Curriculum Flexibility Matters

It’s flavour of the month for politicians, ministers and civil servants (all experts on education, of course) to talk about needs for ‘a national curriculum’, especially for science and maths. None of them are too clear about WHY there’s a need for a national curriculum, but it sounds pretty good and jolly knowledgeable!

However, here’s the very reason why a national curriculum, or any kind of overly rigid dictation of what is to be learned, by whom, when can be a disaster.

ABC News Article
(Click on link above to read article)

I personally get really saddened when i see major events happening in the world, yet passing the classrooms by because “it doesn’t fit with what we’re doing this month”. Imagine, for a moment, what that experience must be like for a child. The TV news, what parents are talking about etc. is all about something major happening in the world. And yet……, their classroom remains like a timeless bubble, the land that time forgot – a place untouched by the real world outside. Should we wonder at all if children start to question the relevance of school?

By all means determine some key skills and competencies that students should be able to exhibit within a certain length of time, within each subject – but then, i believe the ministers and civil servants need to get out of the educators’ way and let them do their job. If they want to make themselves useful it should be to ensure that all teachers get the training and professional development to have the means and the flexibility to take learnable/ teachable moments and make the best of them.

Summer Reading for Children

In some parts of India the children’s summer vacations are already over, in the North they’re drawing towards the end. However, I thought it was still worth sharing this interesting list of suggested children’s reading, though it has a strongly US leaning and all may not be available in the shops here.

(Landmark offer a good ordering service)

ASCD Summer Book List

Getting Serious About Sleep

I’ve written a few times before about sleep and the potential risks we’re taking with our children’s learning in and out of school if we neglect their sleep, or fail to achieve effective sleep patterns and habits for/ with them:
December Article
March Article
June Article

Well, I just found a new article today that really puts it all in to perspective. It especially highlights and shows up just how foolish and naive are (and always were) those habits of ‘burning the midnight oil’ before tests and exams. Now, the big danger here is that I did it when i was a student, most of the parents reading this did it when they were students – but, the plain fact is we just didn’t know any better.

When confronted with serious and genuine research evidence of this nature it would be criminal if we failed to do everything in our power to get the message across to our children that this is one area in which we most certainly do not wish them to follow our example.

Would any of us willingly put ourselves through 48 hours with no sleep before an activity that was going to require our mental faculties to be working at their very best? However, as this article clearly indicates, that is what many of our children are doing regularly.

I also continue to believe that this evidence on adult mental faculty and moods gives every indication that we need to look at children’s sleep seriously in all cases where there are behavioural issues or challenges.

It was also disturbing to see the links in the scientific evidence between sleep deprivation and weight gain (and even diabetes risks).

Newsweek Article on Sleep Deprivation
(Click on link above to access the article)

Why We Don’t Have Interactive White Boards

I wrote an article here on the blog about my reasons for caution and wariness about interactive white boards back in January.

Earlier article
(Click on link above to access)

I was therefore very interested to see this recent post on an award winning US teacher’s blog.

The Innovative Educator Blog

Firstly, it’s quite startling to see that some of the so-called ‘expert evidence’ in favour of the use of these boards is getting sponsored by the board manufacturers and marketers.

Secondly, the final paragraph picks up on my biggest concern – not only with using them per se, but especially bringing them in to an Indian context – they may actually be providing the perfect smoke screen behind which luddite teachers may mask their failure to become reflective, active, learning educators aspiring to become masters in the art of professional classroom teaching. Instead, they do ‘stand and deliver’ with a few visual add-ons.

A Search Engine for Children

This is an idea that’s been due for some time – a search engine exclusively for children:

Sweet search

Teacher Accountability & Performance

Here’s a follow up to some earlier articles I’ve shared on this blog around the issues of assessing teachers’ performance and how to create school climates and culture that promote excellence in teaching.

Earlier articles:
What Motivates Top Teachers
What Makes a Truly Great Teacher
Evaluating Teacher Performance

This is a new article that questions what is happening in the US right now on this front. There, the new approach is that teachers should be paid according to the results of their children in standardised exams. With, I think, lots of justification there’s a lot of criticism that this will see teachers simply teaching to the test and/ or will not. Cynics and those who doubt would say that, at least they would have some certainty that teachers would be teaching and some focus in their work is better than none.

This article shares an approach which is adopted and taken very seriously in Japan. I have read elsewhere of how seriously the ‘lesson study’ approach is taken. A teacher will put together a lesson which will be observed by (sometimes dozens of) his/ her peers. They will sometimes be the very best and most reputed teachers of that subject from all over the city, not just the observed teacher’s own school. After the lesson has been observed it is debated and discussed in great detail.

The article acknowledges that to introduce such an approach in American schools would require a fairly significant culture change and similar would be the case in India. Teachers would have to be willing to open up their work to expose it to the critique of their peers . They would need to be comfortable with sharing frank feedback with peers in a spirit of professional growth. They would also need to be willing to focus upon school-wide quality of teaching, looking beyond their own individual perspective.

What could make this attractive to teachers is that if the desire is to be for accountability then this is far more attractive and less intimidating than the alternatives.

Is This How I Sound?

Oh, this gave me the best chuckle all week. I sincerely hope this woman isn’t getting paid for doing this stuff, because she’s plain wrong on almost every count:

Corporal Punishment and Hypocrisy

Especially in the relatively quiet summer months when journalists find themselves a bit short of material (in Britain they call it ‘the silly season’), corporal punishment has found its way on to the national agenda here in India with the case of the boy from La Martiniere School, Kolkata who committed suicide in February this year, 5 days after being caned by the school Principal.

Hindustan Times Article on La Martiniere case
(Click on link above to open article)

Some people seem to get a little mystified as to why there is still so much debate on this issue as they believed it had all been debated out in the past. However, the water is actually still very muddy for a number of reasons.

Firstly, as the article states, the Supreme Court has outlawed corporal punishment in schools. However, you will still find that according to the Education laws in many states it still lies on the statute books as permissible if ‘reasonable’. So, many teachers and leaders of schools are actually quite confused about what is permitted.

To me the far bigger issue when this matter comes up for debate is that there’s a giant 800 pound gorrilla sitting in the middle of the room, yet none dare admit its presence.

For those who demand that corporal punishment can never be permitted in schools and must be completely banned what is their principal reason? I think most would claim that corporal punishment infringes on the human rights of the child. However, how many of those same people hold different views or practice different standards towards their child in their own home?

To say that corporal punishment is an inappropriate way to discipline in the school is also to condemn as hypocrites those who use physical violence against their own children. That differential can only be justified through some sort of ‘property rights’ over ones own children – literally, I own this child, so it is up to me how I discipline – my business alone. But, the school doesn’t own my child and therefore cannot have the same barbaric freedom.

If parents legitimise their own right to use violence to discipline their child at home, then how do they believe discipline is to be maintained by those who don’t have that right?

The fact is, I believe, that they are guilty of holding the professional educator to a higher moral and ethical standard than they are ready to hold themselves to. By my definition that is out and out rank hypocrisy.

We teach our children that might does not equal right, that it is wrong to use physical size, strength etc. to exert one’s will over others. And then, many of us make liers of ourselves by practicing the very opposite of what we preach. Some have the decency to feel some guilt for this, deep down. So, when a case like the one at La Martiniere comes to light we want to hang, draw and quarter the perpetrator to represent all the guilty hypocrites.

When a parent or an educator lashes out and uses violence on a child of any description it has nothing to do with ‘punishment’, but instead the violators right (perceived) to let out their anger physically, without need for restraint or self-control. This, in my view, makes it impossible to then teach children that they have to learn to control impulses, that it is not acceptable to be violent towards everyone who does something we don’t like.

Caning and other disciplinary violent punishments are different as they are pre-meditated, usually planned and communicated in advance. This makes them more comparable to water boarding and other forms of torture, where the loss of control and powerlessness, coupled with anticipation and humiliation are all part of the ‘punishment’ .

We are not educating Pavlov’s dogs or Satan’s offspring. We are bringing up the citizens of the twenty first century. Both as educators and as parents, however hard the road, we have to learn to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

We have the means at our disposal to train ourselves and educators in alternative strategies and approaches that eliminate all excuses for violent, abusive and inhumane treatment of children. It’s also time to dump the double standards between home and school – the child’s rights to a peaceful, violence free life must take precedence over the power of educators and parents.

IT & Early Learning Debate

There’s no doubt that there is growing pressure worldwide to push for ICT integration in to syllabus with ever and ever younger children. The cynic in me fears that much of this has been propelled by large marketing budgets of those companies in the hardware and software fields that stand to gain most from maximum IT integration in to the curriculum for younger and younger children.

So, I think it’s a heartening wake up call to see an expert publishing the evidence against these arguments:

Telegraph Article on Banning Computers from Elementary Schools
(Click on the link above)

One of the main arguments of this expert are that advocates have sought to convince us that computers help children to build focus and attention, whereas his evidence points to the contrary. Obviously, his arguments are targeting all kinds of screen related activities, including TV watching.

There is a lot of evidence that children’s screen time outside school is continuing to rise. I know of children who, in these holidays, are watching for easily 8-10 hours a day. In such circumstances I believe there is a strong case to make school something different. It’s very easy for teachers to be lulled because when the children sit in front of a screen they appear so comfortable, contented and enthusiastic. This may simply be the ‘fix’ of the familiar, soma-like early addiction.

I think that there is strong evidence that certain very well designed software can assist children in their learning of languages, maths etc. However, we have to see the child holistically which includes taking account of all they are doing outside school. If families could see the benefits, they could bring about significant reductions in ‘screen time’ of children outside school, so that some time could be allocated in worthwhile ways in school. However, without that reduction outside school, we risk making a bad situation worse, despite the best of intentions.

For Little Budding Artists

Parents of Elementary and Junior School children can get a bit daunted by the vast quantities of art they produce. So, I thought this was a nice little short article with some useful ideas for parents.

Family Education Blog Article

What goes without saying is that if you ever have a need to ‘cull’, pick your moment and do it very sensitively and subtly.

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