Tagged: education

Looking for work

job-hunt

Due to lack of funding, my short-term teaching contract at a local high school runs out in early April 2014 and I am looking for work.

Below is the required self-promotion in an abbreviated resume format. I hope you get a sense of the person behind these words. 

Formal education

Bachelor of Education (Secondary – Society & Environment major/English minor), Master of Education (Research – Thesis on cultural identity of refugee students and social equity), PhD candidature (Parental views of NAPLAN).

Work history

Secondary school teacher (10 years) – Humanities (S&E, English, Geography, History, Philosophy & Ethics, Economics, Career & Enterprise), specialty – work with disengaged youth.

ICT integrator, e-learning designer, presenter, trainer, administrator in school, university, corporate and government sector.

Tertiary sector educator, publisher, researcher – work with pre-service teachers, active research, journal publishing at Murdoch University School of Education.

Professional sports – played and coached water polo, male and female, junior to international level, over 100 caps for Australia, Sydney 2000 Olympic squad member.

Experience

Beneath and beyond my work history lie years of experience in a number of fields.

I have had a significant online presence as a commentator, blogger, tweeter, participant in a number of communities since 2004 (well before Twitter and Facebook). In these spaces I mostly discuss creative use of technology in education,  educational equity and sociology of schooling.

Years of reading, writing, research and participation in education in a number of settings have given me deep understanding of education, learning theories, and edu-policy initiatives. SAMR, BYOD, AITSL, PISA, ACARA, NAPLAN, ERG … throw an edu-acronym at me and there is a very good chance I will know what it means and does.

I have travelled extensively, particularly in my elite sports playing and coaching years, and speak several languages. I value family as a husband, a father of two primary school boys. I espouse healthy, active lifestyle and community participation as a long standing member of a local primary P&C council.

Passion

Working WITH people and building relationships. As frustrating as it may be at times, I am at my very best with people – colleagues, clients, students, juniors to adults, beginners to elite. I uphold high ethical standards whoever I work with. Unless being insincere, many who have worked with me say that I am ‘creative’, ‘innovative’, that I ‘inspire’ and ‘lead’ well.

From early April 2014, possibly earlier if needed, someone can have this person on their staff.

I would greatly appreciate if you could consider, pass on, link to or otherwise let people know about my availability.

But wait … there’s more. If you would care to contribute to my profile, please write something appropriate about me in either the comments below or add a recommendation on my profile at LinkedIn. Every little bit helps, all truly appreciated!

Thank you. Genuinely.

Tomaz

Image credit: http://blogs-images.forbes.com/work-in-progress/files/2011/05/job-hunt.jpg

The beast of performativity

dashboard
You?

There is a very good chance that over the past decade or so you have experienced one or series of reviews,  performance management meetings, appraisals, inspections, key performance indicators, benchmarks, bonus rewards and a myriad of similar management technologies that measured your ‘outputs’ and outputs of those in your care (eg. students). These would been compared, often quite regularly, and subsequently published for internal or external comparison, even ranking. Through these ‘events’, you had to, implicitly or explicitly, display ‘quality’ of your work, promote an active, enterprising, ever improving self according to some neat, objective (sounding) criteria which reduced complex social relations to a number, scale, list, standard, box or range.

Yes? Nothing new?

Now please, checking that people are performing, doing their job, is probably as old as labour itself. Didn’t catch that fish your people counted on – you all went hungry. Didn’t row fast enough in a slave galley – got whipped. Dug up enough dirt – got extra potato. Won a gold medal – got a bonus. Botched too many operations – got sued. Endless, really.

But there has been a shift in the educational landscape and beyond over the last fifteen or so years and the shift is intensifying. What counts as educative, valuable, effective, satisfactory performance and what measures of teacher and student achievement are considered valid has increasingly been determined remotely, outside the relational space of eg. teacher’s class of kids, school, community according to a set of distant, hyper-rational, objective-looking system that employs a stream of seductively neat, business-like judgements, criteria, standards, categories and benchmarks.

There’s an increasingly dynamic, ever-changing and incessant flow of changing demands, expectations, indications making teachers and students continually accountable and recorded, measured. Educators’ primary tasks (curriculum, care for students, engagement, research) have increased in volume but so have the second-order tasks of monitoring, reporting, documenting, and, put crudely, ‘putting the best foot forward’. In many cases, the secondary tasks of ‘performing’ has assumed the primacy. To make things worse, it’s not always clear what is expected.

And the most corrosive aspect? What is expected is inconsistent with teachers’ own best ethical and professional judgement. Teachers are increasingly made to value things that ‘count’ but know they don’t matter over things they think matter but don’t ‘count’.

Lyotard called it a system of ‘performative terror’. You are stuck, not sure what you do, question yourself, wonder which is ‘the right thing’ … and more.

Some of the main effects, observed and reported widely in USA, UK and Australia? Increased stress, and pressure, increased pace and intensity of work, change in social relationships and (eroded) collegiality among teachers, rising superficiality of measures, initiatives and changes, more paperwork  and maintenance, more surveillance, rising gap in perspectives, values and purposes between budget-allocating, managerial senior staff or higher and those below, on the ground dealing with students, and more …

By way of a couple of vignettes via Stephen Ball:

What happened to my creativity? What happened to my professional integrity? What happened to the fun in teaching and learning? What happened?

I was a primary school teacher for 22 years but left because I was not prepared to sacrifice the children for the glory of politicians and their business plans for education.

It’s as though children are mere nuts and bolts on some distant production line, and it angers me to see them treated so clinically in their most sensitive and formative years.

I have a sprinkling right through this site too, this story perhaps the most notable one.

This is just a glance at the phenomenon, the technology described producing these effects. It’s called performativity.

Know it? Got stories? Let me know. It is one of the central concepts I am looking at in my PhD project. Thanks.

References (if interested… not even a scratch here, rich field of research exists, check Stephen Ball in particular):

Ball, S. J. (2003) The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of  Education Policy, 2003, vol. 18, no. 2, p. 215-228.

Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge, vol. 10. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Technologies of delight

Yesterday, I took our two boys (aged 6 and 3) to a place where they could be their best. Not the only such place but a great one nevertheless. The place is called Naturescape, free and right in the heart of Perth’s Kings Park. It is an impressive place with a particularly impressive (if not obvious) feature – its design was based on extensive survey of kids. What did the kids want? Dirt, water, sticks, rocks, stuff to climb, stuff to build, to craft and move.

Our boys dreamt up games, challenges and scenarios. They hung on and drew their breath while crossing creeks on tricky logs, climbing tall ladders, hanging off ropes or waiting if the structure they built with sticks is going to hold out. They built a dam, a bark boat, a ‘rock harbour’, read the map to find the way around, pretended to be Lorax standing on a chopped trunk (spot them on the pics below :-), spotted different rocks, plants and bushes, ran around a maze, fell off ropes, got wet, sandy, dirty, tired … a great few hours spent. It has also triggered a stack of stories and (no doubt) upcoming pictures, annotated cartoons, Lego creations on the theme and more.

As stated in the opening sentence – they were at their creative, acting, learning best.

When our 6 year old goes back to school this week, he will be expected to sit in a chair pretty still and ‘behave’ from 8.45am to 3pm. His teacher will be expected to ‘show progress’ with our kiddo on some pretty narrow parameters that dominate newspapers and societal DNA on ‘what schools should do’.

Likely results? Mr 6 will not be bouncy, creative self as much for sure and his teacher might feel guilty for not bringing the best out of him. Do I feel sorry for both of them? I do. Because a chair, a classroom and five-periods-a-day are not necessarily the things, the spaces, no wait … the technologies (!) that bring out the best in people. Every day I watch ‘at risk’ teenagers who turn into zombies when they walk through the school gate but they are brilliant mechanics, traders (just don’t ask what they trade…), bike riders, carers, navigators, budding chefs and lawyers (judging by their ability to argue finer points :-)) out there.

A chair, a classroom and five-periods-a-day (with a teacher who ‘knows’ and students who ‘don’t’) are simply historical accidents that we have found comforting to fund and support.

Now please, I would not just ‘get rid of schools’ but I would like us all in a society to think deeply and carefully about the lessons we can learn from watching the kids in places like Naturescape. And don’t for one minute think adults are hugely different and don’t want to play and learn.

Change by delight, not by fright. An old line we could heed a bit more.

And as I got home I came across this post by an old friend…

Mad or what?

The heart of it all. Questions !
The heart of it all. Questions, glorious questions !

This isn’t a ‘flipped classroom’. This isn’t ‘disruptive’ pedagogy or ‘disruptive technology’. This isn’t (just) about what is often understood as ‘critical thinking skills’.

I had tinkered with it and applied it in pieces in a mainstream school. Only in dosaged pieces because at the heart of it, this thing goes against the purpose embedded in the very (classroomed, corridored, square) building, let alone the way a ‘school’ is organised and thought of by most people who come in contact with. And this time, I’m going for it full throttle at our awesome … school.

About 45 years ago, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner wrote an eloquently genial and provocative book about it. Even that cranky old Greek called Socrates would probably like it (he just wouldn’t like it for being written down, for fear of de-personalising and de-contextualising).

After such a bombastic opening you are probably expecting to read about something terribly clever, innovative, creative and so on. But it isn’t, it is so damn simple and quite old really but with a contemporary e-twist.

This is what we are up to, a factual account.

At our first individual, in-person meeting for the term, the student (six so far, half my group), myself and often another person (a colleague, friend, support staff, parent, carer …) sit around the table with a big sheet of paper. In the middle of the paper sits the topic of student’s interest with words What? Where? Who? Why? When? How? What if? as visual reminders under it.

Together, we come up with as many questions about the topic as we can. We go for about 30 – 40 minutes and we are only interested in questions, answers not permitted. We ensure that the student contributes a healthy chunk of questions (least we’ve had is about a third, most about 80%, usually around 60%). The student can veto ANY generated question at any time but has to explain the reasons for the veto.

When done, the student is given options on the format they would like to use to work on these questions, keep them organised, interact with others and so on. So far, all of them have chosen a website over other formats (eg. portolfio, folder, poster …) for this purpose. A unique Google Site takes about a minute to set up with all the capacity needed to gather, curate and interact.

The student and I share the editing rights for the site. I am the tech hand, (s)he is the content manager and vice versa. We collaborate. I’m not a ‘sage on the stage’, nor a ‘guide on the side’ – I’m a ‘meddler in the middle’ (thank you Erica McWilliam for the phrase, seminal paper). We (will) involve others too as we go along, locally and (inter)nationally.

And the questions, some still in their raw, ungrouped, un-critiqued, un-pulled apart state are the term’s curriculum. That’s it! What is worth learning to this person, right there.

Here are a couple of examples about becoming a visual artist, joining the Navy, online gaming and an earlier effort about drugs. All are in their embryonic stage but with questions there.

If you look at the questions, some contain a dozen PhDs in them if explored to extraordinary lengths. And they can! They are there to trigger that wonderfully humbling paradox of learning: “the more you know the more you realise what you don’t know yet.”

As the advisor (umm, ‘teacher’) I question, praise, challenge, argue, poke and prod, interpret, scaffold if need be. I encourage the student to do the same. I educate in the sense of the original Latin word educare – drawing out the potential, the latent from a person. These kids are not passive ‘recipients’ of knowledge – they produce it. The job is not that easy as it may sound but I have not been this energised about my own profession for many, many years.

Now … where will we end up with all this? Frankly, I don’t really know (probably THE most frightening aspect to many of my colleagues in education and students too). But I DO know that these kids will have a much deeper, meaningful, contextualised understanding not just of the topic they are looking at but ways of learning, thinking, interacting, reflecting, and – acting!

Some of you reading this might see this as great for all sorts of reasons – pedagogical, technological, social and so on. Some of you may be indifferent: “Meh…” Some of you may be truly horrified and you may be right: “How can you track this to syllabus? How can you test this? How can you make sure they are covering areas other than just what they are interested in?” Valid questions. But if you ask them, go beyond the superficial and ‘common sense’, ask the odd ‘why so’ along the way then wrestle with it honestly.

Yes, students starting the term with about 50 of own questions rather than a set course in something their teacher is probably good at is probably an anathema to what society considers as ‘school’. But if I have the engagement of these ‘hard-to-engage-in-schooling’ young people after the first few days to go by – we are onto something.

These kids CAN question. They CAN lead. They CAN learn. They CAN see themselves in a light a school would rarely (or never!) have them before.

Mad, courageous, awful, irresponsible … ? You decide.

What I learned in 2011

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

My big(gest) lessons and reminders of 2011:

The importance of doing what you love doing in your career.

I never have or will regret joining Moodle HQ but I never have or will regret leaving Moodle HQ this year either. Thank you Martin & Moodle HQ. I love Moodle and its community but I am really happy to be a Moodle volunteer again and get paid (less) to work with teens that I dare say majority of teaching colleagues would not want to see in their class.

The importance of expectations.

You don’t significantly change or disrupt status quo by doing more of the same (way) but harder. Changing expectations shifts things dramatically.

Picture the expectations of a kid (and his surrounds) who has been told, overtly and covertly by the system of mainstream schooling, that most he can aspire to be is a dumb poor loser with some dead-end job as his only option (like many in his family). Suddenly, he completes a great project in the field he is passionate about. He is told, for the first time in his life, that a local university is offering courses in that field, and that, on the basis of things shown and in all sincerety,  going to uni and/or getting a well paid, challenging job in the industry is a realistic option for him in a couple of years if he puts in the effort. I saw the reaction of this kid and his parents. And it gives me tingles as I write this.

The value of Big Picture.

Big Picture is not a panacea for all our educational ills. It also isn’t for every kid out there. It requires a special kind of educator to really ‘get it’ too. But from what I have seen, learned and experienced this year after working in a Big Picture school and seeing some great work of kids and colleagues in BP schools around the country and the world, it is an approach, a state of mind rather, that truly empowers.

‘School’ is deeply ingrained in our societal DNA

It is soooo damn hard to ‘forget’ what ‘school’ looks like and does. In a ‘school’ you learn to play the game (usually called ‘what does the teacher or test want me to say’) then pass … and largely forget. There is a teacher, the knower, and a bunch of students who need to be ‘taught’ stuff prescribed by often someone else and contextually remote. You need a grade to show how much you are worth. Above all – you don’t ask (tough) questions. Things like: ‘What are we doing this for?’ And if kids don’t learn, the teacher says ‘I taught them that but they didn’t learn it’ (akin to a realtor saying ‘I sold them the house but they didn’t buy it’ …).

No wonder it takes us a very long time at our school (yes, we are one, but a Big Picture one) for kids and parents to come to terms with statement/questions like: “What are you passionate about?”, “What is worth learning?”, “No, I am NOT going to tell you what to do next, but I am happy to figure it out WITH you.” “You (student) know more about this (topic) than me (teacher) already so I am going to learn with you.” Crazy stuff huh? Or is it? Ask yourself why (not).

The value of networks

You have no idea how grateful I am of my, well our, network. This goes particularly when I see you from around the planet interacting with kids at our school, kids who, in most cases, have barely left their suburb all their life. Things like comments to ‘John’s’ motorbike website or ‘Billy’s’ ‘World Of Drugs‘ wiki project (one I am hugely excited and hopeful about in 2012) are small but priceless.

Every comment here on Human, every @ reply on Twitter, every *Like* on Facebook, every email, Skype call, shared document or other interaction reinforces my liking for Stephen Heppel’s observation: Previous century was about making stuff FOR many people. This century is about helping people help each other.

and finally … drumroll …

Watching students flourish in front of my eyes in moments during the year and particularly during their Big Picture exhibitions reminds me why I want(ed) to work in education: not to be “the knower” in some field and bang on about it as if it were the most important thing in the world but watch and help others becoming knowers (of) themselves in the fields they chose and share.

PS. If I don’t post anything before Christmas/New Year it probably means I am playing with my own kids and enjoying a bit of holidays. But I do check in here and Twitter …

Have a peaceful Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Kiss your kids and loved ones and tell them you love them. Often. And mean it.

I fail too

kite
Our 6 year old son flying a kite.

Most edu-bloggers, myself included, predominantly rain down on our keyboards to share our successes, ‘what works’, fire the odd rant and share musings on how things could, or even should, be.

Well, I am writing today to share a struggle, possibly a failure. Excuse the odd expletive in there but they are part of the story too.

If you click on Big Picture category here you’ll get a bunch of older posts about the school I now work at and the particular educational philosophy we have embraced as a school. In a nutshell: we are NOT your nice middle class aspirational school by any stretch (low socio-economics with assortment of, sadly, all too familiar related issues) and we follow an approach that may seem ‘out there’ with many who have ‘done school’.

We don’t have subjects at our school. I don’t teach ‘a subject’. I don’t give and mark tests and assignments (phew 😉 ) in an area of my expertise. Kids find and follow their (legal 😉 ) interest(s) in (mostly) areas they already know more about than me, I’m there to help with generics, help find mentors in the community and oversee their progress. Don’t wince in horror or get too rosy eyed just yet …

If I do prepare what I think might be an engaging activity (and probably would be so in a different context, school) it is often met with ‘boring’, ‘I’m not doing that’ and a bunch of cop outs. Ours is a tough crowd, burnt by years of unsuccessful mainstream schooling and suspicious of things ‘educational’.

Back at their old school, there was ‘work’, a teacher (often at their wits end) to tell you what to do and lots of examples to confirm that you suck at school.

To compound the trouble, this new, Big Picture way of doing things independently is something they have never really tried and is still pretty scary. They, the students, need to drive the thing, not the teacher (called ‘advisor’ at our school) telling them what to do. And the freedom is scary!

Like any good confused teenagers,  many of these guys want someone to tell them what to do (like in their previous school, because that’s safe and “that’s what school is” and “teachers make you work and you hate it”) … but they don’t want to be told by the teacher what to do all the time and “do shit that teachers want us to do”. They like the freedom but it is scary to leave the sheltered feeling of structured, pre-fab, teacher-led environment even if they didn’t exactly excel at it. For many, this means doing, creating, trying, learning as little as possible. Safety mechanism.

Or as one of my students said, insightfully, in a lively discussion yesterday: “The problem isn’t the freedom in choosing our interest, the problem is that we choose to do fuck all”.

As you can imagine, refusals, shoulder shrugs, “CBF” and “I dunno …” are common. I have a couple of students for whom I have not a shred of evidence to have created anything in over two months – a letter, drawing, photo, note, recording, journal entry, hardly even a verbal, a question of some learning-related kind … nada, zero, zilch!

And this is what I mull over, often. This is where I start running out of ideas to engage and motivate (standard ones perhaps, might to get more creative :D). This is where I question my professional ability. Can I do better than this? Am I doing the right thing by these kids to keep waiting for them patiently and keep handing the responsibility for learning back to them? As a teacher, I am trained, employed to help, not keep keep putting the ball in kids’ court? What can I then do to ‘start their engines’ so to speak?

But this is where I remind myself of a couple of other things: the ugliness of (middle-class) salvationism and … time.

I have always been suspicious of being a “knight in shinning armour” who will deliver the poor kids from their lot and ‘make them more like me’. Sure, the odd call to a kid to lift their game is fine, even very necessary and welcome (in the long run, often unseen) but it is condescending, unrealistic and damaging to assume that we share values and chances in life. It can turn into the tyranny of of the well meaning C.S. Lewis described so eloquently.

I have expanded (with others) on this ‘salvationist’ reflex and its origins here (see Rolling up sleeves: education as production). Yet this is implied in much of teacher training and the societally assumed job of teachers. And it is damn hard to wrestle with!

The second thing I am reminding myself of is time. It has only been a term and a bit with these kids. It’s only been a term and a bit of Big Picture for all of us. Things take time. Things need to be seen in context. The kid who hasn’t ‘produced’ anything has been coming to our school most days, totally unlike his old (mainstream) school. It’s a start.

I write this for myself, to clear my mind a little. I fail but I carry on. It takes time.

And if my little soliloquy makes you reflect on the work of educators – it’s a good thing.

Overschooled and undereducated

Yesterday, I read and keenly tweeted a link of a(nother) excellent post by Ira Socol (@irasocol) called ‘Schools That Matter‘. It’s vintage, eloquent Ira. A few replies later, I noted a link shared by Geoff Alemand (@scratchie, thanks mate) that pointed to an absolute gem, shared below.

I borrow the post title from a book by John Abbot (@21learn) and Heather MacTaggart I am about to order. You can read more about the book and explore the excellent site of Born To Learn animation series and (of) its associated organisation 21st Century Learning Initiative.

I’ve seen many a 21st century call-to-arms but this one, for my 2 cents, stands above the pep-crowd with its simplicity, research support and an easy-to-grasp genealogy of current mainstream schooling. Bit of confirmation bias perhaps here but you know …

I am embedding the three clips here, in no particular order. They could be used in so many presentations, sessions, workshops and similar gathering to stimulate truly important conversations.

If I were showing these at a staff meeting, teacher education or similar, I would strategically pause the third clip (Class Reunion) at exactly 2.48 into the clip and ask the room for responses.

They may just frame the essence of the(ir) view, purpose and reasons to be(come) an educator.

Enjoy!

Born to Learn from Born to Learn on Vimeo.

The Faustian Bargain (Trailer) from Born to Learn on Vimeo.

Born to Learn: Class Reunion from Born to Learn on Vimeo.

Thank you Geoff for sharing, thank you John and Heather for your work.

Can scootering save schools?

I have shamelessly re-purposed the title from what has to be one of my new favourite TED talks, alerted to by @malynmawby (Thanks Malyn!). See it below …

Did you catch those points?

  • Failure is normal.
  • Nobody knows ahead of time how long it takes anyone to learn anything.
  • Work your ass off until you figure it out.
  • Learning in NOT fun. (‘Flow’ and  the ‘Goldilocks challenge’)
  • No grades.
  • No cheating.
  • No teachers. (well, optional…)
  • Real-time meaningful feedback.

OK, on the surface of it, like many TED talks – inspirational, catchy, memorable. Don’t get me wrong – I love the clip but it does beg a few questions.

The clip is  is not ‘universal’ in all of its points all the time. Not everything you learn in life is by trial and error on your own, sometimes it is mighty valuable for someone (a ‘teacher’?) to show what (not) to do and for different reasons  – the notion of real-time meaningful feedback Dr. Tae mentions. Sometimes performance is more important than learning, sometimes the other way around and for different reasons (more on that dichotomy here), and so on …

We could start nitpicking here – and miss the good bits!

But here’s a story. A true one.

There is a bunch of very talented scooter riders in my class (scooters or skateboards – same diff in terms of Dr. Tae’s clip). For their first ever Big Picture project, they decided to complement and extend their passion and interest in scootering and learn how to (better) edit a video clip of themselves.

It has required some gentle manouvering of teens who run away from anything smelling remotely like ‘school work’ as they put it. But last week and today, we went to two different local skate parks and filmed them in action.Today, we even took our school media enthusiasts to do the filming!

At first, the four boys almost didn’t believe me we would go and do such a ‘non-school’ thing but signed up enthusiastically. There’s a whole blog post and beyond about what trips and opportunities like these do for building relationships with kids for whom the staff at our school may be just about the only stable adults in their lives but more on that another time.

We had a lot of fun (read meaningful effort!).  The boys scooted their butts off and we got a bunch of still images and video and some of it is simply awesome, judged so even by the kids’ standards themselves!  Over the next three weeks, these four guys will learn how to edit and put together a great mashup of video, stills, audio and special effects, then present the finished product AND the story of their learning to myself, their parents and whoever else they invite to their exhibition (central item in Big Picture approach – what you do is public and you need to ‘stand behind it’).

Here is a small taste of their talent just off my phone, I will feature their finished products (with their permission, of course).

Now, don’t tell me these kids are ‘poor learners’ or carry a learning disability. They must have failed hundreds of times, worked hard and kept going until they landed these tricks … in short, they embodied exactly the points Dr Tae was talking about! They embodied, purposefully and dare say joyfully, not just learning but, more importantly, the power of wanting to learn, even love for learning in their lives.

The words of my wise mentor water polo coach in former Yugoslavia still ring in my ears, now decades past: “Tomaz, your most important job with these juniors is not how to pass the ball and shoot well – your main job is to get them to fall in love with the game.”

Over the coming weeks, we will hopefully use their efforts in scootering to extrapolate and transfer things about the power of ‘love for  learning’ from scootering to other areas in life they come across.

Now, if you think ‘well, scootering isn’t going to get them a job’ or ‘get them to uni’ or ‘teach them geography’ and things like that, you may, but only MAY be right and even so, horribly myopically. Because what I, as a mentor to these kids, know is that these sorts of things have a chance of giving them the confidence, opportunity, resilience, love of learning that no textbook or teacher can teach.

And THAT is what our school is about. And that is what I am about. And that is what so often, so many of our schools, unwillingly, kill off, for the sake of things that simply … don’t matter.

So … can scootering save schools?

Well, that’s a long shot but if joy of learning is something to nourish and stimulate, it has a thing or two to offer, for sure.

PS Inspired in part by Dean Shareski’s piece ‘Why Joy Matters‘, alerted to by Pam Moran. Thank you both!

Performance vs Learning

Balancing Act

I am getting a little tired of unreflective grade-and-test-bashers, silver-tongued and ‘inspirational’ gurus on the educational speaking circuit peddling a rosy picture of learning and lame ‘garden-like’ analogies.

I am getting even more tired of assessment-standard-accountability-statistically-crazed literacy-with-funding, 3Rs, ‘core knowledge’, test and merit pay, bean counters, vote counters and ‘good old days’ pundits.

Well, the former lot is waxing lyrical about ‘learning’, the latter about ‘performance’.  Let’s put ‘learning’ in one side of the continuum and ‘performance’ on the opposite side and ask three questions:

Is there a difference between learning and performing?

Definitions abound. I loosely borrow from Dweck’s that makes a lot of sense to me.

Performance is about doing well when required and expected. The ability to deliver  generates reputation, often hierarchical when in relation, compared to others.  Performance has standards and is data-driven (data as ends, not means), quantifiable, measurable. It is efficient, gets things done. ‘Facilitating  performance’ is about removing the obstacles to overcome. Similarly, risk, error, uncertainty are to be avoided or at least minimised so one can stay in the zone of competence.

Performance is extrinsic. It is about winning positive judgement and avoiding negative ones. Since error is likely to produce condemnation (poor results, diminished status etc), one needs to look smart, competent and avoid looking dumb, oft at all cost. Errors are also likely to produce low self-efficacy (a ‘belief in our ability to succeed in specific situations’; Bandura), and trigger blame on self (“I’m useless …”) and others (“it’s teachers’ fault I failed the unit…”), even  giving up.

Do we need performance in our lives? Sure do, with all its good and bad sides. We all like  doctors to prescribe the right treatment, train drivers to drive safely, athletes in our team to win … you name it (next time you see a politician, remember the above paragraph).

And then there is learning.

Learning is about mastering a new skill, understanding, growing. It cannot be pulled up on demand nor shut down when not needed. It is not a goal but a process, a strateg(ising) to deal with. Whether it’s maths, kissing, football or philosophy, ‘facilitating learning’ is about creating meaningful, challenging obstacles to overcome. Risk is welcome, errors are something to learn from.  Learning is data-informed (data is means to ends). It is intrinsic. It is about being smart, not just looking like it at all cost. Learning breeds high self-efficacy.

Learning is also messy, un-predictable, un-measurable (at least in ways many performance fans would have us believe). It requires going out of zone of competence, which can often be a very uncomfortable and a brave thing to do, especially if others, public are involved. Learning can be very inefficient, wasteful even.

Do we need learning in our lives? Silly question really… Ask a scientist about  discovering a cure for a disease, a parent working out what makes their child eat vegetables, a footballer practising a better way to kick … another endless list.

In short: Performance = doing and not screwing up. Learning = screwing up and doing it better.

Is learning better than performing?

I have never liked telling people what to do, but I do love watching them coming up with their own answers. So, no silver bullet from me today (and run away from anyone who tells you they have one, fast !). But for the record – we need a smart, local, contextual, holistic balance between the two.

‘Learning’ with no ends, consequences, checks, expectations while magically holding-hands-and-singing-Kumbaya shields us from the realities. It does not make resilient learners that sometimes need to stand up and deliver, decide, make a tough call, lead when needed. I have nothing against assessment for example, I just don’t think it’s a great way to motivate, stimulate, nourish interest in something.

Contrary, overemphasis on performance, the seductive simplicity of ‘objective’ standards derived from de-contextualised data and delirious joy of thinking things are repeatable and replicable with people, abnormal focus on winning positive judgement from external others (hello ‘tiger mums’ out there …) leads human flourishing to a ‘performative trap’ – seeing oneself and others in terms of standards, points, wins, data collected. The obsession to ‘look good and be right’ is filling an ocean of human sorrow and anxiety around you and me right now.

Why are these questions important to ask?

The ‘performative trap’ is encroaching our societal, shared mental modes which frame our experiences, shape the view of reality and with it priorities. We are increasingly calling it up to simplify complex reality around us. And because we are social animals, we tend to share it and reinforce it with choices we make.

And just why is it a trap? Take this example from McWilliam:

[W]here error results in painful condemnation from external others who are marking, grading and measuring each move, then it is more likely that a student will avoid uncertainty at all costs, not embrace it for what it might conceivably offer to fresh understanding. So too an institution’s performance, dependent as it is on the judgment of external others, is vulnerable if and when its ‘mistakes’ (ie, a less than dignified place on league tables) are out in the open. When the price of failure is a lack of enrolments, diminished reputation, and/or a funding cut, it is to be anticipated that ‘best foot forward’ can become not simply an important imperative but the dominant imperative that renders all others to marginal status.

So, I answer the above question with a set of further questions (all first-pass, top of the head stuff) that you may recognise, ask, expand upon in your own context. Then work with the push and pull …

To a student:How important are school grades to you? Why? Do you think you would learn as much if there were no grades, tests? What does that tell you about the way you learn? What will you do in situations where there will be no grades and ranks? What do you think of people who don’t get good grades? If/when you have children, what will you encourage them to do at school? Why so? …

To a teacher: How important is to you to ‘get the marking right’? Do you think Bell curve is a necessary thing? Is assessment a good motivator? Why (not)? Are there better ways to stimulate learning? Are students you teach primarily an economic resource to be classified and passed on? Why (not)? What have you learned today? How important is it to you to have the answer students ask for? …

To a parent: If your child seems ‘behind’ in one area but ‘ahead’ in another, what do you do? What should the teachers do? Why so? Is it OK for your child to be happy learning something but not reaching what you think is their full potential in it? How much do your school grades matter now? Why (not)? …

To a school administrator, to the Prime Minister, to the radio pundit, to your P&C council, to your Twitter followers … you get the drift, surely 😉

I acknowledge that all this ‘performance vs learning’ may be a bit chicken-or-eggish, even a false comparison to some, but sure is a good way to get your bullshit detectors working.

Use them.

PS If intrigued by the ‘seductiveness of figures’, head over to these couple of recent posts by Ira Socol  (Measurement and overpromise and Art of seeing ) or an older series of co-writing right here on Human. Good stuff that may get you angry, or thinking … or both.

References:

Dweck, C. (1999) Self-theories: Their role in motivation, Personality and Development. Ann Arbor, MI: Psychology Press.

McWilliam, E., Taylor, G., & Perry, L. (2007). Learning or performance: What
should educational leaders pay attention to? Paper presented at the The 13th International Conference on Thinking Norrkoping, Sweden.

Ed-tech Ferrari in first gear – why change?

This is a reply to a healthy ‘ring’ of posts by Mark Drechsler (Learning technologies – should the tail wag the dog? – an excellent string of replies growing there!), David Jones (The dissonance between the constructivist paradigm and the implementation of institutional e-learning) and Mark Smithers (e-learning at Universities: A Quality Assurance Free Zone?). I invite you to read these excellent posts to get a better picture. In a nutshell, they collectively wonder that old nut in many guises and variations: “Why aren’t educators using progressive pedagogical approaches by using technologies that lends themselves so well to such approaches?”

First, let’s clear with some nomenclature. Here, let’s call constructivism (mentioned by these guys) and the likes as ‘progressive’, and ‘results of outdated policy changes that have calcified into conventions’ (Nehring) as ‘traditional’. One could drive a truck through this argument, I know! David explains this continuum nicely, so does Alfie Kohn (Progressive Education; Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find).

Similarly, learning theories (the various -isms) are useful, but frankly oft overrated, mis-understood edu-psych discourses with shades of purism. In sporting parlance, every -ism is a ‘well-meaning’ club with its main players and legions of fans. It thrives on membership & wins against other -isms, sometimes to the detriment of the game itself. While perhaps fonder of a particular theory on a dynamic continuum, a wise educator has to be part-constructivist, connectivist, traditionalist, instructionist or other -ist, strategically. Let’s not get too stuck on purist theory but take things with a grain of pragmatic salt.

And this is getting to the heart of the matter, for me at least: Educators will mostly use pedagogical approaches which align with the answer(s) to the question(s): What is the primary purpose of education? What are the priorities? What are we here for?

Importantly, they will NOT always align with their own answers to these questions, but also answers of the school/uni they work at, parents, students, and the larger society the school, and themselves, are a part of. These can be poles apart but need to be upheld, negotiated in different spaces and different times. No glib universals and binaries please!

Educators bring their own passions and priorities to technologies they use in their work. Take Moodle for example. An educator with a ‘progressive’ mindset will relish wikis, forums and collaborative tools in Moodle, her colleague might puke a bunch of files and worksheets in Moodle (thanks for that turn of phrase KerryJ 😉 ) because they are a convenient electronic version of ‘have what kids need to know’, another one may love the intricate ‘drill and kill’ possibilities of Quiz … you get my drift, surely (and they are all ‘using Moodle’!).

Now, all this gets tempered with, for example:

  • what students’ preference may be (I’ve heard “no more Moodle forums Sir, can’t we just talk about it in class” after an enthusiastic Moodle overdose on my part),
  • what schools allow (‘Allowing YouTube? Are you nuts? How about some teaching instead?” – oh yes, heard that one!),
  • what parents want (“I just want my little Johnnie to get the best exam marks and your job is to help him do that” – yep, many times),
  • what the Prime Minister is touting on TV (“schools that don’t perform will have their funding cut…” – and I thought bullying was a thing to get rid of in schools, silly me)

A glorious mess of tensions and priorities to negotiate!

I’ve tried to put things in a hopelessly inadequate graph. I cannot stress enough (again) that people move through this graph at different times for different purposes. But here it is…

ed-tech quadrant
Not a static thing!

Now, I do work for the makers of one (and love it!), but for all the bells and whistles, it’s a bit pointless calling a piece of software ‘progressive’ (or ‘traditional’ for that matter). Makes about as much sense as calling say leeches in medicine ‘primitive’ . While certainly built with ‘progressive’ use in mind, Moodle (for example) is only as ‘progressive’ as its use. And I assure you it is painful for Moodle HQ to watch a Ferrari built to facilitate ‘progressive’ approaches, driven so many times in the first gear and without considering a change …

I answer Mark’s (paraphrased) question “Are we happy with just using technology or are we only happy using technology in a particular, progressive way?” with a question: Will/do these ‘progressive’ approaches fail to take hold because we didn’t/don’t use technology at hand in a particular way?

Beware getting stuck in the reflexive cause-effect conundrum (in plain English – chicken or egg?) but it is bloody important to ask.

Reference:

James H. Nehring, “Progressive vs. Traditional: Reframing an Old Debate,” Education Week, February 1, 2006, p. 32.