Friday, May 28, 2010

Where Has Education Gone?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
The Skill Mastery HyperdomeThe Skill Mastery Hyperdome - SLENZ Project - Foundation Studies Build, Kowhai

Authentic learning is a solution to some of the problems
that arise in schools, workplaces and in society today.

Isn’t it funny that at a time when training is being heaved out of the workplace by a change of organisational thinking, it must find in-roads to secondary schools where, purportedly, it is desperately needed?

Last week, I attended the Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu All-School Forum 2010. This was an international occasion for Te Kura.

Three Keynote speakers - Viv White from Australia, Elliot Washor from the United States and Stuart Middleton from New Zealand - gave their perspectives on ‘authentic learning’ in schools.

Stuart could not attend the Forum. He gave a recorded presentation outlining how he saw the history of what has happened globally to education in the past 50 or so years, and how those changes are impacting on what is happening to the youth in society today.


Clearly, the raising of the school leaving age, by several years, has brought about changes in how education is delivered. It has also altered how society looks on school-leavers who go about looking for jobs.

A number of associated changes have accompanied all this.
The origins and reasons for the changes are complex. But the situations for prospective employment of school-leavers are implicit.

Over 40 years ago it was acceptable for kids to leave school without having any formal qualification. There were plenty of jobs for them. They were trained and educated on-the-job, and stories of their successes in life are numerous. Education through ‘the university of life’ was not an uncommon occurrence. As well, night classes became very popular. These provided a useful adjunct to the education of that group of learners

But the gradual societal changes, brought about through the raising of the school-leaving age and the programs introduced to schools to cope with these, meant that jobs for inexperienced and unqualified youths became less and less plentiful. What’s more, the general calibre of those jobs is now of a lowly nature and night classes
are disappearing.

Hands on

Today there is a desperate need for kids who are likely to leave school early to be introduced to vocational possibilities during their remaining school years. It’s being recognised that preparation for the workplace in a hands-on manner and while kids are still attending school, is an effective way to accomplish this.

It so happens that the standards-based qualifications system adopted in New Zealand early this century was adapted from the trades schemes. Argue as you may, there is more training taking place in schools today than was delivered there 40 years ago.

It’s now recognised that the vocational access routes available for learners in schools are still not enough, a situation which is driving ‘authentic learning’ schemes into schools. I agree that more of this is now needed. I just wonder at what society is doing to education.

Knowing what to do

Education is supposed to be preparation for life. It has been said by many educators that “education is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do”. When schools become geared to providing training for kids so that they can step into a job as soon as they leave school, isn’t there a possibility that ‘preparation for life’ will have to be diminished and/or postponed? When does that start if it has been displaced by the need for more immediate training in schools?

Where Has Education Gone?

Rangimārie - Peace In Harmony

Monday, May 10, 2010


Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you all
Johnstone's Information Processing Model
As teacher, I often tramp the journey. Most of the way, I learn more than I teach, which is fortunate as I’m bored easily.

Even the well trodden-paths bear fruit. But I have to be more aware when pacing there; vigilant, else I miss what is to be learnt.

As teacher, most of what I learn on the well-tramped lanes happens as I watch others less familiar with the paths. This learning is the most enlightening, yet so difficult to pass on to others.

I’ve begun to understand why.

As teacher, all learning is a journey. How can a learner explain the destinations to someone who has never been there and seen what they’re like? There is often no measure to compare, no gradation to gauge against, and no foundation to build upon.

And so learning, once accumulated, is not necessarily always useful. At least, not as useful as we might think it should be. And so it is that the adage of teachers ‘filling jugs’ doesn’t really work, no more than their teaching does.

Johnstone’s Information Processing Model, a simplified version which heads this post, suggests that there is a real need to tread the ways often. It implies that learners may not be wholly aware of what’s to be learnt on the way, nor of its significance even if they were.

It also reinforces that perhaps filling jugs doesn’t work so smoothly, that much is spilt in the process – that many approaches may have to be tried before the jugs contain anything useful at all.

Ka kite anō - Catchya later

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Tale Shouldn't Wag The Dog

Kia ora tātou – Hello Ever
Funtime Comic article
I finished writing a print-based learning resource a few weeks ago. I say finished – it was really only a draft before I passed it on to the editors.

I put a copy of it on the Science database and was grateful for feedback received from our now huge Science teaching cohort. It was good to get comment from colleagues who, like me, had been plunged into the sweat of writing learning resources to deadlines.

Storyline an interest

Among many aspects of the draft discussed was its storyline. This attracted interest from my colleagues as it was seen as an effective teaching feature. It also made me think more deeply about strategies I’d used in creating the storyline in the first place. I realised that I hadn’t really planned it.

It became clear with more thought and discussion that a storyline in a learning resource should not be a starting point for writing. My past experience has shown me that building necessary learning around a plot can be difficult. It’s a manufactured process that has the potential to limit severely pathways the writing may follow.

A different approach

Adhering to a storyline can stymie other useful teaching ideas that may otherwise emerge. It can lead to contrived resource components that do not satisfactorily contribute to effective learning.

The storyline that seemed to work so well in this resource was created using an entirely different approach. Here’s how it came together for a NCEA Level 1 generic learning resource on writing a scientific report.

Staid and boring stuff

I started on the second chapter simply because it was the one I had in mind when I put my fingers to the keypad. My plan was for Peter to write a report of something he did during his holidays and hand it in for his Science teacher to assess at the start of term.

I had practically finished that chapter when I'd already decided that it was boring, principally because it involved doing homework for a teacher. Undaunted, I continued with chapter 3, then drafted chapter 1 and was half way through chapter 4 when I really couldn’t pursue my ideas any more. The resource was becoming all too staid and boring.

Change tactics

I went back to chapter 2, stripped it down and rewrote it introducing a friend, Mahi, an intelligent M
āori girl who could write good scientific reports.

It was she, not the teacher, who read Peter’s brief report of his visit to a museum exhibition on colossal squid. It was she, not the teacher, who desperately wanted to see the exhibition after reading Peter’s report.

And it was she who tried to follow the deficient instructions in the report. As a result of these shortcomings, Mahi missed out on her planned visit to the exhibition – all good material to use for teaching about informative report writing.

I switched back to rewrite parts of chapter 1, simply introducing the characters Peter and Mahi. I then flicked to the other draft chapters incorporating the growing relationship between Peter and Mahi as friends who supported each other with their interest in Science.

Here’s how chapter 1 begins:

Reading magazines

Peter found a magazine page that had an article about a car that ran on water instead of petrol.

Activity 1A

Read Peter’s magazine page shown below.

1 What is the name of the magazine that this page came from?

2 Explain two things you see on the magazine page that might suggest that the information about the car is not true.



Peter wanted to find out more about the car, so he went to a car showroom and spoke with a salesman. The salesman laughed at Peter and did not believe that a car like that could be made. Peter still wasn’t sure if the information in the magazine was true.

3 Explain two other things Peter might do to find out if the story in the magazine is true.




Check the answer guide

Proof of the pudding

The rest of the resource fell into place using the theme of collaborative learning between two school chums. Peter followed up Mahi’s library research into giant squids and colossal squids. He then asked her for help when drawing a graph for the report he was writing.

Instead of Peter handing in his report for a teacher to mark, he chose Mahi to help him improve it. This permitted a chummy dialogue between two friends that was not only fitting and appropriate, but had the potential to enhance learner interest.

All this was laid over a framework of teaching and learning. I got a real kick out of how easy it was to incorporate a story line in a learning resource, and from the supportive feedback I received from colleagues.

The proof of the pudding will be when I examine feedback from learners!

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes