Education Readings July 31st

By Allan Alach

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

Making Learning Visible: Doodling Helps Memories Stick

“The practice also makes student learning visible and provides a valuable formative assessment tool. If a student sketches an interesting side note in the lesson, but misses the big themes, that will show up in her drawing. And when students share their drawings with one another, they have the chance to fill in the gaps in their knowledge, and drawings, while discussing the key ideas. Going over the drawings also solidifies the information for students.”

Divide and Rule

Why are we stuck with politicians who think they are education experts?

“A mark of a successful primary school career is, according to the Conservatives, the ability to do long division. As our privately-educated Education Secretary Nicky Morgan explained, long division is at the heart of giving ‘every child the chance to master the basics and succeed in life,’ something that is a ‘fundamental duty’ of government.”

Secret Teacher: Elizabeth is 12 and homework is stealing her childhood

What are we doing to our children?

“I received a phone call from one of my tutees, Elizabeth, at 10pm one night last week. She was crying, panicking about an end-of-year assessment she was due to take the next day. She apologised for calling so late, but said she needed to run through a topic we’d covered a few weeks back – she knew she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep otherwise. She is 12 years old.”

Education: the Next Corporate Frontier

Wake up people.

“Education has profound implications for the economy, for human wellbeing, and for the future of life on this planet. It is about both what and how we teach children. Do we want private investors and corporations to decide that? If not, then those of us in the new economy and environmental movements need to join our voices to those of the education activists and resist further privatization.”

Noam Chomsky: Bubble Tests Yield Meaningless Rankings

“So you’re giving some kind of a rank, but it’s a rank that’s mostly meaningless, and the very ranking itself is harmful. It’s turning us into individuals who devote our lives to achieving a rank, not to doing things that are valuable and important. It’s highly destructive. This is elementary education, so you are trying to train kids this way, and its very harmful. …”

More on My Beef with the Term “Instructional Leader.”

Another Bill Ferriter article:

“Can I push your thinking for a minute?

I’d like to suggest that learning teams — NOT school principals — should be the primary source of instructional leadership in PLCs.  I’d also like to suggest that using titles like “the instructional leader” to describe the role of the principal in a PLC is incongruous with the core principles of professional learning communities.”

Why the Drive to Prepare Students to ‘Compete Globally’ Entirely Misses the Point

Another hard hitting article by Peter Greene about the USA but which is applicable everywhere else.

“We aren’t losing jobs because we can’t “out-innovate, out-educate or out-build” the rest of the world, but because we don’t have enough people willing to work for far less money in far crappier conditions. (Even if we were, you don’t raise people who can out-innovate anyone by forcing students through a one-size-fits-all, test-driven straightjacket of an education program; even China understands that.)”

Can a quick auditory test predict future reading ability?

This article by Stephen Krashen debunks yet another dubious idea. Reading expert Brian Cambourne’s pithy summary: “Another example of absurd research drawing absurd conclusions resulting in what Ken Goodman calls ‘the pedagogy of the absurd’.”

Beware – we can expect non-educators driving education reform to seize upon this as an another reason to test young children.

“The claim has been made that a short, 30 minute test, can predict future reading success. I argue here that this test “that can look in to a child’s (reading) future” (Turner, 2015) only predicts the child’s performance on measures of phonological awareness and other non-reading tasks, not reading comprehension.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Project-Based Learning vs. Problem-Based Learning vs. X-BL

Project based learning and problem based learning – how different are they?

“The term “project learning” derives from the work of John Dewey and dates back to William Kilpatrick, who first used the term in 1918. At BIE, we see project-based learning as a broad category which, as long as there is an extended “project” at the heart of it, could take several forms.”

Special Topic / “Best Practice”—The Enemy of Better Teaching

‘Research and practical experience suggest that focusing on continual improvement of teaching is more effective than imitating best practices.

The term best practice is widely used in education by practitioners, researchers, politicians, and product advocates. “We believe in using best practices.” “Our teachers need more access to best practices.” “Our product is based on best practices.” These claims sound good, except there’s no consensus on what practices are “best.”’

Methods that Matter: Six Structures for Best Practice Classrooms

And in contrast ‘Teaching Best Practices’ – a readings study guide for an excellent book.

“Methods that Matter argues passionately that teaching does matter and that the methods teachers employ not only affect student achievement but also condition the quality of human relationships in the classroom—and beyond.”

Teaching Best Practices – a book in line with creative teaching in contrast to most current ‘best practice’.

Bruce’s latest blog posting:

“This is, as mentioned, a very practical book based around the world of ‘real’ experts – classrooms teachers who develop their programmes around their students experience and expression. For schools who want to develop personalised authentic teaching this is a book that will help them to develop quality learning that will be hard to criticize.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

The learning brain

An oldie, referencing Guy Claxton:

“Although the structure and how the brain works are interesting to learn about what is more important is to consider how we can create the conditions, or the environment, to ensure we develop all the potential that lies within each individual brain. The brain is now seen as a open system that is continually learning, for better or worse, through continual feedback. And, to make teaching challenging, no two brains are alike.”

Do leaders prefer ‘dogs’?

“The dog is usually the first to get lots of affectionate attention. When questioned why, the reply is, ‘the dog is always so happy to see me’, ‘the dog never talks back’.In other words the dog is a ‘suck up’. 

It seems if we aren’t careful we can treat people at work like dogs by rewarding those who heap unthinking admiration upon us. In return people learn to ‘suck up’ to us.”

Too much reliance on ‘experts’ and not enough common sense

Too much reliance on ‘experts’?

“It seems that teachers respect what real people, like themselves, do in classrooms. All too often today’s facilitators are presenting ideas designed by a distant group of ‘experts’ who have long since forgotten the white heat and creative confusion that teaching all too often is. They even imagine teachers would sit down plan how they will teach whatever, and will have time to calmly evaluate it. This is without even considering first, that whatever little bits they are recording, are actually worth the time to do so.”

Together principals can do it

“Principals have been too passive the past decades busying themselves with complying with demands placed on them from those on high. In this process they have become stressed out, not sure what is expected, and this is exacerbated by the Ministry continually adding new requirements.It is time they added their collective voices to the debate and this is easiest done by groups of courageous principals, defining what is important, and sharing it with others. And what they decide ought to focus on the needs of their students and communities and not the whims of politicians.”

Education Readings July 24th

By Allan Alach

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

*I Am Not Tom Brady*

Just when I thought we’d reached peak madness, this arrived. Warning – you’ll need a strong stomach before reading this.

“What kind of message does this send to students? I wondered. That their teachers are so incompetent that they need an ear piece and 3 people sharing a walkie talkie in the corner to tell them what to say?”

How Can Parental Involvement In Schools Improve?

“You don’t have to be an accomplished educator or a Nobel-prize winning economist to understand the benefits of familial engagement in education. Imagine the dollars saved if more families volunteered for projects involving our schools, the benefits of having more people to read, tutor and mentor and the positive long-term economic boost from smarter, more successful students which, in turn, would strengthen public education.”

Kids of Helicopter Parents Are Sputtering Out


“When parents have tended to do the stuff of life for kids—the waking up, the transporting, the reminding about deadlines and obligations, the bill-paying, the question-asking, the decision-making, the responsibility-taking, the talking to strangers, and the confronting of authorities, kids may be in for quite a shock when parents turn them loose in the world of college or work. They will experience setbacks, which will feel to them like failure. Lurking beneath the problem of whatever thing needs to be handled is the student’s inability to differentiate the self from the parent.”

Second-Hand Helicopter Parenting

Following on:

“Parents, I urge you to let your kids create and learn as kids. As hard as it can be to step back and watch it happen, it is SO important to the learning process and as it turns out, to mental health. Kids need to experience safe failures in order to learn that they are resilient. Kids need to see what they alone are capable of. They need to have the opportunity to learn independently. They need to know that they can improve because they want to.”

Philosophy sessions ‘boost primary school results’

This is rather interesting. First link is to a BBC report and the second link is to the official website.

“Weekly philosophy sessions in class can boost primary school pupils’ ability in maths and literacy, a study says.

More than 3,000 nine and 10-year-olds in 48 UK schools took part in hour-long sessions aimed at raising their ability to question, reason and form arguments.”

My wife is a lazy liar

Teachers and their partners will relate to this…

I”t’s the last day of school for my lazy, lying wife. She says teachers still have to go to work, but that can’t be right. Teachers only work when the kids are at school. I wish she would come clean and admit she is not really a teacher.  School starts around 9:00 and dismisses at 3:45.  She leaves the house before seven each morning, and it’s only a fifteen or twenty minute drive to the “school” where she “teaches.” She comes home around six or six-thirty in the evening. Sometimes later. What is she doing with all the extra time?”

What Bill Gates Doesn’t Understand About Education

Marian Brady:

“Mr. Gates, you swing a lot of weight in political circles. If you told policymakers that the current thrust of reform was blocking alternative ways of improving learner performance, and educators should have enough autonomy to explore those alternatives, those of us who have been working on them for decades might have a chance to show what’s possible.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Real Education Still Matters: Exposing the Limits and Myths of ‘Market Forces’ Education.

Bruce’s latest posting, referencing an article by Peter W. Cookson Jr “The rise of instrumentalism in education.”

“Like those imprisoned in Plato’s Cave, learners who do not have the opportunity to experience free inquiry are vulnerable to the one-dimensional images and stereotypes produced by much of the media and publishing world. The learner is hobbled, even crippled, as she or he travels the developmental path of self-discovery and critical consciousness. This disempowering of mind produces tunnel social vision.”

12 Must Read Books on Education for 2015

Twelve must read books on education for 2015.  Worth reading the information about each book to give you a sense of future directions. First in the list is a new book by Sir Ken Robinson. What books are you aware of that could be added to the list?

Design Is Eating The World

The industrial age placed efficiency number one. As Henry Ford, inventor of the assembly line, famously said ‘ you can have your car painted in any colour as long as it is black.’ Today  aesthetic design is an important factor. Would seem to apply to schools as well – a need to move from ‘one size fits’ all standardisation to the personalisation of learning. Schools need to teach and implement design skills.

“Yet our generation’s greatest entrepreneur, Steve Jobs, considered design so important that he cited a calligraphy course as his most important influence.  For him, design wasn’t just a product’s look and feel, but its function. Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen a radical shift toward design as a fundamental source of value.  It used to be that design was a relatively narrow field, but today it’s become central to product performance and everybody needs to be design literate.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

What’s your ‘mental model’ about teaching?

What’s your ‘mind-set’ about teaching?

“Over the years I have become increasingly aware of the different ideas people hold about teaching( in today’s terminology ‘mind-sets’)

It is also obvious that many teachers hold these ‘mind-sets’ unconsciously – it is just the way they have learnt to do things. When asked about the beliefs that underpin their teaching many such teachers find it hard to move beyond platitudes or clichés. And when they can, all too often, their actions do not match their words.”

On Knowing – Jerome Bruner

Wise words from the past – as relevant as ever. This old blog features  ideas about creativity by Jerome Bruner from a little known book of his I picked up years ago called Essays for the Left Hand. It has become one of my favourite books although a number of his essays are a little beyond me. His ideas on creativity are spot on.

“Conditions for creativity require that the learner stand back from reality and to be ‘prepared to take his journey without maps’ driven by a deep need, or passion, to understand something. The ‘wild flood of ideas’ need to be tamed, and in the process, the thing being created takes over and compels the learner to finish. The learner, Bruner writes, is ‘dominated’ to complete the task.”

Developing a democratic curriculum.

The ideas of James Beane:

“Relating back to the ideas of John Dewey he believes that if people are to live democratic lives they must have the opportunity to learn what that way of life means. His ideas are based on the ability of students to participate in their own education. Democratic schools share a child centred approach but their larger goal is to change the undemocratic conditions of school themselves and in turn to reach out to the wider community.”

Robert Fried on Seymour Sarason

Seymour Sarason is seen by educationalist Robert Fried as a ‘cautious radical’ and a pragmatic idealist who staunchly defends classroom teachers in one breathe and scolds them in another for their failure to make schools interesting places for teachers and children. Fried believes we should take him seriously. For sixty years Sarasan has agonized about why our institutions and social systems so rarely succeeded in achieving the visions of those who created them despite the hard work and sincere efforts of all involved. Sarason has relentlessly challenged conventional thinking about why schools seem so resistant to change.  Sarason has interesting ideas about school culture – well worth a read.

Education Readings July 17th

By Allan Alach

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

No Escape: A Brief Examination into the No Excuses Philosophy of Education

Read this nightmarish description of life in a US charter school. Can things get any worse than this?

“Teachers handed out paychecks every Wednesday. The school designed these paychecks to resemble actual pay stubs, making sure every child understood that the end goal of every class was to maximize individual profit. The idea was to familiarize children with the trappings of a capitalist society. Different paycheck totals resulted in various privileges or punishments. Students who struggled to follow rules had to attend Wednesday Extension, a three-hour block of detention spent copying down the school’s code of conduct by hand.”

John Dewey on the True Purpose of Education and How to Harness the Power of Our Natural Curiosity

This article is a complete contrast to the previous nightmare. Where are the John Deweys of today? Where are the educational visionaries?

“John Dewey, one of the most influential minds of the twentieth century, distills the purpose and ideals of education with remarkable clarity and conviction. The enactment of these ideals today would produce nothing less than a radical, sorely needed transformation of our broken education system.”

Is the American School System Damaging Our Kids?

An article by Peter Gray that is applicable in many countries.

“Schools as we know them today are a product of history, not of research. The blueprint for them was developed during the Protestant Reformation, when schools were created to teach children to read the Bible, to believe Scripture without questioning it, and to obey authority figures without questioning them. When schools were taken over by the state, made compulsory, and directed toward secular ends, the basic structure and methods of teaching remained unchanged. Subsequent attempts at reform have failed because they haven’t altered the basic blueprint.”

What’s the Real Purpose of Classroom Management?

Another Alfie Kohn gem:

“Thus, control, and the disproportionate focus on “managing” classrooms, should be understood as an issue in its own right rather than just as something intended to facilitate academic instruction. That recognition, in turn, makes it possible to consider that the ideal isn’t just less control but an affirmative promotion of students’ autonomy — a concerted commitment to support their status as deciders, active learners, and members of a democratic community.”

What are You Doing to Encourage Curiosity in Your TEACHERS?

Bill Ferriter:

“Why would teachers who are rarely encouraged to take intellectual risks make intellectual risk-taking a priority in their classrooms?  How can we expect teachers who spend their careers learning to follow paths created by others to design learning experiences that facilitate multiple paths to mastery?”

What Stealing Cookies Teaches Us About Young Children and Empathy

This is an interesting article.

“Toddlers can throw their fair share of tantrums, especially when you don’t yield to their will. But by age 3, it turns out, the little rug rats actually have a burgeoning sense of fairness and are inclined to right a wrong.”

How to thank teachers in tough schools? Government answer: punish them

The teacher/school bashing in England gathers pace… ‘coasting schools’…

“We’re voting with our feet, and schools are struggling to recruit staff as a result. With fewer people chasing positions as the number of teachers entering the profession falls rapidly, “coasting schools” will find it even harder to fill posts.”

True pedagogy

Another Steve Wheeler article:

“In its absolute form, pedagogy is not just about teaching. It does not simply concern itself with the ‘delivery’ of education or content. In the truest sense, teaching is just one element of pedagogy and not the entire story. Pedagogy focuses on the learner and what they are capable of achieving.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher

‘Recent technological advances have affected many areas of our lives: the way we communicate, collaborate, learn, and, of course, teach. Along with that, those advances necessitated an expansion of our vocabulary, producing definitions such as digital natives, digital immigrants, and, the topic of this post — “21st-century teacher.”’

Creativity in the Classroom

“One of the things that I hear teachers worrying about is the disappearance of creativity in the curriculum. More and more districts are ramping up the standardized exams to prepare students for the bigger standardized exams they will take later in the year. The beauty of creativity is slowly being phased out and replaced by worksheets. Standardized tests are a reality where I teach, but I still find creativity time for my students. I feel that it helps strengthen their other skills and is needed to develop well-rounded people. Here are some things that can add a creative spark into your class and still prepare them for those exams.”

7 Tenets of Creative Thinking

“In school, we learn about geniuses and their ideas, but how did they get those ideas? What are the mental processes, attitudes, work habits, behaviours, and beliefs that enable creative geniuses to view the same things as the rest of us, yet see something different? The following are seven principles that creativity expert Michael Michalko has learnt during his lifetime of work in the field of creative thinking — things that I wish I’d been taught as a student.”

National testing of primary school students is political not educational

A distressed mother writes a letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron:

“There’s a part of me that barely has the energy to write this. To ask you why you insist on putting 10 and 11 year olds through a system that takes nothing of child development or good pedagogy in to account, or why you put relentless pressure on schools to up their expectations, so what was once seen as good progress is suddenly a failure. But why bother? Why bore you with analogies of weighing pigs that nobody fed? You won’t listen to highly qualified education experts, or even people who, you know, actually teach. So I’m under no illusion that you will listen to me.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Reclaiming the lost art of pedagogy

Back to John Dewey.

“The conservative nature of schools makes changing teaching practice difficult. New ideas are also opposed by even more conservative parents and the media. The impossible curriculum and accountability demands, that have been placed on teachers the past decades, have diverted teachers from placing an emphasis on pedagogy.”

Creative teaching

The creative mindset of pioneer NZ creative teacher Elwyn Richardson

 “‘Normal’ teaching, Elwyn believes, results in a loose commitment to teacher tasks and, as a result, many students develop a low level of achievement and personal satisfaction. A ‘good’ classroom should develop in students a personal commitment to their learning.”

What’s your ‘mental model’ about teaching?

The battle of educational mindsets! Where you stand?

“It is important for teachers and schools to be able to articulate what they believe so that they can provide consistent learning for their students. There are two basic ‘mindsets’ to consider, each with extreme versions, and all too often they are either seen to be in conflict with each other, or teachers unconsciously ‘pick and mix’.”

Tapping the wisdom of people.

“Change is often imposed pushed on an organisation by ‘leaders’ who either haven’t the time to involve everyone, or believe that such an involvement isn’t worth the time and effort, or, worse still, because those in charge know best.James Surowiecki in his book ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ writes that it is only by tapping the ‘wisdom of crowds’ that real change is possible.”

Education Readings July 10th

By Allan Alach

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

This week’s homework!

What Started Treehorn?

This article by former Queensland Director of Primary Education Phil Cullen should be a must read for all primary teachers all over.

“Justice for kids is  not on anyone’s  agenda. “We ‘Care For Kids’” is expressed more often with tongue in cheek.  Expressions about children’s learning has been replaced by plenty of talk about about test results;  and it hurts as  you wonder if the kind of former great people who once ran our schools, have been replaced by others, who, wonderful people though they are, seem to have lost the plot and now work hard for a sad purpose.  It hurts because one believes in the enormous dignity and importance of primary schooling and there are now too many operatives who don’t seem to care.”

Over-focus on exams causing mental health problems and self-harm among pupils, study finds

Contributed by Phil Cullen:

‘“Parents confide that the children cry at the thought of coming to school and are often exhausted due to the stress of learning,” one anonymous primary school teacher who took part in a survey said.’

Why Math?

“Why math? Why math class? Because math class can be the place where students discuss the most important and thought-provoking questions that face us as a species.”

Discursive or recursive? The fractal nature of education

Thought provoking article by Steve Wheeler:

“… much of our education systems are fractal in nature. Education is delivered recursively, where students are required to reproduce knowledge that is already known. It’s a safe approach to education, and learning can be easily measured. Those that become teachers continue this tradition, teaching their own students the same knowledge, in more or less the same style they were themselves taught. Assessment of learning also has fractal features. Standardised testing is based on reproducing knowledge.”

National curriculum is damaging children’s creative writing, say authors

This is an inevitable outcome of teaching by standards; equating to paint by numbers “art.”

‘If you look at the national curriculum descriptions, they are picking up on something that happens to children’s writing as it develops – vocabulary becomes more complex, and sentence structure becomes more complex, so in that sense there is nothing necessarily wrong with what they’re saying. The problem comes when you try to turn that into a marking scheme, which says you get more marks for an unusual word than a usual word, or a sentence with a subclause rather than one without.”’

Are primary schools teaching un-creative writing?

On the same theme:

“The very essence of writing is that it is an expressive and personal outlet, so should we really be limiting it at all? Some argue that a child’s creativity is stimulated by the exploration of advanced vocabulary, but there really is a difference in being allowed to delve into the world of fancy words, and being forced to use them.”

The Trouble with Rubrics

Alfie Kohn:

“My growing doubts about rubrics in particular were prompted by the assumptions on which this technique rested and also the criteria by which they (and assessment itself) were typically judged.  These doubts were stoked not only by murmurs of dissent I heard from thoughtful educators but by the case made for this technique by its enthusiastic proponents.  For example, I read in one article that “rubrics make assessing student work quick and efficient, and they help teachers to justify to parents and others the grades that they assign to students.” To which the only appropriate response is: Uh-oh.”

Lessons that Matter: What should we learn from Asia’s school systems?

Yong Zhao:

“The lessons from Asian education systems do not relate to what helped them achieve their high scores on international comparative tests, but to the efforts they have engaged in over the past few decades to transform their educational practices. These efforts are often mistaken for policies and practices designed to produce the high academic performances indicated by international tests, while in reality they are intended to create a different kind of education, an education deemed necessary for cultivating citizens in the twenty-first century.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Old school or new? Math teachers debate best methods as Canadian scores fall

Old way or new way?If maths scores are falling what’s the answer?

“Don’t get math teachers started on best teaching practices.The discussions are emotional, heated and they don’t agree on much – except that Canadian kids are falling behind their peers in other countries, and there’s no clear solution.There are generally two camps: those in favour of the old-school method to lecture kids with a “drill-and-kill” format that preaches practice, and another, ever-growing group that believes a more creative approach is needed to engage students.” 

Which approach develops positive attitudes towards maths?

The Stereotypes That Distort How Americans Teach and Learn Math

If there is one subject badly taught it is maths!!! Jo Boaler – teaching maths in an active way is the answer

“I have spent years conducting research on students who study mathematics through different teaching approaches—in England and in the U.S.  All of my research studies have shown that when mathematics is opened up and broader math is taught—math that includes problem solving, reasoning, representing ideas in multiple forms, and question asking—students perform at higher levels.”

100 Percent Is Overrated

Making mistakes in maths in style – growth mindsets count! More from Jo Boaler.

“Boaler notes that at least a small part of the forebrain called the thalamus can appreciably grow after periods of the sort of cognitive stimulation involved in mistake-making. What matters for improving performance is that a person is challenged, which requires a mindset that is receptive to being challenged—if not actively seeking out challenge and failure. And that may be the most important thing a teacher can impart.”

What Do We Do When Students Don’t Like School

“How do we respond to students who don’t want to come to school?  I’ve seen many different responses to such a question.  “It’s the parents’ fault,” “The child just doesn’t want to learn,” “There is a personality conflict with the teacher,” “Kids in the class are mean”.    Excuses don’t help the child want to come back to school.  In fact, it makes it harder.  Instead we should think of what we are currently doing that is not working.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Putting the heart back into teaching

“Learning is about relationships. Relationships with content and with people who help us acquire it. It is about having mind changing experiences that tap into our desire to make meaning and express what we know.To be attracted to an area of learning relates to what attracts our attention and whether or not we want to put in the energy in to learn more. Curiosity is at the basis of all learning.”

Learning styles

A common sense approach:

“Developing a ‘personalised learning’ approach, tailoring learning to the needs of each students ( as against the ‘one size fits all’), is not as easy as it sounds. In the real world, outside of school, people make use of whatever ways of learning that do the job. For many such people academic school learning is of little use to them.  It does seem their are four learning styles available for teachers to make use of in their classrooms to cater for all students.”

The killing of creativity by the technocrats.

The killing of creativity by John Hattie and similar educational technocrats and accountants.

“Just because John Hattie has amalgamated every piece of ‘school effectiveness’ research available ( mainly it seems from the USA) his findings seems to be taken for read. The opposite ought to be the case – we need to be very wary of such so called ‘meta research.’. More worrying however is that the approaches he is peddling is pushing into the background the home grown innovative creative learning centred philosophy that was once an important element in many classrooms.”

Time for some heresy?

A need for some heretical thoughts in education

If we want to develop 21st C education systems then we will have no choice but to re-imagine education dramatically. We need to implement some heretical alternative thoughts to transform current systems with their genesis in an industrial age an age well past its use by date. Strangely enough none of the idea being considered are new it is just that few school have put them all together. School are inherently conservative and some schools seem impervious to change. Those that transform themselves will be leading the way; the others will remain, like dinosaurs, relics of past thinking. Increasingly students, with access to powerful information technology will simply bi-pass schools that do not have the capability to transform themselves.”

What Started Treehorn?

I’ve always shared beliefs with fair-dinkum schoolies, whose concern for the rights of the likes of Treehorn is serious.  Treehorn is Everychild.

We  believe

1.       …..that there is good in every child no matter how slow, damaged, ill-favoured or despised by others;

2.       …. that children will work to the limit of their abilities no matter how high or low that might be;

3.       ….. that all children matter;

4.       ….. that happy relationships between school administrators, parents, teachers and pupils are all important;

5.       ….. that the life of the child is enriched by the development of its creative powers

6.       ….. that love and encouragement and having fun at school  are far more productive than fear and punishment;

7.       …..that  children need care-based pupilling rather than fear-based hard instruction;

8.       ….. that teachers need as much support as pupils, and thrive on recognition.

Since the 1990s, such beliefs have not been not widely shared.  It would appear that the yen for testing has claimed the attitudes of the majority and that schooling is now akin to the ‘processing of oranges’ [Lorraine Wilson].

So, some years ago, I adopted Treehorn Everychild to express my own feelings and some wonderful, wonderful true-blue educators have joined me by sharing that sort of spreading of the  good word on behalf of the ignored.  Treehorn, the product of the imagination of writer, Florence Heidi Parry, was a little boy with a big problem. Nobody he knew, took any notice.  He showed us how little we adults care about kids at school.  Out of sight, out of mind.  He is in every classroom and we ignore his discomfort.

At times it now seems like a forlorn crusade, having to fight for so long for justice for kids.  Justice for kids is  not on anyone’s  agenda. “We ‘Care For Kids’” is expressed more often with tongue in cheek.  Expressions about children’s learning has been replaced by plenty of talk about about test results;  and it hurts as  you wonder if the kind of former great people who once ran our schools, have been replaced by others, who, wonderful people though they are, seem to have lost the plot and now work hard for a sad purpose.  It hurts because one believes in the enormous dignity and importance of primary schooling and there are now too many operatives who don’t seem to care.

[One major principals’ organisation actually dropped the word ‘primary’ from its title and has never sought to reinstate it. The reasons  were pedestrian and, by doing so, did nothing to enhance the nobility of its existence.]

We all were once so proud of primary schooling’s uniqueness [] because we knew what it stood for….

  • Primary schools introduce a country’s populations to its culture; to its rituals, conventions and rules. They provide the real foundations for a country’s future. Neglect primary pupils and you neglect your country’s future. Teach them how to learn and you will enrich your country beyond any normal expectations.
  • Each primary-teacher undertakes a parent-surrogate role with a large number of children for a full school day for at least a full school year, with few if any breaks.
  • Parents trust primary teachers more than they do most other people. They start to let go of their children’s hand at the primary school gate at an early age.
  • Primary teaching, because of its enormous range of curriculum requirements, is more intellectually demanding than any other kind of teaching and extremely demanding of personal creativity.
  •  It calls for a mega-counselling ability that is more diverse than other carer provides. Statistics indicate that over one-third of an average class has suffered a serious trauma of some kind in their young life. 1 in 3 –domestic violence; 1-4 sexual violence; 1-10 is poor ; and the teacher is the only adult with whom one-third of the class has spoken during the previous 24 hours. Most pupils itch for some kind of loving consideration during the course of each day. Most need it. Which ones?
  • Each teacher must cope with seven major areas of required curriculum learnings and other imposed kinds as well,  while catching up for  the enforced delays imposed on time tables during the first few months every second year..
  • Each teacher, because of the variety of curriculum demands, must adjust teaching styles from their repertoire to cater for the intricacies of the subject in hand, the setting, the resources available, and, in particular, the idiosyncratic  learning styles of each learner. It is an extraordinarily complex task.

It is seldom recognised that

[a] the routines of each school day in such active learning centres are physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding. By comparison, lecturing to a group of fifty adults is so easy, but through extraordinary social circumstances, a university professor receives a higher salary than a Year 3 teacher for lecturing fees;

[b] each primary teacher has a closer, friendlier and more productive linkage with its clientele than most business institutions and yet corporate managers and leaders receive much higher remuneration;

[c] primary teachers serve children in the most remote places imaginable….far from home, friends, interests, favoured pursuits, recreational interests and geographical comfort. No other professional occupation serves the public in places so remote. Children and parents live there by choice. A primary teacher performs a public service that few others bother to appreciate.

If we do not teach our pupils how to learn, the kind of material that we stuff into them  in the lead-up to NAPLAN Testing will be useless.

The public needs to talk to generate some serious discussion about the value of these sorts of things;  and query why ignorant, arrogant, suspicious politicians imposed such extraordinarily  immature and nasty classroom requirements on a profession that serves its country better than any other group does. Despite the fact that some new curriculum material is of social benefit [e.g.. Appreciation of Domestic Violence] does anybody ever ask ‘What does it replace?”  What did NAPLAN test-prep replace?

That this unique profession of primary teaching in Australia succumbed meekly to heavy-handed, time-wasting, anti-child processes in 2008 was a real shocker.  I had always believed that its care-for-kids ethics were stronger than that. All that any representative group of fair dinkum, professional primary teachers needed to have said, at the time, was : ”Lie down you nasty pollie. You cannot expect us to abuse our kids like that. You are trying to destroy our professional ethics by expecting us to be subversive in the way we treat parents, with whom we are normally open and honest; and to create fear and distress for their young children who just want to learn as much as they can according to their abilities.” 

This  2008 “Big Brother” command that NAPLAN must be used to repair the fictitious decline in standards, was the first public indication of a misguided,  embedded,  authoritarian Australian culture for the new millennium. School teachers’ professional ideals are so easily captured. They were the first targets. They comply easily. Others are following.

Orwellian as this social condition is, I’m often tempted to join the timid and compliant….and just quit. It’s an easy way out of social justice responsibilities. But, it’s too hard.  I can’t. Our children and our future are too important. I’m a primary teacher. Aussie kids deserve only the best, not this second-hand New York crap.

Primary teacher, Bill Brown, has suggested to me that my value-ridden outbursts of the liberal/democratic kind, are very lonely. Democratic values are in short supply. The norm that guides the teaching/learning ethic has been lowered and it requires serious discussion about such basic democratic norms if redress is to be achieved. Bill Brown repeats that much more than mere ‘talk’ is needed. The issue requires very serious discussion. Totalitarian control mechanisms of the Gillard-Pyne kind have had their time. But!  There will be no such redress until the need is expressed at the ballot box.

The first move has been made in the Labor ranks that now provides a chance for reasonable people to discuss the school-world of children and their parents….

the first democratic expression of public goodwill towards kids and their parents in seven years.

If Mr. Abbott had proposed this sort of  liberalising, democratic thing …. telling the full truth to parents, it would be a ten-flag event. 

 Maybe he can autocratically  trump Labor and banish all stress-based tests forthwith?

But there are super-confused levels of pupilism [how children learn] caused by school- inexperience at his adviser and decision-making levels. Data-miners with minimal classroom hands-on experience run the show and only know how to test. They believe in number magic…that failure in test performance motivates children to do better. This suits the purpose of the greedy as there is big money in data-mining.

In 2008 there was a large toxic Monarch butterfly that flapped its wings in New York and produced a cyclonic maelstrom in the South Pacific!  Data mining, big time, started.

We now need a larger, more attractive, energising butterfly to create  adequate sensitivity to the need for a large-scale political awakening. Although they hold a superior position, the spin put out by ACARA and by ‘experts’ like the Hatties of this world needs to be debunked.   Bill Brown suggests that we need to heed the advice of folk like Buckminster Fuller when he advised that we should not struggle to change a problematic model, but create a new one that makes the old one obsolete. What do you think?

 Care to try?

Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue   Banora Point Australia 2486   07 55246443   0407865999

Education Readings July 3rd

By Allan Alach

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

This week’s homework!

Teachers Work Harder

This article has a New Zealand flavour, written as a result of an incident where a 15 year old girl criticised the quality of her secondary school education and which upset her teacher. The observations made in this article are applicable all over.

“The immense responsibility of guiding the learning of twenty children is not borne lightly, and leads to the ridiculous hours, the tearful breakdowns and the cancelled social life plans because maybe, if you get a little more done, you’ll feel a little better about having a life and taking some time for yourself. If that seems over the top, even illogical, then you’re right. It is. But that doesn’t stop every teacher, wherever they are, having a mental list of all of the things that they have not yet done and still need to do. A list which is continually added to, due to the evolutionary nature of managing the learning needs of twenty or more children.”

Is It Time to Give Up on Computers in Schools?

This is a very provocative article, that, in my opinion, has a lot of truth (and I’m a keen user of technologies!). The problem isn’t the technology; its the underlying ideology that has moved the role of computers a long way from Seymour Papert’s vision.

“Little by little the subversive features of the computer were eroded away: … the computer was now used to reinforce School’s ways. What had started as a subversive instrument of change was neutralized by the system and converted into an instrument of consolidation.”

How to privatise the education system, without people noticing – a step by step guide

This article is about England; however you’ll see the pattern.

“If you have a particular ideological axe to grind, and you want to make things tougher for the socially and economically deprived areas of the country, abolish any data system that compares children’s progress with the progress made by children in schools in similar circumstances (a “contextual” approach) and insist on a system that ignores any such external factors.”

We do everything to escape the rat race. Then we inflict it on our kids.

“At the school gates there’s no bigger topic of conversation than the pressure-cooker nature of it all; the way homework starts aged five, the endless cycle of tests and mocks and exams, the fear that instead of getting children excited about learning we’re funnelling stuff into them like little foie gras goslings.”

The importance of surprise when conducting authentic research

“There should be surprise, delight or even discomfort as one explores.

True inquiry involves discovery. The task at hand should awaken curiosity and take the student on an adventure. Mere topical research requires little more than gathering and is often sleep inducing. It is up to the teacher to frame research projects around questions of import and tasks that require fresh thinking, problem-solving and imagination.”

Secret Teacher: we are too quick to label children who aren’t perfect

If everyone spent less time fretting about the many ways in which our children aren’t perfect and perceiving their natural variations as a defect in need of special treatment, our jobs would be much easier. The more we pander to it, the worse it seems to get: my school’s list of children’s individual needs gets longer every term, and we now have a slot in the weekly staff meeting to help us keep abreast of them all. Of course we need to enable all children to succeed, but part of that is teaching them to embrace their differences and adapt to different situations.”

Aspirational parents condemn their children to a desperate, joyless life

Not purely educational but very relevant all the same.

“In the cause of self-advancement, we are urged to sacrifice our leisure, our pleasures and our time with partners and children, to climb over the bodies of our rivals and to set ourselves against the common interests of humankind. And then? We discover that we have achieved no greater satisfaction than that with which we began.”

The bait and switch of school “reform”: Behind the new corporate agenda for education lurks the old politics of profit and self-interest.

“… those most aggressively trying to privatize public schools and focus education around standardized tests just “happen to be” Wall Streeters — as if that’s merely a random, inconsequential coincidence. Somehow, we are to assume that these same Wall Streeters who make millions off of “parasitic” investment schemes to leech public institutions for private profit couldn’t have ulterior motives when it comes to public schools.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Parents, Stop Hovering: ‘Risky’ Play May Have Benefits for Kids

An article for ‘helicopter’ and ‘snowplough’ parents (those who always want to smooth the way for their children), and for schools who have to deal with them.

“There was a time when parents sent their kids outside to play, with the instruction to ‘”just be home by dinner.” Times have changed, however, and worries over children’s safety — whether it’s being injured, or harmed by a stranger — have led to kids having more structured activities, and less “free play.”But there is such a thing as too much caution, experts say.”

Everything I Learned in Business, I Learned From My Kids

Twelve slides to show how our children can help us learn.

“Children,whether they are ours or those of friends or relatives or complete strangers, have valuable lessons to teach us about the way we go about our personal and professional lives. From collaborating creatively to creating strengths from each others differences to the art of simple listening. Children  have helped us discover a new way of working. We should keep these lessons in mind as we interact with others, seek resolutions to challenges, and try to be our best selves in and out of the workplace.”

In DPS imaginarium, room to experiment for students and teachers

Creating conditions for teachers to be creative and then sharing successful ideas with other schools. Seems like a plan.

“Once an idea — which might be as small as a classroom strategy or as big as a new school design — is developed, the ‘imaginarium’ team runs through a series of piloting and reflection exercises. The team then presents a case to district leadership about whether that project should be scaled up.”

5 new realities in education

The future isn’t about developing knowledge or skills it’s about learning

“‘Knowledge’ isn’t the word any longer. ‘Skills’ is no longer the term. ‘Learning’ is the word,” Richardson said, noting that the jobs of tomorrow will require serial mastery. “If our kids don’t have the ability to learn, it really doesn’t matter how much knowledge we give them.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Back to the future?

Mark Twain once said that he could live for a month on one compliment so it was great to receive an e-mail, from a student teacher from Glasgow University in 2008 who said, after reading a  newsletter I wrote in 2002, that it ‘completely changed my view of education and teaching.’ I couldn’t resist re-reading what I had written in 2002 and was pleasantly surprised to see how relevant what I had written is to today’s (2015) challenges.

Providing opportunities to develop students passions and interests.

I have always liked the quote from Jerome Bruner that, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.’ Students are innately curious and if they have developed a range of interests they will do almost anything to learn more about, or get better at it.The New Zealand Curriculum asks teachers to see their students as active ‘seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge’. Achieving this will provide a real challenge to many school. Our identity is closely linked to what we are good at doing, or the interests  we have, and so it makes sense to expose students to a range of experiences that provide opportunities to develop, uncover, or amplify, their interests.

A vision of Schooling

Wise words from an earlier era that need to be revisited – the thoughts of ‘Aussie’ Phil Cullen:

“Phil Cullen a highly respected Australian educator and former Director of Primary Education Queensland 1975- 1988. He is critical of the direction education has taken and believes in a system that has faith in the creativity of teachers. He is very concerned about such imposition as national testing. Maybe it is time for back to the future?”


“Phil worries that throughout the western world education has been placed in the hands of ‘know it alls’ with university degrees and with little practical experience. And all too often primary education is placed in the hands of people whose lack of knowledge of primary teaching is staggering.”

Joyful Learning

What is the purpose of learning. What dispositions do we want to cultivate? ‘Is joy mentioned in any list’? Joy is not to be equated with simply having fun but seen as being gained as the result of doing something personally satisfying.Eleven essentials to put more joy into learning are outlined – do they apply to your school/class?

“If principals can help teachers find joy in their work, and help their teachers strive to ‘own their own teaching’ the teachers can enter their rooms every morning enthusiastic to help their students experience joy in their learning.”