Amazing Stories #324

I’m not a huge fan of the new Apple News app, and I don’t expect that Nine News is going to break new ground in education news I’d value. But, even by those un-lofty standards the article below that appeared tonight was a new low. This was the article in full! (More behind the paywall?) Note, both the assumptions are flawed: the view of  current school as kids in rows AND the radical future, ie Wifi.

Startling revelations.


Learning and innovating at the IBAC

I haven’t been to the IB Asia Pacific Conference since I went to Invacargill in NZ in 2004. It was the bleakest, flattest, coldest place in the world; we walked the black ice to the conference in the morning and walked back in the dark at the end of the day. 

Besides the cold weather and the warm welcome of the locals I remember two things from that conference very strongly: the wooden dinghy in the hotel foyer filled with icy NZ beer, and the enthusiasm of the teachers for the IB curriculum.  I’d only been to VCE conferences before, and they were characterised more by teeth-gnashing and more or less outright hostility than the (almost) universal positivity I encountered in NZ.

But it wasn’t the cold that’s kept me away all these years. I don’t personally teach in the IB program and my role is around the teacher development, aligning the teaching and learning approaches to our VCE teaching, and having an understanding of where it’s all heading. Which leads me here this week,to Kuala Lumpur, a place that couldn’t be any more different to Invacargill if it tried. It should be an interesting few days, and I’ll be posting some of my session notes later on.

Seeing Learning

I spent most of the day today in the final session of a series of workshops a number of schools have been involved in this year called ‘Seeing Learning’, which has focused on classroom observation and how that might improve learning.

I’ve been part of a classroom observation project before and really enjoyed the experience of visiting other teachers in their classrooms, espeically across disciplines and age groups: I went into a Year 12 Art class and a primary classroom with tiny seats and loved it. It was more threatening when those teachers came to my English class, but that was good too, mainly because of the culture of respect and collaboration that  framed the whole project.
This year I learned a lot more about how that might have gone. And what we might do next time. Most importantly, for me, the importance of the ‘lens’ in looking at classrooms. What are you looking at? How we se ‘see’ learning? Such thinking will be really important as we begin our planning for next year.
One thing I am sure about is that there is definitely value in opening up your classroom to other teachers, to share your own learning and teaching experiences and learn from colleagues in a positive way.
Above: Ancient seeing in the NY Met (photo: Warrick)


Well, things move on, and I didn’t want that gloomy looking post to sit there too long. I’ve had some really positive classes lately; it’s the shortest day of the year today and things are going to start lightening up; from here on in, there’s going to be more light!

I often think that the end of term 2 in schools is about the hardest time, for teacher and students. It’s dark, cold, mid-year and it’s hard to imagine you’re making progress sometimes. Students get sick and miss lessons, and teachers too. For the Year 12s I work with, many have their mid-year exams, ones that count, and a weight of school-assessed coursework to complete Unit 3. Teachers are busy marking and writing reports in a tight time-frame to get them out to parents by the end of term. No wonder everyone seems frazzled.

So I was calmed by the thought that this is the darkest moment of the year in meteorological terms, and that tomorrow the sun will rise just a little earlier and set a little later. Tomorrow! And who better to usher in tomorrow than that annoying little kid from ‘Annie’!


It’s been a big week, chock-full of NAPLAN testing, among other things. Three mornings of more paper-shuffling than you can poke a 2B pencil at.

And is it worth the effort? Mine, my team or the students? I doubt it. I’ve blogged about NAPLAN before: about teaching to the test, the new lows of league tables, and the fact that other places like England  have begun to reject the national testing agendas we’ve turned into an industry.

And, there’s plenty of arguments against going down the NY schools pathway that Julia Guillard has latched on to with such enthusiasm.  This SMH article described how testing has actually failed NY schools, or this City Journal article, Can NY clean up the testing mess? that describes Campbell’s law:

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Or, as this National Times article put it:

The big question is why Australia would want to emulate a country like the US where academic performance standards are, on average, much lower and where educational opportunity for many children depends on the luck of a lottery draw.

Even Kevin Donnelly has changed his mind about this stuff, as he writes here in The Drum: and says, among other things:

• Testing has failed to raise standards in England or New York and is now seen as counter-productive. Diane Ravitch’s most recent book, The death and life of the great American school system, details the flaws with NY’s model of standardised testing and high-risk accountability.

According to the US national test (NAEP), NY’s results have flatlined. In the UK, notwithstanding national tests and league tables, standards have also failed to improve and the Rose Report, evaluating primary school curriculum in the UK, argues against an over-emphasis on one-off basic skills tests.

• The curriculum has been narrowed and the focus is on basic skills instead of higher order thinking. Subjects like music, art, physical education and history fall by the wayside as teachers and schools focus on drilling for literacy and numeracy tests.

• Schools and teachers are adopting suspicious ways to get better results – poor students are excluded from tests, weak students are told to stay at home, teachers cheat by helping students in the classroom.

• US and Australian test experts agree that standardised tests like NAPLAN are unreliable, invalid and cannot be trusted (it’s lies, damn lies and statistics).

I’ll leave the last word to some of the kids who sat the test this week. Yes, I know that re-tweeting is easy, but so is pretending you’re actually doing something about learning by giving every student who happens to be the same age in Australia exactly the same test.

The Key is Good Teachers

A little while ago I was involved in a forum convened by the Grattan Institute which was looking at teacher performance and evaluation, and how that all fits together.

So, I was interested to see a report coming out of that institute by Ben Jensen called ‘Investing in Our Teachers: Investing in Our Economy’. All economic metaphors aside, the basic premise; that good teaching is what matters most, is hard to deny. The report argues that we’ve spent too much on reducing class sizes for no good effect (have we actually really given that a go?) and argues that teacher effectiveness is the lever for real improvement.

Agree! But the next step is always blurrier and I don’t think it’s as clear cut and quanifiable as the report makes out. But the report outlines 5 ways to improve teacher effectiveness:

1. Improve the quality of applicants to the teaching profession

2. Improve the quality of teachers’ initial education and training

3. Evaluate and provide feedback to develop teachers once they enter the profession and are working in our schools

4. Recognise and reward effective teachers

5. Move on ineffective teachers who have been unable to increase their effectiveness through development programs.

Hard to argue with much of that but the word ‘effective’ is tricky, and that’s often when these things turn to standardized test results in isolation from other factors.  However, this report seems to have a better handle on all that and also says:

Many of these problems stem from a lack of meaningful teacher evaluation and development. It is, therefore, ineffective (and grossly unfair) to dismiss poorly performing teachers who have never before received effective teacher evaluation and development. All teachers need to have effective evaluation that identifies their strengths and weaknesses and feeds into individualised development plans.
A development program may aim to increase the performance of teachers found to have specific weaknesses. Development steps should be undertaken so that they can raise their effectiveness to sufficient levels. Many will improve. Some will leave the profession of their own accord and some will be dismissed for not improving their performance. As shown, this will improve learning in schools and lift Australia’s students to amongst the world’s best.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the approach the Federal Government wants to take on teacher performance and performance pay.

That’s all I have to say about that…

Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school is better than another? This is true whether the reform in question is vouchers, charter schools, increased school accountability, smaller class sizes, better pay for all teachers, bonuses for good teachers, firing of bad teachers — measured by changes in test scores, each has failed to live up to its hype.

From the NY Times today

Expanding Learning Horizons (Day 2)


So, Day 2 begin with Travis Smith: Scaling Innovative Practice

Travis talked about the Hattie research, and how that 22 of the top 26 things that make a difference to student achievement, are things that teachers can do. He talked mostly about how we skill up teachers to empower them around innovative practice and the importance of contextualising the skills for teachers. He also reminded us of work of Neville Johnstone on professional learning including the importance of embedding the professional learning in the core business of teachers. I liked his ideas around personalisation for teachers and also his point about focusing on teachers who can help ‘transform’ schools and classrooms.

I co-presented on wikis in k-12 learning this morning. We called the session Wikimania and focused on our thinking and practice around web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis so far. It went quite well even though the internet went down in the room for about 10 minutes just as we were showcasing some of the wikis live.  The people in the room were very patient and we eventually got online and showed the Wikimania wiki we’d set up for the session. That’s still live for any input you want to make, or just to check it out.

After lunch Karen Li, Global Education Program Manager for Intel gave a keynote. Intel has a vision for education? That’s okay I guess; I’ve got a vision for computer chips. I thought the message here was a bit blurry (disclaimer: I missed the first 5 minutes) with the term e-learning tossed around a bit loosely and not much distinction made between computers for skill and drill and computers that will re-conceptualise classrooms. I suppose that’s natural if the key is selling chips! I might not be being entirely fair here: I’m naturally suspicious about business and their educational visions. Intel has supported 1-1 programs by purchase programs, 1-1 eLearning pilots, developing rugged, low cost learning platforms, investing in the professional development of teachers ($100 million annually and $1 billion USD over the last ten years) and developing eLearning content packages that help countries develop digital curriculum. Li was good at pushing the imperative that countries needed to adapt to prosper and that teachers needed the passion and desire to make it happen.

Then I heard Julie Squires from Casey Grammar talking about Exploring Web 2.0 Teaching Ideas. Julie talked about her web 2.0 learning journey beginning with an edublog called Learning Gems. She was honest about her interest, which begin with a fascination with the ‘tools’ of learning but then moved on to be about the connections she’d made and how the online community became a virtual staff room for her. It’s a message I’ve heard often now; how the online support networks are sometimes more affirming and positive than the professional relationships inside the school. Julie shared some great tools, many of which she’s shared on her Wetpaint wiki, Exploring Web 2.0 Teaching Ideas:

Wikimania at ELH

I’ve spent a bit of time this week working on a presentation for next week’s Expanding Learning Horizons Conference in Lorne.  I’m co-presenting with a colleague on using wikis in k-12 learning and really looking forward to it. We’ve been building a Wetpaint wiki for the presentation and want to feature some other tools like OneNote and the Flip video cameras as well.

Last year we presented about implementing blogs and ethical online practice and I enjoyed the conference a lot. In fact, the three of us from my school who attended all came back fired up to make a difference in our own context.

No doubt, like last year, I’ll be blogging and twittering (#elh09) through the three days; I hope I get a morning like the one last year.  The picture above is from that morning. Lorne is pretty beautiful when it’s on!