Mimanifesto – Jaye’s weblog

Archive for April 2009

This is a big topic of debate at the moment. On both the Education 2020 and  ACfE wiki’sthere is some very reasoned and cogent argument about the construction of both new models and new concepts for assessment. I think the form that this takes is vital to the success, not only of ACfE, but also to the education system we build for this new information age. The assessment we define will play a big part in shaping the change agenda. I’ve spoken at conferences about this change agenda on a number of occasions and draw very much on the work of Charles Leadbeater and Stephen Heppell to set the scene. I find this slide from Stephen particularly helpful in directing my own thinking on this, as, to me, it suggests a shift away from 19/20th century models of knowledge transmission (teaching) on the left of the slide towards a much more learner-centred approach shown on the right.

Picture1

Of course, this is representative of a general cultural shift in society(patient centred medicine, the  modus operandi  of today’s health care system is another example) perhaps reflecting  the shift from a strict hierarchical system where information and knowledge were the preserve of the privileged few to today’s more egalitarian environment where nothing is really more than a few clicks away. Paulo Freire in his seminal work The Pedagogy of the Oppressed made this point when he wrote about dialogue and communication leading to real education. Perhaps Freire could not have predicted the immense paradigm shift we have seen over the past ten years or so as the world has embraced the digital age, and the effect this has had not only on the way we all communicate but on how much communication we do compared to just a few short years ago. And with this in mind, it follows that the purpose of education has to change also to one which equips everyone, not just school pupils, with the skills to search for and handle information appropriate to our individual and collective needs. How we assess the efficacy of this education will determine, I think, the shape of society for many years to come as the culture of assessment, for good or ill, pervades any education system or approach both directly and indirectly.

I’ve been firmly of the opinion that this needs to be school-based, at least in compulsory education. I even wrote about this (based on a study visit to Finland last year) in TESS. Discussion, debate, and reading over the course of the past year or so has better informed my own viewpoint, and I do agree with both Joe Wilson and Gordon Brown that the impetus for change has to come from the bottom up. Teachers in schools do need to be convinced, sold on, persuaded, etc etc that this shift away from structured exams and rushed courses is a good, even desirable thing. This takes people out of the comfort zones of the arrangements document  dominated world which we perhaps have inhabited for far too long and it’s not going to be an easy shift to make.

Maybe there’s a sort of halfway house then ? Could we structure exams to test content in subjects which are based on skills of information and knowledge retrieval, analysis and evaluation of this information, and the coherence and relevance of its use in relation to the subject being examined? These might be open-book tests where laptops/net books, texts and even mobile phones and Twitter could be used perhaps. These are, after all, the ways in which we access information in everyday life. Could not examinations reflect this ? Yes, this would need work on a set of course arrangements documents with more emphasis on sources of information and search and analysis skills, as well as careful restructuring of questions, but the SQA are ideally placed to undertake these reforms in conjunction with colleagues nationwide.

A move towards e-assessment is going to have to look at innovative ways of demonstrating the 21st century skills. This will maybe involve our students doing such things as hosting on-line or discussion forums, maintaining a web-log, managing a collaborative Wiki, filming and editing a video or scripting and recording a series of podcasts, recording interviews, creating animated storyboards, organising a web-conference, and maintaining an on-line e-portfolio containing referencing and links as well as evidence of learning.  The  Random Activity Generator created by the amazing and inspirational John Davitt is an excellent  and creative way of assessing students which I’m using more and more in Biology and Science. And yes, again, the exam body would be ideally placed to provide guidance to schools on assessing this work and exemplars of good practice. The portfolio of evidence if maintained on-line is ideal for moderation, suggestions and advice, creates a progression through assessment tasks and more to the point, demonstrates real contextual learning rather than good memory as the current exams are slanted towards by their very nature.

It’s going to need a collective will to achieve this, all or in part, and it won’t be an overnight happening. Teachers and schools as well as learners need to be convinced of the merits and the fairness of the changes. Issues of inclusion need to be addressed, but surely the terror and inappropriateness the annual examination system holds for many (including those with special educational needs) is a good starting point.

The change agents in this process have to be educators who believe in the changes, and who have made them work in classrooms up and down the country. They need to be able to get out and about to work with colleagues demonstrating the benefits of the changes and the whole continuous and e-assessment ideas/exemplars.

This approach could work. Small islands of excellence around the country would soon become continents of good practice. Peter Gabriel put it very well in the words to his song about Steven Biko. He wrote…

You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher

Lots of candles of course, soon make a fire.

The song finishes with another message very apt for this issue…

And the eyes of the world are
watching now….

Mass communication in the digital age means that the eyes of the world are indeed watching. This offers unparalleled opportunity to engage with stakeholders more easily and more often than ever before. Scotland can be a world leader in 21st century assessment given the collective willpower and actions of those who are committed to reforming education to make it fit for purpose for a modern and dynamic changing society.

 

The recent GLOW meet of Percy the Puffin’s homecoming storytelling which our community nursery was involved in has had some good local press coverage..here is the link

event:http://bit.ly/6V8VS

The original blog post is at….

https://mimanifesto.wordpress.com/2009/03/21/percy-comes-to-cathkin-nursery/

A great first for our nursery-  and a great introduction to GLOW for the children.

A few weeks ago, TESS published an article by Prof. Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University in which he argued that one of the main threats to ACfE was a lack of subject specialist knowledge in secondary schools.

This struck a rather dissonant chord with me, I have to say. I blogged about this a few months ago and it’s clear from this post that I disagree with Prof Paterson. As a classroom teacher I have come to conclude that a very real threat to the success of ACfE is this continuation of compartmentalised knowledge transmission that is attempted day in day out in most of our secondary schools, where departments jealously guard their perceived specialist status. As Sir Ken Robinson puts it so well, we still have this hierarchy based on subjects where the big three of English, Maths and Science dominate (depending on the make up of the SMT and the force of personality of each particular PT) followed by the social subjects and PE, with the creative and aesthetic subjects usually at the bottom of the hierarchy. ACfE is, to me, anyway, all about changing the way we work so that the old model based on teaching is replaced by one which focuses on learning. For this to happen, the traditional hierarchy needs to be flattened out so that all subject areas interact, perhaps as ‘themes’. Darren Frearson, from Djanogly city academy, Nottingham takes such an approach. he says…

“We’ve abolished the year 7 curriculum and gone for a thematic approach, where the students work in four pods, studying four rich tasks — an approach we have taken from Queensland. The tasks are British national identity, buildings and structures, performance and science and ethics. The students make decisions about when to use devices; for example, for British national identity, some put together a video, some use movie clips, or posters, blogs or pod casts”

This type of holistic approach doesn’t have to stop in S1. With some vision, good communication and willpower, it could continue through to S3…It’s ACfE in action and needs good teachers to facilitate the learning. Teachers rather than subject specialists.

Whilst there is probably much in what Paterson says about the need for more training for primary school colleagues in science teaching, I think he is way out of touch with the situation in the secondary sector. TESS have today published a letter from me which sets out my own take on this…

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6012025

I think this is one of the many important issues which are acting as an undertow to the free-flow of ACfE, and a dangerous undertow at that. Assessment is another such issue. More on that one in my next post…

 

It’s often said that ‘what goes around comes around’. I think this was bought home to me this week after the Easter Sunday Eucharist service sermon, preached in Glasgow’s Episcopal cathedral by the Provost, Kelvin Holdsworth. In his sermon, he talked about how Mark’s gospel just sort of ends – no real revelation, message or grand plan. It just peters out with a man telling Mary that Jesus had gone ahead to Galilee and that he would see the disciples there…

There you will see him, just as he told you  Mark says.

The jist of the sermon was, I think, that faith is enough. Just to go on and see what happens, there being no need for some big master plan or dramatic revelation. Although others have tried to add a better ending to Mark’s Gospel, biblical scholars generally tend to agree that Mark’s really does finish in this way. Just follow your faith and your beliefs…

And when I was thinking about this message, during the choir singing the beautiful and hauntingly piercing Agnus Dei  from Schubert’s setting of the mass in G (which I’ve not sung for many years) it suddenly struck me that this is of course, lesson one from Dan Pink’s Adventures of Johnny Bunko. There is no plan, says Diana….talking about doing things for instrumental (the plan) or fundamental (valuable) reasons. Fundamental, because you enjoy things, are good at them, and they have value, no matter where or what they might lead you to….And this was the message, I think, from Sunday’s Easter sermon. Believe, have faith, and that’s enough to make good stuff happen.

Incidentally, the Provost usually podcasts, video’s and pdf’s his sermons. Just follow the link (his name) above if you’re interested, I think it’s well worth a listen. The music from the service was outstanding, as always at St Mary’s.

I’m sure Dan Pink didn’t link the two as I appear to have done when he wrote JB….but then again, you never know. What goes around comes around…..

 

plastic-bottle-island_69

How often in education (or the public sector as a whole for that matter) is planning a matter of one issue=one solution via one distinct journey?

I’ve stood on the sidelines and watched with a curious interest so many school, authority and national education initiatives, projects, systems and policy changes take place, with varying degrees of success or failure. As an ex project manager (I worked in the retail and property sectors) I often wonder why these change projects are managed by people with a background predominantly in teaching or education and often with no management training. This is never more apparent than in interviews when experience outside of education counts for little or nothing when set against time in a classroom or already being in the job in some form or other. Why is it that when, say, an establishment  or organisation needs to make an appointment involving extensive change and project management would they not look for experience of those environments from the successful candidate? perhaps because of a complete lack of any experience (and perspective) outside of the education sector on the part of the ‘establishment’ management itself maybe…Is this not going to lead to a very introspective, inwardly focused and even nepotistic management structure and process?

Now, we live in a fast moving and ever changing environment where the conference presentations from the change guru’s tell us that today’s school children will be doing jobs which don’t exist at the moment. This may be true, and if so, surely education needs to be positioning itself for the inevitable changes which will need to take place. I’m not just talking about the curriculum and the way we teach (ACfE and GLOW are a start but may be hamstrung by a dismal failure by national government to properly resource either) but in the way current education management structures plan for future change…

When Alexander Bell invented the telephone, he took his idea to Western Electric, who turned him down. They considered that their business was in the telegraph. perhaps if they had tried to look a little forward into the future they might have envisaged a scenario involving a change in the way people communicated over distances, and they might still have been in existence competing with the current digital communications companies. Scenario planning should also be a major part of current education management structures, as assuming one future and planning towards this can no longer be regarded as adequate in this day and age as the pace of change accelerates. We need to try and look forward far enough into the future so that we don’t fall into the trap of simply extrapolating from where we are today, and so that solutions are free from vested interests and empire-building (the assumption being that planners won’t be in their current posts that far into the future) and avoid simply formulating ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘one-off’ scenarios. Outsiders should be brought into this process to provide a little perspective which is not linked to an organisation’s inevitable internal politics.

The process of scenario planning should include:

- a review of the nature of the current environment, auditing influences and identifying change drivers and agents. This might lead to possible future scenario situations.

- An analysis of resources which currently exist (including a skills audit involving all staff).This might also examine the capability of an organisation or establishment to cope with change, including strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A TROPICS/PEST test could be used to assist this part of the process.

- Stakeholders with involvement or influence need to be considered within an overall cultural context which examines both internal and external values and assumptions.

-Evaluation of options for suitability, feasibility and acceptability to all stakeholders internal and external to the organisation/establishment. Force-field analysis could be useful in helping to evaluate thinking here.

- Finally, action planning for the identified scenarios needs to be undertaken which should then become an integral and embedded feature of an organisation’s culture so that the whole process of scenario planning becomes a feature of strategic planning.

Perhaps if this had been a feature of the GLOW project, then the current IPR/QA issue, which is threatening to have a serious impact on the national roll-out might not have arisen.

After all, if the big bad wolf had thought a little about scenarios involving the three little pigs, he might have realised that ignoring or even worse, blowing at brick walls was not a good way to achieve his particular ends or desired outcome….

 

 

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After a wee spell of writer’s block , and some extreme self-censorship, I’ve finally done chapter 8. You can find it on the education 2020 wiki as usual… As the Islay Unconference draws ever nearer, the fairytale is getting closer to reaching its explosive climax…

And the unconference is looking to be really good, something special, with a fabulously eclectic mix of undelegates from all corners of the educationosphere. If you’ve not confirmed your attendence, I think Ian and Andy would be greatful if you could do this ASAP. Booking accomodation should perhaps be done sooner rather than later, if you don’t want to be roughing it in the sand-dunes  with a couple of cans of special brew and a roll and sausage !

There’s a lot of this going on all over the country at the moment. The new HMIE-lite inspection regime relies upon schools undertaking rigorous internal quality assurance where the concept of using self-evaluation to inform and enhance both the learning and teaching and just as importantly the life and ethos of a school. I blogged about this last year (here and here) and I’m pleased to say the on-line self evaluation tools that I saw at SLF08 and that I wrote about in these posts are now being introduced for use in my own school, and with great effect that’s already impacting on the process of school improvement.

But it’s important to remember that self-evaluation and indeed the quality indicators against which the process is benchmarked ask us to reflect on much more than just the formal curriculum. The informal curriculum of a school, its character and ethos, particularly how all young people and staff are nurtured and supported has to be an integral part of this examination process. This was particularly brought home to me with a bang recently when I was involved in school with an issue concerning equality and prejudice, in this case, homophobia. The gender equality toolkit for education staff produced by the Scottish government is a good starting place for a real examination of a school’s attitudes, policies and procedures for dealing with such issues. This document (Scottish Executive, 2007) indicates how schools might address these issues, and is based on the understanding that it is necessary to address homophobia alongside sexism to work effectively for gender equality and it does so by linking issues of equality and inclusion to the quality indicators against which we as a school are currently self-evaluating (it also does this against the four capacities of ACfE).

LTS produce a very helpful toolkit for schools all about handling incidents involving homophobia and homophobic bullying including some great lesson ideas (thanks to Bill Boyd at LTS for this). This was sent out to all schools in Scotland last year. I wonder how many actually have used it to examine just where they stand on this issue. To put it into some context, in a school with a roll of 1000 students, there may well be at least 80 students and staff who identify as gay or lesbian, as well as many many more who are perhaps struggling with this. Together, these two excellent resources provide schools with the means to really get to grips with equality issues, placing them firmly on the agenda of every part of a school’s daily life. Too often, this is brushed under the carpet with schools either failing or even worse, refusing to take any responsibility for the damage this kind of prejudice can do to peoples self-esteem and dignity at work. I remember doing a review of the curriculum for homophobia during my time on teaching practice whilst a student and being dismayed at the complete lack of focus on this issue. How much, I wonder, has this situation changed? I was moved and angry enough to write a piece in TESS at the time.

All of us working in schools have a clear and specific duty to challenge this kind of behaviour whenever it occurs and to be proactive in preventing any such occurrences through education and support. How many schools are so proactive ? not enough, I suspect.  The government is quite clear on this, advising in the toolkit that..

  Challenging homophobia and homophobic bullying is the responsibility of   everyone who wants to be part of the school community in which all young people are supported and included. It is the responsibility of teachers and other members of school staff under the leadership of school senior management and the local authority.

These two documents provide a useful starting point and link directly to the self-evaluation process by clearly stating the links to the quality indicators. If ever here was an argument for self evaluation and quality assurance, this is it.

Young gay and lesbian pupils are between six and eleven times more likely to attempt suicide than their other classmates and a complete lack of support from many of their schools and teachers and homophobic bullying contributes to this appalling statistic. How long are we going to let this continue in Scottish schools ?


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