Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Building Learning Communities Conference     BOSTON

I would like to thank the Board of Trustees for the endorsement for Miranda and me to attend the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston.

The focus was on the use of technology to transform education. Currently technology is being used in classrooms to do simply more of the same. Teachers still teach the content of a subject, the students learn what the teachers see as important and then turn that content into assignments that the teachers approve or not. Computers are being used as $1000 pencils.

The speakers we heard

Alan November
Eric Mazur
Homa Sabad Tavanger
Mike Pennington
Dr. Ross Kasun
Robert Goodman
David Malan
Linda Luikos

Recommended books

Too Big to know  --- David Weinberger
The Age of the Smart Machine
Problem Solving  -- Mitch Resnick

Recommended sites

101 Questions (Check Dan Maier TED talk)
XQ America
Prism (self asessment tool)
Wolfram Alpha
El Sistema


!) Global empathy

2) Opportunity for teachers to learn more about their students.

3) Process change.

4) Whole class learning.

5) Developing use of questions.

6) Student motivation.

7) Students as a major resource in the classroom.

8) Authentic audience.


Student annotations are a window into the brain.

The least used resource in the classroom is the student

Whoever owns the assessment owns the learning.

We have to learn with and from the world as if our lives depend on it.

We increasingly need to navigate a complex world.

Be a friend to the whole human race.

That worksheet changed my life  - said no student ever.

Feedback is not feedback if it is not actionable.

My candle is not diminished by sharing my spark.

Alan November discussed the leverage that technology can have in building global empathy. He talked about global empathy as being the skill most desired by employers yet the most lacking in applicants for jobs.

Technology allows students to communicate with students all round the world and Alan could give us examples of when this happens now. Finding global perspectives in an authentic way is the best and possibly the only way to build that empathy - seeing things through someone else's eyes. He challenged us to take any assignment and make it global. HOMA SABET TAVENGER was even more emphatic. He used the expression - 'We need to learnwith and from the world as if our livesdepend on it (because they do ).He suggested there was a moral imperative to connect the dots between local and global.

He also talked about replacing the word technology with the words information and communication. Information, he says, is the bit the teachers should be doing very little of. He talked about the wasted effort of teachers answering questions in classrooms that students can easily find the answers to on their devices. Avoid that at all costs, he says. The role of the teacher is far more sophisticated than that. He recommended that teachers ask the students  "What do you do to learn? What are your favourite websites to learn from ? What is your favourite tool of expression ?"

He challenged us to look into classes and see who is working harder, the teachers or the students. If it is the teachers then some serious reflection needs to happen.

He talked about the most important thing a teacher can do is to teach the students how to ask questions - deep questions that require deep and thoughtful responses. He talked about students having an authentic audience for their work. He challenged us about the teacher being coach and judge - he said that teachers can easily hide behind a thin veil of objectivity.


The premise that Eric Mazur based his talk on was that all students can learn.


Ross Kasun spoke passionately about redefining homework. He prefers the word - home learning  - to homework. The reason for that is that homework should be set that will spark students interest, about priming the brain for the following lesson rather than checking that the previous lesson has gone in. If that happens then homework does not need to be marked, it needs to be shared which is a completely different thing.

He talked about the myth that homework teaches responsibililty. He says that rather it teaches compliance.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

What does leadership look like for a head student?

 1) Role model for the vision and culture of the school.

2) Respectful of teachers and peers and mindful of boundaries.

3) Responsible for own behaviour.

4) Being mindful of what is the business of a head student and what is not.

5) Management of self (personal issues to be dealt with separately from the position).

Alan November and the $1000 pencil.

I have been reading some of Alan November's work recently and the idea of the students carrying around $1000 pencils is the one that keeps coming back to me. It's such a wake up call for all of us. Are we actually doing things differently or are we doing the same stuff with fancy gear? It's a scary thought.

 I have been  particularly inspired by a section in the book "Who Owns the learning?"  It is in the second chapter called "The student as tutorial designer." There is a story at the beginning of the chapter about a mother arriving to pick up her daughter. The daughter was not there. The mother went to look for her daughter and found her in the maths room working on a tutorial for the class. The mother was astonished at her daughter's commitment to the task. It was quite clear that for the daughter having an authentic audience and being able to present using technology was highly motivating for her.

I am going to Alan November's conference in Boston in July and I am really hoping that I can explore the potential of technology to excite and motivate our students.

$1000 pencils ?  just scary.

Martin Robinson and the Trivium

I recently wrote to Martin Robinson. I admire his work on The Trivium.

HI there
My name is Barbara Cavanagh and I am the foundation principal of Albany Senior High School.
Over the last year we have engaged enthusiastically with your book   The Trivium.  Our enthusiasm comes of course because we agree with you.
We are a relatively new school and have had the opportunity to do things differently.  Our students engage in specialist subjects for part of the week , tutorials for part of the week and then they do a full  day of project work on a Wednesday,
That means that the students get a balance of teacher led time and time to follow their  passions and interests.
Currently we are looking closely at the learning model   grammar, dialectic and rhetoric  and trying to come up with a design that both teachers and students can engage with.
Do you know of any school that has done that already ?  Might make things easier for us.  I will send you what we come up with.
Thank you so much for your Inspiration.  There has been very healthy discussion here and it continues. What we can all see of course is that it is the dialectic that so often gets missed in an exam driven curriculum and it is the dialectic that is crucial for nurturing critical citizens.
Best wishes for your ongoing work.
I have been following your blog and continue to be inspired by you
Barbara Cavanagh 

And this was his reply

Hi Barbara,

How lovely to hear from you, It is gratifying to hear you are getting so much out of my book! 

As to your questions you might be interested in having a look at the forthcoming book 'Trivium in Practice', where some people who are trying things out with the trivium have written about their work: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trivium-Practice-Martin-Robinson/dp/1781352437

I also work with schools on developing their practice, pedagogy and curricula, if you are interested in discussing this as a possibility please do get in touch as I can then share with you what others are doing as well as developing a relationship with your school in order to help you work on your trivium shaped curriculum.

I am also developing a course called 'History of Thought' and I have attached a couple of leaflets for your perusal.

Best wishes,


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Matariki Celebration at ASHS

This year our team leaders decided to celebrate Matariki with a showcasing of the first round of impact projects.

It was fabulous to have the opportunity to talk with students about what they had achieved over the last twelve weeks.

-The inspirational young woman writing a fantasy novel who has designed a cardboard world as a reference point for her writing.
-The two young men designing racing cars  - they had set up a track for us to test our skills.
- The three young women who have interviewed elderly folk from the Retirement Village next door and made up a cookbook with favourite recipes from the past. Some of the recipes were favourites during World war 2. How exciting that the cook book actually arrived on the day.
-The young man who has set up a computer timeline for himself to mark off the number of words he writes. He says it keeps him motivated.
-The three young women who presented their GIRLBOSS business. They have already organised 2 very successful conferences.
-The young man fascinated by the earth and its development has set up an earth timeline. He has been sourcing animals to go with each age.
-The three young men who have designed and built a false door on the top floor of the school with a great message
-The passionate young man who has been rebuilding a trail bike - my goodness he could not stop talkling - his excitement was just an inspiration.

That is just the tip of the iceberg.
From now on I will add to this list every Wednesday

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Response to "Cutting Edge of Chaos ?" (PPTA News Volume 37)

Yet again we have negative comments about Modern Learning environments from people who have never worked in them (have never even visited them) and I have to wonder why such views are given an airing and any credit ?

Chris Abercromie says he "thinks of beanbags, walls of windows and breakout spaces" when he thinks of MLEs. Well so what that he thinks that ?

As a teacher I would be giving him feedback along the lines of
1) Your rhetoric needs to be backed with knowledge. What research have you done that gives you the confidence to make such claims ?
2) You talk of "shallow outcomes ". Again what research have you done ?
3) How much testing of any of your theories have you done ?

Chris -- your rhetoric is empty. I bet you would not allow your students to go to print with such shallow reasoning.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Teachers at ASHS keep relevant by engaging with research.

As a profession we have to stay at the top of our game. If you are a teacher reading this and you are teaching in the same way that you did ten years ago, five years ago, two years ago, then you are missing out on huge and wonderful opportunities to learn and grow and improve your practice. You run the risk of becoming irrelevant. If you are a leader then it is even more important for you to stay relevant so that you can genuinely lead pedagogy in your schools.

At the end of last year teachers at ASHS were put into eleven groups and were asked to share read a current research book. There were eleven different titles.

Here is the list of books.
  • Hanging In – Strategies for teaching the students who challenge us most – Jeffrey Benson
  • Simply Better – Doing what matters most – Bryan Goodwin
  • New Kinds of Smart – Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton
  • Results Now – Mike Schmoker
  • Building Learning Power – Guy Claxton
  • Mindset – Carol Dweck
  • The Element – Ken Robinson
  • Visible Learning for Teachers – John Hattie
  • Leadership Mindsets – Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past – Linda Kaser and Judy Halbet
  • Student Centred Leadership Viviane Robinson
  • Trivium 21C – Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past – Martin Robinson
 And here is the great work which was part of the presentations that our teachers completed. As you can see, most groups were able to be in contact with the authors and in some cases the authors have become guides for us in our continuing progress.

Donald Trump highlights need for critical pedagogy.

All those people who are voting to have Donald Trump as President have spent a portion of their lives in schools. It's a horrifying thought. Worse is that Donald Trump has been in school (undoubtedly a very expensive private school).

It surely highlights for us the urgency for teaching our students to be critical in their thinking. Lots of things get landed at the feet of schools -like obesity, bullying, violence,smoking, drugs and I always think how unfair those claims are BUT I don't think we can sidestep this one. This has to land squarely with us.

Obviously with the man himself the nonsense that comes out of his mouth is cleverly designed to seduce the masses of people who will vote for him. He knows our education system has failed. He knows that with huge numbers of people the more brazen and cavalier he becomes the more adoration he will get.
He has answers which satisfy people's unwillingness to think and reflect. He doesn't even bother to try and sound reasonable in any way. AND he may end up leading a country which celebrates its ability to think freely.

So let's get right back to thinking about what we do in schools to educate our students to think seriously and deeply about issues that affect their lives.

Here are some questions for all of us.

1) How seriously and how deliberately do we teach our students to think critically ?
2) What happens in every classroom every day that encourages students to think critically ?
3) How do we as leaders support our teachers to be teachers of critical thinking?
4) What do we know about critical pedagogy ?
5) Are we so bound by NCEA and other exam structures that we teach knowledge and then with no critical dialectic jump straight to having students writing answers ?

And I guess the biggest question that we have to grapple with is ----
How do we protect our world from the likes of Donald Trump?

There is a lesson to be learnt here for all of us.