Bett – Contributing When We Can’t Meet

Bett and Remote Learning

The Bett Conference in London and the Bett Asia Conference in Kuala Lumpur are among the biggest dates in the year for educators to come together, see and hear the latest ideas for what’s happening in education and network with peers. However, in these times of the pandemic, we’re all denied the ability to experience such events. So, it’s good to see the Bett aren’t simply sitting on their hands, but are seeking to still share thoughts and ideas for educators.

Bett Conference – Community – Bettcast
(Click on the link above to open the website in either a new page or a new tab)

On the page above you’ll see the opportunity to register for upcoming webinars.

Further down the page, you’ll see links to recordings of some important and valuable material they’ve already put out. The Bettcast #1 was on the vitally important aspect of Safeguarding. The inputs come from a variety of educators working in different countries and have some important thoughts on maintaining similar rigour to safeguarding online to the efforts we practiced in our physical schools.

Bettcast #2 and #3 will look at student engagement and health and wellbeing in a remote learning environment.

Also, on the same page is a link to an April webinar that was a collaboration between Bett and Learnit exploring the leadership priorities of education leaders as they adjust rapidly to ‘the new normal’. Understandably, the urgency of the pandemic has meant that, up to now, most of the emphasis has been on teachers; what they need to do, the tools they need to use, how to approach remote learning effectively etc. However, the role of school leaders and how they handle it is critical, but so far the leadership aspects haven’t been given as much attention.

For most, this will be their first experience of leading remotely. For many, their school cultures (more in some countries than others) will have treated their role as highly status oriented, where people are very deferential and they are used to micro managing many aspects of the work. leading remotely will be putting many of these leaders under considerable strain. I intend to return to this topic myself in the coming weeks.

Learning Resources for Remote Learning

Learning Keeps Going

The sudden sweep of the coronavirus across the world has brought about the most phenomenal and amazing shift in how schools, teachers and pupils operate. Within weeks millions of children across the world moved from learning with teachers in classrooms to a scenario whereby the relevance of the school as a physical location evaporated and all moved to various forms of remote learning.

Important here to acknowledge that, almost completely, what children are currently experiencing is remote learning and not online learning. It’s important to differentiate that the latter is designed very specifically for the online arena, harnessing the unique and special advantages offered by online learning. To greater or lesser extents, schools have rushed to train and equip their teachers to deliver remote learning in various synchronous or asynchronous ways.

The urgency of the situation has led to an outpouring of sharing, collaboration and flexibility on the part of technology companies, edtech companies and those producing/ developing educational content (particularly online content).

So, with all of that in mind, I was really keen to share a vast resource that I came across. Edsurge 9s a US-based platform that incorporates a number of newsletters, a podcast and a valuable collated source of knowledge and up to date information for what’s happening in education. Whilst it’s US-oriented it also pays a lot of attention to what’s happening all over the world. Their reporting includes updates on the big deal making around the world in edtech. A few months ago they were the story as much as the reporters as they were taken over by ISTE.

In response to the covid-19 pandemic they’ve set up a separate portal site called  – “Learning Keeps Going” In it they’ve collated a vast collection (I believe it’s close to 900 resources!). The site can be found here: It covers the whole range from pre-school through to tertiary education.

Learning Keeps Going Portal
(To open, click on the link above  – the portal should either open in a new window or a new tab)

At the top right of their homepage are a number of links. One leads to a section containing a growing selection of webinars and podcasts related to educators’ responses to the covid pandemic. There are past recordings and details of forthcoming online events.

The most useful headings for teachers and school Heads are ‘Free Tech for Learning’ and ‘Teachers and Leaders’.

In the first, it’s very easy to filter to find what you want or might be interested in. One of the interesting features is to see whether a resource is offered free for the longer term, or if it’s only being offered free for a limited time. You can sort by the age group of students, subjects or topics. An important filter for all educators outside America is the last on the left – where the resources are available for use in regions of the world outside the US.

The teachers and Leaders tab has resources related to training teachers for remote learning facilitation, Teacher professional development (that shouldn’t grind to a halt at this time) and other resources of value as those in leadership roles seek to carry out their roles remotely.

BBC – The Learning Revolution

 

BBC LearningThere are many educators around like me (we have ways of identifying each other 🙂 ) who have spent years seeking to find ways to bring real, significant change in school education, but needing to surreptitiously nibble around the edges.

There are probably few areas in life that have greater inertia against change than education. Even major influences like Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk about education stifling creativity have been watched by millions, but have brought really very little change. However, suddenly, now, this massive black swan event that is the coronavirus has turned the world of children’s learning upside down.

A few days ago I had a conversation with a colleague from 8-9 years ago, remembering conversations at that time. In the school Group where i was Director in the space of a couple of weeks we had two special sets of circumstances that came up. Firstly, there was a student who was recovering from a course of chemotherapy for cancer. He was doing well and recovering well, but couldn’t risk leaving his home. He missed his classmates and was bored with just receiving worksheets etc sent home for him to study. Then, another young boy, a promising soccer player was invited to go on a long 3-month training camp away from home. His parents had approached the school to ask in what ways we might continue to support his learning during these months away.

I challenged my leadership team – we don’t take a fee from parents to provide a physical place, but to support their child to learn. Shouldn’t we be able to harness available technology to support their individual learning needs and requirements regardless of their physical location./ What followed was some encouraging creativity that enabled some skype sessions. These were appreciated by the two students and their parents, but didn’t really open up significant innovation around how learning could be impacted on a bigger scale.

What’s happening now is messy – it came about so fast that it couldn’t really be anything else. However, in this sudden and enforced change lie the seeds of major and significant change that may yet see the biggest shifts in mass education in well over 100 years. What children are receiving right now isn’t really remote learning, but covid learning under intense circumstances where teachers, parents and the students themselves all have high degrees of anxiety.

As the debates go on it’s vital that educators clarify what we want to see come out of this. Certainly, those who talk in terms of just getting through this short term aberration before ‘return to normal’ are missing vital points – including the fact that the old normal wasn’t working very effectively. We’ve also seen the evidence laid bare that it lacked equity and fairness of opportunity.

In coming weeks I’ll be writing and talking about the possibilities for what that future can look like. Out of this tragedy can come some thing good and exciting if we are bold, brave and ready to think creatively about what we want to see.

As a contribution, here’s a very good three part radio series made by BBC Radio 4.  Alex Beard explores the considerations and issues that will need to be foremost in our minds. The three half hour sessions explore – knowing, teaching and learning.

BBC – Radio 4 – The Learning Revolution
(Click on the link above to open the page in a new tab or window. From here, you can access all three episodes)

All Learning is Social and Emotional

SEL

A lot of people have enjoyed the ASCD webinar I shared a couple of weeks ago. So, here’s another one.

This comes from Nancy Frey, a Professor of Education Leadership at San Diego University. She’s written many books on education and in this webinar drew on material from her latest.

Quite rightly, many educators have been recognising the importance of children developing their social and emotional skills – not only so that they can function effectively in the classroom and school, but also because these are vital skills for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, in some places the temptation for teachers has been to believe that the solution is an SEL syllabus or curriculum – that SEL is somehow something to be treated separately. I believe quite rightly Frey emphasises the desirability of integrating the concepts of SEL in to everyday life in the school, the classroom and lessons generally.

The webinar does a very good job of summarising where SEL concepts have developed from and how far they have reached. This idea of weaving the SEL learning in to the general day to day learning can be daunting for some teachers. The website does a good job of giving pointers for how to embark on such a journey as a teacher. The content is delivered at a very accessible level.

ASCD Webinar Log In – Nancy Frey – All Learning is Social and Emotional

Some may find the content of this webinar excellent for running teacher training and CPD sessions, discussions and dialogues, or even within professional learning community small groups where teachers see SEL as an important area on which to focus.

 

Teaching For Deeper Learning

Deeper learning

ASCD is the largest organisation in the US for teacher and educator professional development (formerly known as the Association of Superintendents and Curriculum Developers). They are a great source for new books and an extensive back catalogue on all aspects of teaching. There’s a very good newsletter geared for school leaders. There are regular webinars (some public, some for members only) There are a variety of email newsletters – one US oriented and one Worldwide that provide links to the significant stories of what’s happening that’s education related.

Some of these things are available to all free of charge, others are subject to membership fees. An electronic (online) membership fee isn’t so expensive, especially as it includes a few new ebooks each year from those newly published by ASCD.

Today, I watched the recording (about 1 hour) of a very interesting webinar that was first broadcast a few days ago. The two presenters discuss material from their new book. Jay McTighe has been writer of many books, including the highly influential “Instruction by Design”. his co-writer, Harvey Silver is also a highly reputed educator responsible for writing a number of books focusing on teaching methodologies that support effective learning.

ASCD – Link for Webinar – Teaching for Deeper learning

They start with dealing with the issue that lately it seems like every education expert is talking about deep learning, but the reality is there are many different definitions. They get clear about their own definition that makes sense. They move on to the issues of why children aren’t learning deeply often enough and what can be done about it. Their focus is on knowledge acquired that is transferable, building on learning for understanding – that can be applied in other contexts from those in which it’s initially introduced.

I had one issue. They emphasise the issues about the speed and rate at which knowledge in the world is increasing and the temptation of curriculum developers to attempt to pack in more and more content – leading to syllabus that is a mile wide, but only an inch deep, with which i fully concur. However, driven by the overriding drive of standardised testing, their solutions are all still predicated on ideas of all the students learning all the same content. As a result, they don’t touch on the critical issues of student motivation.

I agree that there are some aspects of curriculum that are critical for all to learn, because they are applicable and relevant across many areas of learning and are foundational. However, beyond that, I believe that there are some areas of learning where some students will only be interested to dip in superficially, whilst their motivation is high to take their new-found skills and apply them to going very deep in other areas where they have high levels of interest. In my view, this tapping in to motivation is key to high quality deep learning, but it requires an acceptance in education that we don’t need to have every child learning all of the same ‘stuff’ to the same depth – just so that we can measure them against each other with standardised testing later.

It’s a good webinar, well worth watching, and thought-provoking. Finally, I am all in favour of their ideas about overtly setting out to develop children’s thinking skills. Not only do these support the children to understand their learning in school, but are the critical skills that will support them to go on as lifelong learners after school.

 

Sleeping For Exam Success

Sleep for exams

Particularly in India, I know that with the festive season and New Year over, for many students their thoughts have turned to exams in March. Some will believe that through super-human and inhumane scheduling they will squeeze out phenomenal marks in order to secure the college or higher secondary stream of their choice (and because they and their parents are going to wrap a considerable amount of their own identity and societal status on the height of those marks and especially beating their peers).

Whilst it’s laudable to set goals and put maximum effort in to achieving them, so every student has to acknowledge they were not born with the ability to do the impossible. Their relative success will actually be most down to how smart they plan and execute their preparation. Smart, intelligent planning, execution and consistency will always trump random, unplanned or unscientific effort.

Probably nowhere is this more important than in relation to sleep. There’s a certain irony that students spend much of their time these days bemoaning their special needs for sleep, only to ignore all their needs and the science when exams loom on the horizon. I can admit that when i was young I made a lot of mistakes in these areas – mistakes that undoubtedly cost me and prevented me from fulfilling my full potential. However, today’s youngsters have access to so much more information, science  and really should find it much easier to do what is in their best interest.

The following article is fascinating. Some of the conclusions are pretty obvious, but there are also some surprises;

Science News for Students – Surprise

a) Lack of sleep WILL impair performance in exams,
b) Good sleep habits before exams doesn’t just have a small impact on performance – it may be one of the biggest influences,
c) Losing sleep for one or more nights can’t be made up by sleeping longer on another night. (This isn’t just important for exam preparation – there is now copious evidence that old habits common when I was young, to incur a sleep deficit during the week and make it up at weekends doesn’t work!)

Maybe the biggest surprise – the biggest impact doesn’t come from the overall quantity of the sleep, the quality, the amount of restlessness, but the consistency AND this doesn’t need to be consistent just for a few days, but ideally for weeks or even months.

I don’t have any exams coming up, but have set as a health goal for 2020 to be more consistent on bed and rising times.

Students, that consistency needs to start now as a habit and then be maintained right through to your exams. Here’s to your success!!

 

Oh Dear, Here Comes Amazon

Amazon

Amazon made a big announcement last week that has potentially significant implications for the K-12 schools environment. As I’ll explain in a minute I think this is very bad news – an outcome that I’ve been warning about for over seven and a half years.

So, here’s the news from Amazon:

Amazon Enters Teacher-Created Resource Trade With Ignite

Back around eight or nine years ago I was writing in support of and in favour of websites such as Curriki (there’s a link in the list of useful sites on the right hand side of the blog page that’s been there all that time). This was also a site on which teachers exchanged lesson plans, exercises and other resources, but for FREE.

Here is the article I wrote on this blog seven and a half years ago. This was the time when Teachers Pay Teachers came on the scene and started to make a real impact with stories of individual teachers earning phenomenal sums from selling their education resources:

My Blog Post – May 2012 – Selling and Buying Lesson Plans

In that article I raised some of my concerns. The article about Amazon raises the serious point about the breaches of copyright that have clearly raised their head in the intervening years through sites like Teachers Pay Teachers. When textbook writers or the producers of online curricula gather materials they go through a carefully worked out process of taking permission for the use of original texts, artwork etc. None of these niceties are likely to have been followed by teachers selling lesson plans. Amazon are implying that their selection processes will eliminate this issue.

In my earlier article i highlighted that this was only one of the issues. As well as the ideological questionability that goes against the ethos of educators as natural sharers of knowledge, skills and abilities there is also the fact that teachers in schools do no (or today certainly should not) work in isolation. Even in a stand-alone private school anywhere in the world a teacher is likely to be part of a department and will work in collaboration with their fellow subject experts to prepare lessons.

Today there is a far greater emphasis on cross-curricular learning. in these circumstances lessons and plans come together as a result of multi-disciplinary brainstorming, planning and ideation. If an individual teacher then takes those plans and sells them online, the trust and collaboration breaks down.

Further, particularly in the private sector,  schools will consider that the lessons developed and delivered in their school or schools are part of an evolving, original, unique and proprietary schema of learning. All the teachers and leaders in the school work together to create these to meet the needs of their pupils within the context of their school’s vision, mission and values. In these circumstances it is highly questionable that any individual teacher should consider they have a personal right to take that material (or some part of it) and sell it elsewhere for personal gain.

When I was directly engaged in teaching my lesson plans were not rigid, carved in stone edifices.  Rather, they were a set of guides and structure that I had prepared to work backwards from the learning needs of my pupils, in my classroom at that time. From one delivery of a particular topic to the next I might produce very different plans because i was working with a different cohort of students. In applying my personal knowledge of the class dynamics I would select or design activities and exercises that would work best with them. One class might be very lively and need calming with some introspective activities, whilst another pursuing the same learning goals might be more reticent and need some activities to draw them out of themselves.

Finally, lesson plans and classroom resources are not meant to be simple blocks of knowledge and facts to be delivered to the students. This satisfies only the first, or at most the second level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. Further, today’s best teachers are always designing their lessons with a view to weaving in opportunities for pupils to acquire or build upon Twenty First Century skills as objectives with at least as much relevance and importance as the ‘syllabus to be covered.’ How can that be done in a cookie cutter ‘for sale’ lesson plan?

I continue to believe that the selling of lesson plans is bad for education and bad for teachers as a whole and ultimately bad for pupils and their learning. If we want to find ways for the best teachers to enhance their earning potential I believe there are far better ways that serve both them and the wider educational field. That’s for another day.

Authentic Learning/ Project-Based Learning

empower-every-learner-webinar-thumbnails-02

Many teachers have changed the way they teach a lot in recent years, or at least added to their repertoire of teaching approaches. However, the pace of that progress has varied in different places and some teachers still struggle to transition.

So, it’s always useful to have access to resources and information from any source. This week I came across some very useful and interesting resources from a US Company, Hapara:

Hapara  – Resources – Authentic Learning

When you click on the link above it takes you to a resources page. if you scroll down or use the menu on the left side there are a number of useful infographics, some e-books and around 14 webinar recordings.

Some of the most useful resources include an e-book:
Real-World, Hands-On and project-Based: An Instructional leader’s Guide to Authentic learning
(PDF includes some useful links to further reading, sources and resources on the last page)

And two webinars stood out in particular:
What does it mean to prepare students to be succesful?
Leading the shift to authentic learning

There are also some interesting resources for making effective use of Professional learning Communities (PLCs). Quite rightly, they highlight that if the aim is to enable and motivate teachers to bring authentic learning to the classroom for students, so they learning methods for teachers should also be built upon authentic learning lines.

Giftedness

In many schools across Asia, the announcement by school leadership that they plan to launch a specialist ‘Giftedness Programme,” stimulates lots of excitement on the part of a proportion of the parents. Of course, these are most usually the ones who have been declaring for ages to anyone who would listen that their child was ‘special’, that the material being learned in the class is beneath their child and that really there should be a special programme that will tap in to the unique needs and abilities of their child.

Some years ago I was attending a dinner in Delhi, India that was held in honour of a very prominent Harvard professor renowned for his writings that shaped the work of many teachers and educators. His wife is also an educator of some renown – her specialisation being in the field of giftedness. I found myself sitting opposite her. During conversation at dinner, I clearly managed to ask the question she’d been asked before (and probably since) that was not welcome – “If we’re differentiating effectively for all our pupils, meeting them where they are, then do we really need specialist giftedness programmes?”

I know, I shouldn’t have done it. It was naughty of me. But, it just sort of slipped out. To be fair, the withering look I got was only second on the night to the one she gave the enthusiastic school principal who kept trying to engage her in discussion about her husband’s work, instead of hers!

However, I think it’s a perfectly acceptable and genuine question that needs to be asked, and I know that there’s more than enough evidence that others are also questioning the traditional orthodox approaches. I worry on a number of grounds. Firstly, I’m ultra cautious of anything that seeks to put labels on the children or to conveniently pigeon-hole them in to categories or ‘types’. Secondly, I fear that putting this particular label on to children can be another simple way like stating a child is SEN that exonerates the teacher from putting in the hard miles to reach, engage and help that child to learn. Often, it even leads to that child being taken out of the mainstream classroom, thereby reducing the class of remaining children to a more homogeneous core that can then all be delivered the syllabus in a standardised ‘one size now fits all’ way. The risk is these processes are used to clear the classroom of outliers, to simplify the teaching process. Nobody’s doing that consciously, but it can be the end effect.

Then there’s the issue of whether ‘Gifted’ programmes really work. What would we mean by working? If we are identifying these children as advanced, ahead of their peers, of higher intelligence and capable of transacting syllabus material faster and to more advanced levels than other pupils, then surely it would be appropriate to look for evidence of those students out-achieving their peers in to adulthood – both because of the attributes identified that justified putting them on a special programme and because of the fact that the programme should enable them to flourish and to fulfil the greater potential identified.

However, the evidence shows very little evidence of these outcomes. In fact, my understanding is that most studies of long term impact of giftedness programmes show very weak evidence of positive gains or outcomes.

Here’s a very interesting article from The Guardian, published about 6 months ago:

The Guardian – Education – Why There’s No Such Thing As A Gifted Child
(click on the link above to open the page)

The article carries some interesting evidence about how so many of the most exceptional adult achievers were very often average performers who didn’t stand out much during their school days. It also highlights something that is also reinforced in much of the research associated with growth mindset – IQ is not fixed and the attributes that might lead teachers to wish to identify a child as ‘gifted’ might be potentially capable of development in every child. Therefore, i firmly believe that instead of seeking to compartmentalize those children who appear to be at one end of the bell curve at the moment, educators should be seeking to put across a message to every child in their care that emphasises that their potential is limitless, that their opportunities and abilities will flow out of their effort and application over time and that all can excel at something if they are motivated and ready to work at it.

I have added links below for three articles I wrote as part of this blog in earlier years. Especially interesting is the one that highlights that being labeled and separated as gifted can be seen as much as a curse as a blessing for many children.

My Blog – Earlier Post – Selecting Gifted Children
My Blog – Earlier Post – Educating Gifted Children
My Blog – Earlier Post – Downside of Giftedness

Suffer the Little Children

“What happened to my childhood?”

“OFSTED stole it!”

It’s said that persistence is a good thing, a very good quality that can contribute a lot to success. However, this comes with a caveat – it’s not persistence but foolishness to keep taking the same actions over and over in the hope that eventually, at some point in time, the world around you will change and make your actions the right ones to succeed. There’s are two other aspects to this kind of foolishness – going back to old ways of doing things when they’ve already been revealed to be positively harmful (and lacking in positive merit) and ignoring fundamental changes in the world around you that necessitate new and revised perceptions about the best way to move forward.

In relation to the education of young children in the first, early years of schooling there are those in the world who are currently guilty on both these counts. It might be OK if their guilt only harmed them, but sadly it means harm to untold numbers of children.

In a number of countries, but particularly in England, we’re seeing a big swing back towards discredited ideas of the past about emphasising heavier amounts of academic content in early years education. The most recent evidence of this has emerged in a report published by the Office for Standards in Education (sic) OFSTED. It’s entitled “Bold beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools.” Focusing on the Reception Year means that it relates directly to the educational experience of children in the age range 4-5.

The OFSTED report says many things, but the tone comes through loud and clear in the following key recommendation;

“All primary schools should:
■make sure that the teaching of reading, including
systematic synthetic phonics, is the core purpose
of the Reception Year

So, teaching reading is the core purpose of going to school for children aged 4 to 5. This is then backed up with further recommendations that suggest strongly that these children are in a race and the aim is to get as much as possible of a head start to be ahead of the game in terms of what has to be learned in Class 1. Also, there’s lots of talk about learning how to sit up straight, how to hold the pencil exactly right and how to obey orders.

Here’s the full report:

28933_Ofsted_-_Early_Years_Curriculum_Report_-_Accessible (1)

And here’s some commentary on it:
Huffingtom Post – Third of Kids ‘Failed’ In Reception

It all sounds like something out of the dark ages. Does it sound like we are creating an environment in which future leaders flourish? Or, are we perpetuating the education of the masses which was about developing obedient disciplined grunts – and maybe more important, making them economically productive as early as possible!

A cynic might look for the source of all this hurry up and haste in the political inconvenience and embarrassment of the PISA and TIMMS exams – tests that suggest that English 15 year old children don’t hold up very effectively compared to their peers in other countries. But then comes the massive error – a chronically misguided belief that if we can just give children a faster start, all the problems would be addressed and our children would go shooting up the world charts. Of course, the big inconvenience in all that is that Finland sits right at the top of the tables for these comparative examinations with children who barely start school before age seven, certainly in terms of heavy duty academic learning.

And a real cynic might look simply for sheer ignorance and myopia of ignorant politicians wedded to old orthodoxies like, “Well, it never did me any harm,” and who desperately base their political ideologies on a perception that if Britain could just get back to some mythical good old days, then everything in the world would be perfect.

However, as educators we have to be futurists, not regressionists. Our major task is to prepare young people for the world likely to exist tomorrow, not to hanker after bygone familiar days that will never come again.

Anyone who tells you that they know what children will need to know even ten years from now, let alone beyond that, is delusional. However, we can make some reasonable predictions about their lives. Firstly, advances in medical science mean that the majority of them will live to the age of 100 or beyond. That alone is massive. Barring bad lifestyle choices, more than 50% of these children will live to 100. In those circumstances, how long will a working life be? If we think of those who reach 100 today we think about the massive changes they’ve seen in the world, especially in technology.

These young people will need to be the most versatile, flexible and adaptable generation that has ever lived. They will have long working lives (you can’t retire at 60 if you’ve got another 40 years of life ahead!). They had better find meaning in the work they do and be ready for the likelihood of multiple careers, not just many jobs. In such circumstances they can’t be like today’s employees – where surveys consistently reveal engagement levels in the workplace well below 20%. These will need to be people who get a big buzz out of the work they do. When they stop getting a buzz they will have the skills, competencies and the flexibility to move on to do something new that does appeal to them.

To prepare young people for such a life what we don’t need is to be in a tearing hurry to shove all the knowledge we think appropriate in to them as quickly and early as possible. In these circumstances we need to lose the conventional ideas of certain mileposts being based entirely on the age of the child. Instead, we need models of learning based on competency, passion and interest. When the child is ready to pursue particular learning, educators support them until they can achieve and prove consistent mastery. Then, the educators help them to make choices about where to go next in their learning journey.

So, that’s the first reason I have issues with the Ofsted focus and direction reflected through their report. Worse, what Ofsted dictates, most teachers do, either because they want to get positive affirmation through Ofsted school inspections (or, at least, their Principals and Heads do). This kind of rushing like a bull at a gate is shown up in so many places. We only need to see this headline and article from The guardian some days ago:

The Guardian – Education – Children as Young as Two Grouped By Ability

This acts as a convenient lead to the second major reason why this approach angers me and why I believe it’s doing a massive disservice to children and blighting their lives in the future. At this point it’s useful to remind ourselves that, despite relatively rich budgets for spending on education for every child, Britain has at least 10% functional illiteracy. There are vast numbers of people who have gone through the UK schools education system and yet do not have adequate literacy ability to be able to achieve the levels necessary to carry out basic and common life functions. Clearly, the methods used in the country until now have been failing some people. Yet, this Ofsted approach and the trend of rushing to do more and more at an earlier age is going to make this worse, not better.

To understand why, we need to take on board the new knowledge that’s become available to us over the last 10-20 years through the field of Neurology. techniques such as functional MRI scanning have enabled scientists to build up new knowledge (and to jettison some old ideas) about how people learn, and particularly about the maturation and development of the infant brain.

On this, I share here the link to an excellent recent webinar that charts out in reasonably simple terms the latest understanding from neurology as it pertains to the acquisition of skills and competence in reading:

Neuron Learning – New Science of Learning for Struggling Readers
(You might need to open an account in order to see the video of this webinar, but there’s no cost and it’s worthwhile)

For particular types of learning to happen naturally, a given level or complexity of neural network needs to exist for the child that is ‘ready’ for the acquisition of that skill. This applies to everything from holding a spoon, to self-feeding, to crawling then walking, to reading and writing and basic concepts of number. Each child doesn’t reach the point of having a suitable network at exactly the same time. However, when we take the example of walking, except where there’s some significant mental impairment, every child walks. However, what we don’t see is late-walking children put in remedial classes for walking, given extra homework and subjected to the experience of hearing their peers praised for diligent walking (by implication condemning them as failures and let-downs for not making the walking teacher happy!)

However, when schools start pushing three and four year olds with reading that’s exactly what is happening. in those circumstances it’s inevitable that some will take longer than others. And in return for taking longer they will receive all sorts of subliminal messages that condemn them to low expectations – of themselves and on the part of parents and other care-givers. In those circumstances, some children will take on board certain negative beliefs about themselves. “I’m a slow learner,” “I’m never going to be good at this school stuff,” “Others are more intelligent than me,” “I can’t learn well.”

When education was seen as a massive filtering mechanism, children were seen as distributed across a standard bell curve. While some would flourish, some would inevitably be the floundering ones at the wrong end of the curve. Educators didn’t stop to consider that their own actions might be what was condemning those children to languish at that end of the curve. Nobody was willing to contemplate that their practices actually caused failure.

An education system for the Twenty First Century has to be built on principles of enabling each and every child to fulfill their potential. To achieve this, aspects of implied competition with each other or that learning and getting schooled is some sort of race are completely counter-productive. It also needs to be built on the principles that learning is fun, exciting and something that anyone would want to do for themselves – not something that others force us to do against our will.

Here’s further evidence that the priorities have to change and a plea from the World Economic Forum to apply the right priorities for education today, to enable tomorrow’s society;

World Economic Forum on Twitter

Here’s the link to the fuller article from the World Economic Forum that takes on this issue in more detail:

World Economic Forum – All Work and No Play Needs to Change for Kindergarteners – and Here’s Why

To conclude – in a changed world, there’s really no need for haste or rush for young people starting out on a long life, especially when all our new knowledge of brain sciences tells us that the rushing causes great harm and hurt to some children, thereby undermining their potential for the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

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