Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.

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How International Is Our School? MA Dissertation

This post is to store and share my MA Dissertation.

A pilot-test of a visualization and set of evaluation rubrics for factors affecting the promotion of international-mindedness and global engagement (IMaGE) of a school.

After starting this investigation with my Education in an International Context paper, and building on it through Research Methods in Education, I refined the idea, developed the rubrics and dug deeper into the research literature in the process. Through the process I learned a lot about the current state of research in international education, and I think the continued development of the web chart and rubrics could be a a never-ending task.

The end goal of the dissertation was to pilot-test a draft of the rubrics using a cross-section of volunteers from my own school. This allowed me to see the issue from different perspectives within the school, to test the rubrics (and statistics), and to spot issues and errors in the tools. I thank them all for their time and interesting perspectives.

The further I got into this research, the more concerned I became with the issue of homogenization (Fertig, 2007, 2015) or isomorphism (Shields, 2015), in international education. I see these issues as potentially a significant limitation to the applicability of a tool such as this, or any other which applies a universal set of descriptors to a global industry. Where the design of the project intended to try to capture the diverse and often hidden elements that contribute towards as schools IMaGE development, I worry that working towards a set of prescribed descriptors may pull a school away from the context-specific ‘unpredictables’ that make it international (and interesting) in its own right.

How do we strike the balance between observing and enhancing the ‘IMaGE’ of the school with the tendency towards a sterile centre-ground?

I’m not sure at this point what life this research will have beyond the MA, but I remain interested in its development, testing and critique.

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Quick References:

Full references for the dissertation are included in the uploaded document, with live links where possible. These few are of particular interest. 

Fertig, M., 2007. International school accreditation: Between a rock and a hard place? Journal of Research in International Education, 6(3), pp.333–348.

Fertig, M., 2015. Quality Assurance in National and International Schools: Accreditation, Authorization and Inspection. In Hayden, M., Levy, J. & Thompson, J. (7th Edition). The SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education. pp. 447-457.

Shields, R., 2015. Measurement and Isomorphism in International Education. In Hayden, M., Levy, J. & Thompson, J., 2015. The SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education. (7th Edition). London, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd. pp.477-487.

The whole of The SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education (7th Ed) is an important read for anyone looking for the current state of play for international education research. I wrote a brief recommendation here.

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The full dissertation (edited lightly for upload) is posted below.

My weekend view.


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Bath MA International Education: A Review

This year I successfully completed my MA Education (International Education) programme through the University of Bath. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to others in international schools, and I’ll be back in the summer for graduation. Here’s a wee review. 

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Why Bath? 

In 2011, after eight years in Indonesia and on the way to Japan, I decided to study further. I felt I had enough practical experience to be starting to dig into academics and although my PGCE from Exeter had MA credit, this had timed-out and it was back to the start. I was looking for a well-regarded UK programme that would be challenging and rewarding and was intrigued by the development of the IB Teacher Award. I wanted “International Education” in the title of my Masters degree, wanted somewhere within reach of home and was drawn to the department as a particularly strong example of international education research. I definitely made the right choices.

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Overview & Pacing

With five ‘taught’ units (30 credits, 5,000 word assignment) and one dissertation (15,000 words), and a time limit of five years, you can work at a reasonable pace alongside real life*. As I was completing the programme for personal and professional learning (and not for external forces), I took the full time allowed. This gave me time to think, process and make good use of the library for research and for professional uses. I found that I was most effective when blocking out periods of time for research and writing, rather than trying to do a little each week – with work and family this would have split my mind too many ways to be efficient.

*The last five years have included: moving countries, significantly changing roles, taking on a bit too much, family (I started when my kids were 4 and a newborn) and travel. I rarely felt over-stressed by the MA, though there were some crunch times. 

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My Units

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My weekend view.

I liked the balance provided by these options. As a new returnee to academic writing, I opted for the familiar Assessment as a first unit, though in hindsight it limited my choices later in the programme; I would also have liked to take Leading and Managing Educational Innovation for my role, and probably should have started with EIC to set the foundation for the pathway. Where my first assignments (Assesssment, Curriculum) were concerned with MYP: Next Chapter developments (pre-2014), ULL gave me a great focus on inquiry and the rest (EIC, RME, Dissertation) formed a thread on what it means to be an international school. The flexibility of the programme allowed for clear personal coherence.

Essential Units: Research Methods in Education, Dissertation

Int. Ed.  Pathway Essential Unit: Education in an International Context

Core Units: Understanding Learners & Learning

Optional Units:  Curriculum Studies, Assessment

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Teaching & Assessment Model

I can’t stand the required-participation model of some online courses, where you have to log on frequently and ‘contribute’ your comment to a discussion board and where grading tends towards compliance over quality. I much preferred the Bath MA model, with a good set of resources provided on the course Moodle and Wiki pages, some assignment prompts to get you going and then six months to produce a well-researched piece of writing. For most of the units, I negotiated a research question of personal interest with my tutor, providing motivation to power through and produce something of worth. Tutors provide decent feedback on a draft of your work and tend to be very personable and supportive. I did like the academic rigour of the assessment rubric, and once I tuned into what was required, I found the research to be stimulating and the writing enjoyable. Though I can see where the assessment bands describe success, I’ll still never fully understand where the percentages come from – but I think this is a university-wide system rather than the Department of Education. It certainly made for some lively discussion on the last day of the Assessment summer school ;>

Although I was initially drawn to the IB Teacher Award** element of the programme, I abandoned this as I found that their reflective questions pulled my writing in a more personal descriptive direction that seemed at odds with the critical analysis of theory and literature required by the higher-level assessment descriptors, and I simply struggled to get both done in 5,000 words. I might revisit the IBTA if a portfolio model becomes available.

**Now the IB Educator Certificate

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Summer Schools

Summer 2011, between Indonesia and Japan, I attended summer school for my first unit, Assessment. I’m super-glad I did as a way to get to know other students, faculty and the beautiful city of Bath. Fresh off the train at Bath Spa, I was looking for the bus to the university when I overheard an obvious reunion of classmates at Pizza Express. We’re still friends. Attendees at the summer schools come from all types of schools, but it was great to bond with others in similar positions and with diverse interests. The taught course at summer school gives a good foundation for the unit and a head-start on the assignment. In two subsequent summers, I attended the university for a week during summer school, but did not register for the class – instead I used the time to research in the library, write and get tutor support. For me, this was the ideal balance as I needed to make the most of time away from family with significant headway on the assignment.

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Faculty

If you read anything about international education, you will soon enough come across the Department of Education at the University of Bath: it is a brains trust of international education researchers and publications, and being able to work with and get feedback from them was a huge draw. To a person, from tutors to support staff, the Department are lovely, supportive and highly knowledgable. I really feel like my learning has been enhanced by their expertise and support, and I hope to keep contact with them in the future.

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Advice

If you’re keen, go for it. There are times when I overthought the task at hand and wished I’d got stuck in sooner. I found it helped to protect time from family and work (weekends or holidays), rather than try to do it during work weeks. “Tune in” to sample dissertations through the MA wiki. Keep in contact with your tutor and get drafts in early. Go old-school and print the important articles; it helps to highlight, annotate and gave me valuable time in the sun, off the screens. Write on issues of personal significance – the motivation helps, and I loved being able to connect a thread between assignments and the dissertation. Attend a couple of summer sessions, if only to meet people, use the library and feel like a student again. Write, write, write, then cut, cut, cut; writing to reach the word limit will tend towards fluff, but cutting words makes the writing more focused. Use a citation manager with discipline – my favourite by a mile is Paperpile for GoogleDocs.

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Personal Reflections

I’m sad that this is over and am really missing the library access, but to be honest I’m not missing the added load. Life and work are beyond busy right now, and it’s great to be done. There’s not much I’d have done differently, except maybe rearrange some units. Had it been available (and had I been able to afford the time and loss of income), I’d have loved to take the new pathway in International Education and Globalisation. Although I would love to continue to the doctorate level, I’m not sure that now is the right time as my kids are growing up way too fast. I’m certainly not keen on paying for it, but might keep my eyes open for future opportunities. The research has been useful in my professional roles and I am happy to have had some work published in IS Magazine as a result of the assignments.

Thank-you to the Department of Education at the University of Bath, in particular to Mary, Elisabeth and Kath for being awesome. I am looking forward to seeing friends and tutors again at graduation in the summer and of course visiting beautiful Bath one more time… this time with my family.

 


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Book Recommendation: The SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education

Title: The SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education [SECOND EDITION]

Editors: Mary Hayden – University of Bath, Jack Levy – George Mason University, Jeff Thompson – University of Bath

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This 2015 edition of Hayden, Levy & Thompson’s book is a worthy update and makes  for a useful ‘state of the union’ overview on current research in international education. With a rogue’s gallery of contributing researchers and a collection of reference lists that’s guaranteed to send you down the rabbit hole, this is a useful reference for researchers and international school leaders.

I would recommend having a copy of this in conjunction with a more standard ‘research methods’ text, such as Cohen, Manion & Morrison. Enjoy.


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Down the Rabbit Hole: Professional Learning for International Educators

Eyes-deep in reading for the MA dissertation, with 200 links in my Paperpile and counting, concurrently thinking about future professional learning at school, and following the threads of developing the IMaGE of a school, I keep stumbling across articles, books and papers that offer distractions from the work at hand. The result is a bent mind and a head full of ideas; a productive pseudo-procrastination that I’m trying to weave into a narrative, or at least keep stored for later reference.

Launching out from Lesley Snowball’s chapter on International Teacher Certification in the SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education, I find myself asking questions about how we develop IM in our teachers and what we might do to enhance this in the future. She proposes seven standards of development:

  1. International Education in Context
  2. Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms
  3. Multiculturalism
  4. Student characteristics and learning
  5. Transition
  6. Internationalising curricula
  7. The reflective international teacher
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Snowball’s (2004) International Teacher Certification Model. How are we approaching these standards as international schools? Source: http://sk.sagepub.com/reference/hdbk_researchintledu/n22.xml

 

It looks like a streamlined ITC certificate can be earned through the European Council of International Schools, with five main standards.

  1. Education in an intercultural context – teachers will be involved in creating opportunities for developing intercultural understanding

  2. Teaching competencies for the international teacher – teachers will develop skills particular to the challenges of international schools and international curricula

  3. The language dimension – teachers will develop their depth of knowledge of the many aspects of language learning, and share this through a workshop and during classes

  4. Student transition and mobility – teachers will explore specific ways to support students in transition, in the many different types of transition they face during their school lives

  5. Continuing professional development as an international educator –teachers will develop their own reflective practice as a way of deepening the value of their continuing professional development.

Although much less recent, I like Tim Brighouse’s five principles for development of global education, in the foreword of Miriam Steiner’s 1996 ‘Developing the Global Teacher: Theory and Practice in Initial Teacher Training‘:

  1. Schooling and education should be based on the goal of everyone achieving success, rather than allowing success for some and failure for others.

  2. Schooling and education should be based on the assumption that intelligence is multi-faceted not general, environmentally-affected as well as inherited, and limitless not fixed. [Gardner, yo

  3. Schooling and education should be based on the assumption that learning is lifelong, not a ‘once and for all’ activity.

  4. Schooling and education should be based on the assumption that competition is best when ipsatively rather than normatively based.

  5. Schooling and education should be based on the assumption of inclusive not exclusive practices.

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Clearly there is much to read once I get past this dissertation. With Faculty & Development being just one of eight radials in the IMaGE of the school, I find my mind being expanded with every day of reading. It will be a challenge to martial this all together, for sure.

Sources

Snowball, Lesley. “Becoming more internationally-minded: international teacher certification and professional development“. Chapter in the SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education. (2006)

Steiner, Miriam. Developing the Global Teacher: Theory and Practice in Initial Teacher Training. 1996. Foreword by Tim Brighouse.

 

 


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The IMaGE of an International School

It’s crunch time for my MA International Education studies at the University of Bath, with a big literature review in progress and some data collection coming up, aiming to submit by the summer break. As much as I’ve loved the study, I’m looking forward to reclaiming some balance. 

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My plan for the dissertation is to update and pilot-test my web-chart of the international dimension of a school, aiming to tackle the challenge of defining a nebulous concept through visualisation, based on self-reporting, to generate “the IMaGE of an international school“. (IMaGE = international mindedness and global engagement). The small-scale case-study will generate an IMaGE for my own school, and the pilot study will help evaluate the usefulness of the visualisation and metrics.

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A sample of the web chart in use, with the IMaGE showing the evolution of a school or a change in perception. The eight radials are still under development, and there will be descriptors for each in the final project. At first glance, where would you rate your won school? What do you see, think, wonder about the results of this (imaginary) school?

The idea of trying to evaluate or measure the ‘internationalisation’ of a school is not new: we already have metrics, practices or handbooks from various organisations, including the IB, CIS, ISA, ACE, OECD. This project aims to learn from, adapt and distil these qualities into an accessible tool that will generate a ‘visual definition’ for a school, as a starting point for further investigation.

Although some of the ideas within the chart have evolved a lot since the initial idea in 2012 (and I have found many more studies), here is the original assignment.

 

 

 

 


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A pragmatic approach to inquiry: my article in IS magazine

Click to read.

Click to read.

This article, “(Re)defining inquiry for international education,” is based on a thread of thought started with my “MYP: Mind the Gapconference presentation and continued with an MA assignment. It was published in the most recent issue (Autumn | Spring 2014) of International School Magazine, edited by University of Bath tutors and international education gurus Mary Hayden and Jeff Thompson.

In the article “(re)defining” refers to clarifying the meaning of the term inquiry, so that we can give access to high-quality inquiry learning to students through the whole continuum. It builds on anecdotal experiences in discussions that ‘inquiry’ has been framed from one end as a weak, free-for-all alternative to teaching and critical reasoning. This is a misinterpretation, and the article advocates for a reminder of what inquiry is and a working definition of inquiry as critical reflective thought (after Elkjaer & Dewey) that is future-oriented, but based on strong foundation of effectively-taught skills and knowledge (after Vygotsky, Hattie…). From the other end, it is important to understand that inquiry looks and feels very different as disciplinary studies become deeper and more authentic.

This is of particular importance to IB schools. Stakeholders need to understand that an inquiry-based framework is not a knowledge-free curriculum, and that a high-stakes test-based assessment at one end is no excuse to crush the exploration out of the learning process.

In essence: we create an outstanding curriculum that gives students knowledge and skills to work with and has lots of room for them to put them to use in critical, creative and reflective problem-solving. Use high-impact strategies to teach those skills and that knowledge, to avoid misconception and to ensure that these critical thinkers have a solid foundation of raw materials for future learning.

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Read the full article on IS Magazine’s website here, or download the magazine (pdf) here (or just the article pdf here).

Click to read my article on Inquiry in the Autumn | Spring issue of International School magazine.

Click to read my article on Inquiry in the Autumn | Spring issue of International School magazine.


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Are IB Schools Trivium21C Schools?

 

I was lucky enough to get this for a pound on Amazon, but it is worth more. Trivium 21C by Martin Robinson.

I recently finished Martin Robinson’s (@SurrealAnarchy) excellent Trivium 21C: Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past, the author’s journey through the history of education to find the inspiration for the education he wants for his young daughter. As I read I became more and more convinced that he was essentially describing a high-performing International Baccalaureate education, combining a well-taught, high-quality curriculum (the Grammar), with the development of skills and wisdom to really inquire through critical reflective thought (the Dialectic). With the grammar aligning with a more traditionalist view of education and the dialectic with a more progressive set of methods, Robinson’s book hits very close to my own views and ideals on education and where I want it to go: a set of principles and practices that combine the best of both worlds. The third element of the Trivium, the Rhetoric, is the capacity and engagement of the student in performance, communication, discussion, presentation and participation in authentic and meaningful (global) communities.

Along the way, Robinson takes us through the history of education, from the ancient Greeks to now, at each step highlighting the competing paradigms of learning. It seems as though the progressive vs traditional debate mud-fight has been raging since long before the written word! He interviews leading educational thinkers on both sides of the progressive/traditional divide and my thoughts on Ken Robinson’s TED Talks agree with his entirely  – we do need content in our curriculum, but we need to ensure it is the right stuff, taught well. What is the culture we want to preserve into the future?

What does a Trivium 21C education look like?

Robinson describes the grammar and dialectic as cyclic in nature, the grammar (content) giving the raw materials for the dialectic (inquiry). The rhetoric is ongoing, connecting the student’s learning to the wider world through communication. The diagram below is my attempt to summarize Trivium 21C in one graphic.

My attempt to represent Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C in a graphic. Can you see the connections here between the Trivium and a well-implemented IB continuum of programmes?

 

Is an IB Education a Trivium Education?

Robinson’s descriptions of his Trivium 21C align very closely with the principles and practices of a well-implemented continuum of an IB education. Although an IB education is inquiry-based, we need to be careful to define this inquiry as critical reflective thought; guided inquiry based on a strong curricular and pedagogical foundation. Inquiry in the PYP may well be open-ended and student-directed, but the rigorous planning and careful, responsive teaching that takes place are exemplary to all teachers. The assessment descriptors of the MYP, as well as the broad and balanced, concept-based approach to the student’s total curriculum give a rounded and challenging experience. Founded on strong unit planning and vertical and horizontal articulation of curriculum, there should be room for inquiry, as well as effective preparation for the higher-tension IB Diploma. In the Diploma itself we see the broad and balanced approach remain as students study not only six subjects, but really exercise their dialectic and rhetoric muscles through the Theory of Knowledge, 4,000-word Extended Essay and challenging learning outcomes of Service (MYP) and Creativity, Action and Service (IBDP).

IB Learner Profile

The IB Learner Profile – or the Philosopher Kid? Click through to read more.

IB Learner ProfileThe philosopher kid of Robinson’s Trivium21C is the embodiment of the IB’s Learner Profile. Towards the end of the book, Robinson makes mention of the IB’s programmes, referring to the dialectic and rhetorical nature of the Theory of Knowledge course in IBDP, the criterion-related assessment of the MYP and the rhetorical (participatory) elements of Creativity Action and Service.

The hierarchical nature of assessment descriptors in the MYP and DP highlights the content-first (Grammar) approach to teaching, learning and assessment. Students can experience success with a good level of content knowledge, but to really excel they must put it to action, with the higher-order command terms driving the higher achievement levels (explain, analyse, evaluate, design, for example).

On paper, an IB education would seem to have all that Robinson seeks in the Trivium 21C, but even within this globalized framework for an international education there is a high degree of variability. This is key – a well-implemented IB continuum of programmes has it all. A poorly-implemented programme may lack in one or more elements of the Trivium; however the frequent and constructive programme evaluation processes in place with the IB should help schools improve.

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Recommending the Book

I highly recommend reading this book, though it is not a quick read by any means; you may well need a note-pad. It has a cast of characters greater than Game of Thrones, yet you’ll feel less soiled once finishing (and none of the ideas are killed off in such gruesome ways as GRRM does his creations). It is quite high-altitude, and though I’d like to recommend it to new teachers, it might not be the practical volume they need to survive. It is an excellent provcation for school leaders and coordinators, as well as those studying curriculum development and educational policy at a more academic level. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who places themself on either side of the progressive/traditional education debate.

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Personal Reflection

Both Robinson and I share very close values and ideas on the education we want for our children. I have the deep privilege of not only being able to choose it for my own kids, but of being in a position where I can help shape it through an IB education. Over the last couple of years, my thinking on education has matured, largely as a result of experience in teaching coordination and curriculum development, but also as a result of taking a more academic approach to learning through my MA studies.

The following selection of blog posts share significant ideas with Robinson’s Trvium21C: 

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Some alternative versions of the graphic

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