Parent-Teacher Communication

There is now a large weight of evidence that tells us clearly that we should never underestimate the significance of the school/ teacher – parent relationship in terms of its potential impact on a child’s learning success in school (and even the attitude that the child carries in to adult life towards the pursuit of learning). One of the most important elements in this relationship in today’s schools is the parent-teacher meeting. However, as we all know, this is all too frequently a disappointing and frustrating experience for both parents and teachers. It can also be the cause of a great deal of anxiety for both (and for some children).

This article highlights one very critical factor – the ‘ghost in the classroom’ – the past experiences, positive or negative in school and classrooms that impacts on parents’ and teachers’ ability to have an effective adult to adult dialogue about the child as an individual learner and how, together they can best support that child’s learning and development;

Mindshift Article – Getting the Most Out of Parent – Teacher Conference

On the ‘ghost in the classroom’ issue, I even once met with a parent for whom the school Head’s office held such bad memories that when he sat with me his hands were visibly shaking. To put him at ease, so that we could have a sensitive and productive meeting, I took him outside and we walked around the school grounds – where he immediately relaxed.

Regrettably, what I’ve seen in far too many schools is that the PTM gets treated as a necessary evil, an administrative burdensome task that has to be got through/ survived. In some schools lots of ‘busy’ activity is created that distracts the children and their parents.

One of the sad results is that by the time children reach about class 6 the attendance of parents drops off considerably and the level of interest or expectation from PTMs diminishes. Then, it often picks up again starkly for classes 9 onwards, but then all discussion is based entirely on how an extra few percentages of achievement in standardised tests can be squeezed out of the child, how they can be ‘made’ to work harder. Then, this gets accompanied by a bit of discussion about university admissions opportunities. There tends to be very little that is ‘holistic’ about the discussions – which is, to me, an acknowledgement that there’s nothing very holistic about the education at that stage.

The article shares links to some interesting resources, not only useful for parents who want to get the best out of such meetings with their child’s teacher, but also of great use for teachers and those who train them. As the article quite rightly points out, not enough time is given in most schools to training teachers to carry out this vital part of their work to the highest standards. More training in this area undoubtedly brings higher levels of confidence, enabling the teacher to believe that he/ she will be effective in getting across their professionalism, the sense that they and the parent are on the same side working in the interest of the child and that these conferences are something to value, not to dread.

The article also touches on the debate that goes on about whether or not the child should be part of the meeting. My personal belief is that they should. In a corporate and leadership environment I was always taught that HR and performance appraisal meetings with employees should always work on a ‘no surprises’ principle. The same should apply here. If the child is present there shouldn’t be anything that’s being said by parent or teacher that comes as a surprise to them. Instead, they will quickly come to understand that this is a form of ‘teamwork’ committed to them being able to put in their best effort and learn most effectively.

Raising Motivation to Learn

Nice short article from Mindshift with six thought-provoking little ideas for teachers to consider when they want to increase motivation to learn in the classroom;

Mindshift Article

If students are disengaged or not motivated, as educators we have to look to our teaching practice first – what am I doing that is contributing to the undesirable state of affairs? What might I try to see if i can raise motivation levels?

Getting in to UK Universities

Here’s an article that sheds light (though not much of it) on the opaque process of getting university admissions in UK;

The guardian – What Do Universities Want?

Clearly different countries have different issues and they’re only going to get worse as the role of higher secondary formal examinations as the filter for access to top-quality higher education has almost broken down. Whether it’s the vast numbers in UK achieving A grades or the numbers of students in India scoring above 90% – a major rethink is needed.

How far might we be from a comprehensive all-around continuous competency based assessment regime that actually takes a balanced view of what a student can do and how they apply themselves?

On the issue of statements of purpose, anecdotally I’ve been told that they do still count for a lot in a large proportion of institutions. I’ve also been told that those who read them can tell the generic ones, bought and paid for and will always favour those which are clearly personally prepared by the student.

Digital School – The Student Perspective

Here’s a well written piece by a student, giving her perspective on the experience of attending a ‘virtual’ online school from home. She gives a very balanced appraisal of what she sees as the pros and cons;

Getting Smart – Digital Learning Article

Personally, I don’t believe this necessarily represents the future for the vast majority of students. instead, I see far greater potential in hybrid models that would enable students to achieve the best aspects of online self-paced learning combined with the best aspects of social and intellectual interaction face to face in a school environment.

Technology in the Classroom

The proportion of people who see mobile devices as ‘the way forward’ in education is growing all the time. However, there is less consistency when it comes to shared understanding about how to effectively deploy mobile devices in the school environment.

The education media over the last two months has been full of stories about the monumental mismanagement of the Los Angeles iPad implementation programme. Whilst lots of educators have looked down their noses at the mess that was created there, some are ready to acknowledge that they might have fared no better;

Mindshift Article – Why LA iPad Rollout Went Wrong

I know of tablet implementation programmes in India that have involved little or no training or time spent addressing the key impacts on school culture. Sadly, in some cases, the emphasis was more on the marketing appeal of such a ‘modern’ approach, rather than the academic and educational aspects.

What then results is classrooms where teachers continue to ‘lecture’ pretty muc as they always did whilst at least half the class are exploring completely irrelevant things on the tablets, ignoring the far less appetizing fare offered by the teacher. This, in one case, then lead to scenarios where children would be told to put the tablets away for most of the time, with messages such as, “If you work hard and are good, I’ll let you get the tablets out for 10 minutes before break.” Should we be surprised in such situations that the children fail to realise the learning power of the tool, but instead see it as a toy for idle leisure pursuits.

Incidentally, on the basis of the article earlier probably the most valid point is that there is little to justify iPads rather than any one of a variety of generic tablets that can be had for 30-40% of the cost, yet give almost as much of the learning benefits. Whilst I respect apple greatly, their machines are not the best for the education domain (even the drop test data suggests that they’re not suitable). When a low cost tablet can be had for a cost equivalent to about 2 years of textbooks (loaded up with equivalent curriculum material), then there’s less fear associated with the hardware, especially the risks that worry parents of being held to account for loss or damage.

Here is an in-depth article from New York Times that explores many of the pros and cons of one-to-one tablet programmes. It addresses many of the fears and concerns that i’ve heard raised by parents and teachers;

New York Times – No Child Left Untableted

On the point about ‘screen time’ my own suspicion is that as the amount of time children spend using tablets in the school/ education environment increase, so there will be some reduction in the currently increasing amount of ‘idle leisure’ time children are spending with screens. I believe, there’s as much chance that we’ll see an increase as a decrease in physically active pursuits. Somewhere, i think instinct within children will make them want to have active time. I would be delighted to see some of their screen time contributing to something productive.

The article quite rightly highlights that the biggest potential benefit to flow out of the use of ICT is personalization of the learning experience in a way that conventional schooling, even with the best teachers hasn’t been able to achieve.

One example I often give is when a child gets an illness or an injury that causes them to miss 3-4 weeks of school time. In India and many other countries, regrettably, this happens to many children at some point during their schooling. In a traditional scenario, the child stops all learning from the moment they step out of school until the day they step back in. When they go back, they are expected to go along with their peer classmates, as if they missed no time at all. To ‘close the gap’ teachers leave the onus on the child and parents. The assumption is that ‘copying the notes’ from a friend is an adequate substitute for the learning missed. Of course, if that was true, we could just copy the notes in a few weeks and give the children the rest of the year off!! (heretical thoughts, I know)

In the ICT enabled, personalised learning environment, firstly as the child starts to recover at home they can start to re-engage with their learning, even engaging in online discussions with classmates from home. The amount of work they do each day can be calibrated to their recovery until they are fit to return to school. Then, they pick up from where they left off – not where the class has reached.

The final document I share here is a white paper produced by a firm of consultants, Heff Jones Nystrom. It provides some sound advice about implementation, what matters and the working practices to make one-to-one programmes succesful as well as some of the evidence that’s beginning to accumulate on the learning and educational benefits that can be achieved from an effective programme.

Herf Jones Nystrom – White Paper

750 and Going Strong

That last post was my 750th on this blog! When i started, I had no idea where this pursuit was going to take me.

I would like to thank all those who have made it worth my while by reading the blog, especially when you share your thoughts and ideas as well. Some readers have been with me a long time on this journey and some are much newer. I just want you to know that I am so grateful as I’ve got so much from this process including the opportunity to strive towards clarity in my own thinking on many education issues. For me, this blog is a fundamental part of my lifelong learning process.

Carol Dweck and Mindset

In recent weeks I’ve been asked a few times for direction to more materials about the work of Carol Dweck at Stanford University on Fixed and Growth Mindsets.

To help on this, I’ve pulled together here a few of the best videos I could find on the internet where she talks about her research and the conclusions from it (and especially the implications for us as parents or educators when it comes to helping children develop the growth mindset).

I also strongly recommend Carol’s book, Mindset that gives deeper insights in to the fascinating topic of motivation and learning.

In Memoriam

I loved this news story that I came across this week. To lose friends or relatives in a plane crash must be a horrendous experience for anyone. What fascinated me here was the way that people dealt with their grief, creating a unique and amazing monument to inspire the world:

Snopes.com Article

Here’s a short video that briefly explores what they did:

Le mémorial du Ténéré (film documentaire)

Oceans of Innovation

Sir Michael Barber was a key figure in government in UK looking at education policy. He now works with Pearson Group looking at big issues of what’s happening (and what should be happening) in educational reform and innovation around the world.

He was recently the lead author on a report looking at innovation in education entitled ‘Oceans of innovation’. Here’s a video of him talking about the report and some of the key conclusions in it. There’s a link below the video to download the report itself:

oceans-of-innovation_Aug2012_9543