Glibbipedia Hacked!

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In which Mr Glibbly searches for the internet but fails to find it.

This is the story of Mr Glibbly. As you are probably already aware, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.

Mr Glibbly is a politician, which is an ideal profession for a Glibbly. Mr Glibbly is a very important man, because he decides what millions of our children will have to learn in our schools for many years to come. The country can’t afford for Mr Glibbly to get it wrong. But the problem is, although Mr Glibbly knows a great deal about a lot of things, he doesn’t know anything at all about teaching and learning or how to use the internet. And that’s quite a problem.

A little while ago, Mr Glibbly was due to give a speech. It was going to be a very important speech, and he thought he would show how clever he was to everyone who was listening. So Mr Glibbly decided to explain why you couldn’t learn anything from the internet. Here’s what he said, in his usual Glibbly sort of way:

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you Google it. But the first paragraph on the Wikipedia article mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of google searches which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’.“

Silly Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise that what he said would reveal his entire lack of understanding about how to search the internet and how good teachers teach. Would you believe it – Mr Glibbly thinks that a good education for the 21st century is exactly the same as the one they had back in the 19th Century?

Now, as everyone (except it seems Mr Glibbly) knows, if you ‘Google’ something, you don’t just only click on the link to Wikipedia. It can be a useful starting point, but you are almost certainly going to need to check out some of the other links. If you search for ‘Radiation’, all you have to do is look a little way down towards the bottom of the first page of results and there is a link to a site called ‘Radiation for Kids‘.

And there, had Mr Glibbly had any digital skills and understanding at all, he would have found the following ever-so simple explanation that even All Change Please! can understand:

‘Radiation. All objects radiate energy and heat, even your own body. However, the radiation coming from hotter objects is more intense than that coming from cooler objects. Radiation leaves an object in the form of waves. The hotter an object, the shorter the wavelength of this radiation.’

And there are plenty of other similar sites that perfectly adequately explain all the other terms Mr Glibbly referenced, and each without the need to search for the meaning of other words.

Now sadly it is true to say that in some schools children are not properly taught the skills of using search engines, appropriate search terms or to be able to critically assess the value of the information they find. That’s a pity, because that’s one of the really basic skills everyone needs in the 21st Century. But fortunately there are plenty of other capable and confident children who know how to find pretty much anything they want to learn about on the internet. Quite unlike Mr Glibbly.

But meanwhile let’s re-write what Mr Glibbly said and substitute the word ‘encyclopedia’ (you remember – those big books we used to use when we were at school) for ‘Wikipedia’…

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you look it up in an encyclopedia. But the first paragraph mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of encyclopedia articles which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’. “

So it seems the problem Mr Glibbly described is not specific to the internet, but to the transmission of knowledge in general. But of course what Mr Glibbly doesn’t understand is that teaching involves rather more than just standing at the front of rows of obedient children reeling out lots of old-fashioned facts for them to memorise. Indeed, let’s re-write his paragraph yet again…

“Say, for example, your teacher is telling you about nuclear energy, and uses an unfamiliar term: radiation. As you, unlike many others in your class, are not afraid to look stupid by admitting you don’t know what radiation is, so you put your hand up and ask. The teacher explains what it is, but in doing so uses another unfamiliar term: ‘particles’, so up goes your hand again, and so on with all the other terms until the teacher can’t stand it any more and just tells you to be quiet and in future pay more attention to what he’s saying.”

In each example – the internet, the encylopedia, the teacher – it’s exactly the same problem. It’s not the technology or having the knowledge that makes the difference, it’s how well the writer or presenter can explain the specialist terms in ways that can easily be understood by the non-specialist. Mr Glibbly can’t be so clever if he hasn’t realised that yet, can he?

Meanwhile Mr Df-ingE continues to try to attract high-flying academic graduates into the classroom at the expense of people who actually know how to effectively communicate the underlying concepts of their subject and to engage children in the classroom. Perhaps what Mr Glibbly should be doing is to try and somehow help break the cycle of large numbers of children pursuing academic subjects through to university only to discover that the only job they can get is teaching children academic subjects through to university only to discover, and so on… If there was less emphasis on theoretical academic subjects for all it might help a bit with the teacher recruitment crisis too.

Meanwhile it might be a good idea for Mr Glibbly to discover how to use a search engine to learn a thing or two about what education is really all about. And to listen more attentively to what the teaching profession is telling him.

Many people say that Mr Glibbly isn’t really the most suitable person to be in charge of determining the school curriculum. What do you think?

Image © Tristram Shepard

D&T: Design & Transparency?

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Your country needs you to do D&T

Last week the Df-ingE issued one of their spin-ridden press releases about the new D&T GCSE. Let’s take it apart and see what, if anything, is holding it all together.

‘A new, gold-standard design and technology (D&T) GCSE to help produce the next generation of James Dysons and Tim Berners-Lees has been unveiled by Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

So, gold-standard, eh? All Change Please! always assumed that accolade was reserved for real, hard, academic subjects of no practical benefit? And while a couple of Dysons and Berners-Lees might be useful in the future, the thought of an entire cloned generation of them is actually a bit alarming.

‘The new design and technology GCSE will give students the chance to develop their own design briefs and projects and could lead them to producing anything from furniture for disabled people to computer-controlled robots.

‘The chance to develop their own briefs and projects maybe, but in reality most teachers will find a way of narrowing things down somewhat in order to make things more manageable. Meanwhile given the breadth of the design industry, the distance between furniture and robots is not actually that great, and pupils will quickly come up with a much wider range of possibilities that may prove difficult to shoe-horn into the assessment criteria. Oh, and could someone kindly let the Df-ngE know that Tim Berners Lee is not and has never been an industrial designer.

‘Industry experts, including those from the James Dyson Foundation, have been closely involved in developing the new GCSE content, ensuring it meets the future needs of employers.

All Change Please! isn’t entirely convinced that the James Dyson Foundation – or indeed many industry experts – was exactly ‘closely involved’. It knows for a fact that most of the content came from a small working party who put a great deal of effort into challenging the Df-ingE’s original horticulturalist nonsense. It might help meet some of the needs of some employers, but the high percentage of academic content will put most students off, and anyway it’s not part of the EBaccwards, so that will put the rest off too.

‘This is a rigorous qualification which will require students to have a sound grasp of maths and science, and which will undoubtedly stretch them to further develop the kind of knowledge and skills so sought after by employers and universities.

Ah yes, the maths and science content. Design is neither an Arts or a Science subject but a subtle mixture of the two, which just goes to show how much the Df-ingE understand about what they’re messing with. In reality designers get on with the designing and consult specialist mathematicians and scientists, and indeed a wide range of other specialists, as and when appropriate to the requirements of the work they are doing.

‘Internationally-renowned designer James Dyson said: Design and technology is a subject of fundamental importance. Logical, creative and practical – it’s the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in maths and science – directly preparing them for a career in engineering. But until now, this subject’s tremendous potential has not been met.

Ah, so let’s admit it then, this isn’t really a course in design and technology at all – it’s really just a fancy new name for Engineering. And it’s also the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in all their school subjects, not just Maths and Science.

‘The James Dyson Foundation has spent 4 years advising the Department for Education on every level of D&T education – and today we can finally unveil a GCSE qualification to be proud of.

That’s just four mentions of James Dyson so far. And it’s just a pity that the Dyson Foundation didn’t spend those 4 years suggesting creative ways of making the 1960s maths and science content more interesting, relevant and accessible to a wider range of children, or perhaps advising that 21st century digital making now ought to be at the centre of the content.

‘One that will inspire invention from students and teachers alike. That will nurture a creative mind-set and passion for problem solving. That will appeal to more youngsters than ever before.

Oh no it won’t, because the written paper will serve to exclude more youngsters (‘youngsters’???  N.B. All Change Please! strongly advises not calling them that in class) than ever before. Hmm. Just one other problem here, and that’s the teachers. Forgetting the current severe shortage of D&T teachers at present, most of the rest are well past their make-by date CDT teachers, formerly known as woodworkers and metalworkers, usually recognisable by their particular lack of inspirational invention, let alone creative mind-set and passion for problem-solving.

So in the interests of transparency, let’s just do a bit of re-wording, and what we end up with is this rather more honest press-release:

‘Design and Technology is a terribly important subject because in about 20 years’ time a successful designer or engineer might emerge as a result of having taken the subject at school, even though most successful designers and engineers tend to study completely different subjects, or leave school at 16 and do something practical instead. And when we say terribly important, of course we mean not as important as academic subjects, which is why we’re not including it in the EBacc.

Because the specification we have developed is terribly, er., quite important and will effect the lives of hundreds of thousands of children over the next five to ten years, we first asked a junior minister to write it up over the weekend, based on her own experience of CDT in the 1970s. We then got James Dyson – yes that James Dyson – and Tim Berners Lee to agree to say we had consulted them, but despite this, the D&T subject association insisted on trying to improve it, so we let them alter one or two bits to keep them happy. Oh and did I mention James Dyson? We did try to get Isambard Brunel to contribute, but he wasn’t available.

A lot of people in the consultation said that they thought the written paper was a bad idea, but we couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about, probably because we don’t really understand what design is all about in the first place. As a result we’re still insisting on making half the exam based on a written paper even though it’s a highly unreliable indicator of design and technological capability. Of course a written paper in Art & Design might not be so appropriate, because that’s a different sort of design which is just about making things look nice, isn’t it? I mean you wouldn’t want to end up being someone non-PC like Jonny Ive of Apple and going to Art School now would you? Apple’s motto is ‘Think Different’, and we certainly don’t want that.

Meanwhile the reality of course is that not a lot has changed in D&T. Pupils can choose their own problems to solve which, between you and me, I think will be a bit of a disaster, because many of them will not involve a great deal of the maths and science they have to somehow include.  Then we’ve removed the requirement to specialise in one material, except of course that most D&T teachers are still specialists in one material. Then there’s the addition of the word ‘iterative’ which sounds rather trendy and up-to-date, and the phrase ‘exploring, creating and evaluating’. Most teachers never understood the design process anyway, so this will really confuse them. So the chances are we’ll still end up with a load of projects in which children make furniture for their bedroom, a new outfit for themselves or an automatic goldfish feeder.

Which is a good thing, because of course the last thing we want to do is to really change anything – our motto is ‘Moving forwards by going backwards and all thinking exactly the same’.

Nick ‘Dyson’ Glibbly

And here is Teacher Toolkit’s ‘It’s So Rigorous; We Don’t Want You To Do It! response… http://teachertoolkit.me/2015/11/17/designtechnology/

Image credit: Flickr / Eva Renaldi

 

 

Now We Are Six

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Ever since All Change Please! celebrated its first birthday, it’s been waiting until it could fully reveal the extent of its intellectual middle-class up-bringing by using the title of the book of poems by AA Milne it was bought up on, and to point out that its alter-ego is not the only person to spell their surname that way. Anyway, finally, today’s the day…

As has become the tradition on this great annual celebration – in future doubtless to be recognised globally as All Change Please! day – it has become customary to review what’s been hot and what’s not over the past twelve months.

Rather than building the suspense way beyond the unbearable and then dragging out the final moment of truth for as long as possible by making you wait until the very end of the post to find out, All Change Please! will immediately reveal that and winner of The People’s Vote, i.e. the most read post of the last year, is…

Mark My Words…Please! which helps confirm All Change Please!’s assertion that examiners should be paid more for their services.

Meanwhile curiously the Number 2 spot is taken by Left, Right, Right, Right, Right… which was first released in July 2012, and and is followed onto the turntable by the Number 3 spot by another Golden Oldie, even more curiously also from July 2012 Are Janet and John now working at the DfES?.  For some unknown reason these somewhat dated posts just keep on giving, and All Change Please! can only assume that there must be some tag or keyword in there somewhere that keeps on coming up in searches. There must be a Ph.D. somewhere in there, as people keep saying these days.

Other posts that did better than others during the year included Fixated by Design, Virgin on the ridiculous, New A level D&T: Dull & Tedious and Goves and Dolls.

But now it’s time for All Change Please! to reveal its own favourites for the year in the pathetically vague hope of improving their stats a bit. As so often happens in life, what All Change Please! reckons to be its best works are generally ignored, while the ones it dashed off in a matter of minutes and that it didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in them prove to be the best sellers – which makes it a bit of a shame seeing as they are given away for nothing.

So, if you kindly will, please take a moment to click again on some of these:

Goves and Dolls: All Change Please!’s 2014 Festive gangster satire, written in a Damon Runyon-esque stye

Way To Go: in which Nicky Morgan seems to think that the BBCs WIA spoof fly-on-the-wall comedy series is for real.

And the two Alas! Smith and Journos posts: Have you ever Bean Green and Beginners Please

Meanwhile, here are a few of All Change Please!’s favourite bits:

I expect all the schools requiring improvement will be given those special tape measures now?’ (Jones from Have you ever Bean Green)

Smith:“It’s a new play by Tom Stoppard – you know he did ‘Jumpers’ and ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’.”

Jones: Oh, the National Theatre, I thought you meant the Grand National and there was a horse called Stoppard who was a good jumper, and there were two other horses they’d had to put down.  (from Beginners Please! in which Smith and Jones are discussing the merits of Nick Glibbly’s suggestion that all children need to be able to understand plays performed at the London Doner Kebab Warehouse)

Swashbuckling Pirate Queen Captain Nicky Morgove has recently vowed to board so-called coasting schools, make the headteacher walk the plank, and academise the lot of them to within an inch of their worthless lives. With Nick Glibb, her faithful parrot, perched on her shoulder squawking ‘Progress 8, Progress 8…’”  (from Pirates of the DfE)

‘So the thing is like that with the DfE, in branding terms it’s really boring. It’s like politics and funding and pedagogy. I mean, who’s interested in all that stuff? So what we’re talking here is like major brand refresh surgery.’

‘They’re terribly excited about ‘Strictly Come Teaching’ in which B-list celebs are paired up with classroom teachers to see how really strict they can be in classrooms up and down the country. We love Strictly!’  (from Way To Go).

‘However, instead I am allowed to prescribe you a course of new scientifically unproven Govicol, but I should warn you it’s rather indigestible and you will have to be spoon-fed it. And what’s more it not only has a nasty taste but has a whole range of unpleasant educational side-effects. (from Nice work).

‘We were most interested to learn that Junk Modelling did not involve making scale replicas of boats’, a spokesperson for the Chinese government didn’t say. ‘The delegation offered to send us Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss to advise us further on a long term basis, but we said No thanks – not for all the D&T in China’.  (from Chinese Takeaways)

 

And finally:

“Now We Are Six”

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

Author: A.A. Milne

Image credit: Wikimedia

Five Star!

Education secretaries may come and go, but All Change Please! goes on forever. Yes, exactly five years ago today, as All Change Please! hit the Publish button for the very first time, it was someone called Ed who was making a Balls up of education. And today, in our distopian post-Govian nightmare, it’s Teacher’s Friend Nicky Morgove and opposition spokesperson Tristram (no relation) Hunt who are carrying on the long tradition of knowing so much more about how to improve standards in schools than anyone else who has actually ever done any real teaching.

As is usual for this date each year, All Change Please! takes the opportunity to look back and wallow in the success of some of its most popular posts.

Top of the Posts for the last 12 months has to be One Small Step in which it dared to suggest that perhaps traditionalists and progressives should put away their differences and focus on communicating a more coherent and united message to its Daily Mail-reading armchair critics. ‘One Small Step’ was of course a follow-on to All Change Please!’s second most read (or at least most clicked-on) post: Daisy, Daisy.. in which it attempted to counter the myths regularly being de-bunked by traditional teachers by identifying some myths of its own.

Meanwhile on the comedy circuit, What Ho! Gove was a hit, a very palpable hit, along with PISA Takeaways and the Chandler-inspired Curriculum Noir: Who stole the Arts, not to mention There’s No Supporting Truss. And speaking of Ms Truss, did you see her hilarious stand-up routine at the Tory Party Conference? And to think, just a few months ago she was an education minister.

 

Along the way, All Change Please! managed to come up with a few good one-liners too, such as:

“Meanwhile outside on the school field someone was quietly stringing together a Daisy chain of academies”.

And while discussing the need for urgent debate on the future of On-line Computer Learning Systems:

“…or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s: ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’

Or on the current debate about traditional and progressive teaching methods:

“At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.”

Then following the proposal that retired politicians, lawyers and bankers should be recruited as teachers:

 “Meanwhile All Change Please! would like to propose a parallel scheme in which recently retired teachers would be retrained as politicians, lawyers and bankers in attempt to sort out the complete mess the country is currently in.”

Or on the need for some magic to return to our classroom:

“As I drove, I found myself recalling the words of that great crime writer Raymond Chandler that somehow seemed to sum it all up:

Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.”

Because that’s exactly what our schools have become – factories of mass produced memorisation of out-dated facts. What’s needed right now in education is a little bit of real magic and a lot less political sleight of hand.”

This is what Alas Schools and Journos! had to say about PISA statistics:

“But I thought the reason the Chinese and South Koreans did better than us was because they only put their cleverest children in for the test?

Exactly. That just goes to show how much smarter they are than us, doesn’t it?”

And here’s Bertie Wooster:

“You mean essays in Art are where you’d really draw the line, eh?”

What Ms Truss didn’t say out loud in her Policy exchange speech:

“This is just so much fun isn’t it? All I have to do is to speak these words out loud and it will all just happen as if by magic. Won’t it?

And a quiet moment of self-reflection:

“When it was young, all All Change Please! wanted to do was to change the world. And as it grew into middle age it still wanted to change the world, although it had decided that changing education would probably be enough to be getting on with for now. And now, as it eases into retirement and becomes ever closer to being no more than a long forgotten series of ones and zeros drifting blissfully unaware in The Cloud, it still has vague hopes that someone, somewhere is still reading its rants and raves.”

 

And finally, in response to The Gove Legacy… it seems there has been a reported sighting of Michael Gove. He obviously needs help, urgently…

 

Image credit: Flickr/Itdemaartinet

One small step

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If teachers can’t agree on what schools of the future should be like, someone else is going to decide for them

In All Change Please!‘s recent “You Say Right and I Say Left, Oh No…” post, it concluded by suggesting:

“At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.”

This sentence was picked up and re-tweeted a number of times, so to extend this thought, here are some extreme examples of good and bad traditional and progressive approaches to lessons that All Change Please! has at some point had the fortune, or misfortune, to observe. Although they didn’t all occur in the same school at the same time, they are things that actually happened in real lessons.

A ’traditional’ teacher is sitting at his desk at the front of the class. He addresses the class, who have learnt to sit still and face the front in fear of being individually demeaned by the teacher’s penchant for sarcasm or informing them they are both stupid and failures. After pouring his considerable knowledge into the empty vessels before him, he writes some notes on the whiteboard (while still lamenting the removal of his blackboard) and tells the students to make some notes about what he has just said, which they do, in silence. He then asks a question and the children slowly begin to put their hands up, cautiously responding to his ‘Guess what I’m thinking’ game. Eventually he reveals the correct answer which, they are informed, is the one they will need to give in their final examination. Without variation, this approach continues to the end of the lesson, and homework – to ‘read the next chapter of the textbook for a test next period’ is set.

In an adjoining classroom is another ‘traditional’ teacher, standing at the front of a class. She has smilingly welcomed the students in and starts by re-capping the last lesson with them. A number of keywords have been written on the board, which are particularly checked for recall and understanding. By using more open-ended question and answers she is able to judge how much knowledge has been retained, and by whom. While she challenges those who have obviously not been listening or have not completed the set homework, she is positive and encouraging, and clearly has a good rapport with the class. Her explanation of the lesson content is enlivened by a PowerPoint presentation that highlights the key points with some strong, memorable images. She uses analogies and metaphors to help the students relate the concepts she is explaining to situations they will be more familiar with, and tellingly she draws on her own experiences of life outside school. During the lesson, the children are asked to briefly discuss an issue, either with a partner or in a small group, before making their own notes. To keep the pace of the lesson moving, there is a strict time-limit imposed. At the end of the lesson there’s a re-cap, as at the start, and she explains how today’s lesson has informed the next. Clear learning objectives have been set, and met. She sets the homework which is to study the next chapter and compare its content and presentation with a given web page on the same topic, ready to present during this next lesson.

Meanwhile in another part of the school a ‘progressive’ teacher is working with a class who are mid-way through a term-long project. They are working in groups. At the start of the lesson the teacher told them to get on with their work, and she is now circulating, becoming absorbed in sorting out in each group’s projects and problems one at a time. The rest of the class sit are round chatting and have little idea what they are supposed to be doing, and find working together difficult. They have done some research, mainly printing out pages from Wikipedia. Some students have decided what they are going to do, while others are still unsure, or claim they have finished. The teacher has no idea as to the extent and level of the problem-solving skills they have already developed in previous work, and as a result few children manage to extend their capabilities. During the lesson the teacher makes no whole-class input, or seeks to break-up the long double-lesson time. The room is noisy, with some minor instances of misbehaviour occurring, which the teacher ignores. The bell rings and the children dash off to their next lesson.

But next door, it’s a different story. Another ‘progressive’ teacher, working with a different class on the same project topic has started the lesson with a class review of progress to date from each group. He introduces some new content that he wants the class to consider and incorporate during the first part of the lesson, which they do while he goes round and quickly checks what each child has done for homework. He then asks the class to break off from their on-going work to reflect on how well their group is working and to establish some clear targets for the next fortnight. One group learns that one of their members is likely to be off sick for some time, so they re-allocate their roles amongst themselves accordingly. Back on their project, everyone is working and there is a busy, lively, purposeful atmosphere. Many of the children are talking, but the conversation is about their work. The teacher is circulating, but generally observing rather than directing, and being available as and when needed. Well before the end of the lesson the teacher stops everyone working and sets an individual research task, informing the class that simply printing off a page from Wikipedia will not be acceptable, and that they need to consult a variety of sources, evaluate the reliability of each and state their own conclusion. At the end of the lesson he asks one group to share an account of their progress with the whole class and uses what they say to ask some searching questions and highlight both positive achievements and where greater application is needed if they are to progress further.

In both the successful traditional and progressive teachers’ classes, there are some children who clearly shine and prefer either the more knowledge-based or more process/skill-based approach. What’s important is that children get the chance to experience both types of teaching and learning, and that they are properly supported in the approach they feel least comfortable with.

Meanwhile a striking feature of the two ‘good’ lesson examples is that they are not actually that different. As the new ‘academic’ (as opposed to practical?) year gets underway, isn’t it about time we stopped arguing amongst ourselves about whether traditional or modern educational methods are best, and start to develop a broader, more consensual approach to teaching and learning? We need to take the best of both approaches, and not be afraid to mix them up and make them nice. And in reality of course that’s what already happening in a lot of schools.

Meanwhile teachers are certainly are going to need to be singing from the same song-sheet if they are to successfully rise to the real challenge of the next few years and ensure that low-cost, second-rate, multiple-choice assessed computer-based teaching and learning systems do not become accepted as an adequate substitute for the real thing.

Why replacing teachers with automated education lacks imagination

or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s:

‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’

 

Image credit: Flickr/bsfinhull 

Daisy, Daisy… is she both Right and wrong?

 

One of traditional far Right-wing teachers’ current favourite party games appears to be identifying what they describe as the myths of progressive teaching and learning. They then tweet to each other in utter disbelief and with great smugness when they encounter someone who has not been persuaded by their dogma – their self-assuredness and unwillingness to even consider views other than their own is frightening. Meanwhile the national press picks up on their sensationalist claims which it publishes with delight, giving the general public the mistaken impression that our schools are full of free-thinking, do whatever you like, so-called progressive Marxist teachers. And, as All Change Please! has already observed in RU a trendy teacher?, in reality, teachers of the type they seek to exterminate just don’t exist – they are just too busy in the classroom getting on with the job to even consider the matter.

In the video clip above, Daisy Christodoulo, current doyenne of the Right and author of ‘Seven Myths About Education‘, makes a very reasonable assertion, that knowledge is essential to learning – but then, as her colleagues do, she goes on to perpetuate a myth herself – that progressive teaching involves no knowledge transfer whatsoever. And of course what she doesn’t mention is that from the 1950s – when traditional rote learning was very much the order of the day – to the mid 1990s, standards of literacy apparently remained pretty much the same. Furthermore The Literacy Trust suggests that rates have risen substantially since the late 1990s. Of course the figures do rather depend on what is defined by the term ‘ poor literacy’.  Literacy figures simply a right-wing fantasy

And this pattern is repeated through the rest of the traditionalists’ so-called myths – indeed what they succeed most in doing is revealing their own lack of understanding about what contemporary approaches to education actually involve, and what is currently happening in a positive way in the majority of our schools. Most worryingly, the far Right are succeeding in demonising attempts to find and develop the new ways of learning that are needed to meet the requirements of the 21st Century.

All Change Please! feels that it’s about time some of the Right’s more outrageous statements were challenged, and so here’s All Change Please!’s myth-busting guide to the myths behind the traditionalists’ myths of progressive, child-centred teaching and learning. If the Right want to present a caricature of the Left, then it works the other way round too.

1. There’s no need to learn any facts
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that teaching children facts prevents understanding and that they don’t need to have any prior knowledge in order to be able to adequately debate issues or solve problems. This is of course utter, utter nonsense as the vast majority of teachers readily agree that children need to acquire knowledge. However, they also realise that if children are only taught facts that their understanding of them will be limited, and that it is sometimes useful to set up learning activities in which children identify for themselves what knowledge they are likely to need and then set about acquiring it for themselves.

2. Just Google it!
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that because the future is difficult to predict then there’s no point in teaching children anything, and that all knowledge can be easily found on the internet anyway. This is another gross misconception. Teachers accept that, while often very helpful, there are limitations to what can be learnt on-line. They also understand that while certain areas of basic knowledge remain essential, other areas of traditionally taught knowledge are likely to be redundant in the future, and so we need a proper reappraisal of exactly what facts should and do not need to be taught in school.

At the same time, what has become increasingly essential is that children learn how to learn for themselves so that they will be able to easily acquire and the knowledge they eventually do discover they need to have when the future actually arrives. And effectively learning things via the internet is in itself a demanding skill that we should be putting more emphasis on teaching in school, because at present it’s not something we do terribly well.

3. Teacher-led lessons are boring
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that teacher-led instruction is by definition passive. Of course it’s not, or at least it needn’t be. Everyone knows that teacher-led lessons can be extremely effective and essential, especially when balanced with some practical work, and opportunities for learners to contribute their own ideas. Unfortunately though, there are still some traditional teachers who do little more than stand at the front of the class giving what is essentially a lecture, with pupils copying notes from the board.

4. It’s all about transferable skills
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that only generic skills should be taught. But so-called progressive teachers realise that   there are indeed a wide range of skills that are directly transferable and could be better taught more effectively if properly managed across the curriculum. But they also accept that there are still certain skills that are unique to each particular subject discipline. In contrast, traditional teachers don’t like the idea that their specialist subject domains might not be quite as specialist as they might think and refuse to make any connections with other subjects. They like to place themselves in a walled garden, whereas in reality the world is rather more open-plan and inter-disciplinary with generic skills being applied alongside recognisable bodies of knowledge.

5. Projects are the only way to learn
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that project and activity-based learning is the best way to learn. Actually they are probably correct about this one, especially if it is well-managed, guided independent learning that is being developed. However so-called ‘trendy’ teachers still acknowledge that practical work does need to be balanced with traditional knowledge-based learning, although perhaps more on an individual ’need to know’ rather than ‘just in case’ basis. The problem is that traditionalists generally won’t have anything to do with project work. In the first instance they’ve never tried it because they know it doesn’t work. And in any case they’ve never taught that way, and they know they would probably make a complete mess of it.

6. Every child is different
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that each child learns best in its own particular way and that teaching methods need to reflect this. Again, they are probably right to think this about more modern approaches. Most successful teachers have realised through their own observation and experience that some children learn more effectively if they are presented with knowledge in a visual format or have done something active rather than just being told about it or have read it, i.e. verbally.

Traditionalists have read about a small-scale US academic research experiment that demonstrated that including visual or practical content made no difference to verbally-based knowledge-based test scores, thus apparently proving once and all that they are fully justified in maintaining their ‘sit-still, keep quiet and listen’ single style of teaching that fits a supposedly common style of learning. Of course in practice it’s impossible for more progressive teachers to prepare a different method of delivery for each child in the class (although computer-aided learning metrics claims it can and will), but nonetheless the vast majority of teachers will tell you that lessons that involve visual and practical work are generally likely to be more successful than those that don’t.

 

So having de-mythologised progressive teaching and learning, by this point All Change Please! is of course quite unable to resist the temptation to present its own highly controversial, completely biased – and entirely unsubstantiated by questionable small-sample research data – myths about extreme Right-wing traditionalists.

Progressive teachers believe that the most traditional right-wing teachers tend to like things to be black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, and they get anxious about things that are ambiguous or could be interpreted in more than one way. They enjoy asserting their authority over others and the feeling of being in control over them. They rather like the sound of their own voices and derive satisfaction from the idea that they are filling children’s otherwise empty minds with unquestionable facts and figures.

Traditionalists find teacher-led lessons easier to deliver, because child-centred lessons are much more demanding to manage and might mean they are not entirely in control of the classroom situation. They fear that the class might detect a gap in their knowledge and as a result develop a lack of respect. Assessment is a great deal easier too, because pupils either know the answer or they don’t.

Traditional teachers tend to deny that substantial change is happening in the world and that things will be different in the future, or to put it another way, they express a deep fear of change. While progressive teachers are generally happy to accept that a lot of what traditionalists claim is true, traditionalists feel the need to denounce progressive approaches, and to quote flimsy evidence as proof of the existence of Gove.

But, in conclusion, and echoing Alan Jones’ recent statement that:

“..the truth is that education is about both knowledge and skills, about what’s out there and what’s inside the child. It’s the intelligent blending of the two things that makes for good education, not the exclusive adherence to one or the other.”

what actually exists in the majority of our schools is a generally healthy mix of traditional and progressive teaching and learning, and there should not be any need for either side to feel the need to make unhelpful and highly contentious and misleading statements about the other. And while All Change Please! now feels a whole lot better for having at least launched a few retaliatory missiles, it knows that what’s really needed are some diplomatic peace talks in which the far Left and far Right can come to a negotiated settlement that ensures that today’s children are fully and appropriately prepared for whatever the future brings them.

In every other aspect of life people have evolved and adapted to changing conditions through progress – but All Change Please!‘s concern is that if the educational far Right has its way, we will soon be all extinct.

Curriculum Noir: Who Stole The Arts?

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“Mr Marlowe?”

I looked up from my desk. In front of me stood Delores Anass – I knew her little sister from when I was at college. She was the art teacher from the local school and a tall, beautiful blonde – the kind that makes you want to go to life-drawing classes. There was no doubting she had all the necessary qualifications for the job. She gave me a million dollar smile I could feel in my hip pocket.

“I need you to find something for me. The Arts have gone missing from our school.”

I tried to resist asking, but it was about as useless as a D grade GCSE certificate. “When did you see them last?”

“Oh, about a year ago I guess. All the children were happily singing and dancing and painting wonderful pictures, and now they are all so dull and listless. I think it’s got something to do with this new curriculum and more rigorous examinations. Of course I hope you understand there’s nothing left in the budget to pay you with.”

“Well, trouble is my business, but I’ll see what I can do and then we’ll find a way to work something out. Do you run life-drawing classes by any chance?”

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I said farewell to the lovely lady and the next morning I put on my jacket with the leather elbow patches and slipped quietly into the school, posing as a pre-Ofsted inspector. She was right. There was no sign of the Arts anywhere. Just rows and rows of silent, obedient children staring solemnly at washed-out whiteboards or aging computer monitors that should have been retired long before they qualified for a state pension. No paintings on the walls, no posters announcing drama productions or concerts. The buildings and furniture had obviously had a great deal of expense spared on them. It was if someone had turned out the lights and everyone had gone to sleep, big time. Clearly something was badly wrong. Suddenly the loud, jarring school bell that signaled the end of playtime rang somewhere inside my head as I realised I’d seen it all before, and it meant only one thing. The infamous, arrant knave of hearts who stole the arts, Big Mickey Gove himself, had to be somewhere in the picture.

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Delores suggested I talked to the Headmistress, Ms Trust. She was dressed smartly, the sort of woman you just know will be good at evidence, facts, lies, damned lies and statistics. When I asked her if she knew where the Arts had gone she went as white as chalk-dust and trotted out a well-rehearsed speech about raising academic standards and providing opportunities for all, and I quickly guessed the Gove Mob had already got to her, doubtless promising her more money to become an Academy. She sure was one lady I’d like to see at the bottom of a lake.

It was getting late, but on my way downtown I stopped in at the local Painteasy. The front of the shop was filled with cans of unimaginative pastel shades of household emulsion and dreary colour scheme chooser charts, but the man at desk recognised me and pressed the button under the counter that opened the door to the secret studio workshop at the rear of the premises. The windows were high up, so you couldn’t see what was going on from outside, but inside the space was full of excited children hooked on the hard stuff, completely intoxicated from various forms of real learning – totally absorbed with experimenting, taking risks, working together and making things happen. And best of all you could freely ask for any type of Arts activity you wanted without fear of being told you were missing out on yet another worthless academic qualification.

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I bumped into the Painteasy Director, Edward G (aka Ken) Robinson, and asked him if he knew what was going on with formal education. “We’ve never had so many kids visit us after school” he said. “I just feel sorry for all those we have to turn away. It’s the Gove Mob. They’re back in town, and they’re driving the Arts even further underground.”

So my hunch was right. But I also knew there was nothing I could do about it. Not on my own anyway. I was proud to be a member of the Blob, but the Blob had fallen into the cleverly laid trap of thinking that if it somehow became more academic it could raise its status with the Mob and things would get better, but all it got them was some extended prose.

Somehow the Blob needed to stand up for itself and fight back. It was time for it to start sending out the message that there’s more to life than words and numbers and knowing stuff, and that it’s through the Arts that children learn to understand that there can be more than one correct answer and that there are many other ways to see, experience, interpret and judge the world that go beyond writing essays and solving quadratic equations.

At one level the Blob had no choice but to do what the Mob told them, but at the same time it had to find ways to be more disruptive, and behave like only a Blob without any defined shape or size can, silently seeping into tight corners and crevices of the curriculum where and when no one is looking. That’s what the Mob hates the most about it – the Blob has no fixed structure, no clear rules, no 100% reliable way of formally assessing what it’s doing.

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The next day I called back in on Delores, and told her what I’d discovered. I tried to fob her off by saying I would write on my blog that one day the Blob would overcome the Mob, but it fell about as flat as an academic’s mortar board that’s lost its tassel. She began to sob and saying goodbye took a long time, but eventually I managed to drive off into a sombre, stormy sunset that reminded me of  the ink stains on a school boy’s well-used tie.

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As I drove, I found myself recalling the words of that great crime writer Raymond Chandler that somehow seemed to sum it all up:

“Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.”

Because that’s exactly what our schools have become – factories of mass produced memorisation of out-dated facts. What’s needed right now in education is a little bit of real magic and a lot less political sleight of hand.

I decided I must re-read some of Chandler’s novels. Now what they were called? Let’s see, there was The Little Sister, Trouble Is My Business, Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake, The High Window and The Long Goodbye.  And I wondered if I could somehow work the titles into my next post..

 

Image credits: emilano-iko / dinohyus / jjjohn / dinohaus

 

Remember, remember…

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Now what was it I was supposed to remember?

 When All Change Please! were nowt but a young schoolboy it was regularly asked to learn poetry for homework, or to read Chapter Whichever for a geography test the following morning, neither of which it found in any way easy. Initially it spent long hours doing what it could, but before long thought better of it and found something more interesting to do as it never really saw the point of trying to remember some incomprehensible 18th century verse or the number of cabbages grown in some distant country it had never heard of.

Of course it was all too easy for those who seemed to have some sort of amazing, just-read-it-once verbal photographic memory, but the trouble is that if you are good at doing something, it is difficult to understand and appreciate how others can find it almost impossible. And that’s one of the problems with traditional academic learning, in that it’s largely taught by people who find remembering large volumes of words on pages easy-peasy. Meanwhile they also seem to believe it’s just a matter of endless hours of practice, or some strange, never properly explained concept called ‘trying harder’, or ‘doing your best’ whatever they might involve. It’s as if that if you don’t happen to share their god-given super-powers, they don’t want or see the need to give you any techniques to help you develop them for yourself.

Indeed for some time All Change Please! has wondered why no-one ever suggested any methods of helping make the recall of verbal information a bit more achievable, and indeed why we still don’t now. For example, the other day it came across this article which suggests a whole range of techniques:

How to never forget the name of someone you just met: The science of memory
http://blog.bufferapp.com/how-to-never-forget-the-name-of-someone-you-just-met-the-science-of-memorization

Remembering stuff is all about making strong connections between sequences of synapses. And one way of doing this (and which apparently dates back to the Greeks and Romans) is to construct a ‘Memory Palace’ which essentially associates vivid visual and spatial cues with whatever it is you want to remember. Another is to use the Peg or Link system. To recall a passage of text there is the ‘First letter text method’. Of course it’s a matter of choosing the appropriate method, and the ones that work best for the individual.

As well as understanding more about our short-term ‘working’ memory it would also seem a good idea if we learnt a bit more about the different types of memories.

The science of memory (and 4 uncommon ways to enhance it)
http://thenextweb.com/lifehacks/2014/04/04/science-memory-4-uncommon-ways-enhance/

For example:

Declarative memory: Facts and knowledge, like the capital city or your birth date.
Episodic memory: Memories about life events, like your last birthday party or your first day of school.
Procedural memory: Your own how-to manual, essentially. Memories about how to ride a bike or cook your favorite meal.
Semantic memory: Meanings and concepts that you’ve learned, especially useful for reading.
Spatial memory: Your map of the world, inside your head. These cover your environment, landmarks and objects.”

You’d think teachers would know about and apply all this sort of stuff, wouldn’t you? But if they do, they don’t. Instead traditional teachers persist in clinging on to the idea that every child learns in exactly the same way, and it’s that some are just lazy and all they need to do to succeed is to try harder. Perhaps instead, as the article above suggests, the Classroom of Tomorrow will have a coffee machine, fresh rosemary, portions of blueberries for every child and an area in which to sleep or meditate?  And schools will become places where you go to learn how to learn.

Of course all this doesn’t only apply to how to remember things. Think back – were you ever given any practical suggestions as to how to run faster or jump higher? Or how to actually ‘be more creative’? No, just keep trying, and one day you may, or may not, somehow get it.

Meanwhile the important question now is whether All Change Please! will manage to actually remember to get round to publishing this post?

 

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/deanpemberton/301397423

Meducation: the learner’s little helper?

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Now if All Change Please! were to write that in the not too distant future all you will need to do to learn something new will be to take the appropriate knowledge pill, you would doubtless think it had finally flipped its lid, completely gone off its rocker and that it wouldn’t be long before they would be coming to take it away to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time, and it would be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats…

But if it did, it might go on to suggest that if you had a serious knowledge addiction problem, just as Michael Gove obviously has, and, for example, wanted to learn about rocket science, there would be a pill for that, and a different one to take if you wanted to know everything there is to know about brain surgery. To be taken only under the direction of a qualified teacher, obviously.

And just imagine the uproar at the Daily Mail headline: ‘All school children to go on the pill’. Or perhaps it might be a ‘morning after’ pill that was taken if you had forgotten to do learn Chapter 23 the night before? There would also probably be clever headlines such as “Is this the next generation of tablets for use in schools?’

Doubtless educational academics would write papers and attend long conferences where they would earnestly debate the amount of prescription that would occur with this type of so-called independent learning, and whether or not it should be henceforth referred to as ‘Meducation’. Should schools be henceforth renamed clinics? Would there be hard pills and supposedly easier-to-take soft pills? And of course, most importantly, they would need to decide what colour pill to assign to each subject area of the curriculum, e.g., yellow for English, blue for maths, orange for science, etc.

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Meanwhile, don’t worry, All Change Please! intends to keep taking its tablets and as a result has no plans to make such a crazy suggestion. Especially as someone else already has. And not just anybody, but no less a person that Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT.

http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/03/negropodamus-disses-internet-of-things-predicts-knowledge-pills/

Yes, the very same Nicholas Negroponte who in the mid 1990s was ridiculed for suggesting that one day people would buy music and books over the internet. And who around the same time was developing early prototypes of automated GPS driving systems, wearable computers and digital street maps, all of which no-one thought would ever come to pass. So obviously he’s no idea what he’s talking about. And his latest prediction is just as hard to swallow:

‘In 30 years, Negroponte said, we’re going to be able to literally ingest information. Once information is in your bloodstream, some kind of mechanism could deposit the information in the brain. You could take a pill and learn English or the works of Shakespeare. He said little else on the subject, but Negroponte assured the audience that the idea is not as ridiculous as it seems.’

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And of course, as fans of The Matrix are doubtless already thinking, there is a parallel here with the choice between taking the red pill and the blue pill. The blue pill allows the person to remain in the blissful ignorance of the fabricated virtual reality of the Matrix, whilst the red pill would lead to escape from the Matrix and into the painful truth of the real world. Presumably those heading for Oxbridge would take the blissful blue knowledge pill, while the rest of us would be given the realistic red one?

Meanwhile here at the All Change Please! Institute of Technology we are secretly working on a slightly different pill. One that isn’t about knowledge acquisition and recall, but one that makes it easier for people to be more creative and collaborative, and to accept and strive for positive change in the future. Now that really would be something worth having.

 

Image credits (Flickr):   Top: bwjones  /  Middle: emagineart    /   Bottom: buttersponge

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.”

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A new initiative by traditional academics insists that very small children should first be taught a rigorous programme of structural theory and have a good knowledge of the scientific application of forces before being allowed to play with building blocks.

OK, this time just kidding, but admit it, for a moment there you were willing to believe it!

Meanwhile All Change Please! recently read an account of a prospective employee, who when asked a knowledge-based question in an interview, admitted he didn’t know the answer, but that when it became important to the work he could suggest various ways in which they would be able to find out. The employer was impressed, both with his honesty and resourcefulness, and he got the job.

Or as US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so clearly put it in 2002: ‘Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.’

In contrast, reading much of Gove and Truss’s spin or the writings of traditional academics, one could easily believe that an abundant store of known knowledge is an essential and the only prerequisite for any future employment, and at the same time not a single child has been taught a single piece of knowledge since the 1960s. This is of course, all complete nonsense. The reality is that the majority of children in the majority of lessons have continued to be formally taught existing knowledge. Indeed there is current trend in the production of resources intended to support teachers who have never used a project-based learning approach before.

And if All Change Please! reads just once more the supposed myth-busting  revelation triumphantly proclaimed by traditional academics that ‘you can’t look everything up on the internet’ it will scream. Let it make something clear. NO ONE IS SUGGESTING THAT CHILDREN SHOULD NEVER BE TAUGHT ANY KNOWLEDGE.

All so-called ‘progressive’ teachers of any worth recognise the value and importance of knowledge. What they do however is to question the type and amount of knowledge needed and to try and relate it as much as possible to practical application rather than abstract theory. They are also keen to develop children’s abilities to independently discover and learn – and question the reliability and validity of – new knowledge.

What’s really missing in the education system though is a structured programme of the development of thinking and learning skills, properly coordiated, monitored and rewarded across the whole school, instead of the current very patchy, haphazard exposure children might or might not encounter, depending on which teachers they just happen to have that year. When that finally happens then perhaps we will really be able for the first time to assess how effective or not it is.

OK, quiz question for budding traditional academics. Who is supposed to have said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.”? No cheating now…

In case you were away from school the day that was covered, the answer is Albert Einstein. All Change Please! is happy to admit it didn’t previously know that. Indeed it was only after searching online to discover the source of the earlier saying “A little learning is a dangerous thing” that it discovered Einstein’s version. Sounds like a little searching might be a good thing.

Of course, a little knowledge can, as it is said, be a dangerous thing (as Gove has demonstrated through his lack of knowledge of teaching and learning). but so is too much. As well as more specialists we need more generalists who are able to see and work with the bigger picture. And as All Change Please! might just have mentioned once or twice before, what we’re currently completely failing to do is engage in any sort of debate about exactly how much formal ‘just in case’ knowledge of a given subject is now appropriate, and what that knowledge can best be delivered’ as it now can be, ‘just in time’.

Instead of nervously looking over our shoulder at the future while grasping to keep hold of an ever receding past, we should be striding positively towards tomorrow, learning from the mistakes of yesterday. Or as someone else once sang:

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

Shinin’ at the end of ev’ry day

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

And tomorrow’s just a dream away.

Now I wonder who wrote that? Well, this time it certainly wasn’t Einstein. But there’s a clue in All Change Please!‘s last post.