Tuesday, 30 December 2008

I called it dancing....

I was amused by my twenty two year old nephew who was just on his way out to a club as we popped over a few days ago. Apparently dancing is now called 'Throwing some shapes'......!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Mixing it up.......

Is learning in a mixed age and mixed ability environment scary? Sounds like a good idea to me,bit like real life. Interesting that some people appear to find this a bit daunting!

Friday, 19 December 2008

When is a school not a school then...?

I was thinking yesterday about where some of my views come from on the nature of schools. Over the past few months I've had occasion to talk to a number of people about schools, mostly linked to the BSF programme in England. It strikes me that, as commented in the previous post, most people have the model of a physical location strongly fixed in their minds as the starting point. Why, then, do I have the concept of 'Learning' embedded in my mind as the central tenant of what a school is about?

One experience popped back into my head as I pondered this. In the mid 1990's I came across the Florida Virtual High school. It was an interesting model for what learning was all about and as the name suggests, it was completely divorced from any physical buildings. The results the students obtained were every bit as good as in any physical school and in many cases pupils that simply were unable to thrive in the traditional physical setting did very well. There were many stories of pioneering adventures that had to be overcome. For example, Florida only funded pupils who were actually sitting in chairs in physical schools so the virtual High school had to get State law changed to allow them to be funded for virtual pupils - I'm still not aware of anywhere else that has done that - then there were stories of the adventures they had as they created the online materials and the approach to working with the students and the fact that organisational skills for the students were really important. The whole story is too long for a blog post but much is documented on the online site, so go have a look if you are interested.

Anyway the sum of this experience has clearly shaped my view that learning experiences, and approaches to teaching are not actually locked into any physical setting, in fact quite the opposite. Looking back now and reflecting on the BSF conversations, I think I now realise that the Florida Virtual High School and some other virtual school models I came across as I travelled the world, in effect 'Flipped' my axis when it comes to thinking about learning and teaching. Note learning first and teaching second - quite an important distinction.

So when is a school not a school? Don't know if I can answer the question because if a 'school' is a place where learning is meant to take place then I've seen 'schools' in such a range of settings from under a tree in Africa through virtual schools to the most sophisticated, futuristic and impressive buildings. Does the quality of learning correlate to a particular setting? I'll leave that question for a future post.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Some observations

Having seen a large variety of education models across the world, and been involved in many discussions on education ‘transformation’ I have some observations.

1. Despite being part of an ‘Education System’ at Local, Regional and National levels, the management and leadership models used in schools promote the individualisation/isolation of schools. Collegiate models and federated leadership models, shown to be more effective in many areas, are only just starting to be explored.

2. Large schools are still the norm in European cultures as the ‘industrialised’ approach to education dictates that large scale aggregation saves money.

3. Subject based curriculum models that are organised around age based cohorts that require pupils to move every fifty minutes still dominate. ‘Cells and Bells’ as some describe the model. This model for the delivery of education appears deeply ingrained in the psyche of politicians, education leaders and parents such that significant questioning is labelled as ‘challenging’.

4. The predominant teaching model in schools appears to still be a didactic approach. This is reinforced by the subject/age based curriculum models.

5. Research shows that the best learning takes place in smallish, non age based groups where learning is focused around project based work that takes place over longer time frames and where ICT is a part of the process and not added as an extra resource.

6. Small scale and ‘agile’ learning is congruent with large schools if the leadership, management and physical structures are in place to support flexibility.

7. Accountability and measures of success can be misinterpreted as creating constraints as to how education must be delivered.

8. Parents appear alienated from the ‘education’ of their children. The ‘industrialisation’ of education removes them from the process such that they feel unable or embarrassed to intervene, in the same way that most of us are now alienated from the process of food production. Yes parents complain if things appear to be going wrong but they are not part of the education, just observers in most cases.

9. Parents are passionate about their children’s learning and have very strong views on the role of learning in their local community.

Feel free to disagree or agree with my observations :-)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Learning and age

A debate continues apace in our household at the moment about the age children should, or should not, start school and the overall affect this has on learning. Having travelled the world extensively to talk about education I have seen many approaches and talked to many senior policy makers about the challenges they face in their particular social context.

The statistics still tell us that starting school around 6 or 7 years old, gives the best results. This then begs the question: Why do we insist on sending children to school in this country at 4 or even younger? At a very high level I would say from my travels that the countries where children start school later government policies are focused around the concept of the family with many incentives and in some cases laws, that make it easier for parents to spend time with their children.

In the UK we appear to be on an unstoppable ride to create a high cost of living, with especially high house prices compared to other countries, that means that both parents have to work full time to make ends meet. This inevitably leads to the need for child care and what better way of caring for children that putting them into school as early as possible, after all that is free at the point of delivery.

Having spent a lot of time looking at the aims of the current educational reform in this country and particularly the spending on rebuilding schools I'm not sure that I see any real links between creating a better social outlook and the so called 'transformation' in the education system. Maybe the task is just too big but it would be nice to see the the macro picture of wider social reform, including the education system, and the wider economic system being debated as a whole rather than the debates being limited to the width of a column in an online article or a newspaper.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Industrialised learning

Having spoken to several parents lately it is clear that the vast majority are resigned to learning having to take place in school. It is however interesting to also see them criticising the school as in my last post, so a little bit of duality going on here?

Listening to these people talk it did set my mind wondering whether learning has become so industrialised that parents felt unable to take part in the process, or that taking part was economically not viable taking into account the general cost of simply 'living' these days. I'm not sure if this is a good analogy but my wife was commenting a few weeks ago that the art of making clothes was disappearing, so industrialised has the process become that the cost of making your own is now more than buying from a shop and most people don't consider making clothes as an option in any shape or form. this is of course a complete switch from even ten years ago.

In short, my unscientific group of parents appear to be very exercised about the education their children are getting, but feel that they are not able to take an active part in that education for reasons that range from needing time to themselves, needing to work and feeling unable to deliver the prescribed curriculum. I'm most surprised that these parents really feel unable to teach their children, or at least unwilling to even contemplate that this is something they could do even if they wanted to. I'll leave you to draw further views.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Personalised Learning........

My wife came back from a meeting with some friends today and recounted the woes of a four year old who has just started school. He is mad on reading but the school says they are not interested in reading this term, that's next term as this term they are focusing on writing. So he has to be happy with reading at home and not at school.........needless to say his 'love' of learning is at a bit of a low at the moment!