Exam focus damaging pupils' mental health, says NUT – BBC News

A report on a survey of 8,000 teachers and a review of the research.

The report sponsors observe…

“Many of the young people Young Minds works with say that they feel completely defined by their grades and that this is very detrimental to their wellbeing and self-esteem.”

It seems that at least some of their teachers do indeed (reluctantly) define them that way…

One junior school teacher said: “I am in danger of seeing them more in terms of what colour they are in my pupils’ list eg are they red (below expectation), green (above expectation) or purples (Pupil Premium) – rather than as individuals.”

Indeed, it appears to be endemic…

Kevin Courtney, deputy general-secretary of the NUT, said: “Teachers at the sharp end are saying this loud and clear, ‘If it isn’t relevant to a test then it is not seen as a priority.’

“The whole culture of a school has become geared towards meeting government targets and Ofsted expectations. As this report shows, schools are on the verge of becoming ‘exam factories’.”

He argued the accountability agenda was “damaging children’s experience of education”, which should be joyful and leave them with “a thirst for knowledge for the rest of their lives”.

This is terrible and tragic. So surely the British government is trying to do something about it? Not so much…

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Part of our commitment to social justice is the determination to ensure every child is given an education that allows them realise their potential.

“That’s why we are raising standards with a rigorous new curriculum, world class exams and new accountability system that rewards those schools which help every child to achieve their best.”

Helping people to realise their potential is a noble aim. A “rigorous new curriculum, world class exams and new accountability system” is a guaranteed way to prevent that from happening. Duh. Didn’t those that run the UK government learn anything in their expensive private schools? Oh…

Address of the bookmark: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-33380155

The death of the exam: Canada is at the leading edge of killing the dreaded annual ‘final’ for good | National Post

Good news!

There’s not much to disagree with in this article, that reports on some successful efforts to erode the monstrously ugly blight of exams in Canada and beyond, and some of the more obvious reasoning behind the initiatives to kill them. They don’t work, they’re unfair, they’re antagonistic to learning, they cause pain, etc. All true.

Address of the bookmark: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-death-of-the-exam-canada-is-at-the-leading-edge-of-killing-the-final-for-good

Smart learning – a new approach or simply a new name? | Smart Learning

Kinshuk has begun a blog on smart learning and, in this post, defines what that means. I particularly like:

 I have come to realize that while technology can help us in improving learning, a fundamental change is needed in the overall perception of educators and learners to see any real effect. Simply trying to create adaptive systems, intelligent systems, or any sort of mobile/ubiquitous environments is going to have only superficial impact, if we do not change the way we teach, and more importantly, the way we think of learning process (and assessment process). 

This very much echoes my own view. At least that fundamental change is needed in the context of formal education. Outside our ivory towers that fundamental change has already happened and continues to accelerate. Google Search, Wikipedia, Twitter, Reddit, StackExchange, Facebook and countless others of their net-enabled ilk are amongst the most successful learning technologies (more accurately, components of learning technologies) ever created, arguably up there with language and writing, ultimately way beyond printing or schools. 

Kinshuk goes on to talk of an ecosystem of technology and pedagogy, which I think is a useful way of looking at it. Terry Anderson, too, talks of the dance between technology and pedagogy with much the same intent. I agree that we have to take a total systems view of this. My own take on it is that pedagogies are technologies – learning technologies are simply those with pedagogies in the assembly, whether human-instantiated or embedded in tools. Technologies and pedagogies are not separate categories. Within the ecosystem there are many other technologies involved in the assembly apart from those we traditionally label as ‘learning technologies’ such as timetables, organizational structures, regulations, departmental roles, accreditation frameworks, curricula, organizational methods, processes and rituals, not to mention pieces like routers, protocols, software programs and whiteboards. But, though important, technologies are not the only objects in this ecology. We need to think of the entire ecosystem and consider things that are not technologies at all like friendship, caring, learning, creativity, belief, environment, ethics, and, of course, people. As soon as you get past the ‘if intervention x, then result y’ mindset that plagues much learning technology (and education) research, and start to see it as a complex adaptive system that is ultimately about what it means to be human, you enter a world of rich complexity that I think is far more productive territory. Its an ecosystem that is filled not just with process but with meaning and value. 

On a more mundane and pragmatic note, I think it is worth observing that learning and accreditation of competence must be entirely separated – accreditation is an invasive parasite in this ecosystem that feeds on and consumes learning. Or maybe it is more like the effluent that poisons it. Either way, I’d prefer that accreditation should not be lumped under the ‘smart learning’ banner at all. ‘Smart accreditation’ is fine – I have no particular concerns about that, as a separate field of study. In some ways it is worthy of study in smart learning because of its effects. That is somewhat along the lines of studying oil spills when considering natural ecosystems.  Assessment (feedback, critical reflection, judgement, etc), on the other hand, is a totally different matter. Assessment is a critical part of almost any pedagogy worthy of the name and so of course must be part of a smart learning ecology. I’m not sure that it warrants a separate category of its own but it is certainly important. It is, however, highly dangerous to take the ‘easy’ next step of using it to assert competence, especially when that assertion becomes the reason for learning in the first place, or is used as a tool to manipulate learners. That is what predominantly drives education now, to the point that it threatens the entire ecosystem. 

That said, I’d like to think that it is possible that the paths of accreditation and assessment might one day rejoin because they do share copious commonalities. It would be great to find ways that the smart stuff we are doing to support learning might, as a byproduct, also be useful evidence in accreditation, without clogging up the whole ecosystem. Technologies like Caliper, TinCan, and portfolios offer much promise for that. 

Address of the bookmark: http://www.kinshuk.info/2015/05/smart-learning/

How Do You Motivate Kids To Stop Skipping School?

Not like this!

This article starts with the line ‘it seems like a no-brainer’  and indeed it is. The no-brainer solution to low attendance is to make the schools relevant, meaningful and interesting to the kids.

However, bizarrely, that is not what seemed obvious to the writer of the article, nor to the ones that carried out this harmful and doomed research, who thought the obvious answer was an incentive scheme, and inflicted it on 799 kids, mostly age 9. Basically, they told the kids they would get two pencils and a cute eraser if they turned up 85% of the time during the 38-day study.

It seems that they did not bother with a literature review because, had they done so, they would have found out right away that rewards are totally the opposite of what is needed to motivate kids to attend school. There is over 50 years of compelling evidence from research on motivation, in many fields and from many disciplines, that demonstrates this unequivocally and beyond any reasonable doubt. The only possible consequence of this intervention would be to demotivate the kids so that, at best, they might revert to former behaviours at the end of it, and that many would be even less likely to attend when it was over.

Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what they found. The reward program did indeed increase attendance while it was in effect  (this is the allure of behaviourism and why it still holds sway – it does achieve immediate results) and, when it was over, kids were indeed even less motivated to attend than they had been before, exactly as theory and empirical research predicts. In fact, many of the kids got off very lightly: formerly high attenders and those that were not great attenders before but that succeeded in getting the reward only fell back to baseline levels as soon as it was over, which is actually pretty good going. A more significant reward or longer study period might have had worse consequences. Unfortunately, the effects on the ones that were the real target (those who were initially low attenders, 60% of whom failed to meet the goal) was disastrous: once the intervention was over, these already at-risk kids were only a quarter as likely to attend as they had been before the intervention began.

One of the surprised researchers said:

“”I almost felt badly about what we had done,” she says. “That in the end, we should not have done this reward program at all.”

Almost? Seriously. This borders on child abuse. I generally think of research ethics boards as an arguably necessary evil but, when I hear that experiments like this are still going on, I could easily become a fan.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/05/22/407947554/how-do-you-motivate-kids-to-stop-skipping-school

The new axis of evil — Canada: One third of American 8th graders think we live in a dictatorship

You could look at the ‘fact’ that a third of American 8th grade students think Canada is a dictatorship as just another tragi-comic indictment of the US educational system, or of the blindness of the US to the existence or validity of any other country, or of a failure to get the message across about Canada, or that the message about Stephen Harper’s style of government actually has got out, albeit in a slightly distorted form. All likely have a glimmer of truth.

But, actually, the headline from The Province newspaper is false: I am pretty sure that very few US 8th graders really think that Canada is a dictatorship. They just don’t know. It was just a vaguely plausible option on the MCQ (note that the actual candidate answer did not mention dictatorship, though it was implied), so they made a disinterested guess because that’s what they have been taught to do. There’s no belief implied at all.

Should a kid in early teenage know about the political systems of other countries? Why? On the whole, things matter if they matter to those around you, and/or because you are curious about how they work, and/or if it has relevance to things you do or want to do. it is far from clear that any of these conditions is true for the kids in question.  If it is forced down your throat with the threat of reward (or punishment) but no one you care about cares about it, it doesn’t inherently interest you, and it doesn’t address any actual need you have, then why on earth should you learn it? But why are the kids not interested enough to know this? The answer lies, I think, in the means used to discover what they do not know.

Exam - public domain

 

Educational systems that are designed to churn out kids that get the right answers on tests like this have two main options. The first is to build rich, curiosity-driven learning communities in which teachers and learners share the journey, enthusing one another, supporting one another, discovering paths, sharing delight in their discoveries, and overcoming challenges together. This is how learning happens lastingly, efficiently and meaningfully. But, and it’s a big but, such a path may not cover what will be on the test at the time the test needs to be taken. There’s a great deal of intrinsic reward in such a path for all concerned but the extrinisic reward structures (most especially those tests), for both teachers and students, tend to actively militate against it. It certainly doesn’t help when all (teachers and students) are forced to do the same thing at the same time in lock step, whether it makes sense, interests anyone or has any relevance or not. The second path to getting those test results is much more direct: apply coercion (reward or punishment) and make students ‘learn’ what will be on the test. With enough pressure, it can work well enough to get the required test results, even though in the process it has disempowered teachers and learners, forced them into a controller/controlled relationship in which maintenance of discipline becomes a major teaching function and, as a result and perhaps most heinously of all, has likely destroyed any innate and lasting interest in the topic for the vast majority of students. To add the final cherry on top, the vast majority of what has been ‘learned’ will be forgotten once the need to pass the test has passed. Only the greatest teachers and most passionately interested learners can overcome this systemic failing. It’s not the kids that are ignorant. It’s the people who designed and continue to support the system used to teach them.   

Address of the bookmark: http://www.theprovince.com/news/national/axis+evil+Canada+third+American+graders+think+live/11063581/story.html?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pulsenews

Why do we not ban use of cellphones in online learning?

Banning mobile phones is cargo cult science is a good, laudably brief, dismissive, critical review of the dangerously-reported recently published study by the London School of Economics that, amongst other things, shows a correlation between banning of mobile phones in schools and improved grades. As the title of the post suggests, the report does not show that banning mobile phones in schools is what improves grades in any way at all, despite the fact that the report writers do seem to believe that this is what they have shown: indeed, they recommend banning mobile phones as a cost effective measure to improve grades! That is so opposite to the obvious conclusion it is not even funny. To me, it shows a terrible failure at a massive systemic level. It’s not cellphone use that’s the problem – it’s the teaching. More precisely, it’s the system of teaching. I am sure that the vast majority of individual teachers are doing wonders, under extremely adverse circumstances. But they are doing so in a completely broken system. 

The interesting thing for me is that this would never come up as an issue for online and distance learners. Well, almost never: perhaps occasionally, study guides might recommend you set aside undistracted time for some (not all) kinds of study and webinar leaders might suggest that participants switch off phones and other distractions. But this is only at most a bit of practical advice, not an edict.

The point here is that command-and-control teaching methods of traditional classrooms have no meaning or relevance in online learning. This makes it all the more odd that we continue to see substantially the same pedagogies being used for online teaching as those found in the over-controlling environment of teacher-led classrooms. Obvious culprits like lecture-based MOOCs are just the more visible tip of this weird bit of skeuomorphism but the general principle runs across the board from instructivist textbooks through more enlightened uses of social constructivist methods in discussion forums. Too often, implicitly or explicitly, we act under the illusion that how we teach is how people learn, as though we still had students trapped in a classroom, controlling (almost literally) their every move.  The unholy and inseparable continued twinning of fixed-length courses and the use of grades to drive student progress is very much to blame, though a lack of imagination doesn’t help. These technologies evolved because of the physics of classrooms, not because they are good ways to support learning. In almost every way, they are actually antagonistic to learning. Online learning can, does and should liberate learners, giving them control. So let’s stop teaching them as though we were the ones in charge. It is crazy that we should voluntarily shackle ourselves when there is absolutely no need for it.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.educate1to1.org/banning-mobile-phone-is-cargo-cult-science/