Notes From AFR “Teach Skills, Not Subjects”

 

AFR bossI really enjoyed Brett Rolfe’s article “We need to teach children skills, not subjects” in this weekend’s Australian Financial Review Boss Magazine. For those interested, here was the source statement to Brett’s questions on the subject.

The current revolution in education is in the shifting priority to the learner, learning; rather than a single focus on what needs to be taught. It is clear to me that fear of non-compliance to curriculum standards is driving much of the educational agenda in Australia. Our focus on meeting the requirements of a broad curriculum is robbing educators of the ability to invest in the depths and directions which our children are interested in exploring and the “push down” of educational expectation into early childhood is robbing our children of the emotional and interpersonal foundations for long-term success.

There is no question that schools must develop student’s mastery of multi-disciplinary substance in literacy, numeracy, sciences and the arts; but our approach should focus more on the cohesive nature of these fields; a marriage and integration of width and depth in our investigations and studies.

I recently visited a beautiful school in Perth but after walking around the immaculate grounds for 10 minutes I had not seen a single student. I asked my host “Where are the children?” to which they cheerfully replied, “This is the NAPLAN term.” … I don’t really know what that means anymore; I live in a bubble where permission abounds for children to explore, play, experiment, challenge, debate and reflect; the longer I operate within this learning environment, the more acclimatised I become to the benefits but more ignorant to the truth that these possibilities are not the norm.

Our school’s Founder; Gillian McAuliffe, has been a passionate advocate for getting the “word out” and has championed the education-of-educators in this arena (long before it was popular to do so). I do believe that successful schools; schools who are connected and listening to the broad range of international research and best-practice, have a responsibility to reach out to other educators and offer pathways within their own contexts. Our school has been a model of excellence in responding to the needs of our own student body and we are constantly looking for ways to improve and extend our successes.

The foundations of our approach to learning are focused on developing Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication – these do not need to be elusive skills – whilst there are finer nuances; the crux of developing and mastering these skills is in providing time and opportunity. At Bold Park Community School;it is embedded in our environments, our policies, our approach to the disciplines, our questioning techniques and the provocational opportunities we develop for and with children.

http://www.afr.com/brand/boss/we-need-to-teach-children-skills-not-subjects-20150605-gh4c7c?stb=fb

Secret Mums on “POSITIVE” Business … OR … Engaging Our Parents in the Learning Partnership

IMG_7407

I hope you don’t mind my indulgence. It has been a fantastic few weeks at our little school. We have been running an intimate and innovative program for our Middle School girls (aged between 11 and 14).

These are confronting years for our young ladies and we have identified the need to focus on our girls in this age range. Families are needing support to cope as their girls deal with the new pressures of adolescence; confidence issues, body image and representations of beauty, healthy attitudes to food and exercise, complicated relationships (parents, “other girls”, and attraction/s to others) as well as the stresses of school, building success and coping with the technological presence of social and electronic media. It is no surprise that anxiety and stress are a growing community issue.

If our young people don’t have the tools to deal with these issues, they are simply not in a position to be able to learn.

The Middle School team consulted and researched widely to target a program that would offer the girl’s the confidence to address these issues within the school environment. Staff worked to collate a library of POSITIVE centred readings, video clips, podcasts, songs, feature articles and short stories centred around the themes we had identified and addressed POSITIVE solutions to HELP Girls… Kaz Cooke, Maggie Dent (our patron), the “Dove” media packages offered some great provocations;  as well as best practice readings from Relationships Australia and other professional support organisations.

resourcesThese “readings” have been broken into five weekly reading packages which will be delivered as a “girls only” group in a fully integrated English program. We have secretly employed the mums who also completed the reading program, complete with homework for Mum AND daughter.

Mother and daughter study, discuss, read and reflect on the weekly readings TOGETHER before they come to school to share their thoughts with their “Reading Circles” group.  The package integrates perfectly with English, Health, Electives, Zentangles and our Girls group and is informed by the pastoral care focus we have throughout the school.

The series culminated today (Friday the 6th June) with a special surprise event! The girl’s arrived to find all their mothers AT SCHOOL accompanied by our special guest; Kate Wilson – our amazing “spoken Word Poet” – a passionate young lady who has much to say about the issues we are addressing. You can view a sample of her work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rK46nILY-rw – she was truly MAGICAL!

Most significantly – each mother shared about a moment from their own childhood where they had to face a challenge lead to a POSITIVE; something that was special to all of the girls – they were invited to present their snapshot through a medium of their choice; a dance, a song, a poem, a story but REAL and from the heart.

They also gave their daughter a handwritten letter in which they communicated and celebrated the BEAUTY they see in their daughter.

We are sold on the belief that schools must work with parents in partnership toward developing our young people – not JUST in an academic program but multi-elementally. We are excited that our school has been in an intimate position to RESPOND to the needs of our children in partnership with our wonderful community.

Cultural Capital or Culture Clash?

Whether it is wise to write a blog immediately after attending a fantastic Professional Development session; I don’t know. BUT… I am throwing caution to the wind (BEFORE I return to the classroom) to jot a few thoughts down about today’s (grossly under-populated) experience with Mark Church on MAKING THINKING VISIBLE. Mark is the co-author (with Ron Ritchhart & Karin Morrison) of a newly released book by the same name (some core resources from the research/book are available at www.pz.harvard.edu/vt)

I was particularly engaged with the challenge to investigate the “culture” of our classrooms. Mark drew the analogy that walking into a classroom (or indeed any SCHOOL) is like walking into a new country; we are immediately bombarded with new sensory experiences, we quickly ascertain what kind of learning and teaching is privileged, what activities and actions are rewarded or rebuked, how ‘mistakes’ are managed/dealt with. Like the sights and sounds of a new country – we quickly draw conclusions; many of which are long-standing and most acutely accurate!

  • Do we develop group culture?
  • How do we make THINKING (intrinsically “invisible”)… VISIBLE?
  • What do we want the children we teach to be like when they are adults?
  • Does our classroom culture reflect healthy social, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and functional dispositions?
  • What is the “story” of our classrooms? Does it reflect the learning we enjoyed (or despised) in our OWN educational journey?

I’m sure that Mark would be horrified by my butchering of his content into a bite-sized, take home pack! Sorry Mark! The truth is after immersion in self-reflection on the values that we see communicated through our classrooms/schools – we were better positioned to answer the two cornerstone questions;

  • What is learned here? AND
  • What is learned ABOUT LEARNING here?

With the political mandates dictating the direction of our curriculum it is easy to see how many classrooms are a story of WORK rather than a story of LEARNING… as Mark put it; “Curriculum has become a mile wide and an inch deep”. I didn’t find the session a “preach” against these curriculum initiatives; in fact the focus was more directed to the fact that Testing, Curriculum and Syllabus are all delivered WITHIN the context of the CULTURES we DO control (e.g. modelling, environment, expectations, behaviour, interactions, relationships, structures, opportunities, language and allocation of time).

The methods and routines suggested to make thinking visible are best packaged by the team themselves but I can highly recommend the book (complete with DVD) and the website (noted in my first paragraph) as a source for unpacking these strategies.

Australian Curriculum Coalition Paper (Summary)

For those following movements in the Australian Curriculum here is an important development; “The Australian Curriculum Coalition (ACC) represents a forum of Presidents, Executive Officers and Executive Directors of National Education Organisations. The Organisations represent members who are teachers, principals, school leaders, academics and education researchers.”

Today they released the following ‘open letter’; http://www.acsa.edu.au/pages/images/Australian%20Curriculum%20Coalition%20common%20view%20on%20the%20Australian%20Curriculum4.pdf

The report extends support for a national curriculum but requests the following;

  • Revision of timeline for development and implementation
  • ‘Build stakeholder ownership’ (teachers/principals/associations, etc.)
  • Inform debate by making drafts and consultation ‘public’
  • Pages 4 & 5 discuss a rigorous need for these initiatives to be world-class and framed by clear curriculum rationale
  • Reduction of ‘over crowding’ in curriculum documents (This will sting as it was a primary objective for ACARA to keep the statements ‘open’ – ironically it is the consultation process that has been the source of the ‘fattening’)
  • Whole or Core Curriculum – Clarification for ‘local’ content (This is quite problematic for the History implementation but I think they are drawing a long bow on this one – your thoughts?)
  • Cross-curricula Developments – (YAY!!)
  • Reporting and Achievement Standards (YAY!!)
  • Funding for PD/PL

Wish they had mentioned a few more (e.g. consideration for special needs, resources, etc.)

Would love you know what you think of these suggestions? http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/WA-Teachers-Lounge/154210691257798