Make a Student-Centred Classroom [Part 1]

In 2016, I did a lot of posting and presenting on student-centred learning. I had great feedback and some supportive conversations about the obvious commonsense behind the approach. I’ve posted a number of guides and posters to help people understand the necessary components. But when the conversation on theory finishes, the first two questions are always:

  1. “So, what do I actually do?”
  2. “Where do I start?”

Getting down to business

I thought I’d start a series of posts on the practical steps and possible tools to use to help operate a student-led learning space. At this point in the conversation, many senior high school teachers start to explain to me that this doesn’t apply to them because “their” material (notice the ownership) and concepts are too complicated to be “self-discovered.” My reply involves highlighting that student-centred learning is not simply a matter of asking students to look everything up on the internet. It is a challenging development of a classroom environment that alters the expectations students have of themselves, develops growth-mindset, and builds an understanding of learning as a shared and social experience. An experience not reliant on any one individual.

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Step 1: You are your first learning objective

Start your journey by being clear that the teacher will not be the one who ‘starts’ learning each day. Learning is something that people, including adults, organise to suit themselves. Every individual needs to consider themselves first and how they best make progress. The teacher is there to help you understand and develop your own learning strategies. A teacher is sometimes more aware and experienced in the options available and that is what they are at school for. It is the student’s role to become a master in the way they personally best make progress. Know your weaknesses, your strengths, your available options.

Each learner needs to ask themselves questions such as:

  • Given the theme/topic, what are my immediate needs? (What’s my first problem?)
  • How many options do I have to make my next step? (What could I do next?)
  • What have I got/been given to measure my progress? (How would this be judged?)
  • How many ways could I express/explain my learning & progress? (What product would have the most impact?)
  • How can I plan my time, tools and use of others? (How big is this project?)
  • What communication channels exist to help me?

It’s good to have questions like these on the classroom wall to prompt conversations.

Initially students of all ages will struggle to get out of old habits. They are often used to the teacher planning their tasks and next steps for them. In most schools, teachers decide what to do and how to do it. Building better learning habits means shifting their practice away from expecting teachers to answer every need and question. Any question I get asked about what to do, how to do it, or worst of all, is ‘this’ good enough? I throw back at the student as a challenge to solve. I ask questions like “Where do we normally find the task information? or “What would best explain that?” or “What does your friend think of your work?” It’s a rarity to find a student so practiced at collaborating that they are aware of the progress made by another student. After just two weeks of not answering questions, my classes shift habits and more naturally turn to each other for ideas, allowing me to guide people I observe as needing more prompting.

Key competencies

In New Zealand we focus on 5 Key competencies for learning and being a productive citizen. Students being able to rate themselves and their classroom against these key competencies can help build an understanding of how they might be more successful individually and as a group. Viewing everyone in the room as a potential learning ally is very important in student-centred learning. Making learning and adapting the classroom’s primary conversation is key in 21st century education. Rather than filling the walls with ‘finished’ outcomes, use the walls more productively to remind the students of process tools and decision making aides to help them self-progress.

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STEP 2: Strategies and tools first

High schools could learn so much from elementary schools in that more progress is made when learners are equiped first with strategies before specific material or content becomes the focus. Learning to read is possibly the single biggest learning challenge students go through in their entire school career. Elementary schools achieve this by equipping learners with not just one but numerous strategies in making progress without teacher assistance. A conversation I had with elementary teachers regarding “if they get stuck on a word,” resulted in 7 strategies taught to students. The reason so many high school students are uninspired by their classroom is that, even in 2017, the system in most countries shifts from empowering the learner to the absorption of content.

We need to continue and extend the good work of elementary schools by adding yet more strategies, processes, and available tools and building a shared expectation that the students will tackle any challenge themselves.

“It’s the scaffolding of learning and not topics that is the primary job of a 21st century teacher.” – Richard Wells

Students must be taught and confident in:

  • a number of systematic processes that get a task done.
  • collaborating on checks and balances that measure the current success and progress.
  • critiquing and guiding the success of other learners.

Teachers will save time in the long run if they use class time to teach and practice learning approaches, collaboration, and project management strategies such as:

  • How to carry out group planning
  • How to critique the work of others
  • How to measure progress
  • How to plan the available time
  • How to test current success and make adjustments

Design Thinking - EduWells

I use guides on project-based-learning and Design-thinking as examples of processes that get good results. When critiquing work, strategies such as DAKI can help students guide each other in refining outcomes. These tools need to be well advertised and overtly taught to the class to ensure they can practice using them to make them effective (They rarely work first time). As a school, these tools and processes need to available full time and not teacher instigated. Students need to be free to make decisions like “I think this would turn out best if we run it through a Design-Thinking exercise.” They also might take the theme/topic and design a project around it to make it relevant to the themselves or their community. I’ll produce a library of possible tools and examples in the final post in this series.

OLD HABITS DIE HARD

The hardest challenge for teachers and students in starting student-centred learning is breaking old habits. Teachers have a compulsion to simply solve every problem instantly and students, viewing school as only a place you complete issued work, are used to looking for every shortcut available to quickly produce what their teacher has already decided is the target outcome. Introducing LEARNING as the main topic of conversation seems alien to many classrooms, especially in high schools.

In part 2, I’ll cover students monitoring and measuring quality and progress and outline some real examples of this taking place in both my school and schools I visit.

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Teach Listening today to avoid another 2016!

Sorry to be political for just a minute but I promise this post has a non-bias, positive and productive ending. 2016 was not the best year of my life. For people like me, the world seemed to shift in a frightening direction towards isolation and polarised societies.

2016 in three words – “Failure to Listen”

As an educator, I’ve spent the last 6 months considering what has gone wrong and is it a matter of failing education producing “post-truth” generations who fail to question such things as fake news. This is where a randomised suggestion from TED.com seemed to offer me a gentle, concise, but powerful solution to all my concerns – Listening. I’d summarise 2016 as the year people failed to listen to others. A year where locking out debate and the thoughts of others became legitimised. Even the idea of listening to experts was questioned on both sides of the Atlantic. So I’d like to introduce you to (or remind you of) Julian Treasure.

5 classroom exercises to heal a world

In this talk, Treasure addresses our society’s shift towards too much noise (think social media and the pace of life) and thus loss of skills in and desire to truely listen to people and our surroundings.

“We’re becoming impatient. We don’t want oratory anymore; we want sound bites. And the art of conversation is being replaced — dangerously, I think — by personal broadcasting.” – Julian Treasure

If only we had  remembered Julian’s 2011 TED talk, we might not have has such an angry 2016. In this talk, he even predicted our current problems when he said:

“We’re becoming desensitized. Our media have to scream at us with these kinds of headlines [Sensation, Shock, Scandal, Reveal, Exposed, Fury] in order to get our attention. And that means it’s harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated … a world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed” – Julian Treasure (2011)

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Teach Listening today!

Here is an edited summary of Julian’s 5 suggested exercises that I believe could transform your classroom, and possibly even improve grades, not to mention, save the world!

  1. Silence: “Just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate, so that you can hear the quiet again.”
  2. The Mixer: “listen in the [classroom] to how many channels of sound can I hear? How many individual channels in that mix am I listening to? … put names to those channels such as: pencil; tapping; pouring paint; bunsen burner.
  3. Savouring: “This exercise is about enjoying mundane sounds.” Next time you sharpen a pencil, really listen! It’s a great sound.
  4. Listening positions: “Remember I gave you those filters? It’s starting to play with them as levers, to get conscious about them and to move to different places.” This is where you focus on one of the environment’s sounds and consciously enhance it’s volume in your mind by focusing on it intently.
  5. RASA: Julian says “Finally, an acronym. You can use this in listening, in communication. RASA stands for “Receive,” which means pay attention to the person; “Appreciate,” making little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “OK”; “Summarize” — the word “so” is very important in communication; and “Ask,” ask questions afterwards.”

I can see these skills apply to nay specialist area such a students using RASA to challenge each other on science analysis. Savouring as a dramatisation exercise, and Silence in ALL tasks – I already use it at the beginning of Design thinking tasks.

Teachers need to plan consciously for their use of listening and discuss / teach these skills specifically to improve levels of thinking and empathy practiced by their students. Let’s all start using the art of conscious listening throughout education and we help the next generations fight the noise that surrounds them and avoid another 2016.

P.S. 2016 as I saw it …

  1. The U.K. voted to ask foreigners to “leave” only to find out the next day they’d voted for the U.K. to “leave” Europe. “What is the EU” = most popular Google search on that day.  
  2. The U.S. voted to “drain the swamp” only to find that the “swamp” of bureaucrats and lobbyists were simply no longer needed because the the people who funded the lobbying were to be the new government cabinet.
  3. A horrible man in Syria officially asked a horrible man in Russia to help him sort out some people fighting for freedom, allowing the horrible Russian to perform bombing practice on civilians,. Then a tweeting 16-year-old U.S. president-elect called them both “great guys.”
  4. Nobody listened to anyone who didn’t already agree with them entirely.

[political bit over 😀]

 

 

10 #STARWARS #EDUCATION POSTERS FOR 2017

I hope you like this year’s set of Star Wars Education posters. The theme is very much in keeping with my 2016 posts on students driving their own learning. More will be on their way soon. Thanks for the wonderful feedback on last years.

star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-002star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-001 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-003 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-004 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-005 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-006 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-007 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-008 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-009 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-010

What makes a happy school?

no_hierachy_in_learning-eduwellsWhat makes all humans happy?

How about feeling:

  • you belong
  • you’re appreciated
  • you’re approach will be supported
  • and you’re important.

The factory gets everyone down

As education slowly drags itself out from the pit of 19th/20th century ‘factory’ education, it seems obvious to me that these were and are unfortunately the sentiments missing from much of my experience, both as student and teacher. The system my colleagues and I were educated in was centred on the exact opposite of the above list. It is very important to the uniform delivery of exam material that everyone comply and any appreciation of individuality be stifled. This has not only led to a history of students wanting to avoid school if possible (“Snow day” anybody?), but also led to unhappy teachers treated as evaluated delivery mechanisms.

A happy Alternative

hpss-danielle-on-floor-copyTo the left is my teacher friend Danielle, using the floor to indicate her equal status as a learner amongst her students. The flatter the learning hierarchies in a school are, the happier everyone is: staff; students; and parents. Developing a culture where everyone is a learner and has something to offer others is key to happiness for all. I have visited many schools in New Zealand and I can report that the happiest and healthiest exist where the principal is clearly viewed as lead learner not lead expert. Personally, I’m often tempted to judge a school by how visibly reflective its principal is. Many principals in New Zealand blog publicly (Links below) about both their successes and failures. This has the knock on effect of making teachers and their students more comfortable to try, fail, and thus learn.

Negotiation your way to happiness

A key to happy learners is to ensure nothing is assumed to be definite. The teacher doesn’t always know the best approach to learning for the specific learners in front of them. Students don’t always know their own strengths and weaknesses. The most effective environment is one of negotiation and reciprocal accountability between teacher and student. In New Zealand, schools use the native Maori term of “Ako” in place of the word “learning” as it better describes this reciprocal nature of learning. [Video credit: Breens Intermediate school, Christchurch]

“The concept of ako describes a teaching and learning relationship, where the educator is also learning from the student and where educators’ practices are informed by the latest research and are both deliberate and reflective. Ako is grounded in the principle of reciprocity and also recognises that the learner and whānau cannot be separated.”

Ka Hikitia, 2008, p.20

This is just one example where New Zealand’s balanced appreciation for both our primary cultures (Maori and European) benefits the wellbeing of our schools and their communities. To maintain one’s teaching certificate in New Zealand, teachers have to provide evidence every three years of how they have further developed their own learning and collaborative pedagogical approaches.

Western society was built on rigid hierarchies and from politics to medicine and certainly to education, the faster we learn that flattening them creates solutions to our biggest problems, the better for all involved.

There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

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Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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#EdTech makes no significant difference

Teachers like me, who are keen on the potential of educational technology to change schools are often the first to say “it’s not the technology that’s important, it’s what you do with it.” We also say things like, “It’s about creativity, collaboration and communication.” After all, I started this very blog as an iPad support site and spent the first 3 years discussing the wonderful things one could make on an iPad and how exciting all the apps and their technologies were. But regardless of how people are collaborating, creating, and getting excited, there’s one crucial thing to remember … technology makes no significant difference to learning.

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EdTech output does not equal BETTER learning

To help explain where schools still often miss the point when talking about technology use, I’d like to mention two important educators.

john-hattieJohn Hattie: A New Zealander who has been Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, since March 2011. He is the Author of “Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.” an influential paper on what has a real impact on learning. In his list of nearly 200 influences on learning outcomes from an ever increasing meta-analysis of global educational research, you have to go to number 70 before you even get a mention of technology. Since it’s first publication in 2008, students self-reporting their own success has proved to be consistently the most influential indicator. This is something most schools don’t utilise at all whilst dedicating hours to training staff in technology.
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derek-mullerDerek Muller: An Australian who has had success in teaching through video and even has a PHD in doing so. His extremely popular video on why #edTech has little impact on learning has had more than a million views. In the video below, Derek takes you back 100 years and runs you through the history of the claim that This will revolutionise education.” He highlights that if the goal and content of an activity is the same, the format makes no difference. His summary reminds us that the point of education is not to aim for particular output from students or simply deliver information, even new styles of input & output. “The purpose is to inspire, challenge and excite people to want to learn.” Another key point he makes is that learning is a social activity and is most successful when every individual feels they have a role to play within that learning. Teachers are only truely successful when focused both on the design of and the locus of control within a social learning environment. That requirement is what maintains teachers as so important.

Does tech still have a role to play?

how-technology-in-schools-has-changed-over-time-infographicPlease don’t be confused and think this is an anti-tech post. There’s nothing wrong with using technology as long as the classroom norm is that individual students expect to evaluate their own outcomes (Just as Hattie’s studies indicate) and preferably against calculated targets for understanding and impact that the students devised or negotiated in the first place. All learning must include the questions below, if it does, technology only opens up further opportunities, if it doesn’t, then technology only becomes the distraction that many fear it is.
Click the infographic to the left for a nice history of EdTech.

Questions for all learnERS

  1. Why am I learning this?
  2. How will I measure my own success?
  3. Who with and how might I best succeed?
  4. What are my next steps?
  5. How am I tracking my progress?

Technology will help answer all 5 questions but if they are absent from the mind of the learner, technology will not assist true learning at all. My primary concern as an educator now is who is driving the learning in my classroom, be they using tech or not.

I have covered many aspects of future education trends in my $16 book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. Here’s the Ad:

The Amazing iPadpaloozaGC 2016

ipadpaloozagcI’ve just had a fantastic week on the Gold Coast of Australia at iPadPaloozaGC! Cathy Hunt (@art_cathyhunt) and her team organised the widest breadth of inspirational speakers and demonstrations I think I have ever seen at one event. I thought I’d focus my summary on that breadth, so lets take a look at the themes covered.

1. Creativity

The conference had so many sessions on the creative side of tech use in schools and encouraged the notion that technology was not about consumption and was far more engaging and effective when challenging young people to create and share. Paul Hamilton, Cathy Hunt, Simon Lees and Brandt Ward all ran pre-conference days on making and learning through problem solving and story telling. All four discussed how the technology encouraged constant review and reflection from young people and how tech’s speed of production allowed for rapid prototyping and iteration. This is what learning should always be about. Music, Film-making, robotics, Minecraft were also strong themes at the event and made for a dynamic and exciting atmosphere all-round.

2. Wellbeing and acceptance

michael-carr-greggMichael Carr-Gregg (@MCG58) was the Keynote speaker on day one and gave a brilliant, no-nonsense, info + advice packed talk on young people and mental-health. His advice covered so many topics including acceptance, depression & health. He highlighted how they all contribute to the success, or lack of, that children experience at school. He explained wrong assumptions held by adults regarding young people’s mindsets and also the way that technology has such a positive role to play in tackling issues of wellness. Put simply, if schools want to improve grades, they need to invest much more time and money in mental health. Brilliant stuff, Michael! You have immediately made my life better by introducing me to sleep apps and iPhone settings to improve my wellbeing significantly.

3. Accessibility

craig-smithI thought things had been pretty amazing on day 1 and then Craig Smith (@wrenasmir) and Christopher Hills (@IamMaccing) appeared on stage and blew my mind! Craig works extensively around the issue of accessibility and is an inspiring man to meet. He acts as a powerful reminder that the world is a far more complicated place filled with amazing people overcoming challenges daily that most people don’t even notice. Craig introduced us to a team of educators like Michael Harrison (@ozmsh) and David Woodbridge (@dwoodbridge) who are working tirelessly to raise awareness of the progress being forged by technology accessibility options, especially by the people at Apple. Craig was great but then Chris hit the stage and made me cry, laugh and tweet like a madman, sometimes doing all three simultaneously. Chris is a world recognised Final cut pro accredited trainer, phenomenal film-maker and now programmer, who just happens to have an acute form of cerebral palsy. His videos showcased his ninja skills on Mac software that would outperform most people regardless of that fact he didn’t use his hands! Craig let me in on an extra story about Chris where it was suggested Chris apply for extra test time during his Final Cut Pro accreditation, which Chris turned down only to go on to beat his assessor’s time !!! I haven’t blogged about technology for a while now but Chris and Craig reinvigorated my passion for the impact technology can have in changing lives for the better. thank you so much to both of them.

Here’s one of Chris’ videos:

4. Security

Troy Hunt (@troyhunt) took the stage for keynote of Day 2 and wowed us with a funny, slick and scary presentation on tech security. He showed us how vulnerable, ignorant, and easy to hack we all were, troy-hunt
whilst making us laugh and gasp. He was yet another significant change of theme and sent us all away with a sense of needing to do yet more education in the area of security and digital citizenship. Social media and online accounts have become such a daily norm that we need to keep up our discussion around safety.

5. FUN !!

Firstly, big up to Bella Paton and her fellow students at St Hilda’s for their amazing talented entertainment during the event. The number of delegates who said “That’s not live is it” when they first heard the girls’ singing and showed disbelief as they peered round the corner. Congrats Bella, You’ll be so successful, I’m sure! Now, something I don’t say very often but “thank god for Americans” My friends from the U.S, Carl Hooker (@MrHooker), Lisa Johnson (@TechChef4U), and Felix (@FelixJacomino) and Judy Jacomino (@JudyJacomino) bring so much energy to these events, they really send you home buzzing. They make you excited to be an educator and demonstrate in so many ways how teachers can connect to have such a bigger impact on young learners around the world. Thank you SO MUCH, all of you!

cathy-hunt-and-carl-hookerThat was one very special week and I can’t end this post with out saying how kind, talented and important Cathy Hunt and her work around the world is. This event exuded Cathy’s passion for education, creativity and fun. I know she’s worked so hard to make it happen and deserves all the praise she’s getting for doing so. Follow her NOW and get her books on iPad Art and you’ll be amazed at how she invigorates your love for creating and the potential Art has to change anybody’s life. Big congrats Cathy and even bigger thanks for inviting me to iPadpaloozaGC !!

I didn’t mention it too many time at iPadpalooza so I thought I’d just mention that there’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. [Watch the Video!]

Why are we still ignoring @SirKenRobinson?

It’s 10 years since Ken Robinson’s infamous talk on how schools kill creativity. In it, he mentions the entrenched hierarchy of subjects with Math and English at the top and Dance and Drama at the bottom. So … has your school changed? No? Mine neither. Change is hard but it’s time to take another look at what Robinson’s message was and maybe try to add a more practical perspective on why young people need this change to happen asap.

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The Hierarchy generations

The current teaching profession was born and developed in a world based on long-standing hierarchies. These orders of importance were how the world operated and they had been fixed for hundreds of years. The world unfortunately still subconsciously behaves on the basis that, for example, the mind is more important than the body, and men are more important than women. To ask the current generation of teachers to significantly shift an engrained mindset is a big ask. Society still assumes that universities do the most important educational work and thus we allow universities to continue to drive the purpose of school. But Robinson highlighted ten years ago that earning a degree was becoming less connected with guaranteed success and fewer young people every year were convinced that academic success was worth working for.

Subject ego trumps learner

The problem we have with this change is our  understanding of why schools exist. The industrial approach to education has school communities (teachers, students, parents, and business) focused on the output from any aspect of school. English produces essays, which must be important because writing is all around us. Science looks at results and graphs and these have always looked important. Art produces paintings and these are just a nice-to-have and so Art must be of less importance. The factory model has always been preoccupied by production and teachers plaster their classroom walls with what students have produced.

hierarchy-of-subjects-eduwells

By maintaining a focus on product, we loose focus on the process of learning and development and thus what each subject area in a school has to offer all individual learners regarding process and mindset. Young people do not see
school attendance as a matter of self-development but as a series of requests from teachers for output that matches exemplars. Robinson discusses the creative arts as important but his message is for schools to focus on the creative opportunities in all subject areas and preferably across them. The importance placed on the output of learning content has led schools to lose touch with students’ individuality and what they expect of themselves.

Why SOME subjects are MORE like gaming THAN OTHERS

When a subject’s content is held in such high esteem, a feeling develops where there’s little need to be creative or worry about what the students could add to the situation. This results in young people who wait to be issued material and challenges, at which point they will attempt to process them as requested and instructed. Like gaming, things appear in front of you and you are provided with tools with which you process those things and success is decided by a comparison between your processing of the situation and the pre-designed perfect example. Computer Games and most lessons are centred on the stuff and the tools. What’s invisible in the mindset of both gamer and traditional classroom student is the self. What’s most important to me at this moment? What would be the best thing to challenge myself with? What are my needs at this time? These are questions that students do not generally ask during English, Maths, Humanities and Science.

Self is part of the arts’ modus operandi

Dance, Drama, Music, and Visual Art ask “Who are you?” and “How do you operate?” as a matter of course. This is a regular practice that the current “top 4” don’t do enough of. In a world where employment will not be offered to possibly 50% of western society in 20 years time, we need to build confidence in young people in exactly who they are and what their strengths are in open situations. Confidence to invent, innovate, and contribute without requiring someone else to provide a starting point or even a job.

students-self-eduwells

Ken was correct and as he predicted in 2006, he’s even more correct today. Knowing and confidence in what one has to offer the world is the key requirement in a rapidly changing future and the arts offer this to all. We’d be safer with them at the top of the hierarchy, regardlesss of what they output.

Here’s a nice video by Prince Ea, covering the same theme:

 

 

 

Future proof your students by embracing the Arts

If you are reading this, then you will undoubtably know Ken Robinson’s TED talk from 2006 on how schools kill creativity. In fact, schools are so successful at devaluing the arts that high schools around the world have maintained Art and Music as the smallest departments for decades. But this is a society issue, which Robinson’s talk was always unlikely to have a big impact on. Luckily, Art and Music now have something fighting their corner – automation! “There’s no point doing art, you won’t get a job in that.” Robinson quoted this common argument put forward by the majority of now market-driven western society. Well now we can safely say that current school-goers won’t get a job in nearly 50% of currently discussed careers. It’s worth noting that, low-skill, high-skill, medical, finance, and legal careers are under threat and will not be replaced by new careers. So, where does that leave education?

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WORKING WITH A BLANK CANVAS

Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and driverless vehicles are already creating a world where job unavailability is becoming common for millions. This problem will effect more and more each year. This makes a creative mindset more important than ever. It is no longer enough to be competent at completing work and following guidelines. The world and it’s industries are crying out for people practiced at dreaming up new ideas, often from outside-the-box or from a ‘blank canvas.’ They also need people who can then successfully communicate those ideas, mostly in visuals, as you can see from the explosion of infographics in the world. But where in school do students experience opportunities to practice such skills?

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THE COMFORT & DANGER OF CERTAINTY

So, it’s unquestionable that English language, Math, Science, and Social science are the top four in the not-so-invisible hierarchy of subjects that exists in schools (also highlighted by Robinson). All four have been tasked with teaching known information and also skills in analysing what appears in front of you.  I had a conversation with eight students this week who called themselves ‘average 17-year-old students’ about why they were sticking with Math and Science, regardless of saying they neither enjoyed or had much success in them. Their answers all related to getting through the school day without anything unexpected. They liked the predictability and routine of these subjects. “You get given stuff, you play with stuff, you submit the stuff” one student said. Another pointed out how they’d all given up the creative subjects years ago. The problem I have with this commonly held approach to surviving the school day, is that the certainty they have been trained for is the one thing automation is busy removing from the world.

Note: The process of analysis has always held a high status in schools but because it involves following known procedures with known knowledge, analysis is the prime candidate for automation and off-shoring. For example: U.S. brain scan analysis is already sent electronically and carried out in Pakistan, where it is done just as well but more cheaply.

WHY THE ARTS WILL SAVE THE FUTURE

The disaster in devaluing the arts in schools is directly connected to the educational culture around the fear of being wrong. Students become so conditioned to target correct answers that creative pursuits become increasingly the most challenging situations to be choosing. The creative arts all start with a blank canvas/manuscript/stage and the minute by minute problem solving in producing a ‘non-correct’ product, is exactly what the world and most businesses are crying out for. It’s no longer about society providing jobs and fitting your education to these pre-defined careers. It’s more about the process of starting from scratch and building solutions from one’s own experiences, that makes the arts the most fundamental area in 21st century education. It is time to turn the traditional hierarchy, Ken Robinson discussed, on its head and develop a generation of true thinkers and problem solvers through prominent art education for all.

There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

 

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Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International Speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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The Art of Learning

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-3-31-13-pmIn my school, we are on a development journey to shift responsibility for learning from the teachers to the students that may take 5 years. This requires a shift in mindset by all involved, including the community, who put most of the pressure for grades on the teachers. To compliment this, we have shifted our attention when observing classrooms. Rather than focus on the behaviour of the teacher, which is common in many classroom observations, we are carrying out learning conversations with selected or random students in the room. Once the class is underway with a task, the “observing” teacher sits down with a student or group and asks what at first seem like obvious questions:

  1. Do you know why you’re learning this?
  2. How do you know how well you’re doing?
  3. What would your best attempt at this look like?
  4. What’s your next step?

These might seem obvious when considering the apparent purpose of education but parents and teachers themselves can get quite a shock to find how often the answers are not clear to the average student. This is because we have developed education systems that place such an emphasis on teachers issuing education to students, that as long as work is being completed, the learners can feel quite separated from the reasons they’re there in the first place.

“Let’s just get this fiNished”

In a BYOD environment it is common for students to develop habits where they gravitate towards the same app and output format because it becomes the most familiar and thus quickest with which to complete work. So in my school, I am finding that teachers offering free choice of expression are still receiving predominantly presentation slides as the output of choice. So, during a number of my learning conversations, I decided to find out how much thought was going into considering approach to a goal and the actual output produced.

conversations

Here is a summary of these conversations from multiple classes of 15 year-olds:

  • Teacher: “why are you learning this stuff?”
  • Student: “cos it’s probably useful”
  • Teacher: “Why are you using Keynote?”
  • Student: “it’s easy and teachers say we get higher marks for colour and pictures but we don’t know why”
  • Teacher: “why is that slide a useful one in the presentation?”
  • Student: “it’s got words and pictures … I don’t know really”
  • Teacher: “If you’re all doing Keynote presentations on the same topic, how do you know they won’t all be the same?”
  • Student: “… How about … we not talk to each other!”
  • Teacher: “what grade are you hoping for?”
  • Student: “Above average.”
  • Teacher: “Do you ever aim for a top grade?”
  • Student: “If I like my teacher or am already good at the subject”

Answers like these are common in schools around the world. They are also eye opening to teachers who don’t spend enough time discussing learning and focus too much understanding course content. The lack of genuine engagement in what one is doing is symptomatic of an understanding that what is taking place is a teacher devised workload, not a learning experience that one is part of. The drive for results can reduce the art of teaching to an ability to produce completing, compliant students, but what about the art of learning?

Engagement relates to locus of control

It is time that classrooms place the emphasis on students making nearly every decision regarding what, when and how they go about learning. It is time for teachers to focus on challenging students on their decisions whilst realising that through practice, students will develop an understanding that they are in charge of and thus responsible for their learning. When I’m talking to students in a year’s time, I hope to receive detailed explanations as to how and why their learning is happening the way it is.

I would not have understood this by carrying out a standard teaching observation. I would have reported on wonderful teachers carrying out their lessons with nice compliant children. Let us worry more about developing learners than topic absorption and we will eventually shift the pressure from that of compliance to that of students articulating their own learning success.

More like this in my book A learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

How I made my advertisment in Keynote

coverIt was very exciting to become a published author this year and a big thank you to Holly Clark and the EdTechTeam for encouraging me to write A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining Education. The book explains all the amazing things that are happening in New Zealand’s education and why I believe it will lead the world in future-ready education for some time. Thanks to all those who have bought it so far. Below is my advert for the book but I’m being asked each day – “How did you make it?” Like everything I do, I used Keynote for Mac. I was tempted to use one of the many video animation websites such as Powtoon but I wanted more precise control over the visuals and style.

Here’s the advert and below are some lessons on how I produced it.

Lesson 1: Trust me, You can draw!

Drawing your own objects in keynote is easy, even for non-artists. In this video I show you how great drawings can be created in Keynote by tracing photos and graphics. This is done with no fine control of the mouse or technical drawing skills.

Lesson 2: Don’t just transition … Animate!

Keynote comes with both advanced drawing tools, extended photo manipulation and also multiple action animation per object per slide. In this lesson I show you how I used these multiple actions to make things move around a slide instead of just entering and leaving.

I hope these helped and please contact me with any more specific questions you have.