Thursday, 14 September 2017

Consistency or Creativity - You Make The Choice

I quite often hear teachers talk about the need for consistency in using a certain format or platform in schools.  For example, when making art work, some teachers want their students' work to all look the same because it looks more effective on their classroom walls.  Or when choosing a digital platform for school, the teachers want senior leadership teams to make a decision for the whole school - to use Microsoft 365 or Google Suite or Schoology or Edmodo or any other that they have seen in operation.

When I ask teachers why they want "consistency," they reply so that the teachers and learners will know what to do, so that everything is the same, so that everyone is on the same page etc.   I hear no really valid reason, in my books.  I dispute the need for consistency and I am all for giving teachers and learners choice.  Choose the product that works well for you at the time.  If you have the opportunity to use a variety of platforms, then pick one that you and your learners like.  As long as we perpetuate the myth that students will not know what to do, they will continue to remain in a state of learned helplessness.

So how could this work in art?  There are a variety of different techniques that learners could be exposed to.  Making videos on how to do these different techniques would provide learners the opportunity to have choice and control over what they do.  Giving them the opportunity to investigate and try different techniques is important in my view.

But then comes the practical side of things.  How can you cater for a whole lot of different techniques and media in one classroom? I am thinking that this is where the whole idea of student agency is exposed for its true meaning.  Not only do learners have choice and control of what they do and when they do it, they have to be self-organising.  They would need to organise researching and finding the resources themselves, and this will require teachers to let go of the control as well.

Good things take time.  If I were a teacher thinking of transitioning to this way of working in Art, here is what I would do.  I would take videos or collect videos of different techniques and post them up in a central place (maybe a site for example).  I would ask learners to investigate different techniques and learners could make videos about what materials were needed and how to carry out the technique.    This way the learners would become a lot more creative rather than following a set "lesson plan" for art.  I would be there to help, suggest, guide.   You know, the whole idea of guide on the side.

And yes it would be very messy.  Am I just dreaming about what could be, or is this far too impractical?

Photo:  A Duck Out of Water.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Politics, Colleagues and Friends

It is so easy, isn't it?  The elections looming in the next few weeks and posts go up on Facebook declaring your political bent.  In the coming weeks, they will be more frequent and strident.  The Primary Teachers Facebook Group administrators were forced to draw a line in the sand recently and suggested one post per member on the political scene.  Teachers were getting too aggressive in their stances.
I must admit to having one friend on Facebook unfriend me because I posted too much on Donald Trump and how ridiculous the man is.  I guess the friend wanted to live in an echo chamber where only his views were visible. But I, too, have been tempted to do the same as the elections loom.  I cannot believe some of the "stupid" posts that people put up about their preferred party or politician.  I have come close to hitting the unfriend button several times but stop myself by thinking about internet guru, Howard Rheingold, and his assertion that we need to learn to be critical consumers to survive online. To do that we have to ensure we do not surround ourselves with like-minded opinion online.

How do friends view the world so differently?  I guess we are all brought up in different ways and experience different things in our lives and work.  We make judgments based on the ladder of inference.  Our action (voting and expressing our political bent) will be based on the reality that we select, the assumptions we make, and the beliefs we have developed.

Teachers are taught to question their beliefs, assumptions and try to look at unselected data about their learners when they start out on a teaching as inquiry cycle.  It is difficult to do by yourself, and this is where a critical friend comes in handy.  Not an uncritical friend.  Someone who agrees with everything you say and constantly affirms you and supports you is not a good critical friend.  An excellent critical friend is often one who challenges his/her own beliefs constantly.   A good critical friend will challenge you even when they do not necessarily believe that the challenge is correct.

So my promise is not to unfriend or even unfollow friends who have a different political bent to mine, no matter how angry I become at their stupidity.  Of course, the challenge is to resist responding in anger. That will lead to them unfriending me. And then I will have another echo chamber.

Image from Stuff

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Stop the World - Teachers Need to Get Off!

Education is being reinvented.  This is not just a "tune up" of the existing education system.  It is a whole rethink of the purpose of education, with all the flow on effects of curriculum design, teaching design, learning design, and still teachers have to carry on.

  • The 30 children are still turning up at the classroom door every day. 
  • Duty still has to be done at interval and lunchtime. 
  • The working parents are still breathing sighs of relief as they drop their children off before the call of their own industrious travails.  
  • The helicopter parents are still hovering, criticising, stirring discontent in their social spheres.
  •  The MOE is still looking for the elusive literacy and numeracy improvements,  or searching for some nebulous positive relationship between cohorts in the analysis of NCEA achievement. 
  • The BOTs and the Principals are still trying to push the school to climb the league tables in an effort to make theirs the most desirable school to attend.
And the list of the everyday demands of schooling goes on.  It is hard to look past the metaphor of building the aeroplane while it is flying.
As a result, we have a number of different "types" of teachers emerging.  My own opinion of educators oscillates wildly between unbridled excitement at the potential and burgeoning talents of some of them and utter despair at the complete lack of understanding and willingness to adapt of others.  Of course, the reality is probably somewhere in the middle, but I think it is a reflection of the environment we are in.  
What we really, really want is to stop the education world for a while, all re-imagine what it could and should be, and then build the infrastructure and capability to achieve it, giving time for teachers to re-educate themselves and not fall back into the same old "safe" practices that they have used for years, or that others have passed on because it worked for them.