Monday, 19 August 2013

What is Success?

When I look at the beautiful, diverse, differently gifted students I have sitting in my classroom, I often hold in tension different definitions of success. We tend to celebrate and applaud and hold in high regard those students who stand out from the crowd in some way...whether this be academic, sporting, performing arts or service. This is encouraging to those students, it can be inspirational to others (although is sometimes a source of pain) and is very much part of life and part of our culture...but in my heart of hearts I really want to call some other kids "up on stage" too...or maybe I want to call up on stage the same students but for different reasons...

A definition of success I heard once was that "success is not so much what you achieve but what you overcome". What appears to be a normal and average life or a standard achievement may actually be an outstanding success if we put a different lens on. For the student suffering from depression, to arrive at school, dressed, fed, and on time, with some of the things they need for their day is an incredible success. What about the student who has younger siblings to take care of because they are from a single parent home where mum works long hours...for them to have their basic homework done is a huge success. What about the student who hates running but chooses to participate in cross country anyway- their success at coming in in an average time may be greater than the person who came first.

What about the celebration of a balanced life? Do we celebrate the perfect project handed in that took until 3am to complete with many tears and to the neglect of other important work? Or do we celebrate the self-discipline to end off in time with a good night's sleep so that we can still play our soccer match the next day and bake the cake we had promised Grandma? If we celebrate these "normal" successes, perhaps we will be nurturing the qualities we actually long to see more of in our adult balance, perseverance. time management, a healthy ability to say no. The lure of accolades is strong...

Are we setting kids up for failure when we say to them that they will be "world changers" and that they will "make a difference". I feel challenged to continue, of course, to celebrate the "stand out " successes but to open my eyes more and more to celebrating the hidden successes.

 The normal life lived well is actually extraordinary. The normal life well lived is going to make a difference.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

How do we encourage and develop creativity and innovation?

I recently was reading an article that referred to the difference between letting computers do stuff to children (feed them curricula) and having children create something by doing stuff to computers (programming). (Have a look at  This got me thinking about how current educational trends steer us away from content delivery and I was wondering what the impact of that might be on students. The students who, in my experience, actually "do stuff to computers" tend to be the ones who have invited/responded to their pre-defined curricula (in maths and science largely), who have let computers (or humans) "do stuff to them". I am interested in both...I think the emphasis on creation and innovation is great but I think it is even greater with an emphasis alongside it on knowing information and processes (particularly referring to the basic information and processes in maths and science that can easily be transmitted in an interesting way)

The growing resistance we seem to see  to direct teaching (instructional -knower to learner) is a concern to me. There is a strong emphasis in education today on students driving their own learning which I embrace but I am not sure we all mean the same thing. Does this mean that content should not be delivered/transmitted? Here's an example: It is assumed that it would be preferable for a student to "discover" that multiplication is actually repetitive addition by stumbling upon that concept in a carefully constructed exercise/game as opposed to it being taught this directly with a few good explanations/diagrams etc.... Indeed- first prize in education would be for the child to want to know what is similar about multiplication and addition and devise a question that leads them to investigate that concept and make the discovery for themselves. In my experience, however, students who are fed more information, ideas, and concepts at a younger age, who are taught stuff directly about the world and know both facts and processes at a young age, these are the ones who tend to ask questions about the content they have been given and these are the ones who are well-equipped to create. Discovering concepts takes time, sometimes this is truly worth it, sometimes it is a waste of time...sometimes a child can swiftly be taught a number of concepts and processes that give them the "stuff" which which to think and create at a deeper level instead of having creative capacity and curiosity in a vacuum.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Is fear of being labelled Luddite holding you back?

The Internet has undoubtedly enhanced our thinking and even deepened it in many ways. The question I have is this...are we so enamoured with technology that we are blinded by love? Are we failing to ask some of the critical questions about our embracing of the use of devices linked to the Internet because of a fear of being labelled Luddite? I have had people say interesting things to me in response to my questions about the risk of losing deep thinking, the risk of training distracted minds...people have said it is brave to ask questions like this. Why brave? Surely being brave indicates there is some fear to overcome? What do people fear? 
Well, there are a few reasons people question the use of devices in the classroom...and some of those reasons are because they don't really want to change, because they like the way things have always been, they believe what we have been doing works just fine etc...I would imagine most of us agree that that motivation to stall progress needs to be challenged. However, it is dangerous to put all objections into the same box-the Luddite box. 
Some are asking these questions because they are critically evaluating the potential impact of their actions and decisions on young minds in our care as educators. 
I sense there is a fear that if we ask these uncomfortable questions we might stall progress. Well maybe it is worth pausing or even stalling a little just to ask a question like.... What are these 'purpose built distraction devices' doing to our young childrens' brains (studies in neuroplasticity)? 
I believe it is irresponsible as an educator to experiment with reckless abandon. We all know that in ground breaking stuff there isn't always research to draw on, we don't have the benefit of hindsight so we are somewhat limited....but there is actually heaps of research out there waving the caution flags. Adoption of digital learning without robust discussion about what research is already saying about the dangers is similar to the person who blindly accepts their religious beliefs  and ignores the questions they have about it pretending they will go away when really, asking them would grow them . 

Are we like a 2 year old at a birthday party eating lollies and thinking this is the best thing we have ever eaten in our life? We need to ask questions, face the research head on, make critical decisions about boundaries with the Internet for ourselves and for our students. Device use and the internet is a baby still. We need to ' grow the Internet up'  and not vice versa. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Is student centred learning best?

Just before returning to face a new term, I thought I would reflect on why I do what I do as an educator.  Whether in the 21st century or the 1st century, some things remain constant. As a Christian educator, what draws me back into the classroom each term, why I get a warm feeling when a student says they missed me, why I get excited about completing our maths lesson that was left hanging at the end of term, is because of an age old concept -some call it mentoring. I just love the aspect of my job that draws me into a mentoring role with my students, where they know I am available for advice and guidance, to point them in a helpful direction, or in true 21st century learning help them find their own direction... the last in that list, however, I only move towards when I am pretty confident they will end up on the right track owning a good decision.  It may seem so last century to use phrases like right track and good decision. Maybe it would be more appropriate to say the right track for them or a helpful/practical decision....but I do actually believe in a moral objective truth and also in objective truths about the physical and intellectual worlds. Encouraging students to construct and co-construct and globally collaboratively construct their own versions of truth and knowledge could possibly be somewhat reckless without a strong moral compass and without active mentorship. I believe in active questioning, I believe in students owning their learning and owning their faith should they choose to have one, but I am not sure if I believe in jumping into a pedagogical river that flows towards an entirely student centred learning experience.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Standardised testing - should it be abandoned?

When we provide an array of alternative methods for students to be assessed, we believe we are doing a good thing. We are veering away from the archaic standardised 'one size fits all' approach and are providing students with the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a way that works well for them. This makes them comfortable in the learning process and increases motivation. 

This seems like a great idea, a pedagocically justifiable idea, to be encouraged. I have just been  wondering about the pendulum swinging too far from traditional assessment techniques. Of course it is great to have a variety of ways for students to be assessed and we should embrace those so as to provide choice but don't we also need to find ways to motivate them to do the things that are necessary but that they don't like doing? tests? Learning is not always comfortable and we as teachers want to make it comfortable so students gain confidence and increase motivation, however, it can be particularly uncomfortable for a student if he/she is unprepared for the pressure of written exams in secondary school if they have been provided too much opportunity to opt out of that style of assessment. Too much is probably the key phrase...are we chucking the proverbial baby out with the bath water? 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Are we becoming so connected, we are becoming disconnected?

This is a fascinating look at the effects of social media. Sherry Turkle makes the comment that the internet is in its infancy. We need to 'grow it up' I sometimes feel like we are eating the internet lollies, we are like kids at a party and are starting to realise that we need to eat meat and veg too and we need to stop eating sometimes.