Redundant Adjectives

This post is my contribution to a collaborative project initiated by Sonya Van Schaijik that aimed to unpack and question the various ‘buzzwords’ currently in use in education. This collaborative book was launched at the end of Connected Educator Month. I am proud to have taken part in this challenge, and am grateful to and appreciative of the warm but demanding support of Kathy Scott who was my critical friend.

Redundant Adjectives: Pedagogy’s built-in understanding of being future-focused

To all intents and purposes, the New Zealand Curriculum’s opening words are those of the overarching vision for the document: “Young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.” Note the use of the future tense. This verb tense continues over the page where the stated vision is fleshed out into five bullet points including: “Our vision is for young people who will be creative, energetic, and enterprising”. Thus, the intention of the curriculum document is to “set the direction for student learning” and that direction is one pointing firmly into the future.

A further way that the New Zealand Curriculum explicitly sets its direction as being future-focused is through its principles which, “embody beliefs about what is important and desirable in school curriculum – nationally and locally.” One of these principles is that, “the curriculum encourages students to look to the future by exploring such future-focused issues as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, and globalisation.” It is clear then that the New Zealand Curriculum is an aspirational document and one which seeks to address the future needs of Kiwi kids.

Pedagogy, while a separate concept to ‘curriculum’, is similarly forward-facing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun as, “The art, occupation, or practice of teaching. Also: the theory or principles of education; a method of teaching based on such a theory.” If you like, curriculum is the ‘what’ of teaching, and pedagogy is the ‘how’. Generally speaking, the meeting point of the two is schools and the main medium for delivery is teachers. Therefore, while not synonymous, the two concepts have the same basis of intention: to shape young people into the kind of adults a society deems desirable.

Thus, in my opinion, the phrase ‘future-focused pedagogy’ is redundant because the future is already inherently implied and understood in the use of the word ‘pedagogy’: schools and teachers are naturally focused on developing students’ capacities and capabilities. And these are the capacities and capabilities that will best serve them as adults and future citizens in society. Needless to say there are considerable value-laden assumptions behind what kind of adults and future citizens are seen to be necessary by curriculum writers and the research they draw upon. But all of this, in my opinion, begs an important question to explore: what kind of future is implied by our pedagogy?

One of these visions for the future is an industrial, production-based model. Most recently Sugata Mitra has argued that our current school system was designed with elegant efficiency by the Victorians who wanted to produce future workers for their industrial age factories. Students in this era experienced a factory-style pedagogy appropriate for molding factory-style workers. Young people were viewed as empty vessels to be filled with the knowledge they would require when they needed it. Curricula prescribed the knowledge that young people ought to know, and, to some degree, ought to be able to do with that knowledge. All students learnt the same thing in the same way for the same kind of future.

But we are no longer in the Industrial Age. We are now in the Knowledge Age where “knowledge and ideas are the main source of economic growth”. This change also signals a shift in what ‘knowledge’ is. We also understand a lot more about how learning occurs. Students no longer need a sole diet of ‘just in case’ learning but rather need ‘just in time’ learning: knowing how to learn when learning is required; how to critically navigate a glut of information. This is an entirely different vision of the future. Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert talk about knowledge as having metaphorically shifted from a noun to a verb: “as a resource to do things with, not an object to be mastered.” Students need to know how to interact with, and build knowledge. And the pedagogy needed to empower this capacity in students is fundamentally different.

The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum document reflects this difference. While, as already noted, curriculum is not pedagogy as it is not a description or formula for how to teach, there is substantial overlap between the two. The focus in the New Zealand Curriculum on the five Key Competencies of managing self, understanding language, symbols and text, participating and contributing, relating to others, and thinking, implicitly requires a different pedagogy from that operating in an Industrial Age model. I urge New Zealand educators to concentrate their focus on this ‘front half’ of the document as a signal to shift attention away from content and instead onto skills and dispositions.

But let us now return to the question posed at the beginning: What kind of future is implied by our pedagogy? While the very nature of the future is that it is definitively unknowable until it is the present, we tell stories of what the future is ‘likely’ to be all the time: hover cars, robot overlords, post-apocalyptic wasteland, living on Mars under a great glass dome… Keri Facer, in her important book Learning Futures, explores some of these potential futures ahead of us. In doing so, she emphasises that these stories of potential futures are precisely that: narratives. And the nature of narratives is that they can be manipulated and changed, that they are not set in concrete. The future is the consequence of a whole series of decisions that are made right now. As Facer says, “The future is not something that is done to us, but an ongoing process in which we can intervene.”

Pedagogy, with its in-built understanding of being future-focused, is one of those intervention methods. We don’t know what kind of future lies ahead of us, but we are pretty sure of what it isn’t likely to be: a Victorian manufacturing plant. Therefore we must ensure that our pedagogy is future building, a term that, “implies we have power and agency to create the future we want.” Certainly the intention behind the New Zealand Curriculum, and its Key Competencies in particular, reflects this.

I believe that teaching is an expression of hope for the future. That our learners not only become “confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners”, but adopt this vision as part of their current identity. That our learners do not become citizens, but see themselves as citizens already. Thus, while the adjectival phrase ‘future-focused’ is indeed redundant to qualify the noun ‘pedagogy’, we must make sure that our pedagogy is an expression of this hope. Bibliography (To access a version of this blogpost with footnotes, please click here.)

  • Claire Amos, “Futures Thinking and the Future of Education.” Accessed online 20/9/14
  • Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert et al, “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”, NZCER, 2012
  • Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert, Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning? Rethinking the New Zealand senior secondary curriculum for the future, NZCER, 2008
  • Keri Facer, Learning Futures: Education, technology and social change, Routledge, 2011
  • Rosemary Hipkins, Rachel Bolstad, Sally Boyd, and Sue McDowall, Key Competencies for the Future, NZCER, 2014
  • The New Zealand Curriculum, Ministry of Education, 2007. Accessed online 20/9/14
  • Sugata Mitra, “We Need Schools…Not Factories“. Accessed online 20/9/14
  • OED, Accessed online 20/9/14

Want to read more? The other chapters of the collaborative book are here:

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Pick Me!

This post is my application for a 2015 CORE eFellowship.

#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore
#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore

My application presentation can be found here.

My Twitter profile
My Twitter profile
The kind words of Steve Mouldey
The kind words of Steve Mouldey

Yet another reason why Design Thinking is Genius

I wrote a post a little while ago declaring my passion for Design Thinking. Since then I have done loads of reading and thinking about it. I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time participating in the #dtk12chat on Twitter – especially the day that it was summer vacation in the States, so I basically got an hour of one-to-one time with the lovely and uber-helpful Lisa Palmieri to ask her all my annoying novice questions. I’m currently preparing a design thinking exploration for my Year 8s in Term 4, and this resource centre, curated by Thomas Riddle, is proving exceptionally useful.

PearlTreesDT

But this doesn’t explain why I have such enthusiasm for design thinking. And today it struck me. At the risk of making design thinking into some kind of panacea, I truly believe that it offers powerful potential for schools to address the needs of their 21st Century learners.

Last November, as I was starting my Future Learning journey, I read Bolstad et al‘s  (2012) research report “Supporting future-oriented teaching and learning”. I blogged about the reading here, here and here. Today I’ve had occasion to revisit those blogposts and the research, and I can see that design thinking can mesh beautifully with several of the future focused themes Bolstad and her colleagues pinpoint in their report.

There is the notion of personalising learning – that the activities and curriculum content students engage with should reflect their input and interests. Design thinking will certainly allow this, as students generate their own questions in relation to the topic or issue at hand, and then follow these ideas through a prototyping and feedback cycle.

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Bolstad et al also speak of diversity. Design thinking offers a means by which a great deal of ideas and questions are generated, welcomed, and indeed valued. Learners must generate (ideate) a wealth of ideas, and learn to filter these through the human-centred lens of empathy. Different perspectives offered by people of diverse backgrounds can therefore only be of benefit in order to empathise with others and add to the collective knowledge and ideas of the design thinkers.

Design thinking requires creating and using knowledge in ways that are different to traditional schooling. Filling an empty vessel is so contradictory to the process of design thinking as to render it inconceivable and redundant.

And to work within a design thinking process is to fundamentally shift the roles of ‘student’ and ‘teacher’. The teacher truly does become a facilitator as learners explore their own ideas in relation to the issue at hand. Teachers are just the most experienced learner in the room.

Furthermore, design thinking offers much potential to integrate and foreground the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum. The potential of the Key Competencies to shape the senior secondary curriculum is discussed in another of Bolstad and Gilbert’s publications, Disciplining and Drafting (2008), which I read in the recent school holidays. I suspect the next book in my reading list, Key Competencies for the Future (2014), will continue to make this kind of compelling argument. By following a design thinking process and adopting a design thinking mindset, it is inevitable that learners would be thinking, using language, symbols and text, managing self, participating and contributing and relating to others. This is because design thinking is a human-centred process that has a bias towards (social) action. In fact, it has the power to equip learners to tackle with the “wicked problems” outlined in Keri Facer’s seminal book, Learning Futures (2011), which I have read and blogged about here.

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Acknowledgement of images: The K12 Lab Wiki

So, when I get excited about design thinking, it is because I believe so strongly that belying its seeming simplicity, it offers a wealth of rich possibilities to transform education.

Reflections on a professional reading – Take 3

Ok! Sound the trumpets! I’ve finished reading the whole NZCER document – it’s here if you need the link again 🙂

Overall, I have to say my head is full and that I have a lot of thinking to do.  Luckily, I like thinking!

The final section of the report document reinforces the idea that I’m already a strong supporter of – that technology is just a tool, and that it can be used to teach ‘old school’ if the thought behind the tool isn’t there.  I like the diagram on page 56 which outlines that thre must be four interlinked strategies in order to support transformational change through using technology:

  • supporting innovation
  • improving capability
  • providing inspiration and articulating the big picture
  • providing enabling tools and infrastructure.

Without all four of these things, meaningful, sustainable change is not possible.  And these four must be linked to future-oriented learning.

So, in terms of my final thoughts, I’m struck by the following:

  • That teachers must be helped to ‘unpack’ their current classroom practice, and the philosophical ideas behind these (e.g. why do we have assemblies – what learning comes out of these? e.g. what is the purpose of teaching English – what is the use of it in the ‘real world’?).
  • If teachers are encouraged and supported to think in this way, then they are likely to recognise that there is a need – a pressing, genuine need – to do things differently (p. 62).
  • That there are a lot of things that almost need to happen altogether – the strategies above, the engagement with the six themes of the report…and that’s massive.  And maybe even a little overwhelming.  But the important things usually are!
  • That while essentially systemic transformation is needed, there are some steps we can begin to make right now towards the big picture.
  • And that these steps are beautifully supported by the teaching as inquiry model of the NZC.
  • We (students and teachers) are all learners, and all want to be life-long learners.
  • Oh, and it’s still fun to continue to wrestle with all of this 🙂

Reflections on a professional reading – Take 2

Ok, so I’ve found it challenging to find the time (or, perhaps, more truthfully, prioritise the time…) to continue to read NZCER’s report “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”.  But!  I’m nearly through, so I thought I’d take the time to reflect on the five further themes which the report links to “contemporary views of learning for the 21st century: (p. 9).  And as a reminder, the full six are:

  1. Personalising learning
  2. New views of equity, diversity and inclusivity
  3. A curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity
  4. ‘Changing the script’: Rethinking learners’ and teachers’ roles
  5. A culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders
  6. New kinds of partnerships and relationships: Schools no longer siloed from the community (pp. 9-10)

I’m intrigued by the idea of ‘diversity’, which, as the report rightly captures, has been dominated in New Zealand schools by definitions of equity, or reducing disparity between different ethnic, in particular, groups.  The report doesn’t downplay this approach, but rather, I think, shifts the focus from a negative to a positive perspective, calling for ways in which differences are seen as valued as they allow for ideas and problems to be seen in different lights, from different points of view.  Overall, the concept of educating for diversity, I think is key.  We must be able to engage with “people from cultural, religious and/or linguistic backgrounds or world views that are very different” from our own (p. 25), and we must be able to engage with a diversity of ideas (p. 25).  I love this, and find it sits comfortably with my personal values and beliefs.

Theme 3 is centred around shifting the concept of knowledge from one of knowledge as “content or ‘stuff'” to “something that does stuff” (p. 31).  I think this is a huge challenge for secondary school teachers, in particular, whose core business has been imparting knowledge – filling the empty vessel analogy.  The idea of knowledge as a verb, or that “knowledge is about creating knowledge and using knowledge” (p. 32) may be comfortable in theory, but to put into practice is less straight-forward and clear-cut.  This is where inquiry-based learning, learning how to learn, and learning how to work with ideas and people, seems to me to come into play.  Working in a cross-curricula fashion in order to learn transferable skills will become important.

The fourth theme, focused on the shifting or rethinking of teacher and student roles, I’m gratified to see, is something I’ve considered already on this blog here.  I actually really like that this entire report seems only to use the word ‘learner’.  I think we should remember that this applies equally to ‘students’ and ‘teachers’ as we all seek to embrace learning about, in, and through a ‘future-oriented’ lens.

Indeed, this feeds well into the fifth theme of continuous learning.  The NZC speaks of creating ‘life-long learners’, and many schools have adopted this into their vision for their students.  However, equally, teachers must see themselves as ‘life-long learners’ – and not just in terms of their specific knowledge, or learning, area, but of pedagogy as well.  “21st century teachers need to be able to think about knowledge as a tool to do things with” (p. 46).  This strikes me as being akin to the extended abstract end of the SOLO taxonomy that Marsden has been working with for a number of years.  Teachers, with their subject-specific expertise need themselves to be able to think in a meta-cognitive kind of way about their subject and the ways in which the knowledge can be accessed, categorised, and linked.

Finally (for now ;)) is the sixth theme of forging community partnerships.  I like the two-fold rationale here –  firstly around providing authentic learning contexts, but also because these school-community connections will help to stimulate “real community understanding of and support for future-oriented ideas” which will be needed “if schools are to achieve the required shift in focus” (p. 49)

This (along with the previous blog post) form my reflection on the six themes outlined.  There’s still a wee bit more to go, so bear with me as I explore the final ten pages…!

Future Learning Framework

As I’ve blogged about before, I really like this framework as an overview of future (or 21st Century) learning skills.  So, I thought I would have an initial play with the framework and adapt it to better suit the context in which I work.

Thus, it reflects the New Zealand Curriculum, particularly its values and key competencies, as well as the Marsden pillars.  Because the framework is very much a first draft (if for no other reason that my techie skills are pretty darn limited and it just doesn’t look that good), I’ve also thrown into one corner three verbs that I’m playing with as words that I feel best reflect the various visions and values and goals that Marsden articulates.

I’d really welcome feedback, advice and suggestions – I reiterate that this is very much at a fledging stage, and may yet be used only for myself as I conduct some teaching as inquiry into my own pedagogy and classroom practice.  Just putting my work and thoughts out there…  So, what do you think?

DRAFT Marsden Future Learning Framework

Shapes

I had a fellow teacher friend who was really interested in the area of gifted and talented education.  He completed a paper in it, and as he was studying, he joked that all he needed was to find a new shape to present the same ideas in, market it as something new, and hey presto!  Millions!  Now, I don’t think for a minute that that’s true, but it does seem that teachers and educators like their shapes, models, scaffolds, frameworks or (new take on same thing) infographics.

Cynicism aside, the framework below is actually one I think that has the best potential.  What I particularly like, and what I think will have resonance for the staff at my school, is that it does acknowledge the ‘traditional’ subject areas that high schools are generally still quite committed to.  I also like that I can see where our NCEA and formalised assessment slots in.  Furthermore, I think there is clear potential to use the words of our school’s vision to adapt to our specific context.  It’s a great find.

Framework for 21st Century Learning

Futures Thinking

Notes from Claire Amos’ “Futures Thinking and The Future of Education”

Video presentation: Futures Thinking, accessed 5/11/13

The best summary of the themes and strands I’ve been observing as I’ve researched.  Claire Amos has done it again!

Common Assumptions about 21st Century Learning

Skills needed:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Information and media fluency

Therefore, Pedagogy needs to shift:

  • Complex communication skills need to be taught, including the development of information and digital fluencies
  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills need to be taught explicitly
  • We need to provide opportunities for collaboration – both face to face and online
  • There needs to be increasing self-direction to encourage creativity and innovation – a move towards student-centred learning

In summary, we need a pedagogy which is at times self-directed, inquiry based, problem-base, personalised yet collaborative, which is supported by blended/digital structures

To achieve this, there needs to be three shifts:

  1. From low level to high level thinking
  2. From analogue to digital
  3. From teacher-directed to student-directed

“Critical thinking, digitally rich and increasing levels of self-direction, will ensure we are developing students who can survive in the knowledge age and flourish in the age of hyperchange.”

We will also therefore need future-focused leadership, which ultimately is change leadership.  The teaching as inquiry model of the New Zealand Curriculum is an effective model of change management.

An Afternoon with Ken

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

3 Principles that supports human life flourishing:

  1. Diversity – “kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents”
  2. Curiosity – “curiosity is the engine of achievement”
  3. Creativity – “one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop powers of creativity”

Other gems from this talk:

  • Great teachers “mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage”
  • “The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning” – there is difference between the task of teaching and the achieving of it, e.g. dieting.  You can be on a diet, but not be losing weight…!
  • There is a place for testing but it should not obstruct learning.  We currently have a culture of compliance rather than a culture of curiosity.
  • Case of Finland, where teaching and learning is individualised
  • Also places importance on the professional learning of teachers

It would be interesting to see what the New Zealand Curriculum says about these three principles.  My current understanding is that they are supported.  The intention behind the NZC is for schools to create their own curricula which are in line with the communities and students they serve.

The three principles are also ways to measure the benefit of new teaching practices.  Will they allow diversity, curiosity and creativity to flourish?

Universal Design for Learning

This is another concept which I need to spend more time thinking about – particularly: how does it relate to future learning principles?  However, I definitely agree with the idea of universal design for learning – that students should be able to show their understanding in a way that best suits them.  The principles of UDL seem to be around making knowledge accessible, and making the assessment fit the learning.  I think English as a subject is particularly well placed to do this – we might have more freedom in an English classroom to allow students to present in writing, orally, or visually.  This way we can assess both content knowledge and production skills.  Success criteria therefore need to be flexible, or perhaps even co-constructed with students.

I do think that there is a challenge (albeit not an insurmountable one) to balance the concept of universal design for learning against the demands of meeting NCEA assessment criteria.  Something we’re looking to try at Whitby next year is to focus on teaching key skills in the first half of the year, putting aside various pieces of student work as they go.  Then, in the second half of the year, these pieces can be crafted into items for assessment, playing to the strengths students have exhibited.  It will be interesting to monitor how this approach works towards meeting the needs of students.

As I came to appreciate at ULearn, and as this YouTube clip makes clear, it is about opening doorways for students – and technology has the power to do the same.  Technology can be used to make knowledge accessible to students, and it can be used to help students show their understanding in a way that best suits them.  The New Zealand Curriculum talks about ‘diversity’, and some of the reading I’ve started to do unpacks this idea to not just be about catering to students from diverse backgrounds, and not just a diversity of learning styles, as UDL can do, but it’s also about coping with and managing a diversity of ideas.  In this way technology can be both a boon and a burden.  Perhaps this is also where TPACK and careful, clever learning design comes into play – providing a specific context but flexible success criteria so that students don’t flounder and lose their way.

Today I gave my Year 8 students an independent reading assignment.  Within reason, they can choose their own fiction book to complete the assignment on, and while I have given them a range of activities and questions to complete in relation to their chosen text, I have set them the challenge of finding a creative and original way to present their final product.  They can complete it in their exercise book, as a poster, as a blog, as a podcast, as a YouTube video…it’s up to them.  The girls have embraced the idea and are hugely enthusiastic.  And while, yes, it will be interesting to see the final products, at least it has them excited about learning, and they feel they can attack the task.  And perhaps that’s a real benefit of trialling something like universal design for learning.