Ripples & Reflections

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


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Bold Moves for Schools

This is a quick-and-dirty review of a book that ticks all the boxes for a curriculum nerd like me: Bold Moves for Schools, by Heidi Hayes Jacobs & Marie Alcock, from the ASCD (2017, 207 pages).

It’s a practical and comprehensive, yet concise and quotable handbook of where to take curriculum, learning and leadership for modern learners. Educators in international schools will see many familiar themes emerge, from student agency and creativity in the curriculum to effective assessment, learning spaces and teacher development. There is much here that can accelerate a well-implemented IB curriculum (or standards-based learning model), and this book will sing to coordinators as it does to me.

“Innovation requires courage coupled with a realistic sensibility to create new possibilities versus “edu-fantasies”. Moving boldly is not moving impulsively or for the sake of change. Moving boldly involves breaking barriers that need breaking.”

As a “pragmatic idealist” I like how the book connects a future-focused, genuinely student-centred education to the best of what we’re already doing. It avoids falling into the trap of trashing the traditional, instead framing bold moves through the antiquated (what do we cut?), the classical (what do we keep?) and the contemporary (what do we create?). Jacobs & Alcock insist throughout the book that these bold moves are mindful, that we are not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and that “meaningful curriculum composition versus meaningless imposition” is the goal.

How can we build a genuinely exciting contemporary educational experience that keeps the joy in the learning, the future in mind and the students in the driving seat? Through a systemic approach that focuses on what works and what could be: one which empowers teachers as self-directed professional learners and curriculum architects. For anyone trying to effect change in an existing (long-established) system, this respectful, well-reasoned handbook is worth a look.

“What is most critical is that the outcome reflect quality.”

I hope that much of what is in this book is not new to most curriculum leaders – particularly in the IB context – but it is great to have a volume that pulls it together in one place, with practical resources. This would make a great book study (guide here) for curriculum leaders and teachers. You will find interesting surprises, resources and provocations littered through the text, worthy of further discussion.

You may even make some bold commitments as a result…

Quick follow-up: I was at a Bold Moves Bootcamp with Marie Alcock recently, and it was great. There is a post about one of my outcomes (a DOK4 filter for transfer) here.

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Check it out

Without being too spoilerific, here are some useful links and resources from the book:

 

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Live Fully Now

I included this short clip, built on a short piece of a talk by philosopher Alan Watts, in my #GAFESummit session, Ready, Steady, Flow. There was some quiet contemplation (expected) and some tears (unexpected).

It had been doing the rounds on Twitter, and I felt it captured some of my feelings about education and the anxiety we can face as we “get them ready for XYZ.” It becomes all too easy to suck the joy out of learning, to focus on the grades, to get caught on the treadmill. We risk losing our creativity and spark in the process.

At the same time, we hear so much about ‘shift happens‘ and educating students for the future, for ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’ and trying to play crystal-balls about what knowledge and skills the big innovators want in their workforce. We can’t do that; we’re probably wasting our time if we try. But we can educate the kids we have now, with the knowledge we have now, the tools and research that we have now so that they’ll become “better” people nowand for the future.

What if, by making all of us love learning now, we can make our students balanced, motivated inquirers ready for what the future throws at them?

There’s a name for that job.

Teachers. 

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As a parent I watch it and worry – am I making the most of my own kids’ childhoods? Am I helping make memories that they will love? Am I living in the ‘now’ with them? Do I have the right career-life balance?

I’ve seen this video many times. Each time it gets me.


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Global Contexts & Avoiding the ‘Single Story’

This last couple of weeks we’ve been busy preparing faculty PD on the Global Contexts and their role in developing International Mindedness & Global Engagement (IMaGE) in our students. It has been a lot of work, but as we kicked off the sequence (3 x 1hr PD sessions) this week, the discussions began on some real areas of interest.

Key to the discussion was an excerpt from Chimamanda Adichie‘s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” (thanks @LizDK for suggesting it!). We played the first 6 minutes, with the follow-up question “could her college room-mate have been a CA graduate?

So far, so interesting. I’ll follow up this post later once the sequence is completed. Next steps: taking action in the curriculum, teaching & learning.


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Educate for hope, not despair, for a fair and sustainable world.

Californian Blue Whales are almost back to historical levels after whaling bans in their range.

Californian Blue Whales are almost back to historical levels after whaling bans in their range.

We’ve wrecked the world.

Inequality, environmental destruction, outbreaks of disease, terrorism and economic collapse. We are (we think) aware of the problems we face – perhaps too aware – and the message can be one of hopelessness. Do we risk passing on global ignorance to our students – a connected, compassionate generation who are plugged into a media-rich stream of (mis)information? As we try to bring global issues into the classroom, there is a danger that we promote a message that all is lost; a message reinforced by media reporting on the same issues and clouded by prejudices and emotion.

We can fix it.

We can choose to educate for hope. The solutions to many of problems are out there, or on the cusp of being realised – the technological age is well established and we are reaping the rewards. Now it’s time to recognise the importance of the psychological age. George Monbiot writes that if we terrify people, they will focus on saving themselves, not others; a feeling of hopelessness that accompanies awareness of global issues is unhelpful. Yet if the focus is on the concrete and the hopeful – the actions that we can take to make a difference – then we might affect a more positive outcome.

I would love to see an international school curriculum that produces graduates who are globally literate (as in Hans Rosling’s Ignorance Project) and who are hopeful, compassionate and active ‘fixers of the future‘. With the IB Programmes we have the framework – the ‘heavy lifting’ of the elements of an excellent education has been done for us. As schools we can choose to use that framework to build an inspirational experience.

We can start with simple actions

Blue whales are recovering and we can re-grow rainforests – so we can reclaim hope in the curriculum with simple actions:

  1. Design units that connect to Global Contexts in authentic ways.
  2. Evaluate our own understandings of the global issues we’re addressing before we teach them.
  3. Use student research and examples to highlight both the reality of of the situation and the actions that can (and are) being taken to make a positive difference.
  4. Discuss how these actions and our knowledge can be connected to meaningful action.

We want to create a realistic hope – not ignorance, boredom or hopelessness. We can do it.

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Links: 


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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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Content & Inquiry in a Google World

If you’re an educator on Twitter, you have seen this graphorism doing the rounds, included in this post on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog, which in turn reproduces brain-based education guru Eric Jensen’s Education Week Teacher article Boosting Student Learning. 

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There’s nothing quite like a cute graphorism to get people chucking stones on Twitter. Click for Larry Ferlazzo’s post.

Sweet. We’ve got 1:1 and access to Google and a bunch of hyperlinks. Job done. Well, not quite. Within context I agree with the other four of Jensen’s responses, but this image has been bugging me a bit, being tweeted and retweeted without the full article or argument attached.

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Before going ahead*, I recommend reading Larry Ferlazzo’s (@LarryFerlazzoResponses series on the ‘five best practices’ that teachers can do to help their students become better learners’. There are some really useful quotes in there, representing a range of perspectives on what makes ‘effective’ student learning and what builds effective learners.

*As always on this blog, the links are way better than the post. I won’t be offended if you skip the lengthy witterings below. 

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tL;dr Version

I don’t know anyone who can successfully teach ‘content-free’ in middle-high school. We do need to ensure that we teach good content: relevant, current, useful, interesting. We need to teach that content well, using effective methods for our own students and ensuring as much as we can that we don’t reinforce misconception. Google is a tool, not a teacher, and a teacher who could be replaced by a search engine should be. At the same time, we can’t drown students in facts without leaving room for critical reflective thought (inquiry). We need to help students make connections and the selection (and teaching) of content is crucial in building conceptual and transferable understandings. We need to ensure that students know enough to be able to ask good questions. 

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 Content’s role in an inquiry-focused, connected education

This collection of ramblings, knocked into a list, represent my current mindset regarding content, curriculum and pedagogy. They are written from the perspective of an international IB practitioner in a secondary science classroom (MYP & DP), and as a programme coordinator (MYP) and general MA-studying curriculum nerd. Some of this treads similar ground to my MA assignment on MYP: Mind the Gap.

1. Strong teachers DO teach content. All teachers teach content. When we teach a student a fact or a skill and think it’s worth teaching to others, and then we make a note of it and save it for later… it’s content. Yet these same strong teachers recognise that not all content is equal, and that students come first -they’re the reason we’re employed

2. Strong teachers put curriculum before pedagogy, making sure that – to the best of their ability – the content, skills and concepts of the unit are worth learning in the first place. They then focus on how to best cause learning in their own students, in the ways that work best for them. It can be hard to let go of favourite content (or to adapt to new circumstances), but there is little point in honing excellent pedagogy founded on weak curriculum. Otherwise our students will know less valuable stuff – but they’ll know it really well.

3. Strong teachers check the understandings of their students with regard to conceptual and factual accuracy – and then take explicit action on this information. This aims to reduce the interference effect on future learning of misconceptions formed from poor prior learning. If it is content worth teaching it is content worth remembering – and using to build future schema. If we want students to grasp a concept, we will explicitly plan to teach it using factually accurate content.

And so…

Lynn Erickson’s 3D Model of Concept-based Learning – founded on facts and skills.

4. Strong teaching recognises that a concept-based curriculum is still a content-founded curriculum. The effective selection of skills and content (facts), combined with strong pedagogy and metacognition, allow students to build the over-arching ‘concepts’ that should be more transferable. Although transfer is hard – and that is perhaps why we have a set of ATL skills in MYP now to help teach it. See Ilja van Weringh’s recent posts on a PD weekend with Lynn Erickson for more useful quotes & tips.

5. Strong teaching activates inquiry as critical reflective thought – and this needs high-quality raw materials. A strong educational experience uses a foundation of good content knowledge and skills and doesn’t just allow students to develop their learning from there – it forces them to engage, think critically and evaluate their own learning. This is critical pedagogy, and it causes inquiry. Students need to know enough to be able to ask good questions, otherwise it is enquiry in the weak simple-questions sense, not inquiry in the critical and reflective sense.

6. Strong teachers DO connect learning, even the content-focused teachers.  Strong teachers know what the connections are between the content and emphasise these with students. Strong teachers love and recognise it when students make these – or entirely new – connections by themselves. See this post by Harry Webb on ‘who exactly is going around ‘disconnecting’ the facts?

7. Strong teaching takes place within your own academic, social, political or cultural context. Almost all middle and high-school teacher have an outside curriculum influence that guides or dictates contentthis is curriculum as the snapshot of our culture. With this set of standards, benchmarks or assessment statements, we have  content. A good teacher will be creative, differentiated and engaging in how it is taught, but it is still content.

8. Strong teachers recognise the role of content is changing due to technology, but not in the way that quote might suggest. Google is a tool that opens up a world of information, but information is not curriculum and not all information is born equal in terms of its value within curriculum. Not only must we now make sure that the content we are teaching students is correct and misconception-free, we need to also learn how to help students evaluate and appropriately apply the information they find in their own online inquiries. We need to learn to master a parallel curriculum – a set of content and skills of digital, media and information literacy. Good job we have some ATL clusters for those too, eh?

9. Strong educational design and teaching should inspire students to want to know more. Strong teaching might help them aspire to greatness. But a strong teacher will also try to help students recognise that learning is hard, that significant effort is rewarded with greater learning and that the privilege of education is worth the sometimes uninspiring work of practice. Strong teachers care about their students and their students know this.

10. I need a number 10. Maybe you can add one in the comments, or on Twitter.

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What is the effect of ‘Googling’ on memory and is it a bad thing?

This paper (pdf) (summarized in the video below), outlines some studies on the externalisation of stored memory.

If students develop a dependence on search engines for recall of simple facts (or computation of simple maths facts), are they at a disadvantage to students who are able to recall and apply already automatized learning? Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow idea might suggest so – as we learn for automaticity and store information in the fast-thinking System I memory, we so free ‘cognitive load‘ for higher-order System II thought: inquiry as critical reflective thought.

If we activate effective learning of critical content through effective pedagogy, do we then help ensure the automaticity of this foundational knowledge, leading to more effective inquiry? Are students less likely to waste time (and cognitive load) on simple searches or computations? What would you think of an adult who had to constantly search simple facts or turn to calculator to make change?

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Personal Reflection

I teach science in an international school and I’m IB to my core (MYP & DP, kid in PYP). I believe in school education for a better world, not just as a stepping-stone to university, but I’m a pragmatist at the same time. I have a job to do, and that’s to educate and to do so as well as I can. I want my students to be lifelong learners with useful skills, useful knowledge, empathy and global literacy. I also need to support this in my colleagues, in my role as coordinator.

A few years back, the pendulum of my beliefs on education swung more towards the quote than it does now. As the role of EdTech and 1:1 access to instant, broad, authentic and real-time information became more powerful as pedagogical tools opportunities the excitement of open inquiry threatened to overcame critical reflection on what would work. I was (and remain) a risk-taker in the classroom, but I never had the bravery to hand the subject guide to the students and tell them to ‘just Google it’ as a course plan. I’m glad now that I didn’t. I still do use a lot of tech in teaching, mainly for workflow and feedback – and most of it now is GoogleApps.

When I built online resources like i-Biology.net and various internal systems I was trying to put the content in place to make room for exploration and inquiry; by setting up a system of what I deemed reliable and useful content, I thought I could ‘derail’ the learning process and ’empower every learner’ to grow at their own pace, in their own style. I have experimented with various on and offline project-based methods, from the open to the teacher-directed, and have found through the experience (and student feedback), that there is a need and a demand for the teacher’s effective and explicit intervention. This has been confirmed through my MA and professional readings, most recently looking at the work of Hattie, Kahnemann, Willingham, Dewey, Vygotsky, Elkjaer and more.

We are employed as the expert in the room, the guiding hand that not only facilitates student learning but which activates it. We need to set up a culture of learning and of measured academic risk, but we also need to be there to protect students from going (too far) down dead-ends. This is especially true when there are high-stakes terminal assessments looming. The strongest students would likely have done just as well under any set of classroom practices – perhaps despite rather than because of my choices. Those students less ready to control their own learning struggled more, fell behind and needed much more direct intervention. The path through this first decade of my teaching career is littered with the fallen bodies (and vestigial webpages, documents and ideas) of schemes that didn’t make the grade.

So now, in time for MYP: Next Chapter and a new IB Biology guide, I think I’m starting to be happy with how I’m getting things set up. I’m comfortable with the importance of my role as a teacher to bring students to meaningful inquiry and the centrality of (the right) content in getting us there. The coming years are an opportunity to put this into practice, to test and refine inquiry as critical reflective thought based on curriculum as a careful curation of connected content taught carefully and purposefully with pedagogy as a on ongoing feedback loop.

Having said all this, taking a Vygotskyian approach to inquiry when I’m more Dewey at heart. There are often times when I worry about too much prescribed content and wish for a more permanent foot across the divide back into middle school teaching. I want less content, but to make it really good and to leave room for real inquiry as critical, reflective thought. There’s a certain energy in the middle school that I miss, where the curriculum can be freed up and learning can be pursued with less worry for the dreaded GPA…. but that’s a another post.

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I wonder how many points this post could have scored on an edu-jargon bingo-card.

If you have comments, please leave them, but be advised they need to be moderated and I’m in Japan, so might well be in bed. You can also find me on Twitter.

Inquiry_Elkjaer_iBiologyStephen