Wednesday, 28 March 2018

What you measure - distorts and affects

With the concern over Cambridge Analytica's use of Facebook to profile and influence voters in many counties, closer scrutiny is being rightfully given to all aspects of data measurement and the effect this can have, both intended and unintended, internet or otherwise.
A good post by Ignatia de Waard draws four lessons from the CA/FB debacle, and drew my attention to a criticism of the OECD's PISA tests. Although this piece is concerned with correlations and how it seems to be used "successfully" in the recent profiling and even given as proof by the OECD, the truth is what you concentrate on, measure, report, and then - crucially - compare with other countries (or country divisions), this profoundly distorts and affects in the pursuit of short term fix-its.
The criticism (The Guardian: OECD and Pisa tests are damaging education worldwide - academics) dates from May 2014 but is, none-the-less, a very useful list of the pitfalls of these tests. Four paragraphs were of particular note:

  • As an organisation of economic development, OECD is naturally biased in favour of the economic role of public [state] schools. But preparing young men and women for gainful employment is not the only, and not even the main goal of public education, which has to prepare students for participation in democratic self-government, moral action and a life of personal development, growth and wellbeing.
  • Unlike United Nations (UN) organisations such as UNESCO or UNICEF that have clear and legitimate mandates to improve education and the lives of children around the world, OECD has no such mandate. Nor are there, at present, mechanisms of effective democratic participation in its education decision-making process.
  • To carry out Pisa and a host of follow-up services, OECD has embraced "public-private partnerships" and entered into alliances with multi-national for-profit companies, which stand to gain financially from any deficits—real or perceived—unearthed by Pisa. Some of these companies provide educational services to American schools and school districts on a massive, for-profit basis, while also pursuing plans to develop for-profit elementary education in Africa, where OECD is now planning to introduce the Pisa programme.
  • Finally, and most importantly: the new Pisa regime, with its continuous cycle of global testing, harms our children and impoverishes our classrooms, as it inevitably involves more and longer batteries of multiple-choice testing, more scripted "vendor"-made lessons, and less autonomy for teachers. In this way Pisa has further increased the already high stress level in schools, which endangers the wellbeing of students and teachers.

Monday, 28 August 2017

New school year starting - a message for teachers....

The vacations are almost over and the new school year is starting - at least in Northern Hemisphere calendar schools. Those outside of education have little understanding of what teachers have to do to prepare for a new school year.
It requires great effort, it is an exciting time, yet can also feel daunting.
But know this. What teachers do is the most important job in the world - causing learning to occur in the newer generations. Not just "brain" learning, but "heart" learning too. How to get along with others, how to build good habits, how to learn in the future... and much more.
Here are two messages to inspire you, to show your worth and to recognise the supreme act of faith, the sacrifice that teachers make.
The first comes from Bak Fun Wong who I had the privilege to work with on a school visit recently:
"Anyone can see the seeds in an apple, 
but teachers can see the apples in a seed".
Here is his version in Chinese characters:

And the second comes from the ESSARP 2017 conference I have attended in Buenos Aires (which had the theme Learning with Mind and Heart), putting together a statement from Sir John Jones' great presentation about how teachers are weavers of magic:
"Teaching is a supreme act of faith - you will never sit under that tree", and I add "nor will you eat its fruit".
But rest assured, you will make a fantastic difference in the most important job in the world.
Good luck with the preparations - good luck with changing the lives of your students for ever, weave that magic and never stop learning.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Open laptops in lecture halls - a distraction? Of course...

Another piece of research has come out, confirming the obvious. Open laptops in lecture halls are a distraction - multiple choice tests of those with and those without laptops demonstrate those without do better. This is not an argument to stop the research - it is just that the same result will be obtained unless the pedagogy changes and the outcomes being sought are appropriate for the (type of) learners.
The obvious aspect to state is the distraction one - the old pedagogy of lecture, no matter how entertaining the lecture might be, will be no match for the social media back channel.
But Alex Reid also makes this really good point in his article: Laptops, Classrooms, and Matters of Electrate Concern. "Students in digital media-cognitive ecologies have different capacities than those students who preceded them. Those capacities are not a delimited list; they will shift depending on the particular network of actors in which they operate. (...) As we might say, pedagogy shapes and is shaped by learning technologies. (...) Furthermore, we will need to help students learn how to shape such ecologies for themselves to facilitate their own learning, work, and life".
What are these capacities? What alternatives are there to lecture-delivered information, understanding, skills, and concepts to match those capacities?
In a school setting (as opposed to a university lecture hall one), how can we make use of these emerging capacities? How can students and teachers learn together to shape these ecologies so as to facilitate learning?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

No grades on reports - a difficult transition?

Having no grades on student reports is an initiative that many schools are contemplating or are actually in the process of doing, but it is not without difficulty-  and carrying your community with you depends on good communication and explanation.

This video is Nossal High School's presentation to parents - an excellent explanation and model of how it should be done. The move to a new report was based on their own review of  the previous report system and, importantly, on research. While the actual format of the report is perhaps uniquely appropriate to this school, the clear and personable way that this has been done is an excellent example of what schools should aim for:

This is also helpful, Dylan Wiliam on Communicating Student Achievement to Parents from the ACER Research Conference:

Dylan Wiliam Interview - Designing the Future from ACER on Vimeo.

And finally, an article from Teacher entitled "Does A to E grading show individual growth and progress?" in which Geoff Masters, CEO of the Australian Council for Educational Research is interviewed by Jo Earp.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Productive Failure and Inspiring Learning - providing affordances

Is there evidence that "instruction" is not the best way of having learning occur? The traditional teach and test method seems rational, but is it how we learn? Does acquiring learning in this way inhibit a richer learning?

A post in Quartz pointed me to a paper by Manu Kapur and June Lee on Productive Failure (Designing for Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving - National Institute of Education, Singapore; 2013). The researchers wanted to compare providing complex problems without scaffolds with traditional lecture and practice:

"...seventh-grade mathematics students from intact classes experienced one of two conditions: a) productive failure, where students solved complex, ill-structured problems on average speed without any instructional support or scaffolds up until a teacher-led consolidation, or b) traditional lecture and practice. Despite seemingly failing in their collective and individual problem-solving efforts, students from the productive failure condition significantly outperformed their counterparts from the other two conditions on both the well-structured and higher-order application problems on the post-test. The second study, conducted in another school with significantly lower academic ability students, replicated the findings of the first study. Findings and implications of productive failure for theory, design of learning, and future research are discussed."

This does remind me of the very open "Investigations" approach to learning in Mathematics and the current "Inquiry" approaches of the IB Primary Years and Middle Years Programmes.

The paper describes how students learning by Productive Failure (PL) outperformed the ones by Lecture and Practice (LP). But what is even more interesting is that the PF approach did not shut off other ways of thinking or structuring problems whilst the LP way cemented one way. The WAY of learning enabled opportunities, affordances, to a more complete set of methods and ways of thinking (representations).
From the conclusion:
"...but the process of exploring the problem and solution spaces for representations and methods for solving the problem may have engendered sufficient knowledge differentiation that prepared them to better discern and understand those very concepts, representation, and methods when presented in a well-assembled, structured form during the consolidation lecture (Marton, 2007; Schwartz & Bransford, 1998). Furthermore, it is plausible that having explored various representations and methods for solving the complex ill-structured problems, they perhaps better understood the affordances of the representations and methods when delivered by the teacher during the consolidation lecture. In other words, when the teacher explained the “canonical” representations and methods for solving the problem, they perhaps better understood not only why the canonical representations and methods work but also the reasons why the non-canonical ones—the ones they tried—did not work."

Does this apply to "older" students too? Stephen Downes' latest talk on "Learning through practice" has the following slide (#17):

Here, Downes places practice firmly before content under the "Personal Learning" approach. It is the affordances again, that enriches the learning achieved by this approach. Although his slides are about cMOOCs, they are worth reviewing since they take learning into the more adult sphere.
Having gone through several cMOOCs (including the whopper #change11 which really changed how I thought about this process) I can see the connections between Kapur's Productive Failure and Downes' Personal Learning. Inspiring.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

"Learning" vs "Instruction"

I am concerned about using the word "instruction" to describe the setting for teaching and learning. It seems so one directional.
If you are to "instruct" you must carefully define what it is you are going to instruct and pass the instruction on in some way. The WAY that learning takes place is crucial for determining the success of the learning (open to receiving the learning in the first place, latched on to existing knowledge, using it, recalling it later, ...). Too often it is seen as transmission and one-directional.
Two separate thought-joggers about this from today's blog trawl:
1. "Learning based on INQUIRY rather than AQUIRY" - Nigel Gardner's title for his LinkedIn post sharing "It takes a village to raise a SOLE" (Self-Organised Learner).
2. It's the way you do it: Karl M Kapp's SlideShare presentation "Don't Think Like an Instructional Designer - Think Like a Game Designer".
Really worth a look at - how to keep excitement and learning alive in the classroom.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Learning Styles - a debunked but pervasive myth

Cathy Moore's "How to respond to Learning Style believers" is a useful summary of the main arguments surrounding the Learning Styles myth. She links to Tesia Marshik's TEDx talk, which I prefer (PREFER) as a first source of information about this. Marshik points to how we may differ in our abilities to recall our sensory memories, but she makes the point that most of what we learn is stored in terms of meaning, not in terms of raw memory. She provides a great chess player example and makes the point that we should reflect critically and not just accept the generally held view about Learning Styles.
However, I preferred (PREFERRED) to listen to Marshik's video, glancing at the odd slide she presented. She told it as a story (could that be why we like TED Talks so much?).
However, Moore's blog page with links and a well thought out written piece is more useful for researching and unpacking the issues.
All this does not mean that we should use one teaching style! Nor that we have just one type of learner in front of us in the class! Creating rich learning environments is what good practice is about, including being aware of what some preferences might be, but creating resources to accommodate different "learning styles" is just a waste of time.