Gulf News – Article Number One

Following my interview, published a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to write a series of 7 weekly articles for the Gulf News newspaper Education Supplement looking at various aspects related to education today.

The first of those articles was published today. Here it is. I would love to hear what people think, reflections on the issues I’ve raised and what we do about them. From the second article onwards, I have been requested to tailor them specifically to older students (Class 9 and upwards), so that will reflect in the content of the other articles.

To read this, you will need to right click on the attachments, download them and then they should be readable:

Page 1

Page 2

Changing Attitudes to Early Years Education

I wrote less than two weeks ago about the influence of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘The Outliers’ and how it was influencing the choices parents were making when it came to their children’s education.

Here’s another article that reinforces this impact, this time showing how increasing numbers of US parents are deliberately choosing to put their child in to school late, so as to avoid being the youngest/ smallest in the class.

New York Times Redshirt article

Whilst my sympathy lies wholeheartedly with the parents who are choosing to ‘redshirt’ their child I am concerned that the current scenario doesn’t remove ‘victims’ or those disadvantaged from the system – it just changes which child in the class gets disadvantaged. Also, much of the motivation appears to be a drive for competitive advantage in standardised state education tests that are required almost annually in the US education system.

My feeling is that there’s enough evidence from places like Finland that there is big advantage in having all the children start school later rather than earlier. Then, I believe that differentiation of the learning experience by teachers, accompanied by careful analysis of the strengths, development needs and character of each child offer the best opportunity to ensure each child fulfils their learning potential in the classroom. This also needs to be accompanied by healthy, disciplined and supportive classroom environments with high expectations of each child, clearly articulated and monitored and learning treated as a cooperative endeavour.

Gifted Children & How To Meet Their Needs

This is a fascinating article that. to me, raises far more questions than it answers. The main thrust of the piece starts from the fact that New York seeks to identify ‘Gifted’ children, then seeks to separate them in to special separate learning environments. It turns out that after they’ve done this separation process they finish up with 1 1/2 times as many girls as boys.

New York Times Article – Gifted Children

Questions raised in my mind;

a) Do we have real, legitimate ways to define what so called ‘giftedness’ is?
b) Where definitions exist and are applied are they too focussed upon the basic ‘traditional’ skills that schools have favoured in the past; numerical, literacy etc. (see Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences approach)
c) Has ‘giftedness’ become another high status item to be coveted by helicopter parents (makes a great boast at parties if you can say your child is in a ‘giftedness’ programme). The result – parental pressure on teachers to see the unseeable or give a child this sought after ‘label’.
d) Should attempts be made to put labels on children so early in life? What is the perceived rush?
e) Even if we could effectively identify children who are ‘gifted’ do we have to do anything with that knowledge? Most particularly, should we be separating such children from their peers?

Personally, I believe that the evidence from these New York schools points strongly to the fact that artificial pre-suppositions are causing these children to be separated for the wrong reasons, with the wrong objectives. I also believe that it comes from a paradigm that perceives the average school as lacking the flexibility, skills or inclination to truly differentiate the learning experience for each child in the classroom.

It is true that in the past too many schools followed a faulty model of ‘one size fits all’ education, where the intent was every child doing the same things, in the same ways, at the same time, roughly to the same extent. However, today’s best teachers and schools are committed to personalising the learning experience, bringing about differentiation, particularly based upon the concept of multiple intelligences.

In my view, it is far better to provide an enriched, differentiated learning experience for all children together, rather than separating these children in to some sort of elitist hothouses to be nurtured as ‘different’ – thereby separating them (potentially for life) from other children.

To me, the ideal to be worked towards is the most full and complete differentiation supporting the individual learning needs of each child within a shared, common domain, utilising IT support when necessary. We all have a long journey ahead to achieve this, but I believe it’s a goal worth working for.

Educating Gifted Children

here’s an interesting piece from the US ASCD website looking at perspectives on giftedness and how schools should cater to the needs of their gifted children.

ASCD Article

Within TSRS we have been discussing giftedness recently in quite a lot of detail through a number of meetings over the last 2-3 months. One of the first challenges is that you have to get to a definition that all can be comfortable working with. We are clear that a definition that is narrowly defined to recognise those children who are strong on linguistic and/ or logical/ mathematical only is inadequate. It must encompass all those children at advanced stage of development in all intelligences (Howard Gardner).

Secondly, we are absolutely clear that we do not wish to finish up with a scenario in which there are special facilities/ allowances and arrangements for special needs and gifted children, whilst somehow leaving the bulk of children who fall in to neither category unfulfilled.

For me, far more comfortable is an approach based on differentiation – a set of practices and processes whereby the teacher builds knowledge and evidence of the strengths and development needs of each and every child in the classroom and, over time, seeks to provide varied and differentiated learning experiences that will meet all their learning needs.

There is no question this is challenging and a big shift for many teachers. However, there is now an increasing amount of material available to help teachers to begin the journey down this route:

Differentiated Instruction
Reflective Teaching
Andrew Pollard’s Website

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