Friday, June 26, 2009

Even more on national standards...

In a book I read (I'll paraphrase) it describes how a group of teachers invited a writer to talk to them about reading and writing and one of the teachers asked the writer, "What do we do if a child doesn't learn to read?" and the writer replied "First, love them."

When I first read this it brought tears to my eyes. Because it is true. But also because I know it is true but as a teacher, and a school administrator, I never said it out loud. Love is the most important ingredient in learning to read.

Anne Tolley needs to visit some classes where there is love in the room. She needs to hear what the teachers in these rooms think about National Standards.

I want to ask her: What mother says to her child, "I love you - but you don't come up to scratch"? And I want to say: How can you ask a teacher to say to a six-year-old "You don't meet the National Standard"? Because I think the harm you do is greater than whatever good you might do in saying to even 100 other kids "You did meet the standard."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

more on national standards...

I think we should be less concerned about league tables and more concerned about what the "data" does to kids - and teachers.

"Does not meet the standard" is not a very nice label for a six year old. Nor does it tell a parent (or the kid for that matter) what may be wrong (if anything) or why.

Does the State have the right to set a "standard" that 25% - 40% of kids may never reach, and then label them as not meeting the standard? Should we start sewing yellow stars on their shirts?

The whole thrust of the new curriculum (and educational thinking over the last 50 years) is an attempt to meet the variety of needs that present themselves in school. The effect the standards will have is to standardise what we teach, not raise achievement, or encourage us to meet the diverse needs of children in our school. As someone wiser than me said, the quickest way to make a non-reader is to say, "You aren't very good at reading," make them all anxious about it, so they give up. Six is the perfect age to do this if you want to create non-readers.

Good teachers - excellent teachers - particularly of 5 year-olds - feel oppressed by the whole notion of National Standards. Anne Tolley needs to hear their voices and see the standards as a constraint on good teaching, not a tool for raising achievement.

BTW - Who in National has ever been a teacher? Wasn't Brownlee a woodwork teacher once? He'd know about measuring achievement, wouldn't he? Didn't Anne Tolley run motels? Don't both Key and English send their own children to private schools? Does this say anything about their faith in public education?

Don't we need National Standards for politicians?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

So what's wrong with national standards?

There is a report in today's Nelson Mail about the MOE consultation meeting on the national standards held in Nelson yesterday and it gives space to several principals and teachers to express their universal dislike of the standards.

Boy, these pedagogues need better sound-bites if Joe Public is going to understand the issues. Don Mclean's "measuring kids doesn't make them taller" is the best but really it still misses the point.

The point is that kids come in a variety of sizes and having a standard "height" for 6-year-olds is absurd. Someone will always come up short - not meet the standard. There will always be a distribution of height, weight - or achievement. Go find your Plunket book. If you set a standard "height", all those short kids get hurt and resentful, and their parents fret, when it's just normal for some people to be shorter (or just grow slower).

The thing we might agree on is that New Zealand has a long tail of underachievers. Will national standards shorten this tail? I don't think so. The factors that contribute to under achievement are complex and varied. If it was just good teaching that produced high achievement then good teachers and good schools wouldn't have a range of achievement - everyone would be high achievers. I know this is not true. Good teachers and good schools still have a range of achievement, even when other factors that influence achievement are weeded out (poverty, parents' education level, etc).

Politicians seeking simple answers to complex problems will always be a problem. National standards for politicians - now there's an idea...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Photography lesson for teachers

Rule 1: Engage your brain. You need to think to take a good photo. You don't need the best equipment, good photographers can take wonderful photos with a soda can and a pinhole.

Rule 2: Turn off the flash. The flash will make your photos look flat. Most digital cameras will take an acceptable photo in natural light in a classroom.

Rule 3: Be deliberate. Those old guys with glass plate cameras couldn't waste a shot so they took lots of care about framing, focus, foreground, background, etc. And their photos are better than yours because of it. Beware of the snapshot. Lots of bad photos do not make a good photo.

Rule 4: Don't stand the subject in front of the window. Have the window behind you. Move the subject over so something darker than they are is behind them.

Rule 5: Don't stand the subject up against the wall. Move the wall several metres behind the subject. Beware of poles and trees growing out of their heads. It might look OK in 3D but photos are 2D and a tree growing out of your head is not a good look.

Rule 6: Bend your knees. If you are taking a photograph of children, get down to their level, or below.

Rule 7: Take a look at the background. Is it interesting? Would it be a good photo without the subject in it? If not, move the subject. The background becomes more important in 2D.

Rule 8: Often the first photo in a series is the best. Go figure.

Rule 9: Frame your shot in the viewfinder. Get in closer. Bend those knees. Never cut off the subjects hands or feet. Having hands in the photo is better than no hands.

Rule 10: Take a look at the photos you take. Do they suck? Why do they suck? Try not to do that next time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why clip art still sucks...

I've just visited the most appalling classroom blog. The teacher has discovered slideshows and clip art and has added these to their blog. What they really need is a lesson in web design.

The blog now has a slideshow with floaty flowers swimming all around over the photos and it just looks naff. The kids artwork might be quite good but you can't see it (they need photography lessons too). Then there is the new blog "background" imported from some other site - monkeys with bananas!

Now this isn't just a matter of aesthetics or taste. This stuff sends important messages to kids about what is "good" and that their own stuff needs tarting up before it's any good, and that "fluff" is cool and "teacher approved". And all this is wrong. BAN THE FLUFF. Value the kids' creativity, which is so much better than the commercial monkeys and floating flowers. Teachers must teach this, model it. No clipart in our school, ever. No superfluous borders and other crap.

Worry about the content. Ask the students, "What are you saying, what are you showing? Is is quality? How do you know?" These are thinking skills. The thinking skills we neglect, unfortunately. Critical judgement.