Last week I attended a wonderful day of professional learning run by the Central West RTLB Cluster in Auckland.
Mere Berryman was the first presenter looking at te Kotahitanga, a research programme that has spent a number of years looking at factors influencing maori student achievement. There are a number of things that really struck me over the day:
- "we know what works now, so why would we do anything else?" – a challenging quote! Can be applied to so many things in so many places in education. We have research that shows what works and what is effective in the classroom …. how can people ignore them and stick to the same-old, same-old? eg:
- Feedback is most effective when specific and focused on learning not the person or effort – Hattie and Daniel Pink.
- External rewards are ultimately demotivating – Daniel Pink
- children already know a large percentage of the content of classroom programs, especially in "Inquiry" times – Graeme Nuthall et al
- engagement matters!
- etc, etc, etc
- The BIG picture counts …. if we get too hung up on micro-managing the small bits we can loose sight of the things that count overall. This is especially true of applying research and extrapolating out what good practice looks like I think. We need to look at the whole package not try and dissect teaching up into a series of discrete behaviors that are supposedly then replicable and 'cause' learning. This is a very behaviorist model of schooling, and the mechanization of the profession is something we are increasingly seeing in an effort to discern so called quality. One of the later speakers in the day described three standout teachers in his school and they were fundamentally different from each other in their style and approach …. but they did 'cause' success in exams in the senior secondary system and so had kids lining up to be in their classes.
- The tail is not the only point. Maori and pacific achievement is lower across the board. Their 'bell curves' have slid to the left for these groups compared to the NZ European and Asian demographics. This is quite different from the picture of the tail of achievement we have focused on and heard so much about in the past decade or so. It also has different and more profound implications for the teaching profession …. particularly when combined with the next point.
- This shows how the four different groups – Students, Whanau, principals and teachers explain achievement of maori students in their classrooms. Students, whanau and principals (green and blue) are largely agreed that school and classroom structures are the biggest influencers on achievement. Teachers (Yellow) however assign the main influence on achievement to the student, contrary to what everyone else believes.
This leads to the conclusion that teachers don't look at themselves when children are not succeeding they blame the child, their home, circumstances, etc. This deficit thinking is also an issue for other than racial or ethnic issues I believe. We see this constantly with children with all sorts of learning needs – what is wrong with the kid that they aren't leaning because my classroom programme is, of course, so stunning? It is quite a mind-shift to ask yourself why kids are not maximising their potential as a function of what you are doing as a teacher rather than what they 'are' as a learner.
A powerful challenge there for teachers to reflect upon!!
- "we know children well, bit we don't know ourselves well". As teachers how well do we honestly and accurately reflect upon and get feedback on our practice? Do we REALLY know what is happening in our classsrooms and how effective we are being?
There were a number of speakers in the day who followed similar themes and contributed to and reinforced these points for me. Some real challenges and thinking there. For us all!
A big thanks to the team who put the day together.