Play versus Work

What constitutes the difference between play and work for children? Georgeson & Payler (2015) posit that it is all about perception. At the heart of the matter, they say, is the perception of freedom versus constraint. Also of note is the impact of teacher discourse on signalling which is which.

Georgeson and Payler continue by listing some of the objects that children tend to associate with play such as blocks, paint, construction materials, computer/board games etc. This begs the question – if one of these were used in a constrained activity would it then become work?

I am reminded of a student who was an incredibly talented (and young) artist. Normally engrossed for significant lengths of time in an art project of their design, this student was taken into an art extension class. The student’s behaviour was reported back as being ‘disruptive’ and ‘just mucking around’. Now in this context students were being taught a particular art technique. Had this student’s ‘play’ become ‘work’?

 

Georgeson, J., & Payler, J. (2015). Work or play: How children learn to read the signals. In J. Moyles (Ed.), The excellence of play (4th ed., pp. 159–172). New York, NY: Open University Press.

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Learning Centred Classroom

As a part of my lecture this week, I encountered the notion of a learning-centred classroom. This differs from current educational language which talks about shifting from a teacher -centred classroom to a student/learner-centred classroom. Well what about changing the language to a learning centred classroom?

It is a subtle shift in language, yet quite powerful.

A learning-centred classroom seems like a ‘well, isn’t that what the point of education is?’ kind of thought. Yet in a time of cramped curricula, ‘good’ educational opportunities and high accountability, it is all too easy for learning to take a back bench to curricula coverage, getting through the list, achieving results and ‘teaching’.

Well as we all know, teaching does not necessarily equal learning (nor does it necessarily preclude it). Results can be achieved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean learning has occurred. Students can look engaged but again, this doesn’t mean learning has happened.

So what prompted this thinking? I know you have been dying to ask. As usual, this does not come from me. I have included below an extract from a useful website which addresses this topic. The site can be accessed via this link: Link Alert!

“Many of the ways we have of talking about learning and education are based on the assumption that learning is something that individuals do. Furthermore, we often assume that learning ‘has a beginning and an end; that it is best separated from the rest of our activities; and that it is the result of teaching’ (Wenger 1998: 3). But how would things look if we took a different track? Supposing learning is social and comes largely from of our experience of participating in daily life? It was this thought that formed the basis of a significant rethinking of learning theory in the late 1980s and early 1990s by two researchers from very different disciplines – Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. Their model of situated learning proposed that learning involved a process of engagement in a ‘community of practice’.”

As I look back I can see myself as a practitioner who has had both a teacher-centred and then learner-centred classroom. I have certainly tried to promote learning (achieving both success and failure). But, can I definitively say I have had a ‘learning’ centred classroom? Can you?

I’m signing off now to do some more reading. Enjoy!

“I’ve got nothing to write about!” Turning thoughts into text

Over the years I have repeated met the ‘I’ve got nothing to write about’ kid, the ‘stare at your page for the whole writing session’ and the ‘start crying because my page is still blank and it’s nearly playtime’ kid. It has been with some frustration that I have carefully scaffolded the child’s writing, provided a variety of prompts, guided the child through a plan and conversation only to leave their side and come back to find a page that has nothing more on it than when I left. I have also tried taking away part of their playtime where I thought it was mucking about (often with the same result) and even once having a student record their ideas using an iPad then transcribing it.

The children in this scenario are not necessarily mucking about, developmentally delayed in an way shape or form and sometimes are fluent writers of dictated text. They have ranged in age from five to 14 years of age. So I am seeking to understand why this is happening.

I am still working my way through a variety of articles for my assignment on this topic, and will provide more detail at a later point in time. So far I have found four common themes in my reading which impact on these; Continue reading

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 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.

 

 

Evidence…the new four letter word?

The current globo-political climate (in the West anyway) calls for evidence for what seems like everything. We need evidence for climate change, evidence for  new medical treatment, evidence of the best ways to raise children, evidence of the best ways to teach, evidence which proves that what you are doing works and even evidence to find a person guilty!

Evidence in of itself is not bad. Do I want to take a medicine that is not proven to be safe? Not particularly (although there may be times when it is necessary). Do I want to remove the requirement of evidence from the justice system or the education system? Absolutely not. Evidence has its place in many facets of life. I become frustrated when I feel required to find evidence for evidence’s sake or when there is no obvious point to it, now or in the envisioned future.

Denzin (2009, p.142) puts it quite well:

 “And evidence is nevermorally or ethically neutral. But, paraphrasing Morse, who quotes Larner (2004: 20), the politics and political economy of evidence is not a question of evidence or no evidence. It is rather a question of who has the power to control the definition of evidence, who defines the kinds of materials that count as evidence, who determines what methods best produce the best forms of evidence, whose criteria and standards are used to evaluate quality evidence?

It is amazing how much comes back to power – how much frustration powerlessness (perceived or real) causes.

Denzin’s article is written in the context of the qualitative v quantitative paradigm debate. Continue reading

Plane Ramble

And with the last day of the block course today, the time has come for me to address assignments. Don’t panic (as I’m sure you were – great empathy…perhaps a little over the top – unless you are yourself facing assignments in which case still don’t panic, but not at all over the top).

To be honest I won’t tag this with anything because it is just a ramble I am writing on the plane as I travel home. I got a tad homesick but it was good for me. I love being home. It is awesome. My house is there. My bed is there and my dog is there. Home is a bit like a giant, expensive child’s security blanket. Things just aren’t quite the same without it. 

In saying that I am rather glad I chose to do things this way. It has been great for reestablishing my confidence, and a great opportunity to meet new people. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I think I am more confident for it. I have at least one potential option for housing later this year when I head back up. Bonus. That is a bit of an aside, but the experience reaffirmed to me that a world indeed exists outside of my comfort zone, and that it is a world I can move into.

I am not the same as I was the last time I went to uni and I am glad I worked in between. The normal where I went was different to the normal where I live, yet still had many similarities (not the least of which that I was in the same country and English was still the primary language used).

As I approach my assignments I face myself questioning where I am headed with this. I had planned to do self directed study, but find myself wondering if this should not be altered, with some changed papers so I could do a thesis. I feel like I have a grasp on research, and that all the things I had considered so terrifying about original research just really aren’t as bad as I thought they were. At the same time I find myself questioning why I am actually wanting to make the change. Is it simply a matter of pride creeping in, or is it more pragmatic? Would I really want to do a second research masters to enter the PHD world as my current course seems to shut that notion down or is it better to suck it up now? One of the reasons for my original plan was that I was not intending to go further in a formal academic sense. Another was I have a broad interest in topics and didn’t want to spend too long on any one topic. 

I have no fast answers. I have prayed for guidance and think I know the direction I should go in. Further prayer and thought is required outside of the influence of that sphere.

My flight is descending now so I shall sign off…not so much because of the descent, but more because I think this post is long enough and I have run out of things to say.

Quantitative Analysis

As promised (or perhaps forewarned), today’s focus was on quantitative analysis and taken by Dr Mira Peter. She faced teaching in a. Computer suite that had high ceilings and bare walls – it reminded me of my teaching space! Regardless of the environmental challenges, I learned a great deal that I had found challenging when I read it. I won’t type up all seven pages of notes (just wanted to throw that out there), but here are the key ideas I took away. 

  • There are four common quantitative data gathering methods – observer action, interviews, questionnaires and databases. 
  • A sample (which should be representative of the wider population in order for generalisation to occur) which is not representative is called BIASED

Some aspects were a throwback to high school statistics (thank goodness I had that foundation), and other aspects were new. Key terms included

  • Variable (something that changes)
  • Statistic (collected from the data
  • Parameter (statistics when talked about in terms of the population as a whole – inferred population)

There are two main types of variables: Independent (which is manipulated by the researcher) and dependent variable (DV) which is the OBSERVED OUTCOME (data of the independent variable being manipulated. Extraneous variables are also important, consisting of those variables which may affect the outcome e.g. Age of participants, experiment, the researcher or environmental factors. Extraneous variables need to be controlled for as much as is possible.

Data

There are three kinds of data (at least – these were the three that were discussed in terms of today’s session): Nominal (yes/no type answers), ordinal (choose from one to five on a scale type answers) and continuous/scale data (think timing an athlete, measuring height etc).

We also learned how to work out a standard deviation (and then how to do it on excel), and about confidence intervals. Effect sizes were also discussed and how to work these out. And the different numbers – what they mean. 

Alright… a better sentence about that….

There’s this thing called Cohen’s standard which is used by statisticians and data analysers. If (after various calculations are made the effect size is…

  • 0.2 to 0.4 the effect size is small – real but hard to detect. 
  • 0.5 to 0.7 the effect size is medium – it can be seen and noticed
  • 0.8 or above the effect size is large and very very obvious.

If the effect size is one, in education, this means that more than one year’s growth has been achieved.
Signing off!