Friday, 27 October 2006

Is it learning or work we are after?

Last Wednesday I attended a afternoon and evening conference with Guy Claxton, on the topic 'Building Learning Power'. He talked about 4 generations of professional change:
1 Scratch generation- what the culture is about, examinations and behaviour.
2 Hints and tips - this is where teachers attend workshops and get little things we can add on to our repertoire of teaching skills and strategies, such as mind maps, thinking tools etc. It's about how to organise and retrieve information in a better way.
3 Generation of thinking and learning skills - very cognitively focused on thinking and often involving stand alone strategies. According to Claxton, these tend not to last, to spread or to deepen. "The long term evidence is not good." He talked about how to move from a language of skills to a language of dispositions.
4 Infused Learning - this is the move to more powerful habits of minds/ dispostions.

One research anecdote he used is based on the experience that every school's mission statement, vision, and teacher talk features the word 'learning'. A researcher sat in the back of classrooms noting the times that the words 'learning' and 'work' were used by teachers. You guessed it; learning was used 2% of the time. Everything else uttered by teachers was "get on with your work", "get back to work", show me your work", "are you having trouble with your worlk", you need to work harder".

His question: "Why don't we use the word learning if we think it's important."

I'm thinking it's the incongruence students often experience between what their teachers say and what they do.

When teachers learn more about learning the effectiveness of a school improves and learning follows.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Theme Time Radio with Bob Dylan

The rhythms of the English language sound great when Bob Dylan introduces his theme and songs on Theme Time Radio. The show is broadcast on XM Radio in the U.S.A. and I first heard it on a podcast a friend, Jeff Langdon, gave me. I remember thinking at the time Dylan's cool patter would be great to use with students. Maybe as a Quickwrite piece to spark writing from.

If you haven't chanced apon the broadcasts here's a little sample to whet you interest:

First let's get in the mood with the husky voice of the woman announcer who sounds like she's had one whisky and cigarette too many, or then again maybe she's had just enough. "It's night time in the big city. A truck driver runs a red light. A strange, quiet man practices Tai Chi in the park. It's Theme Time Radio Hour with your host Bob Dylan."

"Tonight we're going to visit the big house. The clink, the brig, the coop, the grey-bar hotel, the hoosegow, the joint, the jug, the slammer, the stir. A real hush-hush subject where everyone is hurting for someone or something. We're going to learn about cons, jailbirds, stoolies, lifers, new fish and politicians. Prison, the house of many doors."

"Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair" BESSIE SMITH
"Bessie Smith doesn't want to be in prison. She caught him with a trifling Jane. She cut him with her barlow knife. She kicked him in the side. She stood there laughing as he wallowed around and died. She admits it. She's nutso, crazy, unbalanced, unsound, loony, witless and wrong. She has a grave disorder of the mind that impairs her capacity to function normally in society."

"We got an email from Johnny Depp in Paris, France. He wants to know: 'Who was the founder of modern communism? Well Johnny, Karl Marx was the founder of modern communism. He also fathered seven children. Four of them survived to adulthood. His only son, Frederick Demuth, was illegimate. I wonder if he calls his daddy on Father's Day?"

Primary school students seem happy

Wouldn't it be good if school and learning for our students was a joyful experience?

Today I visited a number of primary schools in the Castlemaine district with Matt Theobald, an art teacher from Castlemaine Secondary College. Driving between schools he said, "The kids seem really happy. I even saw one boy skipping on the way to class."

Why do some kids often seem to lose the joy of learning when they are in secondary school? Is it timetables? Is it the disciplines? Is it the teaching and learning?

But it shouldn't be forgotten that many students do experience secondary school as enjoyable.

Adolescence is one factor in the changing attitudes of students at secondary college. I often taught the same students in year 7 and maybe year 9 or 10 and then year 12 and experienced the ups and downs of their teenage life. A fast forward button would be useful I often thought.

If we could have more teachers moving between primary and secondary schools I'm sure we'd have greater awareness of the plusses and minuses of teaching at each level.

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Here we go again

Here we go again. This time it's the federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop who says it is "unacceptable" for students in English classes to be studying Jerry Springer or learning how to send text messages. A report in Today's The Age reported the ministers remarks.
"It is unacceptable for students in English classes to be learning SMS, which is a travesty of English, studying television chat shows such as Jerry Springer, and other topics that are a distraction from their need to learn communications skills that will support them in a job and in further education and training," she said.

This is interesting as in a previous post I referred to an article in the Guardian which says that researchers at Coventry University found that contrary to popular belief, the use of text message abbreviations is linked positively with literacy achievements.

I sometimes wonder if politicians have any real idea of what happens in a real classroom om a day by day, week by week.

I often wish teaching students to be influence to adopt some idea was as easy as politicians seem to imagine.

245 kids in prison

Yes, yesterday 245 primary schools students marched, strolled and bussed their way into the Old Castlemaine Gaol to compete in the Mount Alexander Schools Chess Competition.

Once inside students sat at tables lined along the spokes of the prison which made it a unique experience for the them. Chess Kids ran the competition, supplying all of the equipment, boards, pieces, clocks and computer program.

Each student played 7 games competing with others at their level. The winning team of 4 students get to play the state final next week.

The enthusiasm of the kids for chess has surprised all of our teachers and principals. The Mount Alexander Cluster chess/numeracy initiative mainstreamed chess as part of each school's numeracy work; tutors worked with the kids and their teachers passing on their passion for chess. One of the principals, Kevin Brown, said to me that he had attempted to get chess going with a little success but the tutors brought another level of knowledge and enthusaism to the classes.

In all of the schools I have worked in as a consultant one thing that kids constantly say a good teacher has is 'they really like their subject' or 'really like teaching'. Passion, you can't beat it.

Content knowledge in your discipline is important. It's obvious to kids that you really know what you are teaching and that you can assist them in moving to a higher level because of your knowledge. Both process and content are important. I'm emphasizing this because I seem to be reading a lot of teaching material which virtually dismissed content knowledge as unimportant. But in chess like other areas knowledge of your subject can inspire kids.

The chess competition was the finale of our initiative for this year. We aimed to finish on a high note.

Now we need to evaluate our pre and post test data, anecdotal information and conduct some student assessments to see if there has been some effect on the numeracy skills of our students. Some initial information looks positive.

If you have any stories about using games successfully in class let me know.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Chess kids in prison

Like many good ideas this just began with 'let's have a go'. I was approached by two teachers Steve Carroll and Harry Poulton who had an idea to extend the idea of chess clubs into the mainstream classes in thirteen Castlemaine district schools (central Victoria).

Steve and Harry wanted to get kids enthused by playing chess and seeing if there is an improvement in numeracy skills. They gained academic support from Dr Stephen Tobias of James Cook University, who is just as enthusiastic to see if there is an improvement in numeracy thinking and strategising skills of middle years students.

The cluster principals decided to use funds from our Innovations and Excellence initiative to fund tutors and to purchase chess kits for each school.

Once a week for a maths session tutors would take the kids through chess strategies and play chess games. The initiative took off at an astounding rate with kids who never expressed an interest in chess getting hooked. The key ideas of mainstreaming the chess as a normal class and supplying outside tutors proved the key.

A chess blog is running and has received favourable feedback from US chess guru Susan Polger.

I've been involved as the Educator for the cluster and we have a big tournament this coming Monday, also funded by our Innovations and Excellence Initiative.Chess Kids is running the tournament at the Old Castlemaine Prison, a rather unique environment for our students.

We estimate over two hundred of our primary students will compete. It seems virtually all of the grade 5 and 6 students want to compete, that's how enthusiastic they are.