Monday, 30 November 2015

ILEs - they are hard work!

Warning!  In this post, I use lots of "eduspeak" acronyms which I will put the key to here at the beginning so you can refer back to it.
ILE = innovative learning environment
MLE = modern learning environment 
MOE = Ministry of Education in New Zealand
OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - 34 developed countries
UDL = universal design for learning

There has been a lot of discussion in educational fields around Innovative Learning Environments. Now that a few have been implemented around the country, once again we see a backlash from people who find it hard to acceptmake, and benefit from change. This is also, to a large extent, that they don't really understand why the MOE is trying to bring in ILE's.  I think that is because the MOE started by bringing the environment side of ILE's in first without really putting the time into the professional development of teachers who were going to work in these spaces and the education of parents whose children were going to be educated in this way.  

The MOE first started talking to schools quite a few years back about MLEs in their 5 and 10 year building plans. Even if you go to the MOE's rebranded MLE ILE site, the emphasis still seems to be on the environment. Lots of beautiful pictures of beautiful buildings and almost exclusively with primary aged students sitting on beautiful furniture.  The focus on buildings makes it hard for teachers and parents to understand the concept of ILEs.  

So you may well as the question, why is the pressure on schools and teachers to move to ILE's and how can it be innovative if the teacher(s) does not understand or make it so?  You have to dig a little deeper to find out why there is pressure and motivation to move to ILEs.  

The OECD report on ILE's came out in 2013.  So it seems this report must be a good place to start.  But I think you need to dig a little deeper still and understand the nature of learning. When I have talked to parents about education today, they often want to focus on making sure their child does well in assessments and that brings them back to the old style schooling.  

Assessments, in the old days, were ways of drafting off learners who would not proceed to the higher echelons of education.  Behind the implementation of ILEs are the social and economic changes from an industrial society to a knowledge society. Every child is seen as having the potential to achieve and contribute to the new world particularly if they are able to have control and choice over what they learn, and understand how they learn (metacognition). 

When I talk to parents to think about their own learning, and ask them to think about a time in education when they were given a choice, their faces light up as they remember a "project" they did, where there were no sets of instructions and guidlelines about what they had to learn.  They did their own inquiries and can still remember what they learned to this day and how much enjoyment they got out of it.   Ask them about what they learned for exams and they cannot remember.  They usually say to me - oh you are right, I do remember those occasions (where I could choose) and the learning vividly.
This can be best understood by delving into the nature of learning.  Bolstad and Gilbert et al  summarised this nicely in Table 3 on page 15 of their report "Supporting Future Oriented Teaching and Learning".  Learning involves thinking, it is building on prior knowlege but more than just adding to concepts, experiences are critical, it needs active engagement, motivation, personalisation, structure and social interaction, and meaningful contexts.  They conclude that expanding peoples' intellectual capacity should be the kep purpose of education.
 Again there is another OECD report about what learning involves and an excellent booklet outlining the 7 principles to guide the design of learning environments. And this is what should be at the heart of it - how do we get the best learning happening?  Researchers have analysed and synthesised how learning for all students could best take place and this is how the ILEs have come about.

In some online discussions, I have read some teachers expressing that ILE's dont suit everyone,  BUT THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT - they should suit everyone.  There should be ideal elements for learning for every student.  The ILEs should encompass UDL - a universal design for learning which enables multiple forms of representation, expression and engagement.
I was recently privileged to listen to two teachers (Paula Hale and Tonia Fenemore) at Leamington School (Cambridge) who have worked to make the change to an ILE working together in a collaborative way, with their year 1 and 2 students.  What a huge effort in planning and implementation.  Parents were consulted, leadership supported and the two teachers gave up an incredible amount of their weekend time to make this work.)  After a year of it, they have only good things to say about the quality and quantity of learning that happened in their class compared to a traditional model.  They expressed the viewpoint that there were no children who were not catered for in this environment.
They did not talk about the technology which supported the learning but when questioned about it, talked about how it is seamlessly integrated into the classroom.  The students make choices about what technology they can choose and when.  Personally, I cannot see how an ILE could function without the support of digital technologies.  It enables the learners to seek further knowledge, process and transform it into new forms.
If your school is involved in implementing ILEs, talk to the leaders, teachers and parents about what that will mean for the learners.  How will it be better? What can you do to support?  
I conclude with reference to Andreas Schleicher's words.  "Everyone supports innovation - except for their own children."  Change is coming.  Innovation is coming.  It won't be comfortable, it won't be easy and it will need time and energy expended by teachers and leaders who need to work with their communities to make it happen.  It is designed to make learning better than ever before.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Let's focus our lenses a bit more.

In August, I blogged about the Backlash or Implementation Dip?.     Since then, there seems to have been a further media stirring of that proverbial pot

In September, the release of an OECD report - Students, Learning, and Computers, added some fuel to the media fire, when it discovered that that high use of digital technologies had a co-relational detrimental effect on PISA test outcomes for 15 year old students in the PISA tests, (research based on 2009 - 2012 PISA test results).  Media frenzy, like sharks at the scent of blood in the water, erupted across the world.  So we spent all this money on computers and they have a detrimental effect on students?  

In short, the answer is yes.  However, there is more than meets the eye to this story.  If you buy a whole lot of computers and do not spend time investing in changing the way teachers teach, then you have wasted your money.  

Innovative teachers in New Zealand have blogged more thoughtful responses about this in great detail, like this blog from Claire Amos.  Greg Carroll's comments in the NZ Primary Teachers facebook group pretty much summed up my own thoughts.  He said "Read the ACTUAL OECD report. (Rather than the media reports)  Even the first 3-4 pages of introduction and the Exec summary. The big point this study makes is about the importance of pedagogy .... like with any tool it is what teachers do with it that matters! Media spin is profoundly unhelpful .... the need for teachers to be effective makes a way less sexy headline than technology being a waste of time and kids failing." 

I have spent a bit more time reviewing the report and watching an interview of Andreas Schleicher  (head of the PISA assessment organisation) through this webinar.  Mr Schleicher is a concise, measured speaker and I have enjoyed listening to him on many occasions.  His quote at the end of the webinar - "without data, you are just another person with an opinion" is a useful thing to remember.  

The data that PISA has gathered shows a link between screen-time and poor performance in the PISA tests.  It also shows that the average amount of screen time that New Zealand 15 year old students were spending in school time was 29 minutes per day.  Most student screentime ( on average, 4- 5 times that amount)  was spent at home.  And, disturbingly, 27% of NZ 15 year olds are spending more than 4 hours online at home.  My suspicion is that students who spend a lot of screentime hours at home are chatting, using social media and/or gaming.  No surprises that these are the students with poorer PISA outcomes.  But without data to support my suspicion,  I am just another person with an opinion.

Let's go back to the 29 minutes of computer time in school.  What were the students doing during this time?  Mainly browsing the internet, but also some communication with other students, a bit of homework, downloading and uploading to the school website, using email, practice drilling, chatting and a tiny 10% of students engaged in play simulation.  Hardly inspiring stuff! 

The OECD report also showed that while the majority of secondary teachers believe in 21st century pedagogy, much fewer actually practise what they preach.  I suspect, again, that many NZ teachers are too focused on raising NCEA achievement to be motivated to spend time investigating how they could be changing their pedagogy. 

Which brings me to another item that I read in the Rotorua paper yesterday where a primary school principal is attributed by Rotorua Daily Post reporter Stephanie Arthur-Worsop as having "groundbreaking ideas about digital technologies....".  The principal is questioning what effect technology really had on learning and so she should!    

The questions the principal is reported to have asked and answered were - "Has it closed the rich poor gap? No.  Has it improved maths and English outcomes? No.  Has it improved student achievement? No. What does improve all those things is effective teaching".  

I wonder where her data on primary aged students is coming from?

The principal goes on to be reported as saying that "reseach is coming through which has found technology to be causing real problems, not just for students but teachers as well.  It's a distraction and results in students feeling isolated and lonely."  I suspect this statement partly alluded to the OECD report showing that 15 year old students who spend 4 to 6 hours on the internet at home often feel very lonely at school.

OMGoodness! I hope that the principals' group in Rotorua spent a bit more time going through the data from the OECD report in a bit more detail and actually getting out of the report the conclusions that Andreas Schleicher and his team intended, rather than the supposedly "groundbreaking" new ideas reported in the Rotorua Daily Post.  

Here are the principal's reported new ideas:- 
- Human contact in class is  critical
- Parental guidance with homework is still needed
- Digital tools, if unbalanced, are isolating and ineffective
- Classes should have a mix of standing and sitting desks
- Collaboration is possible in a competitive education model. 

Jan-Marie Kellow, a colleague of mine, had this to say about the Rotorua Daily Post article, in the NZ Primary Teachers facebook group.  
             " I don't think any of the "new ideas" are actually new. Any tool used poorly without a sound pedagogical basis will be ineffective or even damaging. I have seen the effects of digital technology used well and the results are amazing. Far from isolating students it connects them globally and the creative results can be awesome and empowering. 

               As for sitting for long periods, this is certainly not new, just take a look at pictures of classrooms taken in the past, sitting for long periods was certainly the norm then. I would argue that in modern collaborative, innovative classrooms there is a lot less sitting than there ever was in the past. And having devices in a classroom does not mean you can't go outside for PE or sports."

I go back now to Andreas Schleicher's words. Just putting computers into classrooms does not improve outcomes.  Investment in technology alone is not an automatic driver of improved outcomes for students.   As Schleicher says "The biggest barrier (to improved outcomes) probably is the delivery in the classroom  - Intelligent use and effective integration (of the technology) - thats where most of the work is needed." 

Look closer at this one of Schleicher's slides. Ways we should be using digital technologies.
And look at this telling conclusion that he makes

And finally, this statement which explains a lot of the resistance/ backlash/ implemetation dip that I have been talking about:-

Enough said, for now.