Fake news and the need for critical thinking

This is not a political article, but a look at critical thinking. I recently popped online and caught up on some American news, watched a couple of news based comedy shows then watched the original press conferences they had referred to. I looked up President Trump’s twitter feed and had a look just to check out the original source, not because I distrust my news sources, but because I am aware that an ideology sits behind everything impacts reporting. Later I opened up my Pinterest account and in my feed sat an article entitled ‘fake news’. It was an example of a contextual teaching unit on critical evaluation of sources.

Politics is what it is, and I absolutely believe that critical thinking is a must, as long it is critical thinking which includes consideration of the position you are based on.

What an opportunity though, for in the moment critical thinking. Is it fake news? Is it true? Is it somewhere on the spectrum in between? How does it represent, position, silence or give voice to people? The minute we stop questioning is the moment we have a problem.

But aside from taking lessons in critical thinking (please in context, not in isolation) what do we as educators or people in general teach about critical thinking? In a high stakes education system, are we privileging compliance at the expense of thinking and questioning? If all we do is provide minimal opportunities for deep questioning, or model questioning of surface knowledge in the name of time are we not teaching students to soak up the message given by authorities without question? Is this not being consistently reinforced through the hidden curriculum?

I do not advocate for there to be no order, compliance at the expense of order and management. There is a degree of this necessary for a functioning society and classroom. But is there room within this structure for kids to ask why or disagree with you? One way I manage this is by teaching kids when to come to me because they feel they have been dealt with unjustly. Never try it when I am speaking to a large group. Come up to me after and we will discuss it then, I will apologise if I was wrong or explain as appropriate. If a new rule must be instituted without consultation, explain why it is being instituted. Allow them to question it respectfully, and if they don’t know how too do that teach them. Model it in your interactions with them. Use think alouds give children opportunities to question why j they are doing a task and get them to offer alternate suggestions if they find it boring. Sometimes things are the way they are and that’s fine, but these small changes can be the start of critical thinking without changing your planned curriculum.this is something that cannot be learnt through a book, but needs practice and modelling.

How can we expect critical thinking when so many of our actions shut it down? Critical thinking and questioning can be disruptive but does not need to be disruptive in the way handing out energy drinks to children and expecting to sit still and quietly once they had been drunken. If we can’t expect children to learn to critically question society, should we be surprised when they take news commentaries and Facebook news as unquestioned truth?

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Engaging with families

This week semester one at university began. I am doing a paper based around engaging with families. One reading I had to do was the BES (best evidence synthesis) on the complex nature of influences on achievement from community and families. It was a long read, but worthwhile. If you don’t have the time to read the whole thing (I just skim read most of it) it is worth looking at the summaries of influences right at the beginning (a couple of pages long) and the table 8.1: ‘Synopsis of conclusions from evidence about what major influences and their degree of impact on children’s achievement.’

The paper highlighted the challenges of separating out what factors caused what, Continue reading

Barbara Brann: Building blocks for literacy – a year on

A year ago our school implemented Barbara Brann’s framework – building blocks for literacy – which looks at identifying and addressing the skills necessary to be ‘curriculum ready’. This means that a student is ready to take advantage of the school curriculum, and has the skills necessary for this. Any gaps that existed prior to the programme have been addressed, similar to plugging the holes in a bucket before trying to fill it with water. 

Toys used as writing prompts, sorting prompts, oral language prompts, science prompts, play prompts…

This framework was started in its entirety by a very talented teacher at my school, after some PLD was provided to myself and her courtesy of the RTLB (resource teacher of learning and behaviour) service. I incorporated aspects of the programme with the older children I mainly focussed on, and tried to implement it later on in the year when I shifted to working with younger students. 

Now, a year later, the framework is still in use, although less intensively than it was a year ago. It has been incorporated far more naturally into our daily programme, with key aspects still being applied. 

  • Blocks for teaching spelling
  • Blocks/counters to help young students hold a sentence in their head as they write it
  • Blocks/counters to help students visualise a target number of sentences for writing
  • Casey Caterpillar – teach letter shapes and the order they go in to turn into letters – when kids are ready
  • Casey Caterpillar – Use a means of teaching skills such as differentiation and patterning 
  • Have physical objects handing as prompts for writing (and let the children handle them as they talk and write)
  • Develop fine motor skills and oral language – these are essential to success in writing
  • Explicitly teach oral sentence structure and questioning techniques – in a practical context
  • Shore up the foundation before adding to the building
  • Look at the stage not the age

Has it been successful?

This depends on your view of success. In terms of academic achievement gains it has a two year span, so the jury is still out. It has definitely not harmed/limited the students’ learning. In terms of teacher gains, it has been an outstanding professional development tool which has vastly improved my understanding of how students develop their literacy and what potential blocks or ‘holes’ are preventing their learning for moving forward. From that view alone, the training is worth goin through. 

Am I convinced? 

The jury is still out on that one too. The framework is absolutely valuable and worthwhile. I would be interested to see the results further down the track. 

I think adopting the framework in its entirety is outside my current headspace of working with year 0-3 students (pre-k to 2). In a situation where students were of a closer age/stage I can see myself implementing this in more detail. However halfway through last year we introduced play-based learning, which I believe complements this framework and has provided a means of covering the framework more authentically than previously. 

The Casey Caterpillar leaves me with no doubt whatsoever of it’s benefit. I wouldn’t want to teach it any other way (unless it was a rose by any other name).

I hope that this has been of some help to you if you are interested in building blocks. Even getting the giant chart which identifies all of the skills would potentially be helpful as a PLD tool.

The ultimate workplace

This place looks awesome to work. Talk about student driven! I think I have just found my dream job AND a way to be thrown right out of my comfort zone. And even if you aren’t quite as convinced, it provides some great examples of ways to promote success, student  driven learning, child agency and develop great human beings. Imagine if this school’s curriculum became that of the nation!

Sudbury School

Ethics

Finally, a return to ethics. Perhaps finally is the wrong word. I have just completed an assignment on ethics (actually I began this post a couple of weeks ago when I had just completed an ethics assignment).

Ethics are an extremely complex issue, although they seem relatively straight forward. Moving forward I still wonder what implications this has for teaching as inquiry – an embedded part of the NZ curriculum and as much an expectation of teacher practice as reflections and professionalism.

This inquiry into your teaching practice involves a reflective cycle, upon which you take focus and action your findings within the classroom. This could be called action research, although it may vary slightly.

If, however, we as teachers are doing research which we are sharing with our peers, do we not owe it to the students to involve them so they realise what is actually happening? Beneficence and non-malfiecience (I still struggle spelling those two) are pretty straight forward and almost go without saying. Deception – I cannot imagine this issue coming up as a deliberate part of any teacher inquiry. Yet, what are the ethical implications in terms of informed consent and anonymity/confidentiality?
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Informed consent carries with it the participant’s right to not just know what they are involved in, agree to be involved and the right to withdraw at any stage. How does that work when it is a professional obligation and, in some cases, you might be required to do an inquiry around a student? What about the power differential here? If I ask a child to do something like this, they are already in a position of being conditioned to comply* What potential consequences do they imagine if they say no? ** What are the implications for the teacher – do you go ‘tough’ and do it anyway or do you have to redirect your inquiry to focus on other students?

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 10.59.41 PM.pngAs far as anonymity/confidentiality is concerned, this is next to impossible in a small school community. In my school you know all the students (or just about all the students) and have taught or interacted with all of them at some point in time. Sharing results with other teachers on staff can be interrupted with … ‘is that______? I recognise that handwriting etc’. I have experienced this myself. An inquiry into behaviour featured a quote from me. My name was not attached but it was very obvious to all that I was the one who had written it. It was embarrassing
and felt unnecessary (even though the quote was apt and completely professional).

 

What about if, upon the completion of an inquiry, others from outside the school want to know about your results and have your information presented. What happens then? Is it this point that ‘research ethics’ become important when in fact they are important throughout the whole process? Or is this just creating work for work’s sake?

I read a statement which essentially said research is not research unless peer reviewed and published. If this is the case then the above debate is unnecessary. I would arg
ue that often these inquiries are research, even if they are only ‘published’ in a staff meeting, in which case if anyone has an easy answer please send it my way! I have found none amongst my readings.

 

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*I often present children with the opportunity to decide not to do a task, or for feedback about something. Often this takes considerable reassurances to get them to believe me. As they work more with me they do come to see that I mean it. Even then they will still check. A reflection on me and the system perhaps. After all, our very system is set up to teach compliance, socialisation, academic hierarchies and reinforce cultural ways of knowing.

 

**It can be very exciting when kids say ‘no – I don’t want to’ for the first time. They are beginning to experiment with choice. They feel comfortable and safe enough to step out  Sometimes that’s okay, and other times I will respond, ‘tough – it’s teacher choice,’ negotiate and alternative (or move into non-verbal cues (i.e. the teacher’s look) if they are just boundary pushing). Context!

The learning revolution: an opinion piece

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 11.02.22 PM.png Among other things I have been rereading Ken Robinson’s & Lou Aronica’s book : Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education. As part of my course I have been reading this that and everything paradigm and research methods/methodology related (with a current focus on questionnaire design at present)with a of John Hattie’s meta analysis work and a few bits and pieces on literacy (and another fantastic book about killer bananas rising up for dessert…moving on quickly).

These, along with my wandering thoughts, have brought me back once again to the learning revolution. What constitutes a revolution? Is there one happening? Should there be?

The key word that pops up in literature is not revolution but transformation. John Dewey transformed our understanding of education by putting the child at the centre. Vygotsky transformed our thinking with the ZPD (zone of proximal development). Freire transformed thinking with the notion of the banking pedagogy: deposit, deposit, deposit. Literature surrounding digital technology use (write back to its birth) discuss how it will transform education. But where is the evidence of that transformation?

Yes, in New Zealand we teach in groups. There has been a shift to MLP (modern learning practice  e.g. team teaching in open plan classrooms). Learning is more individualised and child centred. We have newer, flasher whiteboards and computers – portability, wifi and indoor-outdoor flow. Amazing people break the boundaries of possibility with these tools. But is this consistent? Has education transformed or has it just been those pockets of individuals and teams? It has changed, but change is not transformation.

The ever reliable Google defines transformation essentially as a form of change. However when the word transformation is entered into a thesaurus, synonyms such as metamorphosis and transfiguration appear. This implies not just a shedding of a skin or donning a new top but a complete and irreversible change. And it is with this view in mind that I would argue that education has not transformed. Simply changing an appearance or the language is not enough when the core of education remains the same.* At the core of education is politics, economics and culture. Yet the rhetoric is that children are at the centre, that the people are at the centre.

 

*I am not referring to core subjects such as learning to read, write and do maths, rather the notion of what counts, or rather, is discounted. What kind of world would we live in if we could all read, write and do maths but could not manage ourselves, our behaviour, our impulses, our relationships or understand the consequences of your actions? These are extremes – it does not have to be one or the other. The trouble is it is almost presented as that dichotomy – this or that, and that the core subjects are the be all and end all. They aren’t. If they were, a child could have their entire learning programme presented by a computer with very intelligent, adaptive AI. But then we would be putting out machines not people and aren’t people the most important thing at the end of the day? How have we come to think that being good at literacy and numeracy is all that matters? I have heard the argument that that is what home is for – to teach those other things. And if that happens in your home fantastic! But what about all of those people who are not in a home where they have those are opportunities. Yes, some will survive and thrive despite their circumstances, but others won’t. Others will become yet another statistic, something which doesn’t seem so bad when its positive. The trouble is that people aren’t statistics.