The Khan Academy

You know the nature of people’s relationship with knowledge is changing in fundamental ways when people start ‘giving it away’ for free!

Here’s an interesting article about the work of the Khan Academy which has now posted over 2,000 videos relating to Maths and Science on the web, all available free of charge.

THE Journal Article on Khan Academy

I hope that within a month or so I’ll have more to say as there are plans to meet Salman Khan during a forthcoming visit to USA in the second half of April – watch this space!!

Why We Must Never Tire of Talking About Integrity

Here’s a fascinating piece from this week’s Education Week regarding some recent research and observations on the subject of academic integrity and cheating.

Edweek Article on Academic Integrity

The article makes challenging reading for any educator or parent. However, on the positive side I believe it provides us with valuable ammunition when confronted with students who can’t understand why academic honesty and cheating matter.

Reading the piece there seemed to be a general sense that one of the biggest causes of increases in cheating was reduced overt attention and discussion about the perils of cheating, about values and about the merits and purpose of learning. Yet again, loss of focus on the ‘process’ of what goes on in the classroom as we give way to an obsession with the ‘content’ or the body of knowledge that ‘somebody’ has decreed should be taken on board by students, tested and then should be the sole arbiter of who gets to move to the next stage in the sausage factory.

At first, the numbers in the American system who are cheating in some way are mind-boggling. There appears to me one resounding reason – children/ young people are in the majority seeing school learning as a big mass of irrelevance that they just have to get through in order to ‘reach the other side’. They don’t see the learning itself as fruitful, worthwhile, relevant or rewarding. It isn’t seen to have enough innate purpose in its own right to make it worth putting real sweat and effort in to. Thus, cut corners and short cuts are the chosen routes. It also tells me that as an older generation we have a lot to answer for. If conversation over the dining table (for those families who still do such archaic things!) includes talking about putting one over on the boss, skiving off, taking short cuts, seeking to get advancement without earning it by fair means or foul, then we shouldn’t be surprised if children think this is the way to build a life.

What the article has to say about ‘cognitive distortions’ is very interesting – as we cheat, we find ways to rationalize it to ourselves, to diminish its significance and, even worse, to kid ourselves that really we achieved the good performance and as a result will produce even better performance in the future. One of the things that I take from this is that the, “Oh dear, don’t do it again” approach to catching students cheating with no ‘consequences’ does them a massive disservice. It reinforces that the problem isn’t the cheating, but the getting caught. We have seen instances here in India where mass cheating in exam halls has been uncovered by inspectors, only for the parents to turn angrily on those inspectors (believing that they are denying their children their legitimate right to get the results they want/ need by any means).

Whilst the article talks about the short to medium term impact of the cognitive distortions, I fear a longer term impact which is not so much talked about. I believe that even while these short term justifications are going on, inherently humans are wired to be honest and moral. As a result a dissonance will slowly grow inside the individual. While their mind is working harder and harder to justify and legitimize their actions internally, the problem will get bigger. This can manifest in different ways; simple guilt, diminishing self-respect, health problems brought on through internalized dissonance and even in older years – shame.

Imagine an elderly man or woman sitting in an armchair. A small child runs to them, hugs them and tells them, “Oh, Grandma (Grandpa), we’re so proud of all that you’ve achieved in life. One day I want to be like you.” Inside, the old person feels an empty feeling in the pit of their stomach. They think, but cannot say, “Oh, you wouldn’t respect me if you knew the truth. My success has been built on a lie, a deception, on cheating. I’m not worthy of being looked up to. I wish I could turn back the clock.”

As schools, we need to ensure that our children find their learning relevant, worthwhile and meaningful. We need to focus their minds on metacognition – the awareness of their own knowing/ learning so that the purpose of what they are doing is clear and motivation levels maintained. We need to be serious about talking about cheating, academic honesty and all the implications of personal weakness. We need to ensure that the cheats and liars are not put on pedestals, seen as ‘cool’ or idolized. We need to ensure that there are unpalatable consequences for cheating and be consistent in their implementation – some tough love is justified. Finally, through our own actions and approaches we have to send two loud, clear messages; (i) Learning is the primary purpose of school (life), not the accumulation of certificates, and (ii) students are in competition only with themselves.

Web Tools for Teachers

A Harvard Education newsletter with 10 innovative web tools for teachers:

Harvard Education Letter – 10 Web Tools

SEN in UK – A Case of Over-Labelling

This is an interesting article about what has happened in the UK as a result of a system that has, for a variety of reasons, caused teachers and school Heads to be overly ready to place a ‘Special Needs’ label on children – with all the implications that carries:

Telegraph Article on SEN Misdiagnosis

As I reflected on the piece it crossed my mind that whilst the identification of a special need in a particular child can be enormously liberating, in terms of providing both an explanation for what’s happening with the child and providing access to special support and resources to work to address the learning issues, it also carries with it an element of risk for the individual child as all lower their expectations of what that child can do or become. The child themselves will have a different perception when learning becomes tough, challenging or even just boring. Parents and educators can also unconsciously downgrade their expectations of what the child has the potential to achieve.

I can’t help thinking that somewhere as educators and parents we need methods to ensure that we separate the real from the imagined limitations on a child with special needs. Different doesn’t always s have to equate to less or diminished expectations, stretch or potential.

Overall, of course, in India our problems for the vast majority of children is quite the reverse, with massive under-diagnosis, even of children in the private education system. This is largely driven by inadequate training for educators in identifying the warning signs that can lead to an assessment and diagnosis. This also gets overlaid by some degree of academic cowardice when educators expect initial hostility from parents.

When it comes to parents, greater knowledge and awareness in society is, slowly, leading to improved attitudes and perspectives on special needs. Parents are becoming at least a little less prone to overreacting, seeing a SEN issue in a negative light, resorting to secrecy or denial. However, we still have a long way to go to ensure that the greatest possible numbers of these children get the specialist help and inputs needed.

Last week we had a fascinating meeting with the Delhi Education Secretary and some of his colleagues to share our approaches to SEN and inclusion. As a part of their response to the Right to Education Act Delhi is looking to appoint around 900 special educators so that they can deploy at least one in each school across the city. This is a massive challenge as these individuals require very specific training and preparation. However, it’s vital that a start is made and we believe we are duty bound to do all that we can to support this project.

Integrating Technology in the Class

Here’s a very nice piece from Edutopia outlining a simple two-stage process to getting effective use out of IT and technology in the classroom:

Edutopia – Technology Integration

Formative-Assessment Process

There’s so much confusion around regarding formative assessment processes. here in India the water has been muddied by the CBSE CCE process which purports to bring formative assessment to secondary education.

However, when you read these two pieces you begin to get a realisation of just how far off the right direction things have gone. Most of what is happening continues to be summative assessment masquerading under a different name. A test is a test, whatever you call it! And, the evidence is clear – tests contribute very little to learning.

So, teachers need extensive training to understand and to be able to build formative-assessment processes in to their teaching in sophisticated and creative ways that make it a fundamental part of how the children learn.

ASCD Edge – Preparing Kids for 1982
(has some links to some excellent resources)
Education Week – Formative-Assessment Process

Red Shirting – Pros and Cons

This relatively short article is well written and gives a nice balanced overview of the positive and negative aspects of Red Shirting.

Red Shirting Article

What struck me as the key point not brought out in the article is, if the educational experiences in schools for children in later years are adequately differentiated, then most of the negative points highlighted disappear. They are only really danger issues if classrooms stay stuck in the ‘one size fits all’ groove in terms of the learning offered (in which case student boredom is a strong possibility).

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