Sunday, 27 November 2016

A Tool to Reflect on The Seven Principles of Learning in Your Class

The OECD brought out a practitioners guide to innovative learning environments called The Nature of Learning.  In it, the Seven Principles of Learning are outlined, and these are based on research on how we learn.
We should use these principles to guide the development of the environment in which we learn.  In other words, as teachers we should be using these principles in our classrooms.
Briefly the principles are centred around:
  • learners being at the centre
  • the social nature of learning
  • emotions are integral to learning
  • recognising individual differences
  • stretching all students
  • assessment for learning
  • building horizontal connections.
I can talk about each of these things to my hearts content but I think it will be more relevant for you if you examine your own practice through these eyes.  So instead I have prepared a document for you to make a copy of and fill in yourself.  This self review document could make a discussion point for end-of-year staff meetings or even beginning-of-year staff meetings, for appraisal, deciding on inquiry or practicing teacher criteria self reflection.

You could add another column - what do my peers say? Linked to the sheet (in the top left hand corner) are a few ideas of what each of these principles mean to me.  Please add comments to the explanations, if you wish - I hope you find both documents useful.

Saturday, 12 November 2016


In my work, I am paid to be provocative.  By this I mean, provoke thinking in others who may be resistant to change.  So sometimes it makes people uncomfortable.  But that is okay, because when someone disagrees with you, it gets them thinking about the opposite point of view and why people would hold that view.  And that is the first sign that there may be a change coming.  It may take time - a week, a month and sometimes a year or more.  Sometimes it may not come at all.
Think about that time that someone made you feel angry because of the opinion they held.  Did you ever change your opinion later on?  That is how we grow intellectually.
We should not place ourselves in echo chambers, completely surrounded by others who agree with us.  I came across the idea of avoiding echo chambers when I was studying Howard Rheingold who wrote the book "Net Smart: How to Thrive Online".  I wrote a blog post about my learnings back in September.
He says there are 5 literacies to enable you to thrive online.  They are:

  • attention
  • participation
  • collaboration
  • critical consumption (aka crap detection) 
  • network know-how.
Critical consumption allows you to look at a variety of sources of media with differing viewpoints and opinions, and to examine them closely to see if they fit with yours, and if they don't, then think about why.  You don't have to change your opinion but if you live in an echo chamber, you are not open to the idea of change.
So back to the idea of thriving online, when someone disagrees with my opinion, I don't unfriend them.  The only time I unfriend people is when they are abusive - not toward me necessarily - but name calling and swearing nastily at others or inciting violence types of abuse.  (BTW I am not against swearing per se).
My 616 facebook friends hold a great diversity of opinion.  It provokes my thinking.  I do make judgments about what I think is right or wrong and sometimes I don't respond at all.  But I thank you all for your contribution to my ability to thrive online.
Image: Pixabay 

Monday, 7 November 2016

Preparing for Exams or The Future?

Are you preparing your learners for exams or are you preparing them for the future?  My work in schools has uncovered some uncomfortable truths.  Many of our schools are preparing our learners for exams.  I don't blame them.  Schools are judged by their success in the qualification stakes.  The Ministry of Education does it and parents do it.

I believe we must look closely at the moral purpose of education.  What are we (educators) here for?  Sometimes educators see their moral purpose as doing the best for the learner.  And, in their view, that the best for the learner is to prepare them for exams.
I beg to differ.  The moral purpose must surely be for the betterment of humanity.  It should be a much wider, far-reaching moral purpose than ever before.    Michael Bezzina says "Leading with moral purpose means having a commitment to making a difference in the lives and outcomes of students as a result of their experiences at school." Will exams make a difference in the lives and outcomes of students?  Short term memorization is not a skill that will be needed in the future.  We don't need to draft off winners and losers any more.  So what is the purpose of exams?
This Weebley site (author unknown) identifies several purposes for exams:

  • so the professors can see if you have really learned about something
  • so they can get to know their students better 
  • to see who needs help
  • to identify which professors can't teach as well
  • to standardise the learning
  • to benefit the education system
Hardly anything there that will make a difference in the lives and outcomes of students, let alone the betterment of humanity, is there?  After all, there are other ways of finding out if a learner has learned. Professors should already have found out who needs help, rather than rely on a summative exam to tell them.  Maybe it is, after all, just a sorting mechanism for who should be professors, but if the standards by which they are judged rely on memorisation skills of their students, then there is something wrong with how you become a professor, surely?

In this recent article on , the author, Christiaan Henney states that exams will be changing completely in the next 20 years as they do not reflect an employee's ability to do what is required in a job.  He suggests that knowledge is best measured alongside the learning and is demonstrated when employees carry out project work on the job.  Visible learning can be shown using multimedia e-portfolios.  Our learners should be encourage to explain concepts and learning in videos for example.    Einstein explained this concept succinctly:  
I long for the day when schools are able to shift their thinking away from preparing their learners for exams, toward preparing their learners for the future.  According to Dr Ruha Benjamin who I listened to in a keynote address at ISTE in Denver this year, schools are laboratories for social change.  
I think it is time for the change.