Posts filed under ‘Pupil voice’
When I woke up on the first day of 2012, woozy from the past few days of excess, turning on the news I noted that the New Year message from our religious leaders, notably the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict, laid some emphasis on youth. The Archbishop observed rightly that ‘society is letting down young people’ something I wholly agree with, although it is nothing new.
Ironically, I doubt that youth would have got this attention had it not been for the riots in the summer. Instead they would simply have been sidelined as usual, despite the disgrace of youth unemployment standing at over 1 million, the withdrawal of much needed financial support for young people to continue their studies, the daunting prospect of having to build up massive debts to continue onto university (despite it being rammed down all our throats that apparently the economy is in such dire straits because we have been living on too much debt in the first place!), and in the face of ‘good advice’ to take any job that is offered whether it is something they want to do or not.
Yes, despite the awful place young people, through absolutely no fault of their own, find themselves in we only take a little bit of notice of their plight when things get sufficiently serious that riots occur, and then castigate them for it.
Pope Benedict in his New Year message extolled the virtues of young people who ‘could become builders of peace if they were given the correct guidance‘. Quite so, although it is not so much guidance as good example that in my view is of the greatest value to them. They are all capable of living good lives, of living peaceably together, of realising their talents, of fulfilling their potential, of making the world a better place, given the opportunity.
But when they look around them what do they see.
Bickering politicians who promise one thing today and do the opposite tomorrow if it suits them best, greedy bankers doing very nicely thank you off the fruits of their failures, collapsing financial systems throughout the world, growing unemployment. This is, as Malcolm Maclaren before his untimely death observed, a karaoke society that lacks authenticity. No wonder the future looks bleak when viewed through the vital and discerning eyes of our young people.
I am not religious myself, agnosticism being as far as I wander in that direction, but I applaud the religious leaders for highlighting the plight of our youth and I implore governments to take note, and more importantly take positive action, although I fear this falls upon deaf ears.
As Edward de Bono said recently ‘politicians (and indeed economists) are good at commenting on things, but not good at designing things’. This doesn’t auger well for a world faced with the predicament of how to veer away from its current path towards self destruction. Sitting by and ‘commenting’, tinkering around the edges simply doesn’t cut it.
So where should we look for our salvation. I say to our youth. After all it is they who will inherit the mess that we have created, it is they who in the end will have to make sense of it all, the phoenix that rises out of the ashes.
So this is my New Year message. Rather than castigate our youth let’s set a better example and support them, trust them, work with them to allow them the opportunities to fulfil their potential, to set them on a path of fulfilment. Then, through them, the world will become a better place.
So, come on, join me and let’s hear it for the yoof!!
I read a post recently that came through the BECTA ICT Research Network from a PhD student in Australia who was looking at the potential of smartphones to deliver personalised learning, something I believe in.
In fact I believe that education content delivered through this medium will become massively important rather faster than people tend to believe (see Ray Kurzweils ‘Law of accelerating returns‘ about the exponential progress of technology). I also believe that through the use of digital technology there is the opportunity to transform education beyond recognition in a way that finally allows our young people to fly.
However, we do have to be careful that our use of smartphone technology for this purpose does not become intrusive in young peoples lives.
Rather worryingly the Australian PhD student characterises the possibilities of smartphone technology for this purpose thus:
‘As we well know, a mobile device can collect data relating to a student’s interests (gathered from search history, applications and communications), location, surroundings and proximity to others (GPS, Bluetooth).
However, what has been less explored is the opportunity for a mobile device to map the movements and activities of a student from moment to moment and over time. This longitudinal data provides a holistic profile of a student, their state and surroundings.
Analysing this data may allow us to identify patterns that reveal a student’s learning processes; when and where they work best and for how long. Through revealing a student’s state and surroundings outside of schools hour, this longitudinal data may also highlight opportunities to transform a student’s everyday world into an inventory for learning, punctuating their surroundings with learning recommendations. This would in turn lead to new ways to acknowledge and validate and foster informal learning, making it legitimate within a formal curriculum.’
I raise this because it is a part of the wider debate we should be engaged in about the real, often unsaid, implications of digital technology. There is an excellent series on BBC2 in the UK, The virtual revolution , that really does express and expose the reality and the dangers of the web based information society we currently live in. You can’t come away from the programme without the feeling that the question we should be asking ourselves is not ‘if’ the personal data about us being gathered by Google or others will at some point be used for purposes more sinister than sales and marketing, but ‘when’ it will be used in this way (or if, indeed, it is already being used so without our knowledge) and what, if anything, we can do about it.
Our children, the so called ‘digital natives’, tend to approach all this with the innocence of the young, gratefully grasping the myriad freebies that they are presented with. It is the duty of the adults who understand this to forewarn our kids of the dangers and to arm them with strategies of defence, even things as simple making it absolutely clear to them that anything digital that they post to the internet, through whatever forum, is there forever. There is no going back.
It is also the duty of adults, I believe, to recognise an over intrusive application of technology as characterised above. My own kids who are 12 and 15 would be absolutely appalled at the idea that there location and movements were being tracked through their mobile phones. A huge part of their maturity is gained from the trust they are shown by their parents and other adults. Stripping this away is condemning them to a sort of nether life where they never feel they can completely take full control of their own lives because we are always watching. After all, it’s not as if they’re all on asbo’s.
We really do need to trust our young people more and believe, as I do, that allowing them to fly means trusting them with far greater control of their own learning.
So holidays have faded into the background, kids are back at school grinding their way through a new term, I’m trying to make sense of the ‘system’.
To do this I thought it might be useful to review the current state of the various government schemes for education that have been developed over the last few years. As a specialist in digital media for education I consider that I have a reasonable grasp of these.
As a starting point I made a list of acronyms of these schemes with their actual definitions with the intention of reviewing the current state of play with each one. Initially I came up with about a dozen or so of these including things like bsf (Building Schools for the Future), ECM (Ever Child Matters), AfL (Assessment for Learning), HTG (Harnessing Technology Grants) etc..
Then I read the ‘National Strategies Annual Plan Summary’ for 2009-2010 which at 45 pages is a helluva summary and lists in an annex 65 acronyms that are used within it. This makes the ‘summary’ virtually incomprehensible. Here is a typical example:
‘A significant number of LA’s are struggling to mainstream NPSLBA within their school improvement services and their CPD offer and need to target recruitment of priority schools and with PRU leaders and staff to NPSLBA.’
Even when you decode this it doesn’t make any sense. It is little wonder that our education system is in a state of apparent disarray when such a plethora of acronyms abound.
One of the difficulties, I think, is the attempt to force uniformity on an education system that actually needs diversity if it is to be appropriate for the 21st century. As a useful report about barriers to innovation in education produced by Futurelab puts it:
“…(education policy) should be committed to promoting, encouraging, archiving and sharing the development of widely diverse educational responses in order to ensure that there is diversity in the system to allow adaptation whatever changes emerge, rather than seeking out and disseminating universal and uniform solutions.”
The attempt to impose uniformity, and the failure of that attempt, can be aptly illustrated with the framework of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). This framework neatly divides the essential skills ‘that will enable young people to enter work and adult life as confident and capable individuals’, into the six categories of, independent enquirers, creative thinkers, reflective learners, team workers, self-managers, and effective participators. Having made these divisions the framework then helpfully points out that:
“The groups are interconnected. Young people are likely to encounter skills from several groups in any one learning experience.”
In other words every child is an individual. Any teacher worth their salt already knows this and, within the constraints of class numbers, will respond to each child appropriately. Unfortunately the PLTS framework simply panders to the misconceived desire to package every child according to a single set of rules, ‘universal and uniform solutions’.
I do understand the temptation to think this way. With an average class of 30 kids it seems to make things so much more manageable but it does not allow individual talents and aspirations to flourish.
Back in the dark industrialist days there didn’t seem any other way to manage things. But now in the 21st century we have different aspirations and we have technology to help us.
So we don’t actually need to try and package things in a neat ‘PLTS’ way. We just have to loosen up a bit, ditch the acronyms, trust the kids, support them, and let them get on with it. That is true personalised learning.
This is a rather long blog post, after some absence from posting to this blog due to pressures of work, (filling a senior sales position at Vivid) and as you will read, a great holiday in the USA. After this it will be back to ‘business as usual’ with more regular and shorter posts to come. Thanks for sticking with it.
Holidays are often a time of reflection and the gaining of new perspectives. No more so for me following my family holiday in California with my partner and two children (aged 14 and 12). This was a touring holiday taking in the diversities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Death Valley and Las Vegas (in the same day), the wonders of the Grand Canyon, snow in the boiling heat of Mammoth Lakes, chilling in Santa Cruz.
Aside from the time we all spent in the car (we covered around 2,500 miles in just under 3 weeks) we also all lived in one room in different motels around the place. So this was quite intense. Mum, Dad, and the teenage kids in such close proximity 24/7. Although Diane and I had been to various places in the US prior to this visit, many of the places we visited on this occasion were as new to us as they were to the kids. So for much of the time there was a shared sense of discovery in all the places we visited and experienced.
For example, nothing prepared any of us for the 118 F heat or the eeriness we experienced in Death Valley, or the contrasting glitch and glamour and madness of the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas when we first walked through the doors, the breathtaking first sight of the Grand Canyon, the sheer vastness of the Redwood trees in Yosemite, being at the centre of simulated flash floods at Universal Studios, discovering a tarantula as big as a fist sidling up to us at a restaurant in Seligman (on Route 66).
And all of these experiences excited the curiosities of the kids, sparked myriad questions across a rich variety of disciplines – the origin of language, weather systems (naturally, being brits), the solar system, politics, history, geography, and so much more.
We also all kept daily diaries (mine a series of tweets).
There were some tremendously evocative moments, like when we all surveyed the scene at Badwater Basin (in Death Valley and the lowest point in the USA at 182 feet below sea level), the salt flats stretching into the distance in the intense heat, and imagined the gold rush pioneers trudging along, no shade for miles, tired and despairing. A hugely compelling image and one that grabbed the imagination of our kids sparking loads of questions. Of course we were unable to answer all the questions they had but had wide ranging discussions in which we all explored the issues raised.
If this is not education I do not know what is. Yet, the rules are that family holidays within school terms are not allowed, or only allowed on a limited basis with the express permission of the school head. This means that because everything is much more expensive during the school holiday periods hundreds and thousands of children from families who simply cannot afford to holiday at the inflated prices demanded are excluded from the wonderful experiential and enlightening educational opportunities thus afforded.
I used to think that an answer to this is that legislation should forbid the holiday companies from inflating prices during school holidays. Or that families are allowed to take their kids out of school for holidays if they can demonstrate the educational benefits of doing so. But I now think differently because these propositions simply pander to the view, and our obsession with the idea, that education is something that is wholly controllable and measurable and can be contained within constraints established by government.
As 16 year old Michael Jones in a Teachers TV video puts it (http://www.teachers.tv/video/17058 – start at 56.00), ‘I learn loads of stuff on the streets, learning is everywhere’. And so it is. From the streets of New Delhi where Sugata Mitra first conducted his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments, to middle class holidays in the US, to messing on the streets, learning is taking place.
Change is occurring in our education system, politicians messing with stuff they know little about, but as David Warlick in his recent blog post on ‘2¢ worth’ says:
‘it seems that every time we sit down and talk about education reform, there seems to be something in the way, preventing us from what we want to do right now. We can’t move that tile in the puzzle, until the one next to it is out of the way, which we can’t move until another one has been shifted, etc. etc.’
OK this is a blog from USA but the issue is the same. This is just messing around the edges of a system that is clearly failing with the unfortunate effect, actually, of making life increasingly more difficult for those on the ground, those who are delivering education, our teachers. And in the process the voice of the young people for whom the system is designed is completely ignored.
A new Ofsted report on progress with the new diploma system has just been published. The conclusions are that ‘teaching of functional skills, maths, English and IT, must improve’.
This, of course should come as no surprise to anyone who knew from the start that the diploma debacle was wholly misconceived. It explains why resultant qualifications from the diploma are not ‘A’ levels, truly on a par with the more ‘academic’ qualifications. This is because excellence in the so called ‘vocational’ skills is simply not valued. Just as the arts are similarly undervalued (see Ken Robinson on this), placed at the bottom of the existing hierarchy.
So it’s back to square 1. The diplomas appear to have been conceived with the crazy notion that offering more vocational subjects within a new structure to the less ‘academic’ will somehow magically make these people more academic, say in subjects like English, Maths and IT! It won’t. They will continue to struggle and will continue to be treated as second class because they are seen as struggling with these subjects.
And this will continue to happen until a new approach, a pupil led approach, to learning is developed and until we rid ourselves of the elitist view that academic prowess is the route to fulfilment.
When the worlds financial systems went into meltdown last year a great opportunity emerged to rethink the whole of that structure and to make radical changes accordingly. Unfortunately it looks like that opportunity is lost and the signs are that the financial institutions, propped up as they are by government, are simply reverting to the old greedy ways and habits, bonuses are back!!
There is a danger that a similar thing will happen with education. It would be great if holiday prices were not inflated during school holidays so more people could afford to go away, it would be great if parents were encouraged to take their children on holiday during term times with the wide educational benefits that that offers but in the end that’s just tinkering around the edges, simply moving the tiles around.
With technology there is the real potential of delivering an education environment that is truly personalised, is aimed at self fulfilment, and is pupil led.
Yet this potential will come to nought unless we have the courage to remove the barriers to learning, to knock down the walls around the classrooms, to trust our young people, to listen to what they have to say, and to radically rethink the whole purpose of education, and deliver for the 21st century.
Last night my 11 year old son told me that he had gone from hating history at school to loving it. When I asked him why, he said that he now had a good teacher. I haven’t yet quizzed him, as I will, on his perceptions of what was bad about the previous teaching and what is now good, but it is interesting that he makes that distinction. In my view teaching in a way that is interesting and motivating is not just desirable, but should be required of every teacher. I admire and respect teachers for undertaking a difficult job and when it is right in enhancing a child’s life. But I abhor bad teaching because of the serious harm it can do.
If we want to know what is good teaching or bad teaching we just have to talk to the young people who are being taught. They know what they like and don’t like, they know what switches them on and what turns them off. And we should listen to what they have to tell us about this and do something about it, even when we hear stuff outside our comfort zones.
As parents we celebrate each child’s individuality even if it’s only to extent of ‘he’s got his fathers eyes, but his mother’s nose’. Yet we force them to endure an education that expects uniformity, that expects an 11 year old to achieve the same standards in the same subjects as their 12 year old mates, or a class of 30 to express equal interest in all things.
We do this not because of any considered philosophy of education, but purely through means of practicality. How else can we ‘control’ a class of 30, a year of 120, but by imposing strict criteria on required outcomes.
My son also recently had a science test coming up and was told by his teacher to revise for it. That’s all. Not any guidance of how to revise, what to revise, even where to look for advice. Just ‘go away and revise’. Oh yes. There was some advice to try BBC bitesize, but not to do everything there because it was not all relevant.
That evening I caught him in our front room aimlessly flicking through the various folders of the work he had undertaken during the year not really knowing where to start, which things to concentrate on.
And then he asked me if I would test him so he could get an idea of what he knew best and importantly what he knew least. This is ‘assessment for learning’, a concept that he arrived at of his own volition, understanding that finding out the gaps in his own understanding could give him a structure for revision.
Unfortunately his teacher had not had the foresight to arm his pupils with some past tests in order that they could test their understanding in this way, but we were able to find some appropriate stuff online. In fact BBC bitesize was not the most helpful or structured. Many more structured resources were to be found on other sites simply by Googling ‘Year 7 science tests’.
Why do I say all this? Two reasons. Firstly on the question of practicality we do have the opportunity to really, seriously deliver (or I prefer to say ‘allow’) ‘personalised learning’ by appropriate use of digital technology. Going online to find appropriate revision materials is just the tip of an enormous iceberg.
Secondly, young people are wholly capable of being properly engaged in the debate about their own learning. So let’s ask them, listen to them, trust them, believe them, and act on what we hear.
And instead of just fiddling around the edges let’s do it now before they lose interest and before the global warmed digital iceberg disappears.
In their wisdom Ofsted have decided they are going to make it harder for schools to achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating by placing greater emphasis on raw exam results.
What a great idea. Just when we are being lulled into some sense of hope that the general exam regime is being relaxed in favour of other forms of assessment Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert takes a significant step backwards.
“Our focus is on getting a better deal for children and young people,” Ms Gilbert said. I don’t suppose the young people themselves will see it that way. I don’t suppose anyone has bothered to ask them!
Anyone who watches ‘Mock the week’ on BBC 1 (and Dave) will know that there is a section of the programme where the stand up comedians come up with ‘things you are unlikely to hear’ in certain situations. Here is my version:
Things you are unlikely to hear young people say when asked whether they would like exam results to be even more important than they are considered now.
‘It’s a great idea. I don’t think I suffer anything like enough stress at school at the moment’
‘It’s a great idea. It will help teachers just focus on the things we need to do for the exams.’
‘It’s a great idea. I’m enjoying school far too much at the moment’
‘It’s a great idea. Confirms that people who aren’t good at exams are failures’
‘It’s a great idea. Means that schools will do less creative stuff.’
‘It’s a great idea. Means I’ll do much less of the stuff at school that I really enjoy’
‘It’s a great idea. I get very nervous about exams and am not very good at them. This will help me to pull myself together’.
‘It’s a great idea. I burst into tears before my last exam. Hopefully this will mean more people will join me and burst into tears also.’
Why not add yours, either in reply to this post, or @MickLandmann on Twitter, and I will compile them all and do my best to get them to Ms Gilbert.
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.