Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Today I finally had a Skype conversation! I know I'm a bit slow but life has been a bit hectic. Anyway, I held a conversation from Allanah from Appleby and we talked about the joys of being teachers in the 21st century with all this new technology at our ... fingertips :). I posted the podcast over on my podcast page but I thought I would include a link here. Enjoy.

Click here to get your own player.

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Reflections on readings about reflective practice

Coles, A.L.. & Knowles, J.G. (2000). Teacher Knowledge and modes of teacher knowing. Researching teaching: Exploring teacher development through reflexive inquiry (pp.5-13). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Day, C. (1999). Professional development and reflective practice: purposes, processes and partnerships. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 7(2), 221-223

Hulbert-Holly, M., & McLoughlin, C. (1989). Professional development and journal writing. In M. Hulbeert-Holly, & C. McLoughlin (Eds.). Perspectives on teacher professional development, (pp 259-283). London: Falmer Press.

Research traditionally was ‘done’ to teachers but rarely impacted upon their teaching lives and to some degree this is still the case. These three readings assert that teachers need to be researchers. Coles and Knowles (2000) discuss the difference between teacher researchers and so called ‘expert researchers’. I concur that teachers need to be researchers and that we need to research our classroom practice in a more cohesive and organised way, but I also see the need for educational research and large style case studies. As a teacher researcher I discover a trend in my teaching or classroom then look further at this trend. To do this I need to be able to read what has been discovered over a variety of classrooms over a period of time.

Another theme in these readings is the importance of the personal aspect of teaching. Cole and Knowles (2000) conclude that you cannot just tell teachers how to behave or think to create an expert teacher. This brought to mind the difference in the student teachers I have supervised. You can tell when someone has got ‘it’. You can train a teacher to say and do the right things, but unless they have that special factor that makes them interesting to the children, they will never be ‘expert’. What is ‘it’? How do we know if we have got ‘it’? Reflection.

It is imperative that teachers reflect on classroom practice and constantly seek ways to improve. I agree with Day (1999) that deliberate reflection seems to be the exception not the rule. Teachers do not have the time to spend on reflection in today’s overcrowded curriculum, and a lot of schools do not promote reflection in their professional development. A colleague in the ICTPD project has introduced the initiative of giving the teachers in her cluster one day of professional development and then one day to reflect on and plan how to use that professional development. Maybe there is hope yet! This article by Day also agrees with Cole & Knowles that it is the personal side of teaching that makes the difference. The emotional self is important in reflection and becoming a systematic inquirer. Day also raises the point, though, that teachers rarely concern themselves with the ethical justifications of the teaching. This really got me thinking. Do I ever consciously take ethics into account?

Day states that it is imperative to share your reflections with colleagues. This is an argument which is taken up even more strongly in the article by Holly and McLoughlin (1989). This article was an easy and enjoyable read. It motivated me to begin a teaching reflection journal. But I think a journal on its own is not enough. It is the communication between peers discussing the content of the journals that really makes the difference. Maybe what is needed is not a reflection journal, but a reflection blog. A place where others can comment on your reflections and you can enter into a dialogue.

These articles led me to realise I engage in reflection but not in a coherent manner. I think the best way to ensure that teachers reflect is to have a mentor or critical friend. However something stands in the way of us developing these vital mentoring relationships. I may be generalising, but teachers get a lot of bad press and suggesting you could do better is making yourself vulnerable to criticism. This is a terribly sad state of affairs.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

'What' versus 'How Well'

I have been reading The Schools our Children Deserve by Alfie Kohn. I am only a few chapters in but I am finding it fascinating. I am currently teaching in New Zealand but originate from Western Australia. I was recently in WA to visit family and was amazed as I read the newspapers each day that there were cries for higher standards and 'Back to Basics' in WA. Politicians and reporters alike were pulling apart the 'experiments' that were taking place in classrooms and crying out for the '3 Rs' to be brought back.

Nothing upsets me more than when that old 'Back to Basics' gets bandied around. I want these politicians and reporters to tell their surgeons that they want them to go back to basics. Don't worry about that new fangled machinery, a bit of whiskey and a saw never hurt anyone.

Oops, ranting, I'll get back on track now. Anyway, Alfie Kohn in his book talks about the difference between children who learn 'what' versus 'how well'. He says that there is too much emphasis placed on the grades that students will achieve for their work. He states that students who concentrate on their grade (the 'how well') never delve deep into the subject, they focus on tasks to achieve the grade. Where as students who concentrate on 'what' they are learning, achieve a much deeper understanding of a subject. He states that grades are negative motivators, that the subject itself should be motivating enough. How does this all sit with the government continuously testing years 3, 7 and 9 students in WA (I'm sure it's the same elsewhere), publishing league tables in the newspaper, and in one case having entrance exams for a public high school to ensure only the brightest students gain entry. Are we teaching these students how to think? How to learn? Or how to pass tests and regurgitate facts. Just when I think we are getting somewhere I encounter these newspaper reports in WA or read about blogging being blocked in American schools and feel like education is being sent 'back to the basics' with innovative teachers kicking and screaming.

The whole concept of grades being a negative motivator makes sense to me! It is one of those 'aha' moments that you wonder why you didn't know it all before, it just makes sense and here's why. I did a research paper on Podcasting in 2006 to complete my Post Graduate Diploma in Education. I am motivated by grades (or so I thought). When I got a B+ I was depressed for days ( I couldn't tell you what the paper was about though). However I aimed for an A in this research paper and I got an A. This year, 2007, I have been awarded an E-Fellowship by the NZ Ministry of Education to study something of my choice in ICT. The first thing I thought of was 'Great! Now I can really study podcasting and look at all the things I wanted to look at'. The first research project was to achieve a grade, the second, where there is no grade involved, means that I can just delve into the subject and learn all I want.


Now if it took me this long to figure out that telling students they need to aim for a good grade in what ever subject I am teaching is not really the motivator I thought it would be...

Let's keep fighting, our students deserve it. Say NO to 'back to basics'. Let's be innovative, creative, subversive. Come on, let's be REBELS! I'm saying no to grades, I'm saying yes to wondering and problem solving and questioning.