Monday, 20 May 2013

'How To Escape Education's Death Valley and National Standards.'

Body, Mind and Spirit-education has be approached holistically.

Sir Ken Robinson: 'How to Escape Education's Death Valley'.

National Standards
We are finding some schools and/or individual teachers use varying approaches and expectations around national standards. This is not a criticism of other schools but more about the reality of interpretation as there can be a reasonable level of teacher subjectivity going into decision making around national standards unless there are robust in-school and between schools moderation processes in place. I could talk on the issues around national standards at length but for now, let me say that used well, they provide a good 'snapshot' of where individual children are at in their learning at that particular point in time. The downside of course is that they can be an absolute nonsense if not used well.

On a cautionary note, we all (parents and teachers) have to be very careful not to place too much focus on the national standard outcomes that the child's confidence and self-belief is knocked as they get subtle or not so subtle messages that they are not up to standard! Learning is very developmental and as emphasised in the above link ('How to Escape Education's Death Valley'), a broader view of learning has to be embraced.

Often when a child is having difficulty with a concept or range of complex concepts, no amount of pressure or magic can be used to instantly transform that child to where we want him to be. 

After saying that, there are key concepts that all children need and thus we must quietly support and use professional expertise to boost the child's engagement, confidence and understanding. Sometimes considerable focus, expertise and work can go into helping a child but the 'penny doesn't drop' immediately. This can be for a number of reasons such as a processing issue or a readiness (developmental) reason. However all that work and energy is not wasted as the child is incrementally being supported to develop his skills. Probably the most important point I can make here, is that if you give children this support, be patient and encouraging, have high and realistic expectations, then success is guaranteed. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow but in due course the boys wil blossom. Sometimes, particularly with boys, you have to 'hang in there' with the encouragement as they can blossom late. As someone once said, boys are like popcorn, some pop earlier than others.

Yong Zhao  summed it all up as he described boys’ learning as like cooking popcorn—some pop early, some pop late. Our job is to retain and build their spirit.   (Chinese Education Professor working in the USA)

Amongst many other things, ERO in their draft report have said that teaching quality at Wellesley is high and the 'students are achieving highly'. I look forward to sharing more of this with you soon.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

'Need a job? Invent it.'

‘Need a job? Invent it.’

An old boy recently sent me a New York Times article written by Thomas L. Friedman  entitled,  ‘Need a Job? Invent It.’ This provocative title deeply resonated with me as it is clearly apparent that the days of assuming our young people will transition from school or university into jobs has long gone. It’s tough out there and the ‘playing field’ has changed.
Friedman quotes an executive he interviewed as saying, “We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think-to ask the right questions-and to take initiative.”

People like Edward de Bono have always believed thinking and creativity are skills that can be taught and learnt! This is very evident to us as well and we believe the exponential change our children will face demands that these skills have the same focus and currency as the core skills of numeracy and literacy.

After saying that, we can’t underestimate the importance of the basic skills and these need to be fostered with rigour drawing on the best practice available. We need a school system that values questions above answers, creativity over fact regurgitation and excellence above mediocrity.
What is exciting, is that once this is recognised, across the board academic outcomes trend upwards. How do we know that?  Because this is the approach Wellesley has been taking for over ten years and through our data collecting over these years,  the trend is clear with our boys now consistently ‘punching above their weight’ in every quartile of natural ability and transition to college in excellent shape.
According to Friedman, Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready’. They learn concepts and creativity more than facts.”
Intelligence is not enough. Creativity, or the ability to think divergently, can be developed and improved. It’s a learnable process. 

Good questions to ask ourselves as educators are: How do we prepare our young people for a world beyond our imagination? How do we craft a student’s learning journey towards a job that has not yet been created?  What are these skills or dispositions and what is the journey we need to take children on to give them real learning power?
We believe they are a collection of attitudes and behaviours. Skills such as perseverance, flexibility, questioning, curiosity, creativity, abstract thinking, reflection, resilience and optimism.  I like Guy Claxton’s metaphor of a school as a mind gym v an assembly line. The concept of imagining the mind as a muscle you can build is appealing. This is not about getting rid of content but going deeper and providing a broader utility.

We want to prepare our children to become brave new explorers in this exciting fast paced world. The learning to learn skill set described so far are not new features of the Wellesley philosophy but we are forever honing and reflecting on the best way to facilitate them to our boys.

Learning should be hard fun where there is engagement, passion and purpose.