Why would I send my child to secondary school?

You don’t have to believe in the lazy education is broken meme to think that there’s something wrong with the way we educate young people. As someone who worked for seven years as a teacher and senior leader in schools I’m not just some guy who has a view on education: I’ve seen what it looks and feels like behind the scenes in both ‘outstanding” and ‘failing’ schools.

I want to make it clear that nothing I’m about to say has anything to do with the role, status or professionalism of teachers. As I’ve said many a time, most teachers I’ve ever come across do a fantastic job and are dedicated and hard-working. My target here is, specifically, the English education ‘system’ (if we can even call it that).

It’s also important to bear in mind that I’m not talking about my own choices as a parent here, but rather me qua parent. The question I’m asking isn’t “should I homeschool my child?” but rather, “how should we as a society educate young people?” It’s a symptom of our age that the former is always assumed whenever I bring it up. Individualism and the logic of the market seems to pervade everything these days.

I’m also going to be setting aside the purpose of education for the moment. Going into any depth here would make this into either an inordinately long post, or a series of posts. That’s not my aim and, in any case, I spent a couple of years exploring that question with Purpos/ed.


Secondary school is a huge waste of time. I mean that literally.

Let’s do the maths.

Many secondary schools I’ve taught in divide the day into six 50-minute lessons. Children go to school five days per week so that’s 5 x 6 x 50 = 1500 minutes (or 25 hours) in lessons. However, in terms of learning time, once we’ve factored in changeovers, settling, the costs of task-switching and routine tasks/admin, that’s probably down to 5 x 6 x 30 = 900 minutes (or 15 hours).

The way that people get better at things is through formative feedback. In other words, someone gives you timely advice on a thing you’ve just done and shows you how to improve it. That could be how to write persuasively or how to swing a tennis racquet. In a class of 30+ children formative feedback happens less often that we’d all like.

So, going back to the calculations, the learning that takes place in 15 hours per week with a 1:30 ratio could probably take place a lot more quickly and accurately with a 1:1 or 1:5 ratio. I’m well aware that the research on class sizes shows that numbers have to be cut dramatically to make a difference but with these kinds of ratios Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development starts kicking in on a regular basis. My son’s footballing skills came on a lot more during 16 hours in a small group during half-term than they would have done in 16 one-hour lessons within a large group over four months.

We can, and I believe should, organise learning differently. We could have smaller learning groups for 20 weeks per year and the other 20 weeks could be the equivalent of apprenticeships – putting those knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours into action. Or each week could be divided into two. Or they could do one week on, one week off. There’s many permutations.

I know I’m likely to get some pushback in the form of how important a role schools play in terms of socialisation. I get that. But I think it’s important to realise that, as parents, we seem to have outsourced learning and socialisation and conflated it with reliable babysitting to allow us to go to work. We’re missing the point by tinkering around the edges.

Having worked in schools with extremely poor pupil behaviour, I realise that this, too, is likely to be another objection. But then, behaviour is the responsibility of those who construct the environment as well as the actions of the individual. If we organised learning differently, in re-imagined spaces, then we’d probably get different kinds of behaviours.

In short, instead of asking what we need to do with schools to perpetuate what we’ve already got, perhaps we should be thinking about the society we want to create for our children when they grow up. All I’m asking for is a rethink. There’s no point in adding epicycles. Iteration is all well and good but, to begin with, you have to be heading in the right direction.


If you haven’t already read Will Richardson’s book Why School? I’d recommend it as a short read that fleshes out some of the points I’ve made above. Also, Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Animate on Changing Education Paradigms is a must-see on just how crazy the system has become. Once that’s whetted your appetite, then dive into Prof. Keri Facer’s marvellous Learning Futures. 🙂

Image CC BY-NC-SA donnamarijne

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Profit: the purpose of education? [GETideas.org]

I had the good fortune to bump into Lucy Gray at the DML Conference in Chicago back in March. She asked if I’d write something for GETideas.org, “the community for education leaders”. Slightly belatedly I’ve duly obliged and the post below is now published on the site.

I believe education to be public good, as something that profits the children’s mind, body and soul – not as something that should lead to financial profit for large corporates. I want teachers to do things in the classroom with an eye on my children’s learning and development, not on making sure they can pass a performance review in order to meet their mortgage payments.

Schools can, and probably should, be run in line with some business principles. But allowing schools to ‘go to the wall’ (as has been suggested in some quarters) because of the vagaries of the market sounds horrendous. Schools are places where human interactions should take place, not financial transactions.

Read the post in full here: Profit: the purpose of education?

Many thanks to Lucy for the invitation to contribute! 🙂

Jenga

Why educational reform is like Jenga.

I’ve just been playing Jenga with my six year-old son and it struck me how it’s a partial analogy for how educational reform (or any kind of reform, for that matter) works.

If you remember, the aim in Jenga is to build the highest tower possible by removing bricks from lower down the stack. Eventually the whole thing becomes so unstable that someone makes a false move and it collapses.

When educational reform moves quickly it might look like things are getting better by some ‘objective measure’ (e.g. height of tower / PISA results) but significant gaps can be left. Unless these gaps are backfilled, the whole thing is in danger of falling down.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect analogy as it presupposes a finite number of bricks of a uniform shape and size. And it also assumes everyone’s trying to play the ‘game’ by the same rules…

Image CC BY-NC-SA jose.jhg

 

rigid

On ‘rigour’ in definitions of digital and web literacy.

Update: For the latest information on the Web Literacy standard work, head to http://mzl.la/weblitstd


TL;DR version: If we define rigour as something that’s ‘unchanging’ and ‘objective’ then it’s almost impossible to be ‘rigorous’ about digital and web literacy. Instead, I propose that instead of being rigorous that we’re relevant, even if that’s at the expense of some objectivity.


Here’s an interesting one. I occasionally get corralled into Twitter conversations as someone who knows about something or other. Today, it was Miles Berry after being asked why the new draft National Curriculum should include ‘digital literacy’. The assumption by his interlocutor (Bruce Nightingale) was that in order for a subject to be included in a programme of study it should be ‘rigorously defined’ with a ‘body of knowledge’ behind it.

When I asked whether rigour means ‘has a definition everyone agrees on’ Bruce pointed me towards this blog post by Jenny Mackness on ‘academic rigour’. The conversation quickly became too nuanced to do justice in 140-character bursts, hence this follow-up blog post. I hope Bruce has time to reply.

In Jenny’s post she talks about finding definitions of ‘academic rigour’ unsatisfactory. I’d suggest that’s because it’s a kind of Zeugma, an ambiguous term. But let’s just focus upon ‘rigour’. The Oxford English Dictionary (probably the best place to resort when faced with knotty problems of definition) gives the etymology of ‘rigour’ as:

Etymology:  < Anglo-Norman and Middle French rigour, Middle French rigeur, rigueur (French rigueur ) inflexible severity, severity, harshness (12th cent. in Old French), strict application (of laws) (13th cent.), feeling of tingling or prickling (a1365 in medical context), (in plural) repressive measures (15th cent.), cruelty (15th cent.), harshness that is difficult to bear (end of the 15th cent., of cold, etc.), exactitude, precision (1580) and its etymon classical Latin rigor unbending quality, stiffness, rigidity, numbness, numbness of the body in fever, unyielding hardness, frozen condition, quality of being stiffly erect, tautness, inflexibility, sternness, severity, uncouthness < rig?re to be stiff (see rigent adj.) + -or -or suffix. Compare Old Occitan rigor (1461), Catalan rigor (14th cent.), Spanish rigor (13th cent.), Portuguese rigor (14th cent.), Italian rigore (a1320).

I can’t help but think when I see words like ‘harshness’, ‘cruelty’, ‘exactitude’, ‘precision’, ‘rigidity’ and ‘inflexibility’ that we’re using the wrong word here. Applying such stringent measures to an ambiguous term like ‘digital literacy’ is problematic as ‘digital’ pertains to many different referents. To talk of rigour (as defined above), then, is verging on the ridiculous.

But does a lack of rigour around a subject, topic or idea make it less valuable? I’d suggest not. Instead, I’d suggest it’s the terminology we’re using that’s problematic. Let’s take another example: the idea of academic ‘impact’. What, exactly, does that mean? You may well be able to draw up a framework or points for this or that, rewarding academics for performing certain activities and publishing in various places. But what about obvious areas of ‘impact’ that lie outside of that rigid framework? Rigour does not mean relevancy. Sometimes the problem is with the tools you are using rather than the thing you are trying to describe. It’s OK for things to be nebulous and slightly intangible.

Having spent several years of my adult life delving into the murky world of new literacies I’d suggest that (for example) helping young people learn how to use digital devices, how to think computationally, and how to stay safe online are extremely relevant things to be doing. Can we boil these activities down to things to be learned once for all time? Of course not. It’s hard enough when you’ve got a single referent (e.g. the Web)

So, in conclusion, I’ll see your definition of ‘rigour’ and raise you a ‘relevance’. Not everything that is valuable can be measured objectively. Nor should it be.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Josh Clark

www

Towards a Web Literacy standard: (3) Who?

Update: For the latest information on the Web Literacy standard work, head to http://mzl.la/weblitstd


TL;DR version:  Mozilla is working with the community to define a new learning standard for Web Literacy. Who should be involved? Anyone that’s interested, but certainly organizations developing learning activities around web skills, as well as those teaching and facilitating in formal or informal education. More here: http://mzl.la/weblitstd


Posts in this series:

  1. Introduction
  2. What? Why?
  3. Who?
  4. How?

In the first post of this series I revealed Mozilla’s intention to work with the community on defining a new, open learning standard for Web Literacy. In the second post of the series I explained what we mean by an ‘open learning standard’ and why, in fact, we need one. In this third post I want to look at who should be involved in this kind of work.

It’s important to say, of course, that anyone can be involved. Even if your job or responsibilities outside of work have nothing to do with teaching and learning the Web, that doesn’t matter. If you’re interested in what we’re doing then you’re definitely welcome and your voice matters. On the flip side, even if standards are your job/thing this might interest you. And that’s OK.

There are some obvious candidates of those who should come along to the kick-off online gathering this Thursday at 11am EST and/or get involved in the discussion group. The first of these would be representatives of organisations producing activities that allow learners to ‘level-up’ in their web skills. The value of being involved for this group of people is that they get to map their work onto a framework that both potentially eases their workload and surfaces their offerings to more learners.

Another group of people who should get involved are those who teach in a formal context. These may be teachers in schools where they want to deliver Web-related learning activities as part of the curriculum; it may mean lecturers in universities who want to ‘break down the walls’ of their classes and enable students to participate from wherever they’re based; it may be mentors in hospitals or prisons where improved Web skills allows learners to connect with others outside of their (fairly static context). We’re interested in a Web Literacy standard informing work in all of these – and other – formal contexts.

A third group of people we think should be involved in helping define a new, open learning standard for Web Literacy are those involved with informal education. This is a wide and diverse group of people including (for example) Scout Leaders, after-school club leaders, and CoderDojo mentors. Instead of the (fantastic) activities already being organised remaining in silos, they can be joined up in meaningful learning pathways or playlists. This can allow learners to go to a wide range of places to level up in their Web Literacy skills.

The great thing about bringing people together as we are around this new, open learning standard for Web Literacy is that it surfaces great work already being done by people. I’m very much looking forward to Thursday and the great conversations that start there.

Join us! 🙂

Image CC BY http://heretakis.com

Some Thoughts on Interest-based Pathways to Learning. [DMLcentral]

I’ve been waiting a while to have this published so I’m really glad that my latest article for DMLcentral is now up. Entitled Some Thoughts on Interest-based Pathways to Learning I look at ways in which learning can be driven by interests rather than compulsion – at least for informal education. It’s definitely linked to my last post about online peer assessment.

Please do leave comments over at DMLcentral. I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to do just that!

MOOCs, online education and the rights of learners.

I’m currently in Los Angeles for three days of Open Badges-related workshops and meetings. Yesterday’s meeting was a conversation about ‘the future of badges’ with such luminaries as John Seely Brown, Cathy Davidson, Connie Yowell, and David Theo Goldberg in attendance. Also there was a representative from Udacity, a provider of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as well as a good number of my colleagues at Mozilla. The meta level of the conversation was almost too much for my jetlagged-addled brain to cope with at times!

One of the things that Cathy Davidson mentioned during the meeting was a Learner Bill of Rights that is currently available in draft form. The introduction states:

We believe that online learning represents a powerful and potentially awe-inspiring opportunity to make new forms of learning available to all students worldwide, whether young or old, learning for credit, self-improvement, employment, or just pleasure.

[…]

And we worry that this moment is fragile, that history frequently and painfully repeats itself. Think of television in the 1950s or even correspondence courses in the 1920s. As we begin to experiment with how novel technologies might change learning and teaching, powerful forces threaten to neuter or constrain technology, propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones.

All too often, during such wrenching transitions, the voice of the learner gets muffled. For that reason, we feel compelled to articulate the opportunities for students in this brave electronic world, to assert their needs and–we dare say–rights.

If you click through to the Google Doc (it’s also on Github) you’ll see that I’ve made a few comments. If you care about online education – cMOOCs, xMOOCs or otherwise – then you should add your voice.


Related things to which you may want to pay attention:

Image CC BY VinothChandar