Posts filed under ‘Learning’

Blog’s away!

You may have seen the item on Breakfast TV news this morning (14th Feb) about the use of blogging in Heathfield School which is a fantastic demonstration of the massive potential of digital technology for education. If you didn’t see it the essence is that pupils of Heathfield Primary School, under the inspirational guidance of deputy head David Mitchell (@deputymitchell if you want to follow him on Twitter) are writing blog posts. Not only do they really enjoy this, it is also having a fantastic positive effect on their writing abilities.

This is happening at a time of immense change when the education ‘system’ is going through yet more changes on top of the constant fiddlings that have taken place over the last 20 years. This is incredibly destabilising and difficult for schools, but of course education must go on. The initiative at Heathfield School is a prime example of how a simple application of digital technology can have hugely beneficial effects, despite current uncertainties over curricula etc..

I think this is a real way forward, where we simply transcend the complications of platforms, technical compatibilities, even connectivity. Blogging can be undertaken anywhere, anytime on any device and doesn’t even need constant connectivity, simply the ability to connect to upload a blog, or to read someone elses blog (unless stored locally).

Yet it opens up the world.

This does open up the potential for what Mike Butler (outgoing chair of the Independent Academies Association [IAA] and chief executive of the award winning Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham) describes as a ‘guide by the side’ approach which gives the learners greater control of their own learning, with teachers in a more supportive, facilitation role.

Heathfield were also pioneers in the use of YouTube in the classroom. Some may feel that giving access to the vast range of videos on You Tube may be problematic if it gave young pupils access to disturbing materials but Heathfield got around this by installing software to filter out comments around the materials that may have been disturbing.

This gives access to an extraordinary free resource that can be used in a number of ways for learning, not least in the use of the ‘freeze frame’ technique that I blogged about a couple of years ago.

What I particularly like about both these initiatives, blogging and YouTube, is the simplicity of implementation from a technical perspective. None of this involves complex Learning Management Systems or VLE’s, no considerations of SCORM compatibility, no complex devolvement of new systems or technical standards. Just progressive thinking.and ‘guiding by the side’ (a term I an rather taken by).

It is no wonder to me that @deputymitchell has taken his rightful place in the ‘inner circle’ with the likes of Tim Rylands, Dawn Hallybone, Stephen Heppell, Derek Robertson et al.

More like this, please.

February 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Stranded in Lanzarote – JCQ response a disgrace

When people first heard that we were stranded in Lanzarote as a result of Eyjafjallajoekull a first reaction was to comment how lucky we were. However, the truth belies that.

We were psychologically prepared initially for a one week holiday in a villa on the island. We were not psychologically prepared for our stay to be extended indefinitely, in the event for an additional week.

A great deal of the extra time was spent trying to find a flight home, feeling lost in limbo up to the time we did eventually manage to find one.

There were additional living expenses, which in theory we should be able to claim back from our airline, but in truth are expecting a mighty battle over.

Whilst you might think our kids would have relished this additional time off school there reactions were in fact very different.

Our 15 year old daughter got very upset at the prospect, realising that she would miss key lessons as preparation for GCSE’s, in particular missing a mock GCSE in PE the proper exam of which she is taking next week. She is a high achiever, very motivated, and until this happened on track for some great results. What upset her was the prospect of this being put at risk, through no fault of her own.

To help with this we got the school to email the mock GCSE paper which she then took in our hotel room, emailing the results back to school for marking. Up to the point of taking this mock she had been quite worried and miserable, but it was remarkable how she perked up immediately after having sat the mock.

Our 12 year old son reacted very differently. He is in Year 8, not yet on the GCSE treadmill, apart from in fast track French. For him the extra time off school was a bonus, more time in the pool and in the sea.

They did both miss their friends, Mum and Dad being poor substitutes, despite my efforts to regress which served only to embarrass. They were able to have some Facebook contact but despite all you can’t beat good old face to face stuff.

In response to our email to them explaining the situation the school did manage to inform ‘most’ of their subject teachers. I highlight ‘most’ because I do feel that missing the odd teacher was sloppy. One of my daughters’ subject teachers had no idea of the situation and was completely unprepared for remedial action on her return.

In order to reassure my daughter that she would not miss out as a result of our enforced stay I told her that her circumstances would be taken into account, and if it was adjudged that due to the prevailing circumstances she was put at a disadvantage in her preparation she would be able to take, say her PE GCSE, at a later date. She said this would not be the case. I swore it was. She was right.

It seems that whilst the JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) has said that some oral exams and practical tests would be re-arranged they also insist that no written A level or GCSE exams would be rescheduled. Why? I’ll tell you in a minute.

And where does that leave my daughter. She has done absolutely everything that has been asked of her, she is an asset to her school, she is on track, through her own efforts, for some fantastic results in her exams. When some of this is put at risk, through no fault of her own, can she depend on the ‘system’ to be sufficiently flexible to support her appropriately? No she can’t. Why not? Simply because they can’t be arsed – it would require a certain about of reorganisation and I can only assume that it is to avoid the necessity for this that the JCQ have decided, ahead of time, not to offer any flexibility for written exams.

I think this is appalling, and yet another nail in the coffin for an education system that thinks more of itself than it does of its pupils.

April 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

‘Stories out of school’ misses the point

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I attended an event called ‘Stories out of school’ in London yesterday, organised by Futurelab and presented by Martin Hughes, professor of education at the University of Bristol. This was based on an ESRC funded research project run by Martin that looked into ways young people learn outside the school environment. The event was, I think, put on as part of the research remit to disseminate the findings widely.

The conclusions of the research itself as presented at the event, that young people want adults to listen to them, to respect them, to not label them, and to recognise that their lives can be tough, presented no revelations. Any parent of teenage kids could tell you this, simply from observation. There was also a general conclusion that kids don’t like school. Hmmm.

The research followed specific young people in their involvement in a chess club, in a rock band, in drama sessions, in sport, in poetry and there were displays of the ‘outcomes’ at the event. Martin Hughes also presented the general findings and showed two DVD’s of dramatic work some of the young people had undertaken and presented.

Whilst I don’t doubt the veracity of this research, I don’t think it went anything like far enough. In particular conspicuous by its absence was any study of the out of school use of technology by young people, i.e. gaming, social networking, etc. or as someone pointed out any study of out of school activities that didn’t involve organised activity as such but rather ‘hanging out’.  These were, in my view, serious omissions given the amount of time young people spend with technology and their love of hanging out.

A clue as to why technology was omitted perhaps is in the fact that Martin Hughes clearly was desperately uncomfortable with technology himself. His PowerPoint slides were awful, he was unable to get a link to a website he wanted to show and after much fiddling he did eventually manage to show DVD’s of some drama activities, but had the volume up intrusively too loud. Clearly he hadn’t bothered to set these things up in advance.

And this was my greatest problem with the whole event. The presentation was appalling, including the scrappy presentation of the young peoples work and conclusions on display panels around the room.

This meant a disappointing afternoon for, I suspect, all attendees, but more significantly showed disrespect for the young people who figured in the study. It is my view that young people are not shown the respect they deserve and are certainly not trusted with any real responsibility for their own learning through the education system. To simply not bother to make the effort to present their views in any sort of reasonable fashion through a study that presumably is intended to fight their corner simply serves to exacerbate that situation.

June 10, 2009 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

Try leading by example!

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To a question I raised on Twitter, ‘Can we persuade parents to be radical with their kids education?’ I received the reply, ‘Try leading by example’. The question arose from my previous blog item, ‘Education. It’s a risky business’ in which I raise the issue of the innate conservatism us parents tend towards when it comes to our kids education.

Yet we have an education system that is out of step with the times, an education system that was made for the needs of industrialism, not for the current needs of information based digital society.

And we do, right now, have a unique opportunity to change that, by invoking digital technology to allow truly personalised learning. However, for this to happen, radical changes to the current system will be required.

For example, we must move away from a classroom model to a more fluid model, we must move away from a 9-3, 3 term, September to September model to one that recognises that learning can and does take place 24/7, we must find ways of  replacing exams with other means of assessment (ideally self assessment), we must value creativity as a lynchpin for all learning and most important of all we must value and trust our young people and give them control of their own learning.

These are radical changes which depend for their implementation on winning the hearts and souls of governments, teachers, parents, and pupils alike.

There is no panacea. I cannot do something with my kids that somehow ‘leads by example’. This would be a misunderstanding of the issue. What I want to see changed is the system itself such that my kids and everybody’s kids can satisfy their natural curiosities and become self fulfilled. I want to see a system that delivers on the promise of the 1967 Plowden report that:

The school sets out … to devise the right environment for children, to allow them to be themselves and to develop in the way and at the pace appropriate to them……… It lays special stress on individual discovery, on first-hand experience and on opportunities for creative work. It insists that knowledge does not fall into neatly separate compartments and that work and play are not opposite but complementary.

The example I can lead with is one of raising the issues, producing evidence, working with the players towards the desired end just as I did in my campaigning efforts that led to a fairer admissions system in Brighton and Hove.

I can also, of course, lead by example by myself being kind, giving, caring, compassionate, all the virtues we would like of our children. In this I do my best.

June 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm 1 comment

Who needs schools. You live and learn!

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‘You live and learn’ is an idiom that has come to mean that as you go through your life so you learn new things, actually that if you live, you learn. It comes to mind because I have recently been looking at John Medina’s Brain Rules book (and DVD and website) that was written on the premis that most of us, including teachers and others responsible for education, do not to know how the brain works. If this is true (and I fear it is) how can we evolve good teaching and learning practices?

Medina goes as far as to say ‘If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like [the picture above] a classroom.’

The book by-lined ’12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school’ divides the study of the brain into the twelve principles of:

EXERCISE | Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
SURVIVAL | Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
WIRING | Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
ATTENTION | Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.
SHORT-TERM MEMORY | Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
LONG-TERM MEMORY | Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
SLEEP | Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
STRESS | Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
SENSORY INTEGRATION | Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
VISION | Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
GENDER | Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
EXPLORATION | Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

….all of which are wholly relevant to our education system, and give compelling evidence of what is so wrong with our current system but point the way to how to put it right. A few thoughts on this.

Whilst PE is part of the curriculum we should actively encourage other forms of exercise at school, including dance, drama, etc.. We should also consider ways of transforming the typically inert lesson period into something more active.

The physical, proven fact that all brains are wired differently not only exonerates, but should make compelling and essential the drive for ‘personalisation’ in education.

Everyone has a story of a bad teacher, or bad teaching, that not only meant nothing was learned, but also in some cases that a whole subject was tarnished. We have a ten minute maximum attention span so it is easy for something to become ‘boring’.

Repetition in the classroom is crucial because one missing piece of information can damage the understanding of other information related to it. But information is best remembered if it is understood. Our memories work in particular ways. Repetition for memory is useful, but not in isolation to understanding.

Retrieval of information works at its best when the retrieval occurs in a similar context its original encoding. So, if something is learned during a geography field trip, probably retrieval of that information is hardest in, say, exam conditions.

Sleep is essential to learning so it does make sense to consider the naturally changing sleep habits of young people and take these properly into account in our education system.

Stress impairs learning. So apart from any stress a young person my be under through other circumstances subjecting them to the slow drip feed of stress as they move closer to their exams will severely damage their learning.

One of the overriding assertions is that ‘we are powerful and natural explorers’. We are ‘born with incessant curiosity that compels us to aggressively explore our world’ and from birth we have the innate ability to ‘form a hypothesis, design an experiment and draw conclusions.’

This for me is key. Rather than try and force learning to happen, which in my view is what the current education system attempts, I believe we should allow innate functions to let learning happen.  So who needs schools. Just live and learn!

May 11, 2009 at 2:27 pm 1 comment

Aren’t you listening, Sir Jim?

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Sir Jim Rose publishes his final report on the primary curriculum today. It seems little has changed form the interim report that was published last year. This morning he was interviewed by Jim Naughtie on Radio 4 Today programme about his findings.

Predictably he had nothing of any particular interest to say that wasn’t pure waffle. But I was interested in, and perturbed by, what he pointedly didn’t say or didn’t want to talk about.

For example he chose to ignore Jim Naughties response:

It sounds so obvious in a way, doesn’t it? That the basics, reading and writing, and to some extent numeracy, also depend on the ability to communicate in class. It’s a funny thing when you have to write that down’

And to Jim Naughties reference to the concept of children learning at their own pace he responded that there are:

‘…a lot of things that revolve around all that that need thinking through more carefully.’

He doesn’t want to talk about that I suspect because it would raise the issue of Year 6 SATS which he has been told not to go into in his report.

As ever there is more fiddling around with numeracy and literacy and of course the big idea, talking (and ‘word poverty’).

When asked about teacher’s concerns that the recommendations in the review are just tinkering, reordering, relabeling, adding to the teacher’s burden Sir Jim remarked:

There is no doubt that we have let the curriculum get too fat. And we do need to slim it down and we do need to give teachers far more flexibility and opportunity to be creative. However…..

So no addressing of these real issues yet then!

And his final remark was that the recommendations deliver:

A much better match of the particular learning paths of children.’

This is gobbledygook.

Seems it’s Sir Jim himself who needs to focus on his listening and speaking skills!

April 30, 2009 at 3:18 pm 2 comments

SATS – the elephant in the room?

The government’s response to the NUT threat to boycott SATS in 2010, supported by the headmasters union, is to say that this would be illegal. No looking at the issues wondering if they have a point, no concerns that if such a rather wishy washy union as the NUT are proposing action this may reflect some serious concerns.

The basis of the teacher’s discontent is their reality that they spend too much time preparing 10 and 11 year olds for their Year 6 SATS at the expense of a great deal other of the teaching they should be doing.

This isn’t a new criticism of the SATS but I suspect this issue is rather coming to a head (pun unintended) because there is no sign that Ed Balls and his lot have any intention of doing anything about this (aside from saying that the tests are ‘not set in stone’ which has created great excitement amongst many of those who wish to see the SATS scrapped).

The great opportunity to have scrapped the Year 6 SATS at the same time as the Year 9 SATS were scrapped has been missed and only strengthened the view that the overriding reason for scrapping the Year 9 SATS was to take the weight off the massive marking task that has proved so controversial. So all this leaves things kind of in limbo.

In a recent discussion on Radio 4 Today programme about the proposed boycott some interesting things were said which pandered to some myths about the tests. Here are just three of them.

  1. ‘We need tests because we want young people to be able to read and write’. WRONG. You have to have good teaching in order to maintain standards. Tests ain’t teaching.
  1. ‘You have to have SATS in order to have some measure of a child’s progress’. WRONG. There are all sorts of means of assessing a child’s progress. It is often mistakenly believed that to be against SATS is to be against any forms of measuring progress.
  1. Young people need to get used to taking tests for later on when they take their GCSE’s and A levels etc.. WRONG. My view is that all exams should be scrapped, but given that that is unlikely, certainly in the medium term, there are many ways of preparing for later exams that do not have to start 5 years in advance.

In my mind there is no doubt that the SATS should be scrapped forthwith. One of the things that is holding things up, though, is the fact that this would send out an extremely significant signal that real change is afoot, that the old obsession with testing and league tables is coming to an end.

For politicians who generally can only see 5 minutes ahead and who fuel such obsessions in the mistaken belief that this addresses accountability, taking an action that in fact points the way towards a new world that may exist the day after tomorrow is extremely uncomfortable.

Yet, there is a growing feeling of inevitability in this. How long can Ed Balls and his colleagues ignore the elephant?

April 22, 2009 at 9:41 am Leave a comment

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Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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