Monday, February 20, 2017

"The signature characteristic of 21st century schools is students at work"

Because staffing numbers and learning space (classroom) meterage are linked to student numbers the impact on pedagogy is strong.

These formulas mean there is only one thing you can do in a traditionally designed classroom and that is put one teacher with 30 kids. And when you put the traditional furniture in there, there's not a lot of room to swing the cat.  You certainly can't put 50 students and 2 teachers in those spaces, so the formula is saying that peer teaching cannot occur (so therefore is not valued.) As well, you can't put 1 teacher with 6 kids in those spaces because that will create overcrowding somewhere else, so the formula is saying that small group teaching cannot occur (so therefore is not valued.) And even when you go with the only possible combination of 1 teacher and 30 students you can do little beyond the teacher at the front, with some moving around with difficulty amongst the bags and 30 desks and chairs, while students remain at their allotted desk and chair.

Do we honestly think that even though this model might have been appropriate once that that is how learning has to occur? When even us baby boomers know that the world and the working environment is so different to what we experienced, that employability requires a completely different set of skills and dispositions (team work, problem-solving, critical thinking, multi-disciplinary, multi modal, communication, collaboration and creativity) and that our society needs people to develop a strong sense of contribution service and equity - even still we wish to limit pedagogy and learning to the one-size-fits-all model required by the traditional classroom.

If I had enough hair left to tear out I'd be even balder after reading articles like Bernadine Oliver-Kerby's ! Her title Children: Casualties of Flawed Teaching Theory suggests some sort of evidence based conclusions outlining the "Teaching Theory", identifying the flaws with evidence and pointing out the definition of "casualties". What we got was a piece of drivel based on, I suspect, casual observations at a surface level. The dismissive observations made at some point in time re handwriting are used to pan innovative teaching in innovative learning environments and given some national platform.

Thank you Bruce Hammonds for pointing me to Bob Pearlman's chapter from his book whch allows me to park the 'Casualties' article and its thinking in the trash.

I loved this from the chapter: "The signature characteristic of 21st century schools is students at work." Note, he does not mean students doing work (writing notes, reading quietly, answering questions from a textbook), but students at work. In my view, students  at work (meaningful work) has them exploring, making sense, generating ideas, testing assumptions, refining thinking, problem-solving, collaborating, seeking expertise, constructing, communicating, presenting, discussing, critiquing and evaluating.

To be at this type of work they need learning environments that allow for large group, small group, individual, teacher directed, student centred, multiple learning style opportunities. They also need 24/7 access to learning materials and supports (information, criteria, assessment rubrics, calendars, discussion boards and evaluation tools.)

Is Bernadine Oliver-Kerby really saying that these types of learning opportunities in these types of learning environments are not appropriate and relevant for our young people today and that the model and design that was appropriate in the 1950s is still so today? Why would we expect schools to operate on the same model in largely the same environment from then when we wouldn't tolerate it from our hospitals, transport systems, music industry, entertainment, legal, finance etc etc institutions?

I'm with Bob Pearlman. Let's have schools where students are at (meaningful) work. This may be, I suspect, a big part of the answer to the problems of student disengagement, under-achievement and anxiety.

Monday, February 6, 2017

NCEA - Deep Challenge and Inquiry

One of the Principles that has formed the foundations of our curriculum decision-making is to Inspire through Deep Challenge and Inquiry. When it came to making our decisions in relation to NCEA we were close to deciding to approach it in much the same way as all schools until we focused on this Principle.

Our approach which we settled on in early 2015 is described in an earlier post  by me and one by Claire. I included the following in that previous post:

I then explained why NCEA Level 1 was a qualification of little value; it leads to no employment or further training. Despite this all schools expose their 14 and 15 year olds to a full year of six subjects offering anywhere between 18 and 24 credits (both internal and external) meaning to get the 80 required (for a meaningless qualification) students were being exposed to 120-140 credits. It's like being hit by a tidal wave! All of a sudden their focus moves away from the joy of discovery and learning to credit chasing and teachers take their eye off the NZC and 'teach to the tests' - all for a qualification that has little value! Stress levels rise for everyone - students, teachers and parents.

Our plan is that our Year 11 students will achieve around 20 quality Level 1 or 2 credits that emerge from their co-constructed learning programmes. Most of these will be from their areas of interest and passion though if we identify that a learner will struggle to receive literacy and numeracy credits at Level 6 or 7 then we will direct them to the literacy and numeracy Unit Standards.

Our learners will take their 20 quality credits with them to Year 12. Their focus in Year 12 will be on 60 quality Level 2 or higher credits. When these are matched with the 20 they have brought with them they are awarded NCEA L1 and 2. They will have done this after having attempted around 100 credits over their 2 years rather than the 220-280 they may have had to attempt elsewhere.

So, as we approach our 4th year and have students moving into Year 12 (Q2 in our lingo), how did 2016 pan out for our Year 11 (Q1) learners?

We started 2016 by setting a target of every Q1 learner achieving 20 quality credits to lay the foundation for their 2 year journey to a quality NCEA L2. Programmes were set up in such a way that all learners would have the opportunity to attempt 20 - 40 credits.

This is what happened:

  • 97% achieved at least 20 credits (the 4 who did not are high priority learners). This shows we came close to the quantity part of our target. What about the quality?
  • 57% of all internal standards were awarded Merit or Excellence
  • 62% of all external standards were awarded Merit or Excellence

How well have the foundations been laid for a quality NCEA L2?
On average, our Q2 learners arrive this year with 12 Level 2 credits, meaning they need 48 at Level 2 or higher to gain their Level 2.

Our programmes will allow our Q2 learners to access 60 - 80 credits at Level 2 or higher and I am confident that we will achieve the quantity part of our target for them. I am also confident we will continue to nail the quality element. Our Q1 learners have flourished in an environment that concentrates on deep learning while avoiding the downside of assessment anxiety as they chase 80+ credits for a largely meaningless Level 1 qualification.

At HPSS we are all determined to maintain an environment focussing on deep learning and not on assessment even as our learners move through Q2 and into Q3 in 2018.