Wednesday, December 30, 2015

You win some, lose some, all the same to me (RIP Lemmy - Motorhead)

We're just about at the new year. 

2016 is poised, ready to pounce! What better way to end the old year than with these five items.

1 What students say they want!
In the old days students had zero say - these days - we're at least interested in what they say they want - so read this!

It's a forgotten skill. Listen to this message, please!

3 Creativity in ignorance
I like this idea - there is creativity in ignorance.

4 Typeface
This is a pretty cool site - lets you see various typefaces - I'm big on wysiwyg.

5 Awesome reader
Love this too - suggests other books that you might like! Anything that promotes reading is alreight by me.

Friday, December 25, 2015

So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun (Slade)

Been a while since I worked through my bookmarks. Here' s my Christmas pressie stocking filler of five more things I found valuable.

1 Making Khan Academy style videos
This looked cool: The app that lets you create Khan Academy-style videos in 60 seconds!

Not strictly educational but this is a handy guide to getting bespoke content on your interests from

3 I love exams...
Great little post and video by a student about why students find exams pointless. Great stuff!!

4 I love grading papers...
A companion piece to number 3 - great little post by an educator about why teachers find grades ineffective and pointless. More great stuff!

5 Summaries of book's key ideas
This is pretty cool - a summary of the key ideas from some key writers (including Sir Ken Robinson, Stephen Covey, Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, and others)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Well we got no class (Alice Cooper)

School is out for the Christmas break in the U.K.

They finished on Friday and so students flooded the high streets of the land.

As they did so I once again wondered why the hell the Brits bother with a uniform for their under 16 age secondary school students. A level students tend to be in mufti which is also bizarre given the unbending desire for the formal uniform below them.

Bizarrely the school authorities persist with trying to get students to wear a 'smart' uniform of white shirts/ ties/ blazers. Laudable but, long ago, doomed to failure.

What actually happens is an appalling dog's breakfast of: shirts out; ties askew; super short, short short skirts; every kind of shoe under the murky British sun; hoodies; caps; beanies; buttons undone; and ill fitting blazers.

I really don't know why they haven't sorted this by now by dispensing with the pretense and going for a uniform that makes more practical sense in the 21st century.

I guess they just don't care enough to think about it. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Jolly good, I see, and which prize do you have particular eyes on this evening? (Monty Python's Flying Circus)

And so to the Christmas holidays!

We (the present Mrs Purdzilla and yours truely) have ditched the weird NZ summer Christmas and high tailed it to London, where you find me now.

It's 3.50pm and darkness has descended! WAHOOO!!!! And it's raining! HOSANNA!!!!!!

Back in Nu Zild, the school year ended in the usual way - with a prize giving.

All NZ schools do this and that practice could, actually, be unique. 

It's not like the UK schools I taught at where prize giving was all a tad shambolic, and it's definitely not like a US style graduation ceremony with gowns and tassels and American showbiz razzmatazz.

NZ prize givings are formal and a big deal - like Britain in 1954. Academic gowns. Visiting speaker. Cups. Strict choreographing. Three cheers for the dux! Best behaviour.

Not that that's a bad thing - just a thing.

Come to think of it though: why do we do them like this? In 2015 especially - are they still a relevant way to end the year?

Well there's the celebrating success thing that is important, but we do that all year in assemblies, for all sorts of things.

So it's obviously for the students? Well not really. I'm pretty sure no one sits there thinking, "I'll show them - next year I'll get a prize!" The usual suspects appear to be the prize winners each year and in these December days the accent is squarely on NCEA internal success (the externals have just been sat so they don't figure) which generates it's own success.

It's for the staff then? Well - no. Teachers sit through prize givings and enjoy seeing some of the students getting public recognition but I don't think we sit there thinking, "This is why I became a teacher!"

The various august Boards? Nope (apart from a few, I guess, who like to be seen as the head cheeses).

It must be for the parents then, right? Oh, sure if their loved one is getting a prize, but otherwise... not really.

Why do we do it then? Why why why?

Two words. Public. Relations.

School's do prize giving because it says to the community (and prospective clients) - come on in! The water's fine. 

That's why. Right?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tempted by the promise of a different life (Tim Finn)

A recent article on Schools in 2030, yes - 2030, tried to project Marty McFly style Back To The Future

Dangerous stuff usually. Hoverboards anyone?

So, what did they reckon?

Well two things emerged and they won't be much of a surprise I shouldn't think.

One - they predicted 'totally transformed classrooms', a.k.a. 'learning spaces'.

These would be open and flexible and equipped with the latest technology. There, students are sometimes working alone , sometimes in small teams, and sometimes in a whole class or even bigger group.

There have been some early adopter schools who have embraced this concept. We've yet to do so at my current school.

Two - teachers as 'activators' (we are no longer 'transmitters of knowledge' but we are also not 'mere facilitators'). The writers cite our own John Hattie during their article and that pleased me a lot.

Hattie's work remains extremely valuable to all educators and so, it's worth quoting his findings at length here (my emphasis):
 "The remarkable feature of the evidence is that the greatest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers."   
"The act of teaching requires deliberate interventions to ensure that there is cognitive change in the student... It involves a teacher who knows a range of learning strategies with which to supply the student when they seem not to understand, who can provide direction and redirection in terms of the content being understood and thus maximize the power of feedback, and who has the skill to 'get out the way' when learning is progressing towards the success criteria."
 To accomplish this second change our English courses have changed substantially to be much more inquiry based. Often the emphasis is on - teach me what you've found out. 

We are also learning to 'get out the way'!

Monday, December 7, 2015

We're growing up little by little (Celebration)

And so to the last of Ann McMullan's five critical skills that my students need.

5 Persistence.

Again, it is hard to argue against this as a necessary skill. She defines persistence as "the ability to continue with a task and maintain attention despite setbacks, resistance, or distraction".

As I've indicated before, my classroom door has a Maori phrase on it - Whaia Kia Maia - pursue it until it is conquered - so, yeah, I'm a fan.

It IS important that students learn how to keep focused, despite challenges. No problem there. 

But where does this come from? I'm a strong believer in intrinsic motivation (rather than external incentives and rewards). Getting a student to believe in the power of effort and hard work goes a long way towards ensuring perseverance when the going gets tough. But having that belief is tricky. Very tricky.
Like students anywhere, my students are on a continuum from very low persistence levels to intrinsically motivated workaholics. Most fall into the bell curve middle ground.

What do I do to help them? 

Having regular checkpoints works for some students. We have a couple of humungous assignment style standards that last two terms and hopefully the progress checkpoints enable students to build on a pattern of success.

Secondly, our English courses are now set up to provide stacks of choice, which, again hopefully, increases their motivation and engagement.

So - that's the five - a recap for you from her article:

1 Self-Direction 
2 Evidence Based Thinking
3 Persistence
4 Calculated Risk Taking
5 Tolerance for Ambiguity

I think you'll all agree (oh blogosphere-ites) that she's onto something with this list!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Walking on my way, heard someone say...(The Sweet Inspirations)

Number four in Ann McMullan's critical skills is...

4 Evidence-Based Thinking.

According to McMullan, "using concrete evidence, based on reliable data and findings, is critical to building... skills in students"

This one is self evident in theory - yes students must communicate their positions on issues based on sound data, facts, and sound logic - but in the real world students are lazy and, well, it's easier to ask a mate or go to google (and then probably wikipedia) for their info.

In other words, their searches tend to be shallow.

I'm no different. My music blog often opts for wikipedia 'research' on songs/artists that I'm writing about because it's quick and easy.

Ann recommends that we use words that encourage critical thinking such as “Confirm”, “Criticize” “Demonstrate” “Question” “Analyze” and “Interpret” in order to give our students the opportunities to develop patterns of evidence based thinking.
On one level, I don't think those global umbrella terms actually get to the core issue though: saying "analyse Ken Kesey's style" doesn't automatically lead to deeper solid evidence based thinking. 

Asking five 'why?' questions might result in a better focus on evidence.

Although, I do like 'demonstrate' as a verb as in, "demonstrate why you think that about Ken Kesey's style".

Anything that leads to a deeper response, though, well - it's alright with me!