TECHNOLOGY CAN LIMIT LEARNING

This article was published in the ‘NT Suns’ on November 21 2017.  The subject is one that has always resonated with me.  What do readers think?

 

TECHNOLOGY CAN LIMIT LEARNING

A great deal of what happens educationally is driven by technology. Computers, iPads and other technologies have their place in supporting students. However, they should always be tools used to enhance assignment preparation and work requirements. If students rely on devices to provide spellchecking, grammatical correctness, accurate mathematical formulae and so on, they may satisfy learning requirements without understanding what they have done.

Reliance on technological assistance starts in primary school and extend all the way through to tertiary study. Indeed, the list of student requirements to be provided by parents often includes the need for an IPA or similar device to be supplied. Relying on the capabilities of iPads and computers can take away the ability to reason and think from students. Computers and iPads become a crutch on which they lean too heavily to help satisfy learning requirements. There can be nothing more dissatisfying for students, than not understanding solutions to questions that are solved by technology, rather than their own brain power.

A great deal of data, both anecdotal and empirically validated, suggests that the concentration span of young people is diminishing. Relying on technological devices can interrupt concentration. If students become overly reliant on computers as learning aids, self confidence and independence can be eroded.

Communication Basics

Listening, speaking, reading and writing are essential communication skills. Use of technology often takes the place of live conversation. Texting and messaging have their purpose, but ought not replace face-to-face speaking and listening. Correct sentence structure, including the use of punctuation, word choice, intonation and clarity should be built into verbalisation. Children also need to clearly hear messages so they understand what has been said. Unclear speech and poor listening skills can develop from lack of practice and the substitution of keyboard communication. Reading from texts may be supplemented by electronic media, but should never be totally replaced by screen reading. Nothing beats books.

Keyboard skills and the ability to electronically produce written text should never be at the expense of handwriting. Mastery of pen and paper communication is important, enabling the written word to be produced anywhere and at any time. That includes the ability to hold a pen or pencil correctly and comfortably.

Technology supports education, but in no way should it replace traditional literary and mathematical teaching and learning. Should that happen, students will be the losers.

 

NAPLAN IS A TESTING MONSTER

 

Published in the NT Suns in October 2017.  This subject continues to be a hot topic.

 

NAPLAN IS A TESTING MONSTER

 

The National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, introduced for year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students in 2009 is about to enter another phase.

The tests started off as being “pencil and paper” related, with students completing tests in booklets. These were then sent for marking by panels of appointed teachers. That marking was done by people qualified to examine responses, moderate and then allocate levels.

We have now moved to a point of where NAPLAN testing is about to be undertaken by students generating online computer responses. From 2018, tests will be marked by computer rather than people. This will even apply to literacy tests.

While computer assessment may be okay for tests where boxes are being checked, there are issues around the marking of text. Taking people out of the marking equation, means computers are being asked to interpret innuendo, understand colloquialisms and appreciate local references. While test results may come back to schools within weeks rather than months, one would have serious doubts about marking accuracy.

The NAPLAN program has become one of distance and remoteness, with students removed from those who are gathering the data. With online computer generated answers coming from all schools around Australia, we can look forward to systems becoming overloaded and crashing. The idea of the same tests being sat on the same day at the same time by all students will have to change.

Before NAPLAN, each State and Territory had its own internal assessment system. These individual programs generally worked well in terms of data feedback. Nationalised testing might satisfy the idea of “oneness” for all Australian students. However, specifics relating to NT school locations and student characteristics, which may impact upon test results, are not taken into account. That is one reason why results for the Northern Territory show NT students in a dismal light. Each year, our teachers and schools are battered with a “sea of red” results. Unhealthy contestation by comparison of results between schools can add to student stress.

One has to ask what real difference this testing regime has made in terms of enriching and enhancing Australian education. A further question might be whether the many hundreds of millions of dollars spent on this program might have been better spent on meeting school and student needs.

NAPLAN DETRACTS FROM EDUCATION

An edited version of vthis paper was published in the NT Suns on August 15, 2017  

 

NAPLAN DETRACTS FROM EDUCATION

NAPLAN outcomes and results are again in the spotlight. Media is involved in reporting and commentating on state, territory and overall Australian results. As usual, the NT is shown as being on the bottom rung of the performance ladder.

School Educators in the NT are made to spend far too much time dealing with the issues of NAPLAN preparation and fallout. Preparation for the May tests in reading, writing and mathematics is on from the first day of every school year. While the key focus is on children in years three, five, seven and nine, whole schools and their communities are affected by preparation for NAPLAN as the number one priority on Australia’s educational calendar. It seems at times that little else matters.

There is a lot more to student development than these tests, yet NAPLAN envelopes the annual educational calendar. System leaders talk of the importance of teaching methodologies and strategies that lead to enhanced student results and data improvement in tested fields. The agendas of staff meetings in many schools are dominated by a preoccupation with data outcomes. Meetings of principals and school leaders have, for many years, had the issues of NAPLAN and data very high on discussion agendas.

After ten years and the expenditure of billions of dollars on NAPLAN, very little has changed. In terms of comparison with the rest of the world, Australian student performance is at best, mediocre to poor. A few schools here and there celebrate. Most of these are in green belts that boast community stability and family affluence.

Comparasion specialists seem to get a great deal of satisfaction from pointing the finger at the NT because of our coverall results that place us last on any comparative table. This negative approach goes all the way back to the ‘seas of red’ (school underperformance) that used to attract a double page spread in the NT News.

Few people ever stop to think about how students feel about this testing regime. Without doubt, children are pressured by constant talk of testing, particularly when so much of the conversation is about negative outcomes. They must also become both frustrated and bored by the constant practice commencing many months prior to May’s testing week.

There should be much, much more to education than an annual reporting regime, magnified beyond its real worth.

 

DON’T FORCE UNDERSTANDING

This column was published (with abridgment) in the NT Suns on June 20 2017.

DON’T FORCE UNDERSTANDING

We need to be very careful that the development of young children is not detrimental. Little children need time to absorb and to understand the world into which they are growing. In these modern times, that world is increasingly complex and difficult to understand. There is a tendency on the part of many to advocate the ‘forcing’ of learning and understanding on children before they are mature enough to grasp concepts.

Recent Early Childhood supplements in the NT News and the Suns point to the wisdom of gradually presenting learning opportunities to children. Articles in these supplements laid stress on the importance of play and providing relaxed, enjoyable places of learning for young children. The building within them of a desire to learn and having confidence in their learning, will not come if unduly hastened. ‘Force feeding’ knowledge into children goes against both common sense and espoused recommendations.

A significant point made in the Suns EC supplement was that ‘Play makes a lasting impact’. That article went on to confirm that “skills developed through quality early childhood education last a lifetime.” The critical importance of quality parenting, well prepared educators and empathetic schools count for a lot, in terms of young children growing up.

Against this backdrop of thoughtful reflection about development, come Australian Government directives that amount to premature expectation and force feeding of knowledge beyond the ability of young children to comprehend.

There are two recent examples of this imposition. The first was Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s decision that all preschool children in Australia should be introduced to the Japanese Language. How can little children possibly comprehend ‘Japan’ and the ‘why’ of this language, when they are still in the initial stages of literacy development in our mother tongue. A directive like this is confusing for them and distorts their key educational needs.

More recently PM Turnbull has decided that ” three year olds in childcare and students from preschool … upwards will be taught about suicide awareness and mental health … .” ( “Aussie youngsters get mental health boost’, NT News, 8.6.17) Specific suicide discussion could happen with children as young as 8 years of age. Introducing children to complexities beyond their comprehensive ability poses distinct risks. It is far better to provide for the emergence of happiness and satisfaction through carefully structured learning experiences, than attempting to educate through hastily conceived programs.

‘BALKANISATION’ – AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE

Balkanisation, that is working in seclusion and isolation from others is anathema. Education, of all the professions, is one in which caring and sharing count. Synergy, collective energy grows and flows from those who works together is a sharing context. This is a process that is enriching the for educators. It is one where the benefits flow through to students in our classes.

In a nutshell:

* Collaboration with like minded professionals is valuable and enriching.

* From collaboration grows synergy, the collective energy that is enhancing. It uplifts those who are working together in occupational fields.

* Those working in isolation can be left behind because collaboration is increasingly a strategy whereby we work to develop our professional ethos.

Those who become balkanised, become trapped in professional isolation. Avoid ‘balkanisation’ like the plague.

IN TRAY OUT

All educators, regardless of their positions within schools have ‘In Trays’. Tasks that need to be completed stay there until they are done. The ‘out’ tray comes into play for all finished assignments.

There is nothing more frustrating that to have an in tray burdened by documentation, an out tray light on for tasks that have been done. Finishing work and going home leaving a laden in tray does not augur well for feelings of satisfaction with accomplished work.

It is wise to aim for an empty in tray before departing for the day. Perhaps an ‘In Train’ tray for tasks that have been completed as far as possible would help. This makes sense because tasks are often a work in progress.

Apart for that, aim for an empty in tray before leaving for the day. This practice delivers a feel good outcome. Better that, than feeling the burden of office.

TIME CONSTRAINTS CHALLENGE DIFFERENTIATED TEACHING

“Differentiation … means teachers plan for the children who are actually in their class, instead of designing lessons for their idea of the “average” child.” (Graham, L., and Cologon, C., ” … What is differentiation and why is it so important”, The Conversation, March 8, 2015.)

This is a telling article, and covers the topic fulsomely. One point that needs to be taken into account is that of ‘time’. Preparing for each individual and meeting by the needs of children in solo specific manner is almost a utopian ambition. In practical terms, when teachers have classes approaching 30 chiildren in number, this ambition becomes almost impossible to fulfil.

The fact that teachers want to be 100% differentiators between children and the realisation they can’t because of time constraints, can lead to feelings of professional melancholy. That can escalate to educators suffering from self doubt and feeling guilt about the jobs they are doing.

Limitations have to be realised. Self flagellating because of not beiong able to meet the impossible should be avoided. In is in this environment that collegiate encouragement and professional support for those doubting themselves is so important.