ResearchEd review of presentations

Praxis – a new platform to promote professional development through research inquiry.
Chris Brown A teacher of Science as well as an academic research at Cambridge University
 
Speaker discusses a possible mechanism for enhancing teacher led researcher into the classroom. The website Praxis has been developed to act as a forum for teacher research to be shared across a wider field as well as facilitating access and engagement in the praxis reflective cycle.
 
My Thoughts – What is being suggested is anecdotal and highly subjective due to large discrepancy on how individual research is conduct and reviewed. Therefore, work is valueless as no institutions will accredit or validate findings. Teachers do not feel valued when completing this kind of research. We need close, working, academic relationships with educational researchers. 
 
Chain effects? Impacts of academy chains on performance of disadvantaged students. 
Becky Francis, educational and statistical researcher at kings college.
 
A systematic review of academy chains from 2012 to 2015, measuring impact on disadvantaged pupils relative to peers in  mainstream schools. Conclusion, in general more academy chains are having a negative effect on the progress of their students in comparison to mainstream (LEA led schools). How did this situation arise? Many academy chains were allowed to expand far too quickly on unjustified evidence. Why was this permitted? London chains, improved returns for pupils, therefore policy makers assumed that this would also be reflect for the rest of the UK. What happened? Policy makers did not anticipate the huge variation of context across the country.
 
My Thoughts – Concerning trend of acting too early due to the short time frames between the electoral period. The damage of these reforms is likely to exacerbate the educational inequality within communities as resources and students can no longer be evenly distributed. We need a context driven approach where teachers and schools let other know what they need.
 
Flip the system 
Rene Kneyber, teacher, policy consultant, academic researcher and author (He says, all teachers should have these options)
 
A theoretical and philosophical discussion about how our educational system should be structure. Speaker opens by showing a the EduPolitical system where all information, how to teach, learn and manage schools is all disseminated from the top. This results in the de-professionalisation of the teachers as they have no freedom or mobility to explore their role. Therefore, in general returns for students are poor. Rene suggests that ,like Holland, the UK needs an educational system that is informed by those people stood at the chalk board who understand the context. When they ask or identify weakness, leaders then respond and government does what it can to support them. Subsequently, bring professionalism back to profession and empowering all teachers to take ownership of their own profession because what they do has real value.
 
My Thoughts – An inspiring speaker who made the point very clear. If education is so subjective and context specific, what we need is information directly from the chalk board. So, why are there no teachers currently in the whitehall to inform policy? I feel a bit tired of listening to the continual changes to the educational system which come from political ideologies as opposed to what is need in the class.
 
Using behavioural insights to improve education 
Raj Chande, researcher at PhD students for the behaviour team.
 
Research identifies how small changes in the patterns of behaviour can result in huge returns. The behaviour teacher have recently focused on sending a text home to parents when there child has an assessment coming up a week later. They found that simply sending a text home to parents saw performance increase by 10-20%. So, simply texting parents to let them know there son or daughter has an assessment costing £2 saw progress accelerate by 2 months, with greater returns for low ability students. 
 
My Thoughts – Very inspirational speaker who showed the power of changing the small things. The investment required per pupil to receive the level of gains that were being made was very impressive. I am dubious as to who is going to take the administrative role of the whole process. 
 
The five big policy changes for the new government 
Sam Freedman, Senior advisor to Michael Gove and Executive director at Teach First.
 
  • Resources: £3 Billion cuts to schools funding over 5 years. LEAs will disappear, early years and 16-19 interventions squeezed the hardest and will most likely disappear.
  • Infrastructure: More regional school commissioners – targets more academies and chains, lift coasting schools, not sure on other roles yet. Results so far suggest that they have had a poor impact.
  • Teacher supply: Teacher shortage, falling grad numbers, weak wages in education push potential teachers elsewhere. Crude incentives system which does’t support recruitment or retention. Student loans for PGCE is wasted money, all training should be free.
  • Leadership: 50% of heads will retire in the next 10 years. No good training provided to train people to become outstanding heads.
  • Expertise: Lack of quality professional development, teaching has suffered massive de-professionalisation. Lack of management training means people squeeze rather than effective manage makes working conditions worse. 
My Thoughts – High expectations, no resources; a dwindling recruitment field which lacks the ability to produce future leaders. Not great, expect to be squeezed as 25% of the education budget is being wiped away! Every school will feel this. 
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Bringing meaning to the purpose of academies

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The logic behind Academies

Free Will is what most believe to be the ability to actively engage and change the world around you and for most we believe that we have a conscious ability to be so. True conscious ability, as I have written about before, is not as conscious and we have first thought. History, society and education all influence how our conscious develops and the perceptions of which we take from the world. The idea that our perceptions of the world might not be are’s, but could possibly be the influenced by the interests of someone else feels very dehumanising. Yet, how society allows others to be educated is exactly this. Forced curriculum, denial of ‘truly free’ choice and the expectations that all individuals will ultimately finish education looking identical.

The true humanist education is one where an individual is provided with the opportunity of choice, reflection and action. To exist in a society where we are free to make our own decision is one where we believe that we to play a part in influencing the community and world at large. Yet, this freedom is only given to most during their adult years. So, if you live a quarter of your life without choice, reflection and action will you ever consciously engage with these? Or will your perspective and the decisions you make reflect those that you have been given?

Progressive education, originating in the late 19th century, was developed to educate students to be prepared for the world of the future. In doing so there was a focus on developing a critically engaged individuals who was educated with the skills to, communicate, evaluate, understand, reflect and take action in response to the world around them. This supported a person to have the ability to make a free, conscious, choice.

The purpose of Academies

If we want a humanist education then we must provide opportunities for a person to develop a critical consciousness and develop their own perspective on the world. However, this can only occur if we provide a person with the opportunity to make critically informed choices. Steve Hilton argues for this type of education in his new book. To paraphrase, if we know, and want, every individual to be their own person then shouldn’t we be pushing for schools that provide a spectrum of opportunities (schools ranging from traditional forms of education to forms of highly progressive education, to everything in-between, subjects specialists etc) for students to chose from?

Primary Focus

The primary focus of academies is to remove power from central government and deliver this to the local communities. Stakeholders of the community are able to influence the people they develop in their small section of society as well as offering a greater diversity of schooling experiences, this drive genuinely empowers a community to become involved. To increase community engagement and support local industry, charities and other organisation are encouraged to invest into these schools to support their development. Yet, investments come with the reflections of interests. For example, a type of education that would support individuals working at their company. However, is it in a companies interest to provide a spectrum of opportunities? Would a management consultants really need their staff to have an understanding of art history?

The picture of private investment into academies does not reflect the ideal from which they were established on. How money moves in society is largely dependent on the interest of those who control most of it. An example of pre-academy influence is the investment into the Arts, in particular music, where a local authority spent £1.15 per child in the community during 2012. As a society we rank subjects and value them based on their relative commercial use in the future, with the arts featuring near the bottom. When thinking about the number of arts based big businesses willing to invest into schools the number is ‘surprisingly’ low. This might mean that unregulated business investment could begin to warp the spectrum of schools we want to see.

Distorting academy success

Academies are proven to enhance the educational outcomes of their students (2), but abuse of this is causing a widening gap in inequality. Under the Labour government only schools that were disadvantaged became academies. However, under new reforms any school in any community can now convert into an academy, this was typically high performing schools (5) which were not disadvantaged. In doing so the positive returns, originally identified in academies, will deliver better results for the most advantaged, reinforcing the inequality gap (2).

It is always dangerous to assume that correlation implies causation, but recent party changes now means that all underperforming schools are to become academies, this goes against the founding principle. The autonomy which we want to see in our schools will be replaced by the pressures of adhering to forced engagement where the investors and the recipients of funding have conflicting visions on what they want to achieve for their community. Therefore, supporting a very general education. (Solution for profit academies (3)). Therefore, it could be dangerous to assume that forced academisation will result in success. Previous success has only arisen after careful and thoughtful negotiations.

Academy applications

The current changes in the present economic situation in the country is financially squeezing schools to become academies, as opposed to schools selecting increased autonomy. An in-house review of the academy application process identified,

“There was no dominant main reason for conversion but the most frequently cited were: to raise educational standards; to obtain more funding for front-line education; and to gain greater freedom to use funding as you see fit.” (DoE, 2012)

This notion simply reinforces schools are experiencing funding constraints, rather than innovating, the academy system offers an opportunity to alleviate these restrictions or innovation by efficiency. This contradicts the fundamental changes we hope for. So are academies really improving by authentically innovating or are we just seeing an improvement in the efficiency of teaching methods as a result of enhanced funding? (For example, larger SEN departments, more resources, easter revision etc.)

Conclusion, but by no means the end of discussion

It is clear that the original autonomy that was envisaged for our academies, which did originally work, have been stripped away and streamlined to a one size fits all. Financial constraints and the reflection of business interests is twisting our schools to make cuts and innovations through efficiency as opposed to actually genuinely creating a 21st century education.  This started as a great vision, but we have ended up sacrificing the power of choice and free will of the next generation as a result of politics and funding restraints. Is it worth it?

References – (1) Paraphrased from Radio 4 Archive Opinions on Philosophy

(2) http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/cp325.pdf

(3) http://schoolsweek.co.uk/there-arent-enough-academy-sponsors-for-coasting-schools-so-why-not-let-for-profit-providers-try/

(4) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/187560/DFE-32058-2012.pdf

(5) http://www.newschoolsnetwork.org/what-are-free-schools/free-school-news/education-select-committee-optimistic-about-impact-of Further reading https://www.croydon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/articles/downloads/academies.pdf

Education is what remains when you have forgotten everything

“Education is what remains when you have forgotten everything”person-optical-illusions-018

What do you perceive?

Perceptions on the world are dependent on how we process the information which enters through one’s senses. The analysis of this information is dependent on a predetermined subconscious response. We are not aware of how we are perceiving a scenario because this analysis is ingrained, intrenched and programmed through systematic conditioning to the world around us. Yet, this conflicts with our perspective of ourselves. It conflicts because we believe that all decisions are independent. We are aware that our conscious feels transient, or not real and it doesn’t feel as if “someone else” can influence it, because of this trait. So, if we are unaware about how we perceive the objective is it possible to ‘truly’ perceive the objective?

To truly perceive the objective suggests that every observer will be able to view the subject and remove the same inference. Therefore a person has to be told how to think, leading them to build the same conclusion as someone else. For example, didactic education means that information is pre-digested and regurgitated to students, removing true conscious engagement and only enables thinking by the means of someone else. Yet, this isn’t always the case. Art shows a physical expression of a perspective, but observers take a variety of inferences. These inferences are influenced by historical and societal experiences that influence how they perceive the objective. Therefore, our perspectives on the world are based on the experiences in our life to date. But isn’t this a false dichotomy? The very nature of development results from predetermined thinking, so thought can never be truly authentic.

It’s at this moment of realising this paradox that true conscious thinkers are able to influence how a society cultivates thinking within itself. If how we think is based on prior experiences, then are experiences should be free from the thoughts and influences of others. Therefore, we should be provided with opportunities to build our own understanding of the world, by solving our own problems, investigating our own questions and developing our own method of understanding the information that we are processing. But, there are limits to this. We cannot freely learn to walk, talk and operate in society without guidance. Therefore, during our development a balance must be struck between opportunities for free thought and guidance when learning basic grammar, we must be able to interpret the grammar through which we require to transform the world. So, what is required from education?

Education should be an environment where individuals are encourage to critically evaluate, solve problems and bring meaning to their own questions about the world and the reality which surrounds them. Assessments and exams should be a thing of the past, they are a means to quantify attainment they do not provide an opportunity to develop as an individual. Will we be able to assess students? Not quantitatively. Will we be able to quantify what our students look like? Probably not. We should see education as the qualitative development of individuals who will be able transform the world around. Through the freedom of their own thoughts students will be empowered, independent and leaders of their own world.

Holding onto the Future – The power of liberation, The power of education

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Holding onto the Future, Antony Gormley (1987).

One is looking at a mould of a man holding an in descript mould. The mould in the foreground has potential to become something and this possibility it holds is being clung onto. This represents how insecure we are of our futures, these insecurities derive from a man’s inability to determine their own future. Gormley, when critiquing this work, quotes Joseph Boyd, “The man doesn’t yet know who he is, we must invent him.” The decision to do so suggests that the observer has the power to change this man’s future. So, do we not have an autonomous, self-determined future?

When realising the true fragility our own futures we begin to turn to others to prepare a mould for us to cling onto. The drive, ambition and autonomy of making these decisions for ourselves is removed and success is only possible in the eyes of the observer. This renders an individual powerless unless given the opportunity to be successful, by a liberated individual. Why are we so dependent on a system where our futures are not ours, but decision and reflections of others?

The power of liberation, the power of education.

Freedom from prescribed thoughts and behaviours is a doctrine that many believe is already given to them. But, much of our society and educational system is already predetermined and reflective of the interests of the liberated few, not the masses. The power that education can bring to an individual is unrivalled:

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” (Paulo Freire, 1996)

So, what we appear to have is an educational system that reflects the interests of a conformist society where the young are integrated into society. We only have to refer to innovations, movements and liberations to understand the positive power free thought provides society with. This is not to suggest that every person is going to radical change the world we live in. Yet, it will provide a society where everyone knowingly contributes. To build an educational system where we strive to liberate and produce radical individuals who all have the power to determine their own future is a just system.

Changes to education

Disproportionate emphasis on the importance of academic attainment has generated unnecessary focus on one aspect of what it means to be a human. This focus implies that we no longer look to educate people, but to generate the most reliable data to support our ideals of “Education”. This doesn’t reflect the requirements of being a radical thinker:

“The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” (Paulo Freire, 1996).

Recent shifts in education are decoupling from a sole focus on academic performance and looking more at what we want our student to look and be like in the future. Movements towards character education are promising they already show evidence of developing individuals who care about themselves and their lives (EIF, 2015). These humanist approaches suggest we are moving in the right direction of developing well round educated individuals. We must be careful not to view the development of character in terms of reliable data, because you can not quantify a person. Is this enough to create liberated individuals who have the power to determine their own futures?

Unfortunately not… (I’ll be blogging about this next time).

References
Paulo Freire, 1996 – Pedagogy of the Oppressed
EIF, 2015 – http://www.eif.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Social-and-Emotional-Learning-Final-Report-1.pdf
Why is know one ever told this at school:
Baz Luhrmann – “Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind; The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself”

Knowledge is the Key

knowledge-exchange

Knowledge is the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. The benefit of having knowledge is one’s ability to apply this knowledge to abstract scenarios. For example, a satirical comedian applies their knowledge of current affairs for comic value. When problem solving a lack of knowledge will render the problem unsolvable. In both cases, a poor understanding of the knowledge required will result in poor mastery.

The cognitive stuff

“Make it Stick” (Brown et. al; 2014) is possibly the most influential educational book that I, and many others in the educational world, have read. It provides a understanding of how we learn, linking cognitive neuroscience to classroom practice.

The book focuses on:

Learning is misunderstanding – Generating an enhanced of self-awareness, what do I know and not know?
To Learn, Retrieve – Increasing retrievel and experiencing difficulties when retrieving information enhances retention.
Mix Up Your Practice – Cramming doesn’t work, practice multiple skills, subjects and activites simultaneously.
Embrace Difficulties – The more difficult it is to recall information the better.
Avoid Illusions of Knowing
Get Beyond Learning Styles
Increase Your Abilities –
Make It Stick

My teaching, before reading making it stick was episodical, regimented and centred around the teachers performance. This made in the moment learning, known as encoding, a priority. But, despite outstanding lessons, student progress at the end of a unit on knowledge would always be good, but not outstanding. The power of retrieval, highlighted in Brown’s book, stands out as the most effective tool to develop mastery in a subject.

Recollection of information is, “on-the-fly reconstruction of elements scattered throughout various areas of our brains.” (Mastin; 2010). Thus, the difficulties associated with memory recollection is one’s ability to piece together the jigsaw of random memories that scattered throughout one’s brain. If we can enhance the process of constructing these puzzles then we can enhance recollection and mastery.

A study by Brown et al (2005) on the effects of frequent testing show its benefits. For those students who recalled knowledge on a regular basis retained more information over a six week period in comparison to the control group. So, by increasing the demand on pupils to recall information increases the retention of knowledge. In simple, what can be done in the classroom?

Recollection focused activities.

Crossword, simple question based game – Fun, simple, engaging and solely focused on incorporating enjoyment with recollection of information.

Who, what, when, where, why, how. – An opening activity that provides students with an opportunity to discuss previously encoded information with their peers. This increases strength and neural density of connections between different hemispheres of the brain.

Google sheets – An online platform for students to complete prepared multiple choice questions on a certain topic (refer to Joe Kirby’s questioning techniques to increase rigour of questions). The students can view the responses of the entire class, this information can be used by the students as a form of reflection or by the teacher to inform future practice.

Weekly quiz. When visiting Long Road Sixth Form College some great practice was being carried out. At the start of each week sixth form students would be expected to answer 10 questions that were linked to any lesson over the prior 4 weeks.

References:

Brown et. al. (2005) – Make it Stick

Mastin, 2010 – http://www.human-memory.net/processes_encoding.html).

Cultural Capital in Education – What can be done in the classroom

Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless.” (James Cash Penney). An educational example, “Yes, I understand what to do sir.”

The introduction of new theories, skills and attributes is difficult because students struggle to get to grips with practicing new theories. As an educator this is where the true value is added. So, how do we move from the theory of non-cognitive development to implementing it into practice?

From Policy to Practice

The continual debating by political panels, educational theorists or interjections from third parties leaves untested theories. The classroom teacher, unknown to them, has been involved in developing new policy. They are now expected to put this policy into practice. Like the students they will struggle, but in this case there is no one on hand to support them. The theory is forgotten as true mastery has not been attained. A reactive response develops to throw together evidence of practice. (For example, marking books in my PGCE and NQT year). So how do we support the implementation of non-cognitive development into the classroom?

Simple answer, bring teachers into policy development. Over the past month I have been involved in 4 different policy networking events, where the general theme has been on non-cognitive development in students. Buzz words were flying out left, right and center. Yet, every time I found myself able to relate to strategies used in the classroom, that exemplified the non-cognitive traits. Offering a critique to proposals based on evidence shifted the direction of conversation from the “policy buzzworder’s” to myself. This demonstrates the value of those in the classroom.

Implementing non-cognitive skills?

A Head teacher from a local school told me, “the schemes of work in their school center around the kind of people that would be successful in University or vocational qualifications” and backwards plans from this vision. When I am developing a scheme of work, I think about the non-cognitive skills and learning objectives I want the students to develop. For example, I have recently planned and finished a unit of work on Metals and their Reactivity. The non-cognitive focus is to develop independence, self-reflection and choice (I’ll be blogging about this next week). This was alongside the academic learning goals. By orientating yourself to focus on the kind of students you want, the activities begin to tailor themselves.But, failures, critiques, alterations and improvements have been important to support the reflective development of this teaching strategy.

This is where the problems lies, there is no accountability for non-cognitive development in the classroom. Therefore, the risk:benefit ratio is useless, because it not worth risking progress to develop new systems of non-cognitive learning. Consequently, teachers can not relate to the policy that is trying to be implemented and their opinions become less valued. It’s easy to see the paradox we are caught in. So where does this leave us?

College of teachers…

Cultural Captial in Education – Incorporation into policy

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I want my horse to drink to survive, but I can not force the horse to drink water. This is true in education, a teacher can establish a learning environment for a pupil to be successful, but can not force success into a pupil. There must be a want or desire to do so. So how do we develop desire?

The Problem

Policy makers only focus on observing feedback which shows the strongest or clearest correlation which implies causation. (“Rule 1 of stats club never talk about stats club. Rule 1 of stats club, correlation doesn’t imply causation”). For example, greater attendance results in better attainment. True, but as the Young Foundation (2012) identifies this does not identify the true value added. True values are the personal attributes a student develops to increase their attainment, perseverance, confidence or a want for success. Rarely have I heard of someone not wanting success and being successful, we all have a degree of consciousness. If high academic attainment links to high performance, and this to personal attributes, where in policy are we planning to develop this?

Simple answer, not at all.

Developing soft skills (Non-cognitive skills)

It is these skills that define who we are and how we behave and the futures we make for ourselves. The Young Foundation (2012), EPI (2014) and FEA (2015) all support the idea that the developing non-cognitive skills is crucial to underpin academic and life success.

Outcome Model example:

  • The outcome model links the benefits of developing an individual’s non-cognitive skills (intrinsic and extrinsic) with benefits for both them and society. (This seems like a win-win situations, there are limitations).
    • Individual achievements of behaviours – Want to develop key skills to build their own success.
    • Social and emotional capabilities – Core skills that allows the person to develop their own desires.
    • Inter-personal relationships – Good parents and community contributes.
    • Benefits to society – Strong independent individuals who are not reliant on the state to support their success.

So, if there is clear evidence what is being done to introduce these concepts into educational policy?

The difficulty is identifying a clear correlation between good non-cognitive skills and academic and life success. West (2014) published a conflicted study that shows no linked between the non-cognitive skills and academic performance. Yet, the Young Foundation (2012) has clear evidence to identify a positive relationship between student’s emotional well being and socio-economic background. Policy decisions based on qualitative information is not reassuring. But, after reading reams of threads and literature there is a body evidence all pointing in the same direction that can not be ignored.

Recommendations for policy

The future directions of policy need to make an active effort to collect data through longitudinal studies and develop tests to identify the non-cognitive development of an individual over time. Hold Ofsted (hopefully in the future a college of teachers) accountable for ensuring that schools have effective systems of developing non-cognitive skills within their pupils. By not doing anything, the power of a student to make their own decisions academically and later on in life will continually shift reliance and dependence on others for support. Establishing a link between non-cognitive skills and academic performance has never been more important in a developed society.

In the future all the horses will have the appropriate non-cognitive skills to see the importance of drinking. The same will be true for our education system, students who have a desire for success.

References

West (2014) – http://cepr.harvard.edu/cepr-resources/files/news-events/cepr-promise-paradox.pdf

Fair Education Alliance (2015) – http://www.faireducation.org.uk/report-card/

Economic Policy Institute (2014) – http://www.epi.org/publication/the-need-to-address-noncognitive-skills-in-the-education-policy-agenda/

The Young Foundation (2012) – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175476/Framework_of_Outcomes_for_Young_People.pdf