Saturday, June 8, 2019

Food for Thought: Is screen time taking away who we are?

With the long vacation fast approaching, and the temptation to spend time watching and playing on screens, I thought I'd share a Food for Thought on screen time. Screen time is also one of the five strands that Cognita has asked us to focus on in September as part of their 'Be Well' day initiative. Screen Time is certainly a discussion that those of us with children discuss regularly at home, especially as we face the long holiday when we need to keep them occupied for 7 weeks with no school during the day. However, don't think that screen time is just an issue for our children and students, it's not, as Adam Alter points out in this good talk that was shared with me recently.   

"What are our screens and devices doing to us? Psychologist Adam Alter studies how much time screens steal from us and how they're getting away with it. He shares why all those hours you spend staring at your smartphone, tablet or computer might be making you miserable -- and what you can do about it."



There is much written about screen time and you don't have to dig too deep to find negative presentations, news broadcasts and articles. However, watching and listening to Kenneth, my son, interact with his friends when online gaming i have to say we need to be careful about damining the next generations world out of hand. Listening and watching I see so many positives from these interactions; friendship and bonding, communication, collaboration, creativity, compassion, empathy, problem solving, data analysis and so many more. This talk raises doubts about some of the common criticisms levelled at screen time.

"We check our phones upwards of 50 times per day -- but when our kids play around with them, we get nervous. Are screens ruining childhood? Not according to children's media expert Sara DeWitt. In a talk that may make you feel a bit less guilty about passing your phone to a bored kid at a restaurant, DeWitt envisions a future where we're excited to see kids interacting with screens and shows us exciting ways new technologies can actually help them grow, connect and learn"








Sunday, June 2, 2019

Food For Thought: Head of School's Dilemma

This weeks' Food for Thought started when Amy sent me a wonderful article in Edutopia, Understanding a Teacher's Long-Term Impact, that aligns so well with our beliefs as a school. The article uses the work of Kirabo Jackson who discusses the shortcomings of evaluating the impact of teachers, and of course their school's, on students through test scores, as is the traditional method often used by school administrations, boards, owners and parents.

The work of Jackson interested me, so I decided to read a couple of his papers that linked to his main question, What Do Test Scores Miss? The Importance of Teacher Effects on Non–Test Score Outcomes. Here are a couple of quotes that sum up his findings from a survey involving over half a million students.

"Test scores alone can’t identify the teachers who have the biggest impact on students, according to a new study by IPR labor and education economist Kirabo Jackson. Jackson’s research suggests that teachers’ ability to cultivate non-cognitive skills—traits such as adaptability, motivation, and self-restraint—is a far better indicator of a student’s long-term success than their impact on standardized test scores. He says that, “Teachers are more than educational-outcome machines—they are leaders who can guide students toward a purposeful adulthood."



"The results  provide hard evidence that teacher effects on test scores capture only a fraction of their effect on human capital. Further work is needed to derive skill measures that are not well measured by standardized tests and difficult for teachers to manipulate. The patterns presented suggest that the resulting gains in student skills and overall well-being may be considerable."


I'm sure you are now thinking, yes we all know this, and our vision at ISHCMC is well aligned with this thinking, so what is Adrian writing this for, and why has he called it a Head of School's Dilemma? I will explain now. As you know, and as I have promoted throughout my time at ISHCMC, it is not what you learn that is most important, but rather the skills you are developing as you learn, and how these skills impact who you become as a human being. So what's the dilemma? Simply put, it is the question of whether moving from content to skills means that we are or should no longer be so accountable for the growth of our student learning in what might be regarded as the brilliant basics, or, of what have traditionally been regarded as core subjects, Math and English. At ISHCMC, as you are aware, we use MAP testing as our standardized measure of these two core curriculum areas. These tests originate from the AERO Standards that are, or, are supposed to be embedded in our written curriculum. Of course, as an IB three programme school we can dismiss these standards and argue that they are not what we are teaching and that the IB is our curriculum. However, one could counter argue that the IB merely provides a framework, and to be the best school in the universe, we need to go beyond the IB framework and draw on standards from around the world that will provide a universally acknowledged good education for our students, enabling them to be successful across many different assessment metrics.

Each month Cognita sends me a two page dashboard of ISHCMC's performance. This dashboard allows the head office to compare schools and their relative performances across, VOS, VOP, VOE, financials, safeguarding, health and safety, facility capacity, growth, staffing ratios, and academics. For ISHCMC academic is measured using value add through MAP testing and the IB Diploma. This year, as part of my Let's Talk, and just one of the objectives given to me, I was asked to investigate our Value Add as a school to our student learning. Cognita accepts that this is just one data point, and that it might not be completely relevant, but it is a data point and therefore should be examined as such. So a month ago when I received our dashboard I took a close look at our recorded Value Add scores for the last few years. These scores are calculated from the % of students meeting or exceeding their projected growth. This growth projection is personalized to the student, because it is based on matching peers from NWEA normssame prior RIT score (RIT stands for Rasch unIT, which is a measurement scale developed to simplify the interpretation of test scores. The RIT score relates directly to the curriculum scale in each subject area), grade, and weeks of instruction between testing. This provides a fair comparison, because students with high starting achievement generally do not grow as much as students with low achievement. The projected growth figure is the midpoint for these peers (half grew more and half grew less) and is based upon a fall and spring test. 

We know that there are many other factors that could impact a students performance other than just the teacher, however, when looking at it from a Grade and not individual class, and as a school's performance, rather than a teacher, one has to see the data as Food for Thought. 

Grade/ MAP/ Year
2016
2017
2018
2019
2019
ENG
Reading
Language Use
Gr 3
35%
37%
57%
42%
42%
Gr 4
51%
45%
55%
40%
55%
Gr 5
41%
46%
44%
59%
56%
Gr 6
59%
61%
67%
65%
53%
Gr 7
55%
45%
59%
67%
58%
Gr 8
61%
57%
67%
66%
56%
Gr 9
55%
47%
70%
54%
Gr 10
53%
MATH
MATH
Gr 3
54%
 49%
    66%  
26%
Gr 4
38%
20%
13%
22%
Gr 5
28%
23%
29%
35%
Gr 6
51%
39%
44%
63%
Gr 7
51%
44%
47%
54%
Gr 8
58%
68%
54%
48%
Gr 9
64%
65%
62%
58%
Gr 10
51%

Looking at these results I was a bit surprised by our low percentage of students meeting their predicted growth rate. Of course, as already stated, I realize this is only one data point about student learning in a year and not necessarily one that we are focusing on at ISHCMC. Being naturally inquisitive I asked our Regional Education Director, Andy Hancock, how our results compared to the other six schools doing MAP, he replied that our results were generally lower than the other schools. Again there are many reasons why this would be the case. 


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Herein lies the Head's dilemma. As guardian of student learning at ISHCMC, and the school's future in a competitive market, this data raises lots of questions that we need to answer as a teaching and learning community. Of course I agree with the point of view and takeaway from the article that initiated my thinking that:



"Measuring the full value of a teacher (school in this case) goes well beyond their impact on test scores. Teachers who improve students’ noncognitive skills also improve long-term outcomes that include their odds of graduating from high school."

It is clear from all my reading associated with this topic that Value Added Modeling has both strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing this is just one data point, and the fact that our students are developing a deep understanding of how they learn, enjoy enduring understanding of the content they cover and have a deep understanding of themselves as learners.But is this enough? There are a number of questions that need to be thought about by all of us as this year comes to an end and we start thinking about and planning for 2019-20.
  • Have we spent enough time analysing data like MAP to support our teaching and learning across the school?
  • Can we continually dismiss data that shows that a large number of our students in both Math and English are not growing to the potential in relation to NWEA norms?
  • Should we be holding ourselves more accountable for the growth of our students against a standardized assessment like MAP?
  • Are we demonstrating student growth as learners in a robust format that counters more traditional assessment methods?
  • Given that MAP data is shared with our parents, and that it is the only external assessment data that is shared with parents between Grade 3 and 10, are the results good enough for our parents? 
  • What do you think parents would think or say if they saw the whole picture of MAP rather than just their own child's?
  • If MAP results aren't representative of our student growth and performance, what should we also be sharing to create a better all round picture?
  • Have we got the balance of teaching pedagogy right between agency, inquiry and personalized learning and explicit teaching? Do we need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water?

Hence, in my last year in education I intend to work hard with you all to produce an AtL and skills continuum across the school that will enable us to be able to identify and validate how our students are developing as learners not only from the point of content but also on the basis of skill acquisition. My goal will be to at least start the identification of tasks that demonstrate student progress on this continuum and that can be used to share student growth with parents and outside authorities. This may involve connecting with organizations like RMIT who are looking at Creds  and Mastery Transcript Consortium to identify how we can capture how our students are growing as learners in a robust and granular fashion that supports our beliefs in skills and agency.

Next year we will also be re-introducing whole school curriculum teams, for all subject areas, so that we are sure that we have well scope and sequenced learning taking place for all students at ISHCMC. This will include teams looking at our Digital citizen curriculum and Health and Social education programmes. 




Sunday, May 26, 2019

Food for Thought: Engagement of just more compliance?


Recently I was encouraged to read John Taylor Gatto's work by two of our teachers who guessed I'd enjoy his work. I immediately obtained two of his books, Dumbing us Down and Weapons of Mass Destruction. They have been my bedtime reading for the last two weeks. This reading came on top of my recent reading of the Yuval Harari trilogy, and Free to Learn, by Peter Gray, in which it becomes obvious that school is not, and never has been aligned with how humans really learn. I think we all need to be thinking about this fact as educators. Hence, this weeks Food for Thought, and it is a bit longer than some in the past, but I did give you last week off you thinking homework. 😉 I am now convinced more than ever that we need to push harder for an educational revolution. As a result of this recent reading I have re framed some of my thinking. It is now clear to me that our present education system is not broken, it is merely doing the job it was created to do......turn out compliant workers who respect authority, don't question systems and are not encouraged to critically problem solve. I am even more convinced that this is why governments are not becoming more reactionary regarding state education because this is to type of citizen that they require schools to produce if they are to maintain control as jobs disappear and society becomes more controlled by AI and instruments of social control.

If you haven't read any John Taylor Gatto I'd like to share this excerpt from a speech he wrote as an introduction to his thinking:
"I've noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my twenty-five years of teaching - that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, the institution is psychopathic - it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to different cell where he must memorize that man and monkeys derive from a common ancestor."
https://www.naturalchild.org/articles/guest/john_gatto.html
Classroom Line.jpg
In this blog post, from Peter De Witt, Student Engagement: Is It Authentic or Compliant? the hidden curriculum that we all take for granted is further questioned in terms of asking what is the difference between apparent engagement and compliance?

"Sometimes a quiet class where students are listening and the teacher is doing the talking is seen as an engaged class. After all, none of the students are acting out, and they are all looking at the teacher. Many of us have been known to say, "1,2,3...eyes on me."But...is this class authentically engaged or compliantly engaged?Engagement is complicated because just because teachers may follow best practices that tell them to put an objective up on the wall for students to see, or run a classroom where students cannot opt out of answering a question, or even cold call or check for understanding, doesn't mean that students are authentically engaged in learning.They may just be compliantly engaged.Compliant learning happens a lot in our classrooms. I recently read about SLANT, which means that students have to "Sit up, Listen, Ask & answer questions, Nod their head, and Track the speaker." Asking and answering questions is fine, but there is a fine balance between asking for compliance and getting authentic learning.Just because a student is sitting up and nodding their head doesn't mean that they are truly engaged in authentic learning, which is why teaching is so hard."

And finally, a short video from Jerry Mintz. "Jerry Mintz has been a leading voice in the alternative school movement for over 30 years. In addition to his seventeen years as a public and independent alternative school principal and teacher, he has also helped found more than fifty public and private alternative schools and organizations. He has lectured and consulted in more than twenty-five countries around the world. In 1989, he founded the Alternative Education Resource Organization and since then has served as it’s Director. Jerry was the first executive director of the National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools (NCACS), and was a founding member of the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC)."


It does makes me smile that the type of education that Jerry Mintz and many other educational thinkers are advocating for is called alternative, but is based around how we learn most effectively as humans. The system that should be seen as alternative is the one that was introduced in Church schools in the 15th Century, expanded again at the time of the agricultural revolution in the 18 Century and finally set in stone by the Prussians and the Committee of 10 for the post industrial  revolution world of the 19th Century. The system we have today is based around obedience, compliance and subjugation to a higher authority. Is this what we want for our children and their future?"