Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Value of Instruction

Kia ora tātou – Hello EveryoneThe Value of Instruction
“A long time ago, in Newsday for November 15, 1994, Billy Tashman said with reference to a large, government-sponsored field test of different instructional approaches: ‘The good news is that after 26 years, nearly a billion dollars, and mountains of data, we now know which are the most effective instructional tools. The bad news is that the education world couldn’t care less.’
The same holds true today." James Kauffman

When I first began teaching, I bristled with the desire to instruct, inspire, coach, and enlighten. I’d just been through Moray House College of Education, Edinburgh, where my tutors and mentors truly recognised the worth of excellent instruction.

Yet for the past 30 years and more, I have felt like a disillusioned school teacher who is old fashioned, out of date and not really understanding what’s happening in education.

The other day, a good friend and colleague passed on to me a recent article from Teachers College Record, by James Kauffman. It was written as an introduction to his recently published book,

The Tragicomedy of Public Education:
Laughing and Crying Thinking and Fixing

As I read through Kauffman's article, I recalled how I felt when I read Shelley Gare’s book,

The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Common Sense.

I experienced déjà vu at every page.

James Kauffman is Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

In his review article, entitled Reforming Public Education: A Tragicomedy, he explains how some people, working within education, fail to recognise the most important factor in improving learning:

“Truly ridiculous statements about reforming schools have been made by generally intelligent people who happen to botch thinking about education. Too often, their silly statements are taken seriously, making matters worse. Some would-be reformers ignore what produces most learning — instruction.”

Kauffman draws attention to all the areas of stupidity in education that I’ve complained about, for decades . . .

. . . about improving teaching:

“They might say we need better teachers without defining “better.” People aren’t necessarily better teachers because they’re smarter, know their subject better, or have taken more courses. We need standardized tests, but good teaching isn’t easily measured as “value added.” “Better teacher” doesn’t necessarily mean “higher average pupil gain score.” Good instruction is defined by what a teacher does.”

. . . about pursuing change without recognising what needs to change:

“On January 2, 2010, Kevin Huffman published in The Washington Post his heartfelt opinions about how to reform education, including suggestions that we recruit talented teachers and fire bad ones, base policies on student achievement, and get parents to demand what’s best for their children. He quotes a U.S. Senator from Colorado, who says that the education system must change, but he doesn’t say how. Any change will do? Sorry, Kevin and Senator, with all due respect, we don’t need just any kind of change. Unless it’s the right change, we’ll get nowhere.”

. . . about the
misunderstanding and misuse of statistics:

“One reason the “thinking” of so many earnest reformers is tragicomic when it’s taken seriously is that you can’t have all of the children (or teachers or any other group we measure) reaching any percentile higher than the first group any more than you can have all of the children (or teachers) above average.”

. . . about setting education goals that are absurdly unachievable:

“No Child Left Behind (. . .) set the goal of universal proficiency of students by 2014. That goal is a will-o’-the-wisp that anyone else who understands the most basic mathematical-statistical realities knows is impossible.”

. . . about teaching methods inappropriately applied to all learners:

“Direct, systematic instruction is more effective than other approaches like “discovery learning” (essentially, letting kids find out for themselves) and a lot of the other popular but failed ideas about teaching. Go to to find out more.”

. . . about using test scores to judge success.

Kauffman lists his criteria for judging success:

  1. effective instruction,
  2. students’ engagement in productive activity,
  3. homogeneous grouping for instruction,
  4. positive emotional climate,
  5. clear school-wide expectations,
  6. positive support for desired behaviour,
  7. involvement of parents and communities.

Check out:

The Tragicomedy of Public Education: Laughing and Crying Thinking and Fixing,
James M Kauffman, FULL Court Press, 2010
– ISBN 1-57861-682-4

The Tragicomedy of Public Education – DESK COPY

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nor Any Drop To Drink - BLOG ACTION DAY 2010

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allLake Wakatipu
A rare commodity

Water is amazing. It is truly the universal solvent. While there are solvents that can dissolve some things far better, there is none that dissolves as many different substances as can water.

It’s all to do with the structure of water’s molecule – that particle scientists refer to when they talk of the tiny bits that some things are made of. Water molecules can cluster together and share parts of each other to form other discrete particles that have unique affinities for different things.

Sugar is made of molecules. Common salt consists of two very different bits, called ions that are positively and negatively charged.

Though sugar and salt look very similar, their fundamental differences, at the sub-microscopic level, make these substances behave so very differently. Very few solvents can dissolve both sugar AND salt for this reason. But water can.

This strange property of water – the ability to dissolve molecular substances as well as those that are made up of ions – is one reason why it is extremely difficult to obtain pure water.

When it rains, droplets of almost 100% pure water form high in the atmosphere. Yet it’s not long before this water has dissolved all sorts of substances, often before it reaches the ground. Pure water is actually an extremely rare substance.

Repositories for everything

Near-pure droplets of rainwater that drench the land eventually find their way into the oceans. There is a little bit of everything to be found in the world’s oceans. This is because water dissolves just about everything.

Gold is one of the world’s rarest and most precious metals. Yet we are told that the world’s oceans contain enough dissolved gold to provide every person with a tiny piece weighing over 8 tonnes!

Gold is just one of the billions of substances that water washes into the world’s oceans, every day. The seas and oceans throughout the world are repositories for all that is washed off the land.

End to fresh water

All over the world, beautiful freshwater lakes represent a half-way house for water that makes its way to the sea. These wonderful reservoirs are topped up by rivers and streams fed by water that takes many paths, from slow percolations of ground water to direct runoffs.

Fresh water reservoirs contain water that has had only a relatively short time in contact with the earth. Most contain water that is near pure. They have enjoyed a place in the eye of the beholder for thousands, perhaps millions of years. Lakes, and the streams and rivers that contribute to them, have served living creatures with necessary fresh water during that time. But this service is literally drying up.

Something in the water

Supplies of drinkable water are dependent on readily available fresh water sources. The demand for water of this purity is increasing every day. I’m told that about 24 litres of fresh water can be used during the entire production of just one hamburger. Yet the world’s fresh water supplies provide water only at a worldly rate.

That rate is huge, and hitherto has been unvarying. While that rate is now not sufficient to provide the world’s demand for fresh water, there is much now happening on the surface of the earth to actually decrease the rate of this provision.

Wastes from farming, industry and the effluent from the people who rely on these present day processes are fast diminishing the usefulness of water sources. Many fresh water reservoirs are now becoming polluted and the level of pollution and the occurrence of this are always increasing.

Now running to ground

About 20% of the world’s fresh water is drawn directly from the ground. It is seen as a way of safeguarding against periods of drought while providing an almost unvarying year-long supply of fresh water – water that slowly percolated its way through the ground. Such water sources are still vulnerable to pollution, however, as surface pollutants can percolate through the ground and contaminate the ground water.

Moreover, the removal of ground water at a rate higher than the natural recharge rate means that these sources diminish in time and can affect water replenishment of nearby reservoirs.

A global contribution

Further to this, some people who support theories of global warming believe that the usage of ground water may actually contribute to global warming, a proposed climatic effect that may also contribute to diminishing the supply of available ground water.

The world’s use of fresh water is now outstripping the rate of its supply. And there are factors brought about through industrialisation and land use that are serving to reduce the suitability of otherwise useable fresh water.

Clearly the world’s populations cannot continue to consume water the way they have been up till now – and it will take more than just a token act of water conservation.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


29 September - 1 October

Venues: Te Kura (Day 1) and Te Papa Museum of New Zealand (Days 2 and 3)
Wellington, New Zealand


I was privileged to attend the AADES Leaders' Forum 2010.

This was a well attended three day event, with speakers from New Zealand and afar. While I attended all three days of the Forum,
I did not attend every session and there were some that were held concurrently. However, I report on all the keynote speeches here.

This was essentially a listeners’ event, though there was a little opportunity for participation from the floor.

Day One consisted of a late afternoon powhiri held at Te Kura.

Marcus Akuhata-Brown was the facilitator for Days Two and Three of the Forum, at
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. His humility, balanced approach and sense of humour were evident in the elegant way he conducted the programme.

A feature of the Forum was the Māori music and harmony. Each guest speaker was thanked in a traditional way by music and song, a true mark of respect. It is a credit to Mike Hollings that he joined in with every one of those musical occasions (I’m sure he engineered them all) most times accompanying on his guitar. This part was altogether a most memorable, entertaining and cultural contribution to the atmosphere of the Forum.


The Forum began mid-afternoon with the gathering of staff, contributors and visitors and a powhiri in Kauri room, Te Kura, followed by congenial time for refreshment.

Then followed brief welcoming addresses from Mike Hollings, Trish McKelvey and the Chair of ADDES, Bronwyn Stubbs, as well as short speeches from Karen Sewell and Janelle Cameron.

Karen Sewell

Karen spoke of the future that lay in the education of children. She spoke of the trauma that children suffered during and after the recent Christchurch earthquake, and how Te Kura had stepped in extremely quickly to provide support with this.

She talked of the complex and uncertain future that children will follow. Education must transform, not reform ‘the system’ in order to permit children to navigate intricate pathways. Teachers have a part to play in changing our children’s future.

Janelle Cameron

Janelle spoke of the digital divide – how she was still grappling with the technologies – how the digital age seems to overwhelm many people of her age.

Her metaphor for the happenings in learning today was like “a train going through (a station) and not stopping”.

She referred to the Internet and its use as a teaching tool and to what she called “Bloom’s Pedagogy”, the new “Digital Taxonomy” and their part in teaching today.

Day One closed with drinks and nibbles and a chance to network.


Hekia Parata

Hekia gave us a National Party view of where teachers are at in 2010. She spoke of them focussing “on teaching rather than learning”
(I think she was referring to their learning rather than the learning of their students). Hekia explained that teachers do not seem to learn from learning, and referenced this to education research.

She referred to the mind/brain as the most important part of the being. Yet kids, all over the world, are still sitting in classrooms being taught by a single teacher using traditional teaching methods.

Hekia specially referred to the 1 in 5 students that were clearly being failed by the system – that schools focussed on crowd control rather than on learning.

Hekia’s description of Ruatoria formed a large part of the manifesto-like speech she delivered. She spoke of her family/ brothers, sisters/ community and what they did when she was a child.

Hekia spoke of the demography of New Zealand and of how many children were uninspired at school.

She spoke of the money New Zealand borrows every year to spend on education and the community. Hekia referred to the 1 in 5 ratio and that for many, the model is not working. Her concern was mainly about what she called “brown students”, and referred to their place in the diverse population that is evolving in New Zealand.

She spoke of professionalism that customises skills to give a service, and that such a service was needed by the 1 in 5 children in New Zealand: those that needed to find a job, for instance – a sector that “deserved all the attention teachers can give”.

Hekia summarised her speech by referring to the triangle of Identity, Community and Education: three important areas that provide the basis for learning in an individual.

Liz McKinley

Liz examined some of the statistics on Māori success in education from the Starpath project, University of Auckland. Her quote from Niels Bohr, “Nothing exists until it is measured”, summarised her approach.

She also examined some recent government statistics of Level 2 NCEA results, from 2003 to 2008, comparing Māori with non-Māori. Only 40% of Māori learners get to year 13. Less than half of these go on to study at tertiary level. She showed graphs indicating that in percentage achievement and in success rate, Māori learners were substantially behind learners from other ethnic groups.

Liz analysed these results in a number of ways: that 32% of Māori learners in a year 13 group will eventually go on to further study – that 18% of those will have achieved university entrance qualification – that 6% will actually enter university – that 2% will finish the courses with a degree – that 0.4% will go on to doctorate study.

She explained that Starpath, led by The University of Auckland in partnership with the New Zealand Government, is a research project (now in its 6th year) that focuses on the educational outcomes of New Zealand learners who under-achieve at secondary school. Starpath utilises:

  • research teams,

  • 5 high schools,

  • 1 university and 1 technical institute.

Liz spoke of the need for evidential material that schools require in order to make informed decisions – that schools were not getting help with bringing all available useful data/ideas/strategies together and with aligning these so that they could be used to improve learner outcomes.

She explained that schools do collect data on student learning and achievement, but the data is not centrally stored. She asserted that schools do not feel that ownership of this data is important. She stressed that there was a real need for concerted strategies so schools could usefully collate data related to student achievement and use this to accomplish an improvement in learner achievement.

Liz spoke of the Academic Counselling and the Target Setting (ACTS) programme and how they improved final year NCEA completions. The biggest gains were made by Māori and Pasifika students, with 16% more Māori students and 20% more Pasifika students achieving important learning in NCEA Level 1 Numeracy and Literacy.

Liz concluded by warning that gains for Māori learners were lessening - that many schools had a plethora of programmes, 84 in some, based on teacher interest rather than what could benefit the learner. She appealed that this was actually a moral issue that needed attention, by all parties including teachers in order that it be addressed effectively.

Bentham Ohia

Bentham, CEO of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, gave an overview of the Open Wānanga – a “Māori Higher Learning Tertiary Institution” of 37,000 learners – 40% of those do not have a secondary education.

He put a number of questions:

  1. What counts as knowledge? What knowledge counts? Who decides?
  2. What counts as success? What success counts? Who decides?
  3. What counts as assessment? What assessment counts? Who decides?”

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa is unique:

  • kaupapa wānanga
  • unique programme-offering delivery
  • home based kaitiaki (guardian) supported
  • monthly cohort enrolments
  • centralised support
  • minimised restrictions.

Viv White

Viv spoke briefly of Big Picture Education Australia (BPEA). She then looked at some learner statistics and other related learner information:

  • 14% learners not learning or earning – 50% in some places
  • 20% fail to complete year 12 – 50% in some places
  • complex social background
  • distance education is not immune to the same problems that exist in F2F systems.

She stressed how serious these facts were and that a new model was called for. Viv then put the question that I had asked her at TCS Forum in May this year(!) – basically:

“Can we create a Big Picture Distance Education model?”

Viv then returned to the Big Picture model:

  • 1 learner at a time (which is how Te Kura works)
  • small by design
  • advisory 1 – 15 | 1- 17 |
  • Learning Training Internship.

Learners could achieve improved outcomes: engagement – graduation – tertiary learning. She spoke of beginning with network connections – developing a community of practice and commitment to collaborate – building a system of influence: not with critical mass but with critical connections (BPEA and Te Kura).

Jen McCutcheon

Jen defined authentic learning in the context of Te Kura, explained the process and outlined some of the approach used – one that focussed on the learner in context. She spoke of how it relies on rich conversation between the Learning Advisor, the learner and whanau.

Jen explained how finding the centre of what interests and impassions a learner was an all important part of that process. It’s then that a start can be made on building relevant programmes around the learner and nurture these with frequent ongoing discussions.

Jen went on to define what constituted a ‘rich conversation’: goal setting – identifying ‘aspirational’ goals – career exploration – interviews and talking with people – job-shadowing – resetting goals. She mentioned the part that Gateway, Star and other programmes can play in the development of this process.

She described the ‘tail of underachievement’ and mentioned the consequential 25% of people aged 15 to 19 years who are unemployed.

Westley Field

Westley is Director of Online Learning, Skoolaborate. He began his delivery by demonstrating an online delivery/facilitation by an avatar in Second Life (SL). Westley then Skyped his friend, Chris, who was the person behind the SL avatar.

Westley spoke briefly of the developments in online learning at MLC School. He spoke of how technology makes the routes to achievement more facile, and not just in learning but also in creating commercially useful objects, such as the Doritos commercial he showed us and that was made for $150 by a teenager using readily available equipment.

He encouraged that we should “try things new” – to “move forward with real action”. He spoke about personalised (online) learning. He spoke of how to get the attention of learners if they have computers in their hands. He spoke of how “knowledge”, and how to use it, takes on a new meaning with the developments in technology, Google and the Internet.

Westley talked about giving people experience in the use of technology – in particular giving young learners safe, ‘unblocked’ experience in technology use. He spoke of the technologies that can change learning, including the development of the e-book such as the Amazon Kindle.

He referred to the improved success by learners using online learning productively with other learning methods compared to those learners who are in the classroom without such technology.

Sandy Dougherty & Nathaniel Louwrens

Sandy and Nathaniel gave a presentation on their experiences in trialling Active Worlds. The study was to evaluate Active Worlds as a learning technology and also its suitability in a distance education setting.

They demonstrated a treasure hunt that had been built in the 3D environment of Active Worlds. Some of what they reported was about their own initial experiences in the 3D environment – some of the seeming ‘chaos’ perceived by people who are new to this technology – which later developed to a successful resolution.

Their intended focus was to be on working with learners collaboratively and how to get learners to work together. The reality was slightly different.

Sandy and Nathaniel found that young learners (years 7 to 10) learnt the technology skills for themselves very quickly, skills that the teachers had taken 2 terms to learn. They also reported that the learners preferred online (txt) chat rather than using the voice chat, though they were comfortable with the teacher using voice chat in instruction.

Sandy was careful to get useful (and fascinating) feedback from her learning group, to which she put a number of questions. Asked how they learnt, Sandy’s students gave a number of interesting answers, among which were ‘playing’ and ‘practicing’.

Asked if they needed a teacher there was met with a resounding, “YES”. The children preferred the teacher speaking to them rather than using the chat box. The common feeling expressed by learners was that the whole learning experience was “awesome!”

About the technology . . . learners felt that though it was a bit clunky, it was like playing a game that was really school. Navigation in commercial games technologies tend to be far more facile in comparison and the 3D renditions are often superior to what they experienced in Active Worlds.


Mike Hollings – Walking in Two Worlds

Mike spoke of the money poured into education and the efforts that are not actually achieving learning. He cited Cisco’s The Learning Society and stressed that the cost of education should be tax-efficient.

A successful education system has to be based on the principle that it is for everyone and must embrace ones personal culture while at the same time supporting innovation. He stressed that there was a need for a huge change in present systems. He cited Phillippe de Woot’s need for societal educational metamorphosis and referred, once again, to Allen Curnow’s Landfall into Unknown Seas:

“Simply by sailing in a new direction
You could enlarge the world.”

Mike spoke of leadership today and the huge diversity of theories that are based largely on western ideas. He asked of leadership, “what could we learn from other wisdom?”

He drew attention to how Māori people spend a lot of time ‘going back’ to their cultural places, communities and the related pursuits. The educational system in New Zealand does not acknowledge this cultural aspect as much as it does that of western cultures in activities such as music, opera, and dance.

Mike gave an overview of some of the wisdom from Māori leadership, and how it focussed on the needs of people and the resources they needed – the understanding of communities and their tribal/cultural boundaries. Māori leadership qualities are not necessarily accepted or respected in the wider community in New Zealand. Mike listed some of the elements of that leadership:

Manākitanga – hospitality
Rangitiratanga – weaving people together
Whanaungatanga interdependence
Wairuatanga – spirituality
Kaitiakitanga guardianship
Whakapapa – genealogical connections
Te Reo Rangatira – Māori language

Mike observed that community intellect is at risk when languages are lost. He also spoke of the worth of trust and the value of openness – that for trust to exist, intentions must be clearly understood and patently visible.

Mike summarised the thrust of his speech by saying “we cannot (always) rely on western systems”. He referred to the importance of locality in determining who we are and where we are at in New Zealand. He used lines from the poem Lost, by David Wagoner, to illustrate this:


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Jen McCutcheon and Viv White

This was a panel session introduced by Marcus Brown where Jen and Viv spoke freely of their vision of the Big Picture.

Jen gave a brief summary of the Big Picture process including some of the best practice used. There then followed a brief session of questions from Marcus and from the floor. Jen and Viv both spoke to the questions that were asked.

Brenda Frisk

Brenda summarised her vision of what she called “visual knowledge” and its place in 2010. She spoke of the need to reduce the barriers that may exist between people and their use of available technology, and also of the need that industry has to learn to manage technology. She posited that teenagers lose trust and respect for people in industry when they see that they do not have skills to use the technology effectively.

Brenda spoke of tacit knowledge, implicit knowledge and cultural knowledge and their use to the people employed in a company. She emphasised the need to have online portals for children to access at any time of the day.

She spoke of the frustrations that an organisation has in finding and in accessing data with technology and that there was a need to have technology built for people, not just for the technologists to use. Its property and function need to be relevant, evidential, contextual, credible and collaborative.

Brenda spoke of two important reports, the Horizon Report and Learning Powered by Technology, and summarised some of the key elements brought out in these. She then spoke further on visual knowledge and explained and demonstrated how 3D (stereoscopic) visualisation could give a better perspective in viewing machines and other structures in context.

Hine Waitere

Hine introduced herself from her tribal background, then spoke of ako, a pedagogical concept that encompasses both teaching and learning as parts of the same process. She illustrated how ako had been brought out in the Forum with reference to those presenters who had told of their experiences in learning (and teaching) during their presentations, and the stories they told.

She spoke of Māori carvings and tukutuku and how these also have stories to tell. They are different forms of literacies. Hine spoke of her appreciation of landscape but also recognised that there was much there she did not understand.

Hine read the story, Butterflies, by Patricia Grace, depicting ‘difference’ without a need for that difference to be fixed. She went to the heart of this idea by referring to how the grandfather did not correct the teacher, but simply explained where she was at.

She also illustrated how teachers have power and authority to direct ‘values’. She asked,

“What are the values that lie at the core of our (teaching) practice?”

She then talked about the tail of young learners who struggle with their ‘education’, listing the 5 Ds:


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Learning, Literacy and Learner Skill

Tēnā Koutou Katoa - Greetings To You All
Wordle Array
This year, the New Zealand Ministry of Education displayed a list of terms in a draft instruction sheet for learners of Chemistry.

The proposal is that page 3, labelled for student use, may assist learners to reach the standard and achieve a rudimentary qualification in secondary education (NCEA Level 1).

Learners at this level must have a “comprehensive understanding” of aspects of basic Science. Here’s a sentence from the draft sheet:

A comprehensive understanding means you are able to link ideas to integrate the relevant chemistry through elaborating, justifying, relating, evaluating, comparing and contrasting, or analysing.

The new Bloom’s Taxonomy, a tool for teachers, lists the same and similar terms as in the sentence shown above. It is understood, however, that teachers using Bloom’s taxonomy are either familiar with the meanings of the terms or have the initiative and required education to find out about these for themselves.

Terms like justifying and evaluating are not easy to define clearly, even for some teachers. Most teachers do not draw a clear distinction between the processing skills of contrasting and comparing, say.

Yet these are just a few of the difficult terms that are found in a draft instruction to NCEA Level 1 learners.

As teachers, of course, we must teach/coach/train our learners to be able to recognise the difference between such terms as contrasting and comparing. The learner needs to be introduced to what each of these analysis processes has to offer.

Why do we end up asking kids to get their head round the lingo that teachers may well have difficulty grappling with? I wonder if this intellectuality is really beyond the stage that most NCEA Level 1 learners are at, given that many already have difficulty with literacy at this level.

It seems that responsibility for learning continues to devolve.

It is as if learners are now expected to know the meaning of terms (or at least acknowledge their existence) often before they have the chance to get any real practice in the skills they are the labels for. These are skills that learners may not yet have the developmental ability to permit them to understand.

Ka Kite Anō - Catch ya later

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An Apology To Stephen Hawking

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allLink to image of Lake Taupophoto courtesy Jack Allan

In April 2009 I wrote a futuristic verse. It was a contribution to meet
Bud the Teacher’s deal to write a poem a day for the whole of that month. The verse looked only a little way into our possible future.

In the last stanza I predicted that Stephen Hawking might never have had a chance to say what I assumed had been running through his mind.

“It’s been a long time since Cataclysm.
They said in the beginning it might be
quite a journey. And so we are all here
in one form or another. No one knew
it would be so simple to start it off.

Fermi didn’t, though more than most
he had the insight. ‘So where are they all?’
was what he put to them, knowing full well!

Fermi? He’s over by the supernova.
Can’t get him away from it. Addicted
they say – he always was fanatical.
Apparently he was among the first
to congratulate Hawking when he got here.

Hawking knew all along of course. It was
only a matter of time. And before
he let it all out it was far too late.”

I may have been wrong about Stephen's timeliness. I hope I was.
If so, I offer him my sincerest apology.

Let’s hope that Stephen’s advice is timely, to assist us to survive so our successors can tell a different tale a few hundred years from now.

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Are Teachers For?

Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you all
What Are Teachers For
I have heard it said that teachers are assessors and that assessment is part of the teaching and learning process. I often wonder if the meaning of the word ‘assessment’ is sometimes stretched and perhaps misused in contexts to do with learning.

Standard assessment

At the moment, NCEA standards are of two types. There are Unit Standards, awarded to learners who meet all component criteria for a particular standard. There are also Achievement Standards, awarded as Achieved (just a pass), Merit and Excellence.


A learner, who does not meet the criteria for a unit standard or for an award in an achievement standard, can choose to be re-assessed after a period of re-teaching and further study.

My thinking has never been aligned with the philosophy of teaching to a standard. I don’t believe that’s what ‘education’ is about. However, as a teacher, I have no choice but to accept the assessment system that is now intimately bound with secondary education in New Zealand.

At least re-assessment permits the learner to revisit the learning and allows the teacher to do some more teaching.


NZQA is reviewing, again, the process of assessing learners for NCEA standards in New Zealand. The specific issue that I bring to this post is the matter of what’s called a re-submission. I’ll explain.

When a learner completes and submits a standard assessment test, and it is not clear to the assessor whether the learner has actually met the standard, the test script can be returned to the learner for amendments to be made. These are performed by the learner under test conditions before re-submitting the test script for the assessment to proceed. This process is called re-submission.

Furthermore, during re-submission the learner is not permitted to study on the topic, nor receive any teaching, coaching or advice associated with the standard, before revisiting assessment tasks they performed in the test script. They are only permitted to consider their answers and perhaps amend them.

There have been many debates by teachers about what constitutes a case for re-submission. Performing a re-submission is quite different from entering into a phase of re-teaching followed by re-assessment. Teachers like things to be cut and dry. So many discussions at the moment centre on the criteria for re-submission.

A disservice to learning

As a teacher who is more interested in what learners learn and how they learn, than what they achieve in a standard test, I am often in a bind over the issue of re-submission.

I feel that I’m doing learning a disservice if I do not permit (and cannot permit) learners to revisit the learning. This is precisely what happens, and must happen according to the rules for standard assessment, when re-submissions are permitted for learners who are very close to meeting criteria for a particular standard.

In such instances, I start wondering what my role is as a teacher and educator. I also wonder if I am doing learners a disservice by permitting them to re-submit their test evidence without any further teaching and learning taking place.

I feel that if learners are in need of more teaching and learning, then they should be given the opportunity to receive just that. This opportunity is denied learners who gain a standard on re-submission.

What are teachers for?

Ka kite anō - Catchya later

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day In The Extreme

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Link to Extremes in a Sentence
What a wonderful cornucopia of extremes in a day! I am delighted to report a baker’s dozen of contributors and their extreme creations:

Cheryl enjoyed . . .

I spent the day shivering in a snowy storm, skiing trails that went from powdery snow in fog, to cream cheese snowy views across the valley where there was sun.

Gail Poulin busied . . .

I spent a busy day with my husband as we worked like soldier ants lowering stumps, covering the area in wood chips, transplanting bushes, and finally relaxing peacefully on the deck with a beverage and watching nesting birds at the feeders.

Virginia completed . . .

I started the day with an empty calendar for the month of May and now every day is filled with at least one thing and many times two.

Mr Wood experienced . . .

The day began cold and grey, then became hot and sticky, and just after it got wet and sticky, it became sunny and warm.

Kabod facilitated . . .

I delicately discussed "Stirrings" in The Giver over and over today with silly, pubescent Seventh-and-three-quarters Graders.

Ken waxed . . .

In 24 hours, our bathroom was transformed from a functional facility and possible retreat to an empty wooden box with holes in all sides that the wind whistled through.

Anonymous sighed . . .

Yesterday morning I got to play with my granddaughter in the morning and had to kiss her good by in the evening. I wouldn't get a chance to see her in person again till June.

Gail Desler expressed . . .

I spent the day with 6 dedicated, innovative, caring 5th grade teachers, 5 of whom received "pink slips" this month (where in the heck did the expression "pink slip" come from - and what's the terminology in your district?). Difficult times in California.

Bonnie extemporised . . .

Could there be anything more extreme? We left on a plane from Tel Aviv, Israel on Monday night at midnight and arrived at Newark airport, New Jersey at 5AM and there's a 7 hour time difference. So getting back to normal, well what's normal anyway?

Elona announced . . .

My students were working away quietly at the begining of the class and then the fire alarm went off.

Tracy activated . . .

A flurry of activity to get parent permission for 25 students in 15 minutes for a last-minute opportunity to attend a day-long literary festival, after which I stayed at the school in the quiet of my classroom for the day :)

Kevin initiated . . .

Between coaching youth baseball, writing a grant proposal, composing daily poetry, working on some educational pieces for a website and watching my three boys run-run-run, the week of school vacation has been anything other than restful.

Cynthia ebulliated . . .

The air was already oppressively humid at 7:15 a.m., and then the rain began; however, the seniors were able to have their crawfish boil at 1:00. Yum!

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Extremes In A Sentence

Day In A SentenceTēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Yes. I know. It's been over a month now. I have been immersed in resource development and other things - overseeing bathroom and kitchen refurbishments at home, while catching up with my family who have been on leave recently.

This week I am, once again, privileged to be hosting Kevin's Day In A Sentence. Kevin Hodgson (aka Dogtrax) has kindly let me host this week's DIAS.

Just to put you in the picture, Kevin is an energetic, community minded teacher who is forever creating new ideas to involve people in people activities. One of his most successful ventures in this direction is his weekly Day In A Sentence. People are invited to summarise in one sentence a day out of their week.

There's been a lot in the news lately about Earth's, now famous, gastronomic eruption in Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull. This amazing phenomenon stirred again most recently, a clash of the Earth's hottest and coldest elements, to bring about a truly global effect.

This week's theme for Day In A Sentence is to summarise in one sentence the extremes of your day. So sock it to us, hot and cold, wet and dry, happy and sad, whatever . . .

. . . just give it all to us in a sentence by clicking here, or by leaving your sentence in a comment at the foot of this post.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Authentic Elearning?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Sculpted Earth by Magnuz of Sweden - Badger
When a learner is in an environment that is relevant to what's being learnt, the likelihood for effective engagement is high. Learning by doing is supposed to be one of the most successful ways to learn.

Both these factors – the relevant environment and the doing – are thought to provide jointly the greatest incentive for a learner to take interest in what is to be learnt. They form the basis for what is referred to as authentic learning.

For as difficult as such situations are to establish and sustain in face-to-face situations, elearning environments can present major barriers to authentic learning that are almost impossible to overcome unless the elearning vehicles are in situ.

Typical examples of these are online tutors for word processing, graphics applications or other computer functions where the learner is involved in using mouse and keyboard to operate a tutorial directly relevant to the application.

I cite the Southern Hemisphere planisphere with a built-in tutorial as one example of an in situ learning vehicle in a junior Science elearning resource.

The examples given above are all very well, but unless a considerable component of what is learnt is transferable to other purposes, the learning acquired by the learner has limited use elsewhere. One of the characteristics of authentic learning is the transferability of the learning to other situations or disciplines.

Two examples where generic and transferable skills can be learnt are online instruction in touch-typing, and the use of a flight simulator as part of training to become an aircraft pilot.

Kallan and Tuxedo presenting a session in building in SL

Recently I was privileged to share in the facilitation of a session sponsored by ISTE, teaching people online to manipulate and assemble prims, the building blocks of Second Life (SL).

As well, part of the duties I perform as an ISTE docent in SL involves assisting and teaching newcomers to that environment by the use of text and voice chat. The learning facilitated in these situations is authentic.

People who come into SL need to acquire new skills. Most who stay to use that environment want to learn skills that can only be acquired online. But other than exercising skills in associated disciplines such as art and design, the skills I teach to newcomers are only useful in Second Life. And here is the conundrum associated with authentic elearning.

Apart from learning that is directly associated with the elearning application or platform, how is authentic learning achieved online?

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later