About Thinks

Sometimes good thinks happen and sometimes bad thinks happen. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two.

Some thinks need immediate action and some thinks may remain as thinks forever. Thinks can be angry and heated. Thinks can be joyful. Thinks should never be cold.

These thinks are linked to many other wonderful thinks and I like to attribute these.

These thinks do not necessary reflect those thinks of my employer.

Think long, think on.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Don't forget to pack extra socks...

Gear-lists for school camp never cease to amaze me. They are wonderful magical things.  I remember, last year at Amesbury, that it was the school camp Gear List that got parents in droves to the hub blog. We used the Gear List as a shared writing activity and the students co-created it with the teachers and then we published it on the blog.

This year I decided to take it a step further and have the students create their own personalised gear lists. I'd been fielding emails for about a week for "when would I  be handing out the gear list and many day-to-day requests from the students:
"When are we getting our gear lists?"
"Mum wants to know what I need to take on camp."

One afternoon I walked into class with a pristine pile of photocopying and made the announcement that today was the day they could take home their gear list. And I handed out this:

It was greeted with indignant looks of
"Are you kidding me?!"
And I heard one of the more intuitive members of the class mumble to his friends,
"Oh god, she's gonna make us think..."

On the wall I placed some additional information, for example:

  • We are away for 4 nights and 5 days
  • We will be doing activities such as abseiling, swimming, walking and go-carting
  • The beds only have a mattress
  • We will all be living together so please ensure you and your teeth are clean (okay, I admit that I loaded that one)

Some of them got straight to it and knew exactly how to deal with this situation. Others just looked at me in disbelief.  One of the boys asked me why I was doing this.  I explained that not everyone will need the same things. I showed him a gear list from another school and pointed out that not all children would have two woolen jerseys and that I did not want their families to feel like they had to buy everything on the list.

The next day one of the boys came to me rather upset and said that his mother had told him that it was illegal if i didn't provide him with a 'proper' gear list.

To ensure that I hadn't taken things a step too far, I dedicated a session to checking our gear lists and making sure that everyone was feeling okay.  I even showed them the other school's gear list so that they could add anything that they may have forgotten.  Interestingly it became a great exercise in critical thinking as they poo-pooed some of the items on the other list stating that their lists were far superior.

I could tell though that it was still killing some of them inside and that they really wanted to be provided with a 'proper typed' list.  One morning I came into the class and found one of the boys (who was very disturbed by the gear-list process) writing on the wall chart:

Don't forget to pack extra socks...

Probably a very good point.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Making our learning accessible

We've been pondering for a while how to share our learning and insights that we have gained while conducting our sabbatical research. How do we share the amazing conversations that we have had with all the teachers, students, and principals that we have talked to across the county (spanning Invercargill to Kaitaia) and the amazing people we had the pleasure of meeting in the UK?

We have considered and played around with essays, formal reports, wikis, and websites but came increasingly concerned that they were boring (or worse still) would not read by our target audience (parents, teachers and students). We have started this series in the hope that they are bite sized and easily digestable.

They take ages to make but I am sure that we will get better as we learn more about the program we are using. Here is Episode One - The Introduction. Coming soon: Episode Two - 10 things we hate about standardised assessment and Episode Three - 20 things you can do to Marginalise the National Standards (and not your students).

Friday, September 27, 2013

Because I am dumb

This term I have been trialling different assessment tasks based on a different definition of success. The definition was to 'manage self' and 'manage projects'.

Instead of being measured by running records, and other traditional tests, students were measured on whether or not they got day-to-day things done (in a 'flexi-time environment) and if their projects were completed by a deadline. 

A new group of 'high achievers' emerged as well as a new group of 'low achievers'. Generally my high achieving test takers were shocking project and self managers. Conversely the traditional low achieves created very successful projects and were good self managers.

Yesterday I gave the students a self-reflection survey. I predicted that the new 'high achievers' would finally have their moment to shine and that they would bask in their new found success. 

What I found, however, was that they rated themselves very low in all areas of self and project management.

When I asked one why it was she rated herself so low, she answered very matter of fact:
"Because I am dumb"
Amazing the effect 8 years of narrow testing has on our kids ...

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Last week at school we had a real-life illustrator (Margaret Tolland) in and she did a cool thing with the kids called "drawing warm-ups".

She did this by showing different slides of native birds and challenged the students to 'blind draw' (not looking at their paper).  Every 30 seconds the slide would change.  They did about 10 of them before they even stated thinking about their art work. The pay-off and focus time was impressive.

Doing a drawing warm-up
When I got home I told Jo about it and we thought it would be cool to have warm-ups for all curriculum areas. Often schools have things called maths warm-ups, but they are not quite the same. We started thinking about writing.

Using the same rapid fire format we came up with this that we will try out on Monday.

Obviously this is in the very beginning stages.  We'd love to have people contribute any other writing warm-up suggestions and any other ways we could do warm-ups in other curriculum areas.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Making the curriculum accessible to students

As a part of our assessment research Jo and I have been looking at our wonderfully broad curriculum.

As you are probably aware, there is so much more to Literacy than just Reading and Writing.  In fact, Reading and Writing take up only 1/3 of the English curriculum.  We believe that we cannot gloss over the importance of the other 2/3s Speaking, Presenting, Viewing and Listening.

Many of our students are brilliant film makers (and consumers) and do not realise that making meaning from this medium is a valued skill .  This could be because they are often only assessed (and their parents and government formally reported to) on their abilities to do with written language.

Why do we value reading over listening?

We wondered if we gave students access to all aspects of the English Curriculum could they then learn about and create 'texts' in other ways?

The act of child-speaking the curriculum ourselves turned out to be great PD. Our next step is to share what we have done with our students, you, and your students and get multiple insights and meanings.

This will not stop with English. The technology curriculum is our next target.

There is nothing in the National Standards literature that says schools have to use commercial narrow testing,  Therefore there is nothing stopping us bringing the NZ Curriculum back into NZ classrooms.

Here is our first draft of English (Level 3). Yours and student feedback is very welcome...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

PaCT... Yeah... Nah

Last September I blogged about PaCT and as predicted the tool will be in our schools within the next couple of years and we are finally beginning to see a commentary around it which is a welcome change.

Nat Torkington has written a post from his point of view explaining the tool and pointing our why it cost so much money to produce.

The thing is, is that the New Zealand Curriculum is (was?) a marvellous and flexible thing of beauty. The suggested 'age range' for curriculum levels were blurred and gradual allowing young learners (remember we're talking 5 - 12 year olds here) to learn in a flexible manner.

When I trained to be a teacher (early 2000s) we were given fantastic courses in The Arts, Social Sciences, Science, Technology, Health and PE as well as Numeracy and Literacy. We were taught in an integrated manner so that kids could, for example, achieve the AOs of, say, Maths while exploring such concepts through dance and movement.  Now in primary schools The Arts are often 'done' by participating in events such as Artsplash or Kids for kids choirs (tick that box). But such events are barely even one of 4 strands of the Arts Curriculum (remember Developing Ideas, Practical Knowledge, Communicating and Interpreting and Understanding Context?)

Assessments, as we know them today, were things that were done to kids in the UK and the USA. We celebrated that our fantastic and effective education system did not allow kids to be 'done to'. We learned about Maori pedagogies through researchers such as Bishop & Glynn who showed us that characteristics of these pedagogies (e.g. collaboration, empathy, holistic learning, and celebrating strength) not only benefited the learning of our Maori learners, but all learners.

The issue I have with PaCT is that it is neither flexible nor holistic . As Nathan has said - assessing Literacy AOs will be done in front of a computer screen, comparing my student's work to others, flicking through exemplars going yep, yep, nah, nah, yep, nah and then waiting for the answer...

Yeah, nah...

What if my students, when looking at the AOs (they should have access to them) interpreted, and responded to them in such a way that they could not be compared to anything else? Surely we should actually be encouraging this behaviour - not valuing 'work' that is comparable to others? What will happen to this kind of creativity? Will I be saying: "Yep, that is brilliant but could you write it up as a story so that I can run it through the assessment tool?" (and yes you could argue that they should be able to do both... but my issue is why value one over the other all for the sake of formal reporting?). Why not trust teacher's judgement? Isn't that what OTJ means? Can we at least be honest about it and call it Overall PaCT Judgements (OPJs)?

So as I said in a comment on Nathan's blog, the cost to me (as a teacher and mother) is not about $$$ but about educational implications:

PACT measures (thus values) only numeracy and literacy.
The implications of this is that it narrows our curriculum.

PACT assumes that learning is linear. 
The implications of this is focusing on areas of weakness (alleged gaps) as opposed to strengths.

PACT (NS) levels come from working backwards from level 2 NCEA. The formula:
All 5 year-olds = Year 12 minus 7 years
The implications of this is that the labels At, Below, Above get distributed by age 6. 
Once ‘below’ is issued, a child has to work twice as hard to get to ‘At’ as the ‘gap’ is cumulative. 
BUT REMEMBER this is only in numeracy and literacy
If you did happen to have an edge in another curriculum area you won’t have time to pursue that strength. Any additional learning time is likely to be spent on MORE reading.

PACT assumes tidy year levels where kids should achieve numeracy and literacy standards based on age.
The implication of this is factory model pedagogy.

PACT allows National Standards to take the focus of assessment. 
The (already) implications are that newer teachers are now only assessing to the National Standards (at, below, above) and not to curriculum levels.

PACT (NS) values Pakeha ways of Knowing over Maori and Pasifika pedagogies. 
The implications of this is assimilation. (i.e. whose standards?!)

PACT values other assessment tools that assume that achievement and success is something that is carried out in isolation (eg. eAsttle writing). Even worse, assessments that reward one clean correct answer (STAR, PAT) . 
The implication of this is a future population who have been rewarded for rote learning and problem solving (in timed isolation) independently – as opposed to collaborative, creative, critical thinkers.

And one last thing, that has to be addressed:
"But in a world of devolution, how does the state ensure that schools don’t suck?..."
PaCT will not magically fix any schools that 'suck'. From the bottom of my heart I truly believe that PaCT will instead make such schools suck even more.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Blogging at night vs writing during class

Jo and I are in the middle of preparing our talk for the Thinking Digital Conference in Newcastle next month. We want to pick up from where Sugata Mitra left off last year and show that the benefits of Minimally Invasive Education are not just for the wall kids but for all kids.

If we think about Minimally Invasive Education as chance for kids to self-teach (but at the same time being connected to experts via digital technologies) blogging is a fine example.

I began to notice that several of my students blog late at night. And that quality of the writing is significantly higher than when they write at school time. One student has jumped at least 2 curriculum levels since he started blogging.

I asked him (through a blog comment) why he thought this was the case. Here are his reasons why:

1. It’s quiet...

2. It’s a chance for me to wind down and it is a huge thinking time for me. I love writing at this time of night.

3. It is the technology. I can use a backspace button instead of writing arrows in my book and making a huge mess.

4. It’s a chance to stop and slow down so I can think (instead of the pressure of having to think). For example, in class, I have to think of something before I go to lunch and instead of thinking up a really cool story I think “I’ve got to get this done” over and over in my head and before you know it, it’s lunch time. But if I was in my bed I do have time to think of a really cool story, then I can simply go to sleep.

5. Spell check. I don’t use big vocab words in my book is because I don’t know how to spell them but if I use spell check I can look at the word and memorise it (instead of taking ten minutes to look it up in a dictionary).

6. At night I’m free from all my problems and can express myself through writing. That is something that I’ve learnt from you.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Teachers in control of their PD

Wouldn't it be cool if teachers could choose their own PD? Instead of BOTs and Senior Management deciding what (or even IF) they would benefit from?

Different teachers could chose different pathways depending on their needs. One teacher could choose to do a tour of all the Educamps, another could choose to blow the majority at uLearn, some could do a combo of MOOCs and smaller skill based stuff through night courses. It would be up to them!

Some may choose to go to a conference to connect with their PLN (as they would get more out of it than going with their school).

Some principals may have compelling arguments for why the staff should all go to a conference (but it would be up to them to make a good enough case for that).

Maybe teachers could 'save' their PD for up to two years to attend an international conference.

There could be a system that rewarded the sharing of ideas, where those who present at conference get PD credits (as opposed to paying full conference fees for the honour). If PD credits were available, this could also lift the quality of presenter.

If (after 2 years?) a teacher had not claimed all their PD could the excess be put into a contestable fund for other teachers to apply for extra PD funding?

I would like to see teachers taking control of learning, budgeting, taking risks, making bad decisions and learning. I would like to see management giving up control, showing teachers what is out there and acting as advisors (as opposed to the 'Santa Claus' role). I would like to see PD organisations marketing to teachers, offering PD credits for presenters, offering discounts for PLN bookings. But ultimately, I would like to see teachers in control of their own PD.

I don't know much about the government's 'PD for teachers' budget. It probably goes into one big school pot and is discretionary, but that doesn't really concern me. We can let the ministry accountants figure that out (much like what Ewan McIntosh said in his ICOT2013 keynote - it's the accountants job to get cheap buttons, it's not the concern of the creative clothes designer).

So I'm going to throw the figure $1000.00 per teacher per year out there (theory still stands ... figure can be adjusted to more or less).

Monday, January 21, 2013

Could this be the future of Maths?

Calculation and Meat

Will the time come
where one can refuse
the forcing of calculation into our brains
like meat into our gut?

Of course one should have the skills
to detect when there is a problem

To know when meat is off
is wise
To know when calculation is off
is Maths

At which point
did it become acceptable
to pass on the butchering skills
to machines and experts
and not declare it a basic life-skill?

Forcing meat
onto our vegetarian friends
is cruel

could this be the future
of Maths?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Valuing iNconSistenCies

A couple of notes on some holiday reading.

1. Teacher 'bias' gives better marks to favourite pupils, research reveals
Can you believe that People actually get paid to do this kind of research?
Well of course they do. Such research fits the government's agenda.   The agenda is that there is a consistency problem in education. If there is a problem it needs to be fixed... with an expensive tool

What astounds me about this piece is the assumption that all the 'favorites' are the high achievers.  Um I'm sorry, I know that we are teachers, but we do actually have different preferences!  For example, my favorite food will be different to yours (no, we dont all like apples) my favorite movie will be different to yours (no, we dont all like dangerous minds). So it stands to reason that our favorite students will be different too.  And who really has favorites anyway? I dont know about you, but I am yet to meet the perfect child...Different kids float our different boats for different reasons at different times. We're an inconsistent bunch, and you know what?  WE SHOULD BE.

2. Can You Measure an Education? Can You Define Life’s Meaning? via @traintheteacher

This post takes us back to the origins and purpose of schooling (reading and memorizing bible passages, the factory model of education, you know the story) and then asks:

"What, really, should be the purpose of education? Or, put otherwise, what are our goals for our children’s development? Most of us today don’t want our children to become unquestioning followers of authority figures. We have seen the evil that can happen from that orientation. And I don’t think most of us see the proper goal of education as that of performing well on the television show, “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” We know that the trivia fifth graders (or any other graders) are supposed to know has little to do with life success. But what do we want? Or, maybe I should put it this way: What do YOU want, and what do I want? It is quite possible that you and I have different views of the meaning of life and hope for different things for our children..."

I think that it is these different hopes and dreams that we as teachers need to learn about and help create and achieve.

Standards (oh yes I did...)  are CRUSHING these hopes and dreams and it is all in the name of BIG business. 

Consistency is the enemy of education!(Which makes PaCT (what is pact?PURE eVil)

I think we should pride ourselves on being inconsistent.  

I want my kid to get his own education - not the same one as the kids in his arbitrary reading group.  For sure - stretch him and challenge him.  Teach him how to voice politely that things seem irrelevant to him.  
PLEASE Be inconsistent - show him that somedays things will not go to plan, somedays you'll be pissed off for no apparent reason, somedays you'll encourage one kid do something on the computer (when the day before you said NO to him).  Somedays you'll reward a kid for doing something he did a week ago Somedays he'll be rewarded for something that he didn't actually find that difficult to do (writing often does this to us).  It'll frustrate the hell out of him. Teach him how to deal with that kind of stuff. That's a relevant skill.

We need to ask ourselves EVERY SINGLE DAY... 
WHY are we learning this? 

AND (if you dare) start asking questions of teachers and schools who produce classes of children that are all at the same (desirable) level. What are you doing in there?