Category Archives: educational philosophy
A few months ago I floated the idea to my Year 7/8 class making a submission to the Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy being run by the New Zealand parliament’s education and science select committee.*
The project seemed like a great way to give my students an insight into how laws and policies are developed in New Zealand with the added bonus that the children would be able to give the committee some expert advice on digital learning from a perspective often absent from educational policy-making; that of the student.
The class banded together to make a video submission on the topic which I posted to the class blog. As I was about to submit their project, I asked my class if they would be interested in making a verbal submission. They were excited about the idea so I let the committee know the students wanted to appear. The project then got put on the back burner for a few months while we waited to hear if and when the students would be able to speak to the committee.
At the start of this term I received an email inviting my class to speak at parliament in front of the committee. Like most submitters the class had 5 minutes in front of the committee to have their say and would be asked questions about their submission. Deep down mild panic set in. What on earth was I thinking to ask for a spot for my 11 and 12 year old students to present to Members of Parliament?
The simple answer is a deep belief in the power of participatory democracy. I didn’t want my students to just read about parliament and draw a flag of a fictional country, I wanted them to appreciate that each of us has not only a right but a duty to participate in our democracy. In short, I wanted them to learn how to make a difference.
In order to select their representatives, the students of my class drew up a series of selection criteria and invited interested candidates to give a speech on why they thought they would be a good representative. Nearly a third of the class made presentations. Their classmates gave grades on each candidate’s public speaking skills, the ability answer questions well, overall contribution to the video submission, manage their time effectively and cope under pressure.
As I watched the process unfold, I was amazed at how the students had decided to assess each other. While our education system frequently tests for content knowledge, my learners were more interested in the qualities of their representatives. Communicating, managing time, the students were assessing competencies rather than content. Yet why is it our educational system is more obsessed with content?
Once the class selected their representatives, work began in earnest. I began calling in people from my own learning network to help. Teachers at newly built schools generously gave up their time to talk learning spaces with the children while another classroom talked about their school’s 1:1 laptop programme. The student submitters were very fortunate to get a prominent Wellington lobbyist to sit with them for over half and hour giving them advice on appearing before a committee. The students then wrote their speeches, a media release and practised answering mock questions during our classroom literacy block.
A prominent Wellington blogger who connected the students and I with the lobbyist featured the project on his blog. What started as a small project in a suburban Wellington intermediate was starting to go mainstream. By Monday morning the project had been picked up by the Waikato Times and the students put together a media release to get broader coverage. The stakes were getting higher and the submitter’s first practice run of the presentation in front of the class did not go well.
Fortunately the group took on their classmates’ criticisms and by Wednesday morning were as ready as they were ever going to be. And so I took four 12 year old students and their camera person to parliament to make a submission in front of 10 members of the country’s elected representatives.
Talk about an authentic audience.
In a room of cameras, microphones and a large number of adults each child’s contribution was nothing short of spectacular. One of the family members who accompanied us to parliament remarked that the students were funny and articulate but they still acted like 12 year olds. Which is perhaps the best compliment they could give me as a teacher.
At times it is a fine line to be walked between authentic student inquiry and an adult taking over student learning. In short I wanted each student to bring their best selves to the committee and leave knowing that their perspectives were important. Because more than anything, the students’ submissions were quietly telling a story of how technology in education is changing our learners’ lives.
Whether it be managing a learning disability, coping with the tyranny of distance or even starting up business. The students wanted their representatives to know that schools should be fun places where kids want to go learn.
It is a testament to New Zealand democracy that a group of 12 year olds can rock up to their House of Representatives and be treated with respect and dignity. There are far too many places in the world where this isn’t the case. Our Members of Parliament sometimes get a bit of a bad reputation for mudslinging and bad behaviour but that day the committee members were attentive and asked perceptive questions of the students. The MPs showed my students democracy at its very best: inclusive, empathetic and empowering.
For me as an educator this experience has demonstrated the power of connections. It never ceases to amaze how generous New Zealanders both inside and outside the educational community are with their knowledge. A huge heartfelt thanks goes out to all the members of my Personal Learning Community who helped my class succeed in their project. It was fantastic to see family members at the committee supporting their children and the local Member of Parliament gave the students a tour of parliament to top off the day.
The project has been hard work yet the pay off in student learning have been immense.
What started out as a class project on cyber-citizenship has moved well beyond the confines of our classroom into other schools, national newspapers, radio and even onto national TV. The experience has made me wonder how can students use their education to benefit our society? Might there be other real-world problems that students can use their talents to help solve.
There are some downers from the experience.
Time limitations, both mine as a teacher and the committee’s, excluded the whole class from being involved in the final submission. As I mentioned week, last my class is waaaaaaaay behind on our must-dos. But that’s the thing with authentic learning, it’s messy, timelines often blur and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t unbelievably exhausting. However it was also one of the most of exciting experiences I’ve had in my life. I am sure the lessons from that day will leave an impact for many years to come and not just for the teacher.
As the students boarded the train out of the city one of them remarked, “That was fun. When can we make another submission?”
*For those readers overseas, a select committee is a committee made up of members of the New Zealand parliament who give advice on particular subjects of interest.
A hearty round of applause for @HORansome philosopher, currently completing a PhD on the epistemology of Conspiracy Theories, and a most excellent afternoon drinking compadre from my first university experience for his sublime organisation of the 2nd #twecon.
For those not in the know, #twecon is a conference in which anyone with a twitter account can present their ideas. Topics are highly varied however the rules of #twecon are very strict.
I can be a bit wordy at times so found the 840 characters a harsh word limit, but that was an important learning process as this paper went through numerous iterations.
In the spirit of brevity I hereby present my paper to the 2nd #twecon
My paper resulted in some discussions about whether the provision of education is linked to parents ability to contribute to the labour market, who the knowledge repositories within our society should be in this new paradigm and whether our perceptions of teachers, good, bad and indifferent is based on sampling errors.
Some of this discussion came from other #tweconers while some came from my twitter followers an interesting example of different spheres interacting with each other.
If you are looking for an example of education 2.0 this would be it. People coming together in the digital space and learning from each other. Very fluid and definitely driven by user content.
The only regret of this format is that there are no conference drinks afterwards. So instead I raise my glass to (the soon to be) Dr Dentith.
Over the last week or so I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about cooperative learning, mostly because it’s a topic that will come up in my models and strategies exam tomorrow. But also as a result of Wednesday’s #edchat on technology in the classroom.
When I was out on Teaching Experience I was relieving for a class where the students composing mihimihi (an introduction in Maori). I noticed that a number of students put down an English name for a local waterway. I knew that there would likely be a Maori name for the area, but like my students had no idea what that name might be. So the question became how do we find out this information? One student hopped on google and eventually found our answer.
This little incident shows how technology has changed the art of teaching forever.
In the last 15 years or so we’ve gone from information scarcity where students needed to go to school to get the information because that’s where the information was; in the teachers’ heads and the books in the libraries, to information overload. In a modern classroom the teacher is no longer the master of knowledge, we aren’t there to fill our students heads with facts and figures because the students can get that information likely from someone far more knowledgeable than us in seconds from a computer or, even better, they contact a person who would be able to help them.
But if teachers are no longer the knowledge master what is their purpose in the classroom?
As a student teacher I often found myself terrified that at some point the students were going to figure out that there were times when I had no idea what I was doing and call me on it or my content knowledge, as in the case of the Te Reo example, was lacking to help them. Had I failed them?
It depends on your point of view. If as I was a teacher I saw myself in the role of a knowledge master, then I had definitely struck out. However as a lead learner, being open to new ideas and having a student teach me perhaps not . Being a lead learner requires a huge change in mindset from what we experienced as students in the classroom, what popular culture tells us makes a good teacher and even what is considered best practice by some now, teachers standing up the front dispensing knowledge to their class.
What would be my principles of implementing the teacher as lead learner in a classroom?
Teaching is about learning
Being a teacher in the 21st century means being open to learn from anyone at any time, including their students. Teachers are informed by their own learning, they seek out new ideas and people to challenge their existing practice.
Why is as important as how and what
In age where answers can be found on in micro seconds and there are people who can do the how better, good teachers put the why at the forefront of their classroom planning. How is your teaching adding meaning to their students lives? How are you helping them make sense of the world?
Teachers are skilled relationship managers
Teacher know when they need to step back and let the learners take control of learning. They get that the power of the internet isn’t in technology itself, it’s in the ability to make new relationships and construct new knowledge. They include as many people as possible in their students’ learning both inside and outside of the classroom.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 3. a:
“Graduating teachers have an understanding of the complex influences that personal, social, and cultural factors may have on teachers and learners.”
Officially I spent Friday night planning for my upcoming weeks of teaching. Unofficially I (along with 2 billion others) tuned in to watch William and Kate say I do. But aside from gasping at the pretty dresses, what does this have to do with education?
The minute the first hymn piped up, I travelled back in time to my own primary school.
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer. We sung this hymn at school. Most of us mumbled, or at the very least had little idea of what it was we were actually singing about. But twenty (!) something years on, the years were immediately erased upon hearing it. Likewise, apparently the lyrics of Jerusalem are now on my brain after singing it regularly through weekly school church services.
Now chances are you can guess that by the religious overtones and dorky uniform, I did not attend a state primary school but a private one. But the royal wedding did make me pause and reflect on how context influences education.
As a child I had no idea why I was singing songs about not sleeping until Jerusalem was built in England’s green and pleasant land, it was just something we did when we went to church service. Now to its credit, my school was open to the idea about the possibility of there being more than one faith. We went off to a Jewish school and synagogue to learn about Judaism and a mosque to learn about Islam, something that put the school ahead of its time.
However there was one rather large elephant in the closet, the country outside of the school walls wasn’t England. Nevertheless I studied French rather than Te Reo Maori and as a child I could tell you the names of the Kings and Queens of England but wouldn’t be able to name the Prime Ministers of New Zealand (even since World War II) until I went to university. I was probably the last gasp of New Zealand school children who learned more about England than about New Zealand thanks in small part to the Maori renaissance.
What is knowledge and who gets to decide?
If you are part of a dominant societal group, chances are you haven’t given that question much thought. The people you study at school probably look like you, the names are easily recognizable (not to mention pronounceable) and the works we study are undoubtedly familiar. However if you happen to be part of another group the education system seems a little more foreign and at times irrelevant. That is until you happen to be watching a royal wedding…
New Zealand is a small place. So when one part of our waka shakes, we all feel in some way feel it. This week my heart hurts for the people we already know who have perished in the earthquake in Christchurch and the other souls currently missing. Like most people I feel a bit useless to do anything other than give some money to the Red Cross and send good thoughts to the people who will face untold difficulties in the weeks and months ahead.
Of slightly less significance is the news that I officially survived the first paper with a very good, but not great, pass. I also spent the bulk of this week unplugged from the world at a residency run by my university. This is the longest have I gone without internet since my week-long sojourn into North Korea (yes THAT Korea) in 2008 so was in serious internet withdrawal by the end of the week.
However the benefits of going offline was that I was finally able to put some faces to the names of the fellow students on my course. To say that I was impressed by the diverse make up of the student body would be an understatement. I had assumed that freshly-minted graduates would make up the bulk of the students on the course. However the majority of students were like me: people who had been in the workforce for a number of years or even decades and were taking on a second (or even third) career who happen to be scattered all over the country. I have special admiration for the large number of parents taking the course, especially the ones with babies and young children, who are juggling family and life commitments along with a hugely challenging course. Alongside seeing some awesome teachers in action, one of the most useful parts of the residency were the conversations with fellow students. These conversations made me realize that the fears and anxieties about exam performance, assignments and our looming teaching experience are actually quite common amongst the student body.
However I was staggered by the breadth of knowledge areas that primary teachers have to build up teaching expertise in. Alongside English and math (which cover the traditional three Rs) we also have to become proficient teachers of social science, the arts (Drama, Dance, Music and Visual Arts), health and physical education, science, language learning and technology.
I am exhausted just writing the list.
I was a bit disappointed that my beloved ICT and e-learning did not get a look in however I could see how I could use it in other parts of the curriculum.
I know there is a view that schools are wasting time doing ‘frivolous’ things like the arts when they should be spending time on core learning areas like reading and math. I have trouble following the logic that if we spend time teaching kids music and movement, it is at the expense of their learning in hard subjects. I realize that time is a finite quantity however effective teaching in areas like PE and Social studies can inform other areas of the subject areas of the curriculum. We can’t expect kids to develop writing skills if they don’t have rich experiences to write about.
My favourite workshop of the residency was the dance teacher who modeled a lesson which would get kids moving, laughing and learning some literacy along the way. Playing rugby is an application of math and physics just as much as brut physical power. Dan Carter knows that if he’s kicking into the wind, he needs to put some extra force behind the ball to get it where it needs to go. Likewise music, social studies and technology all have the potential to reinforce the ‘core skills’ when the subjects are taught well.
But even if there weren’t educational benefits from the ‘soft’ areas of the curriculum there is a far more important reason to embrace a love of areas outside science and the 3 Rs. Our kids lives would be awfully bleak if they spent all day at school strapped to their seats quietly learning their ABCs and 123s. Their lives are enriched by running, jumping, making music and creating bits of art. Actually adults lives are also improved by doing these things too.
Speaking of which, I need to go to bed because I’ve got an early stand up paddle boarding class out on the harbour tomorrow
Graduating Teacher Standard 2.b
“Graduating teachers have knowledge of a range of relevant theories, principles and purposes of assessment and evaluation.”
In the last week or so newsmedia sites were awash with stories that a prominent Auckland boys’ secondary school has directed its year 11 students to sit for the University of Cambridge’s international exams instead of the local national qualification the National Certificate in Educational Achievement(NCEA).
According to the school’s principal, the rational for the school’s decision is that boys learning styles are better suited to the end-of-year exam offered by the Cambridge qualification, rather than the internal-assessment-focused NCEA. In the same article the principal has said that the school would still be offering the NCEA to the academically ‘weaker’ students at his school, a comment which made me reflexively flinch. Surely he is not inferring that girls are academically weaker because they excel in the NCEA?
Certainly recent data backs up the Principal’s contention that girls perform better than boys in the NCEA. Interestingly the NCEA has seen an increase in students from poorer schools gaining formal qualifications.
Proponents of the NCEA argue that due to its reliance on internal assessment, the qualification gives a more accurate picture of student achievement because their work is assessed throughout the year rather than a 3 hour high-stakes exam. Moreover more students are leaving school with qualifications which is a vast improvement from the days when half the students sitting School Certificate (level 1 of the NCEA) were destined to fail before they had even cracked the spine of their examination booklets.
Detractors argue that the NCEA is not challenging enough for academically able students and that credits are too easy to gain in non-academic subjects. They also argue that the lack of external exams means that qualification is unreliable, as results are determined by classroom teachers which make school-on-school comparisons meaningless. Finally they argue that internal assessment is more open to academic plagiarism, as students are able source ready-made assignments from the internet.
Who is right?
To answer that question brings up a whole bunch of other questions. Why do we assess students at the end of their formal schooling? What is it we are supposed to be assessing? And most importantly who gets to decide who passes?
So why do we formally assess students at the end of their schooling career? On the face of it qualifications are a way for our society to document what skills and knowledge an individual has gained during their schooling career. For instance at the end of this year (all going well), I will get a piece of paper saying from my university saying they think I have enough knowledge and skills to be let loose in a classroom of kids. Because my university is recognized by the government and schools as being an authority on such matters, someone should hopefully employ me to do such work.
Likewise when the education system deems a student to have reached a certain level of literacy and numeracy at the end of school, it gives the student a qualification. The system might also recognize students’ knowledge in specialist subject areas like art, technology and music.
What is not being talked about in the newspaper articles but is implicit in our education system is the idea of rationing. School qualifications aren’t just about telling the world in paper form who can read, write and do multiplication. They are also used as a way to ration access to other parts of the education system and also to the employment market.
To move from secondary school onto tertiary study, the government and the institutions themselves say that you need to have reached a certain level of competency to be able to study there. However some courses and institutions find themselves with far more applicants than they have places for. In the absence of a sorting hat, institutions need a way of picking students to admit. This is when the purpose of the end of secondary school assessment changes. While some institutions might decide to draw names out of a hat or admit students who live within a qualified students within a certain geographic area, in general administrators want to admit the best students of the group. How do they find them? Often by school qualifications which are now being used to not see what skills and knowledge a student has, but how well students do in comparison to others.
Which is what makes answering the second two questions, what is valid knowledge and who gets to decide who possesses knowledge, a lot more difficult. Everyone seems to agree that they believe in excellence in education, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the education system who advocates average schooling or mediocre tertiary institutions. Harvard, Princeton, Yale and other members of Ivy League leagues are held up as world leaders in the field of tertiary education, the best and brightest students in the world are studying there. Yet in the not so recent past they engineered their admissions policies to deny access to Jewish students. More recently some Asian-American students have claimed that they are denied admission to elite American universities due to racial preferences in the admissions process. Across the Atlantic Ocean one black student was admitted to Oxford during the last academic year. One student, not one percent, that’s one as in a single student. Closer to home there has been ongoing concern that Maori and Pasifika students are underrepresented in New Zealand universities.
Clearly the context of what constitutes academic excellence matters.
This post is already far longer that I initially intended so I’ll get back to the NCEA conundrum.
Although there were subjects that were either partially or fully internally assessed under the old system, the NCEA represented a major shift in who has the power to assess knowledge. Broadly speaking we’ve moved from a system of external markers and scaling being the final arbitrators in determining who passes and who fails to classroom teachers having far more clout to determine student achievement irregardless of what effects their decision might have on the national bell curve. Moreover one of the key reasons for the introduction of the NCEA to increase the types of knowledge and skills that were formally recognized by the system with no segregation between academic and vocational subjects. The introduction of the NCEA has resulted in more people determining more types of knowledge valid which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But in the context of rationing resources it is what makes education such a politically charged topic.
What constitutes knowledge and who gets decide who has it?