with them, and this represents on attack on public education.


Steeves turns to E.Wayne Ross to provide a useful description of accountability : “ Accountability is an economic interaction within hierarchical, bureaucratic systems between those who have power and those who don’t. {It is} a means of dispersing power to lower levels of hierarchical systems. Those who receive power are obligated to ‘render an account’ of accomplishing outcomes desired by those in power. … Accountability schemes obfuscate identity of higher authority ; serve the interests of status quo/unequal power relations.”

In other words, corporate interests, particularly school authorities and their others agencies, duck-shove responsibilities for test results on to teachers and pupils who are the victims of policy that usually has weird origins and nation-threatening outcomes. There are no mechanisms for professional examination of the integrity of the innovation, too often borrowed from an alien culture and may have even failed there [e.g Klein’s SBTesting]. In accordance with such political manipulations, blame [aka accountability] has to be accorded to those at the lower end of the system’s hierarchy who quietly acquiesce. “ Yes,” says Ross: “Teachers need to be accountable, BUT to the learners.” There is a major difficulty when teachers do not have a big belief in their own level of professionalism. In such cases, the only ones who lose are the learners. Those teachers who lack professional ethos and personal standards are as threatening to social justice, learnacy achievements and the country’s future as official card-carrying corporate testucators are. We all need to join our classroom peers, like Sam Pidgeon, and recapture our profession.

At the nitty-gritty level, Ms Sam Pidgeon put it clearly in a Queensland Teachers’ Journal article VOL 120 No 2 of the Queensland Teachers’ Journal of 1 March 2015. Sam Pidgeon is Vice-President of QTU and titled her article…

Sam Pidgeon

We need to strike a balance between accountability and transparency and having trust in teachers’ professional autonomy and capacity.

If you are wondering if you are the only person currently experiencing an unprecedented level of supervision, interference and micro-management of your day-to-day work in the classroom, the answer would appear to be an emphatic ‘”no”. If you’re in this position, should you work with your colleagues to reclaim your professional space? The answer is an emphatic ‘yes”!

Whether it’s instructions on when and how subjects will be taught in the classroom or expectations that data will be gathered and recorded so frequently that makes it hard to conceive of when the actual teaching and learning that will lead to improved student outcomes might take place, the anecdotes appear to be consistent across the state. No, it’s not just you. It’s not just your school or your region. And it doesn’t look as though it is going to stop anytime soon.

Technology, education research, curriculum, curriculum support materials and the ever-growing data sets available to us mean that we’ve never before experienced a time when so many people outside of the classroom seem to have an idea about what should be going on inside them. It would seem that gone are the days when teachers were presented with professional learning or exposed to new ideas or strategies and then given time to go back to our classrooms and try things out, to see what fits with our own style and what works best in our context with our students. It’s ironic that in these time of unrelenting focus on differentiation, we find ourselves confronted with the expectation that one-size-fits-all prescriptive approaches will be implemented in the classroom and enforced through regular checks.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on a particular area of pedagogical practice or raising student achievement in an aspect of learning or curriculum. In fact this can work well for students in providing consistency, and can be a powerful way of developing the capacity of the whole staff as they try new things togetr and share their reflections on what worked and what didn’t.

The problem emerges when instead of creating a culture of trust and professionalism in the school, a culture of mistrust, low morale and in some cases fear emerges. Teachers are highly skilled professionals who deserve to be given professional autonomy to go about their work within the context of the school-wide curriculum plan and strategy. When we demand that schoolwide change is undertaken in a culture of respect and trust based on the premise that everyone wants students to do well, we can do great things and sustain them long-term. When schoolwide change is undertaken in an environment that fails to trust teachers and focuses more on making sure we are complying and conforming rather than building understanding and capacity, it is doomed to fail.

This is not a suggestion that teachers should simply be let alone to “get on with it”, but assuming that they are getting on with it, and treating them as trusted professionals by giving them some time and space to try things out, reflect on their effectiveness and plan for what to do next would go a long way to building goodwill and morale.

Phil Cullen 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point Australia 2486 07 5524 6443