This time last year I started a photo blog. The challenge was to post a photo every day for the year. 2016 was special because it was a leap year and the hashtag I used was #366photos2016
Yesterday was my last post on that blog. I was reluctant to press the button and post as I have enjoyed finding a photo each day. Sometimes I had to choose from so many that it was hard and I confess to cheating and posting more than one or making a wee collage! Other times, I got to the end of the day and realised I hadn’t taken a photo at all. Those times were rare as I always have my phone in my hand in case there is a photographable moment! When that happened, I either found a subject within shooting distance of my chair, or I edited a previous photo that had relevance for the date.
Yesterday, I had a wee look back at the first posts of 2016, then flicked through to some mid-year posts. How had I already forgotten about some of the things that happened? The blog will always be there to go back to and serve as a record of 2016 but I am wondering how I can save my ‘story’ in a more tangible way.
I have had a go at creating a ‘book‘ with BlogBooker. As with all sites the free version is quite limited and I can only export to PDF so it is a bit ugly. It’s a start though. I’d really like to be able to create an ebook but haven’t found anything yet that will easily export the content in my blog directly. Doing a Google search pulls up all sorts of suggestions but most are plugins that only work with the .org version of WordPress or they are links to sites which have since demised!
I recently saw a link to a blog in a tweet from a friend of ours in which he talked about ‘flickring’ his flickr photos. I’d love to do that to my photos but my flickr photos are badly tagged so I don’t think I’ll be able to do it easily, nor do I think I have the technical knowhow to do it!
It is that time of year; successful students, arms full of certificates, trophies, books and envelopes stuffed with book tokens, stumbling across stages all over the country. Principals praising the students for their engagement, their tenacity, for overcoming challenges, balancing the pressures of academic study with sport, the arts, community service and coming out victorious and ready to take on everything the world can throw at them. Student leaders waxing lyrical about the love and commitment shown by their teachers and mentors and the support their peers have provided on the rocky road through school.
It is indeed a time for celebration and well-justified too. But as I watched Prize Giving at my son’s school yesterday evening I couldn’t help but think of the 90% of kids who don’t have their successes celebrated in such a public way. The ones who are expected to sit through the ceremony to collectively celebrate the school’s successes but who don’t win prizes. I wondered who it is all for. What is the purpose? Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe in celebrating and sharing success but I believe in recognising everyone’s successes in all their guises. And I’m not convinced that a rewards system is the best way to engage children in learning.
George Couros writes eloquently on the subject in this blogpost “The Impact of Rewards” so I won’t repeat what he has said but I will offer this quote from Alfie Kohn:
“In short, good values have to be grown from the inside out.Attempts to short-circuit this process by dangling rewards in front of children are at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.Children are likely to become enthusiastic, lifelong learners as a result of being provided with an engaging curriculum; a safe, caring community in which to discover and create; and a significant degree of choice about what (and how and why) they are learning.Rewards–like punishments–are unnecessary when these things are present, and are ultimately destructive in any case.” (Alfie Kohn, The Risk of Rewards)
And I have severe misgivings about a system that ranks students with a top ten system. What criteria are used? Are they open, transparent and fair? Massey University education researcher Jenny Poskitt says;
“If you want to motivate and inspire kids to strive for excellence in all endeavours, they need to perceive that it’s fair, need to know what the game is and how to play it, to be inspired. If it’s not fair, or they don’t know how to get it, then it’s not going to motivate them.” (Schools allay fears over school prizes)
In my experience the value of awards decreases for those kids who constantly get them whereas for the kids who never get them the damage to their self-esteem and pride is significant.
One of the things my husband and I had to do yesterday was persuade our son to attend the prize giving evening. He wasn’t getting an award. None of his friends were getting awards. None of his friends were planning on attending. The school releases the students at lunch time with the expectation that because they get the afternoon off they should attend the prize giving evening. He didn’t see why he needed to sit through 2 and a half hours of speeches and a litany of names being read out and prize winners traipsing across the stage (many of them more than once).
He said it made him feel stupid and useless and reinforced his sense of ‘failure.’ We assured him that he is not stupid, reminded him of his skills and achievements. The things he does like coaching a junior hockey team, and putting himself out there as an umpire, like teaching himself to play the guitar from Youtube videos. We tried the arguments that it wasn’t about him, it was about sharing and recognising other people’s success, the school’s success and being proud to be part of that collective. He wasn’t buying it! And, to be honest, I get it. We have always supported the school prize giving in the past and we have always encouraged our boys to attend. I have spent 30 years as a teacher attending prize giving occasions and I have occasionally questioned the need for them but, on the whole, just accepted them as a part of the school calendar. But he was so distressed about it that it really made me think. I wondered as I watched how he was feeling, what impact it was gong to have on his motivation to learn, did we do the right thing in making him come?
The more I heard the word ‘success’ the more I wondered whose success we were celebrating and why we were doing it in the way that we were. The more I heard the word success the more I wondered about its opposite: failure. If the students on the stage were successful, are all the rest failures? Of course they are not, but if you are a kid sitting in a theatre who isn’t getting a prize watching those that are being lauded, how would you feel?
The New Zealand Curriculum vision is to develop confident, connected, involved, lifelong learners. The demands of living in an ever changing 21st century world require competencies and capabilities such as resilience, adaptability, communication skills, empathy, flexibility, problem-solving and creativity. Qualities and dispositions that are difficult to measure. So no prizes. But the 90% who didn’t get celebrated yesterday evening or indeed around the country right now probably have them in shedloads. Who recognises them? When does anyone tell them they are valuable and worthwhile members of society, that the skills they have are worth celebrating?
In schools all over the world the ‘industrial model of education’ is being shunned because it is no longer fit for purpose. Is the end of year “Prize Giving” ceremony just a hang over from the industrial age? Do we see the tradition of it through rose coloured spectacles? Is it the tradition that we hold so tightly on to? Because we’ve always done it that way? We live in a knowledge economy where content is freely available, the way we learn is changing, the things we learn are changing, the way we assess is changing. What does ‘success’ now look like? Will the way that we celebrate ‘success’ change? I wonder.
Time seems to be in short supply at the moment and blog posts are at the bottom of the pile of mahi! I have so many ideas to write about but need time to organise my thoughts into some sort of coherent stream. Today though, I want to note a couple of things very briefly.
The day started with discussions with the rest of the interview panel for the appointment of our CoL leader. I am the BoT representative for my school and feel very priveleged to be on the panel. It is allowing me a unique perspective of the whole process and as well as being able to support the community it will help me when I work with CoLs in the future. I was a little apprehensive at first but am now looking forward to the whole process. Exciting times.
After that I headed to Rotorua for NetHui just in time to catch the end of the discussion about Maori ICT. I then joined in the korero about Digital Inclusion and Collective Impact. They were fascinating discussions and it was enlightening to hear the stories from outside an educational setting. Too often, as educators, we are blinkered by the ivory towers of the institutes of learning we call schools!
I just wish more teachers could have been there. As we strive to make learning more authentic with real world contexts to prepare students for life, the connections we make with business and other sectors of the community are increasingly important. NetHui facilitates those conversations and enables the connections. The tweets tell the story until I have more time to process my reflections.
I came across this blog from a link on Twitter. First of all, it resonated with me because I love tying knots – a superficial ‘pull in’ to reading but it just shows the power of a title. As I read it, though, I related so closely to the story. Learning is all about the people in the room, about how they learn, when they learn and why they learn. Teaching is about constantly considering those learners, reflecting on what you do, re-thinking practice and adapting or even re-inventing what you do to meet the needs of all your learners.
“Today, you will learn to tie a bowline knot,” I say. Then quickly add, “Mastery for the lesson I am teaching is you tying the knot three times without assistance. My goal is to have everyone achie…
On my way back from EducampBOP yesterday afternoon I listened to the Mixtape on RNZ. I hadn’t realised that following on from Te Wiki o te Reo Māori there was a Māori Music Month. I can be forgiven for not knowing about it as this is its inaugural year and there hasn’t been a lot of mainstream media coverage about it. The guest on the Mixtape was Rob Ruha who “is from the East Coast, and is recognised as a leader of traditional Māori music. He has a unique style of which has been described as an eclectic mix of soul-roots-reggae with a touch of RnB, rock-blues and jazz” (see Stuff.co.nz article).
This afternoon I listened to the Mixtape of Moana Maniapoto and one of the things she said struck me – she introduced herself as a musician, a songwriter, always learning and she went on to say that her life has been about storytelling whether through music, documentary making or writing in general.
I have talked before about the power of storytelling for learning. Recently I was involved in a Facebook conversation about the relative merits of teaching handwriting in primary school. As usual, there were many opinions and I have written about this before too, so I am not going to revisit it. But one of the comments that was made was that learning how to read and write brought Europe out of the Dark Ages and another said that people will not be able to contribute to society fully if they don’t know how to read and write. It was also said that not knowing how to read and write would seriously hinder a person’s ability to learn.
So this is the nub of this post. Why do these people think this is the case? And how does the emphasis reading and writing meet the needs of all our learners? It is true that up until relatively recently, while reading and writing have been the main ways that we have accessed ‘knowledge’ in educational systems in western societies, there have been people who have struggled to learn and progress.
My contribution to the conversation was that for generations we learned through storytelling and song which developed active listening skills, the ability to communicate orally, articulate ideas and responses to stories and retell them. They were adapted and embellished on the way, maybe to fit the context of the situation or maybe because some details had been misinterpreted or misunderstood and people filled the gaps to make the story work. People learned how to craft language and think on the spot and they were creative, they used verse, songs, jokes and prose. The places we listened, often alongside a ‘master’ as he/she went about their trade, or around a fire or in the kitchen or in the fields meant that we spent time with our community elders and built connections and relationships, learned respect and shared ideas. And listening to stories helps our learning because it activates not just the processing language parts of our brains but the sensory and motor aspects too. And telling stories is just as powerful for learning as we have to articulate what we mean, we have to process our thoughts and organise them. I know we do that when we write too – I have edited and re-organised the paragraphs and my ideas in this blog post as I have written, but when we speak we have to do that on the go, dynamically as people listen to us and they can question and interrupt and ask for clarification.
Now I am not saying that reading and writing hasn’t enriched learning, it is an essential tool in the education box and we should make the most of what it offers us. However, the emphasis over the last century or two has been on the written word and the process of writing as a means of learning. And I think that it has been a barrier to learning in terms of how we measure learning for many people. Their learning in school, the ability to pass exams has been almost entirely predicated on reading and writing. So if we have a child in a class that finds it difficult to read or write, we make them do more of it so they can catch up. If they don’t reach a certain level of literacy they will not be able to access ‘learning’ across other subjects, even maths because they are all based on reading information and then writing about it. My boys are creative kids with heaps of ideas, they both struggled with the physical aspect of forming letters and making their writing legible. They were slow at writing so they stopped thinking up big ideas, or at least writing them down because it took too long. So they never really explored their ideas, articulated them, ordered them and crafted them fully to the satisfaction of their teachers in an essay format. Fortunately, my boys are ‘good’ readers so they developed a wide vocabulary, they identified how to form sentences and worked out how language works through the range of genres that they read. If they had greater access to typing and being able to use a computer for their writing the barrier for them may have been removed. If they had been able to record their voice and speak their ideas out loud rather than writing them, how might that have affected their learning?
Remember that the very first way of communicating was through gesture and voice, through songs and images. The rhymic nature of poetry and songs stimulates the brain but also the body so that we move and sway in time, the words somehow stick in your brain, just think how much easier it is to learn a poem with rhyme and rhythm than one without and how the words of catchy tunes rattle around your head without you even wanting them to! So my boys also loved listening to stories; we read often to them and they had tapes and CDs which they listened to in the car or at bedtime. The power of listening and how it impacts on the ability to memorise (I won’t say learn because they are very different) was reinforced once when I came upon my eldest at the age of 3 ‘reading’ Winnie the Pooh. He had memorised the words from the tapes he listened to regularly and from us reading to him and was ‘reading’ to himself, turning the pages as he went!
As a language teacher, I have frequently bemoaned the paucity of listening skills amongst the young people coming through to me in my classroom as well as the unwillingness of students to articulate their ideas orally unless they have had time to craft ideas in written form first. As we have assigned more emphasis to reading and writing, to decoding words on a page we have neglected to understand the power that the spoken words has on children’s ability to learn. When children come into a school they have spent 4-5 years listening and developing oral language. They have amazing memories, they can retell stories, they are good active listeners and mimickers. They have learned as they have watched their parents, elder siblings, caregivers, and asked countless Socratic questions about the world, life, and the meaning thereof. So,what do we do? We put a pencil in their hands, we sit them down, we tell them to be quiet and we teach them to read and write. I am being harsh. I know that primary schools do so much more than that and I am well aware of the constraints that schools are under to ‘deliver’ the curriculum and ‘meet the standards’ and I am not going to go into any of that now. But I think you get my meaning. They get out of the habit of ‘listening’ and speaking and they become over-reliant on reading and writing.
From symbols painted on cave walls, on skins, carved into wooden posts and stone pillars to the artistic calligraphy on vellum of the monks, to the printing press and then to typing and word processing, language and, more importantly, communication have informedthe way humans have lived, adapted, survived and flourished in an unpredictable world. But language developed orally, it was honed and refined by people talking to each other. As we have travelled more widely, explored new places, tasted new foods, seen spectacular and interesting new sights and immersed ourselves in different cultures, our vocabulary has grown to reflect those new experiences. Language absorbs and assimilates new words to represent new inventions forming them from old words, trying to capture the spirit of the object and how we interact with it and the affordance it has with our lives.
When we listen we hear nuances; tone of voice, feeling, volume, accent, we can sense mood and emotion, we can also see the facial changes and the gestures that people use when they speak and we make connections. When we talk we have to think on our feet, search for words sometimes or explain our way around a word that we can’t quite remember or that we don’t know. We adapt our own tone for the context, for our audience, and we make eye contact and build connections. We also have to listen actively so we can recall what has been said, interpret it and respond. ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ and listening conjures up a million images and feelings and emotions. So why would we limit ourselves to writing and reading? Why would we limit our learners to a narrow range of ways of learning?
What is exciting today is that our means of communicating are becoming richer at an exponential rate. The technological advances that brought us Gutenberg’s printing press in the 1400s and disrupted the world of learning and acquisition of knowledge have continued apace, and now we have a range of different media that we can use to communicate and be creative.
It is important that we start to ascribe a more equal importance to all means of communicating so that all our children can learn in whatever way works for them. We have a responsibility to provide them with all the tools at our disposal, let them make their own choices and not hinder their learning because we are fearful of change. Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean that it is the best way. Equally, it is important not to adopt new ways of doing just because they are new. We should question and reflect, consider what they add to the mix, use them with caution but embrace the opportunities they offer for learning. It is not the tool alone that helps us learn, it is choosing the right tool at the right time for the right purpose. But the toolbox needs to be full and it needs to be open and accessible.
So, to go back to the start and Te Marama Pūoru Waiata Māori – just as with many cultures the habit of storytelling through song, waiata, chants, stories and poetry has been an important way of passing knowledge and cultural ways of being and doing down through the generations. Language is a key component of the sense of identity because language can never be truly translated word for word into another language. Māori, like many languages existed for generations only in its oral form, passed on and enriched through song and stories. My strong belief is that it is important that we do not lose our oral languages, or we lose sight of who we are and where we came from. So embrace storytelling in all its forms – written, visual and oral and why not listen to a few waiata and find out more about Te Marama Pūoru Waiata Māori.
This waiata called Rariri from Rob Ruha is very powerful and retells historical accounts of the East Coast forces that supported the Kingitanga, the Pai-mārire faith and the people of Tauranga-Moana in the battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) and Te Ranga from the perspective of the families, hapū and iwi that stood against the crown and its Māori allied forces.
First of all I tried to find the Māori word for ‘journey’ because we were asked to reflect on our ‘journey’ of learning Te Reo so far as part of our course. My little Dictionary of Modern Māori said ‘rerenga’ or ‘haere’ or ‘haerenga’. Which one should I use? So I back referenced and found that ‘haere’ is a verb, and ‘haerenga’ and ‘rerenga’ are nouns.
Still not sure which to use I went to the online Māori dictionary and ….there were even more options! All sorts of nuances for the word journey! Journey
I think that finding out which word to use in which context is the most challenging thing for me about learning Te Reo. I love that in the online dictionary there is so much detail, every nuance of how the word ‘journey’ can be used from personal growth, to setting out, to carrying responsibility, to sunrise and moonrise, to preparation, to actually being on a physical journey. It is fascinating reading all the whakatauki, and the kiwaha and the history around the words but sometimes I just want to know which word to use…quickly!! I think I have resigned myself to the fact that learning Te Reo is going to be a long journey, a journey of discovery. I have long believed that learning a language is far more than putting words together to communicate. It is about learning about the culture, finding out what makes a people tick, it’s about the whakapapa and the feelings and the memories.
Which brings me to an interesting conversation I had yesterday sitting in the hot stream at Spa Park as it flows into the Waikato River in Taupō. A group of Māori men ranging in age from mid teens to mid thirties, I suppose, were there. Some were heavily tattooed with what looked like gang insignia, others were not. This is an observation which has some relevance and is not intended to be a judgement. I will come to that later. They were doing what young men do – larking about, having fun, probably laughing at some of the tourists! One of the older ones was climbing up and down through the pools picking up litter and debris that had been washed down or left there.
Normally, I am not someone who strikes up conversations with strange men and I have to confess that whilst I don’t believe in making judgements about people based on their appearance, given the negative media coverage of gang members, I would generally not have engaged in conversation. However, I ended up talking to him along with a young woman who was travelling around NZ from Australia. She was asking him about where he came from, the Māori language, she wanted him to teach her a few words. After a few moments thought he asked her who she was and why she was there. He seemed to suggest that it is not all about words, it is about who you are. He talked about Māori language being a ‘native tongue’ specific to who you are and where you come from. He talked happily about how his family had lived in the area for generations, he was proud of his history, that his family had been Queen Victoria’s warriors, that his grandfathers house was over 200 years old – one of the oldest in the area. I didn’t hear everything very clearly (we had a waterfall pounding in our ears!) but he also talked about the difference between gangs and iwi and bloodlines and connectedness.
When she asked him what his relationship with the other men there was he said they were all brothers. She asked how many brothers he had. He thought for a bit, as if counting them up and then said that he had 9 brothers but he had lots more sisters. I wondered then at the different understanding of what ‘brothers’ might be. He may well have had that many biological brothers and sisters, but I think from what he was saying it was more the idea of brotherhood and sisterhood. The sense of belonging that comes from shared experiences, from a belief, from a shared history, something that comes from the heart. And he talked about everyone being answerable to a higher being – ‘rangatira’ – and how we had a responsibility to look after the land – he said that his ‘mahi’ of cleaning out the pools was something he did because it was part of who he was as a custodian of the land. He called it his ‘mahi whakapapa’ – a task that was part of who he was. It was fascinating listening to him and I think he would have talked happily all evening but unfortunately I had to go.
I take a few things from this experience;
1. My belief that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover has been totally endorsed
2. Language and culture are inextricably entwined and the meaning of words is entirely dependent on personal experience, feelings, context and history.
3. My pondering is how on earth do I ever get to even scratch the surface of being able to communicate in Te Reo in any meaningful way if the language is so specific to whakapapa?
4. Learning a language is all about listening to stories, making connections, immersing yourself at every opportunity.
5. It’s weird how really interesting conversations can happen in the most unlikely of places such as sitting in a hot pool in my underwear in the middle of a river with two complete strangers!
This week our task in Te Puāwai is to record and share our journey integrating some of the classroom commands into the classroom or home. Our kōrero must include the following:
1. A list of the different commands in te reo Māori that you have been using
2. What challenges you faced integrating these commands into everyday conversations
3. What benefits or growth you may have noticed as a result of speaking the commands in te reo Māori rather than in English
4. What are your next steps, what will you do next to continue learning and using more te reo Māori in your class or home
Over the last few weeks I have been working on integrating as many Māori kupu into my mahi as possible. Working at home doesn’t make that easy – I can hardly talk to myself! Well, actually, I do! I have post it notes all over my office with kupu and kiwaha written on them and I say them out loud to myself whenever I look up and see them. We have a morning coffee Skype group and always start off asking each other ‘Kei te pēhea koe?’ and responding appropriately. Renee helps us work out words we don’t know, which is great.
When I send emails to schools and colleagues I try to use the appropriate greetings for the time of day such as ata marie, morena, kia ora… Last week we ran a workshop for a group of schools and we incorporated a few of our greetings and commands. e.g. saying hello and introducing ourselves, e tū, e noho, whakaporowhitia, he whakaaro anō ā koutou, kuamārama koutou. I think the main difficulty was that the group of people were all Pākeha and so using Te Reo sounded quite unnatural and the teachers didn’t respond until we repeated in English so we didn’t get the immediate feedback which encourages more language.
The use of the target language followed immediately by English has been a constant tension in my world as a language teacher. It is generally accepted that immersion in a language is the absolute best way to learn but, of course, that leads to people, however open they are to learning, frustrated when they don’t understand. My life in the classroom has been one of hand gestures, role play and generally looking bonkers as I jump around acting out my own version of charades to try to get across what I am trying to say to my students! By following up with an English translation, accepted wisdom is that learners don’t bother working out the target language as they know that you will say it in English eventually. But I guess that at the moment the aim of my using Te Reo in workshops is not necessarily to teach others but to learn myself, become familiar with using the language and to develop ways of working which are culturally responsive. And although I still feel a bit awkward using Te Reo, as I become more confident, it is getting easier. A positive by-product is that by integrating Te Reo in my everyday and working life it becomes embedded not only for me but for others, and starts to become more of a ‘lingua franca’ in this supposedly ‘tri-lingual’ and ‘bi-cultural’ country!
Next steps are to keep going and using Te Reo when and where possible. I had an interesting situation last week when in my role as a BOT member I had a meeting with some Māori students and their whānau. I was very conscious of the fact that the BOT are all Pākeha and I wanted to greet the students and the whānau in a culturally appropriate way. It is difficult to know what the impact was but I would like to think that it made a difference. I have decided too, after reading one of the “strategies for learning” posts in the Moodle course that I will write the date in Te Reo in my notebook each day and as I am trying to post a photo a day this year on my blog, that I will start writing the date in Te Reo – could be a challenge but it will make me think every day!
Last week I attended the Core Breakfast “Non Māori roles in supporting Māori success” by Alex Hotere-Barnes. It was a thought-provoking sessions and made me question a few things and re-spark thinking around language learning and culture. I storified the tweets of the session – while there are not many (and most of them are mine!) I think they briefly capture the main ideas. I will come back and explore them more deeply once I have had time to formulate my ideas.
I am trying also at the moment to learn some Te Reo. As a linguist I completely understand the benefits that learning a language can bring to the understanding of the culture. But I am also nervous of offending by getting things wrong or appropriating a culture that is not my own. Alex talked about Pākeha Paralysis – the idea that we are so afraid of making mistakes in our interactions with Māori and offending that we don’t even start.
This week were the inaugural Matariki Awards and the words of Scotty Morrison who was awarded the Te Waitī Award for Te Reo & Tikanga gave me heart. I can still only recognise a few words in the linked video but on National Radio this morning I heard him say this:
“If you’re living in New Zealand the Māori language belongs to you. You are most welcome to take ownership of it, to learn it and make it your language because there’s heaps of benefits. Once you open that door and you start learning Te Reo you’ll start to see what the benefits are“.
He went on to say that we cannot underestimate the power of the media – TV, Radio, Social Media to raise the profile of a language. Using the language in any way starts to give it ‘mana’ and others will start to use it too. But there is a tension sometimes and not all Māori are as welcoming as Scotty to Pākeha using Te Reo. That can be one of the causes of Pākeha Paralysis. Alex talks about (see video link above) how knowing who you are, what your identity is, knowing whose land you stand on and acting with humility, honesty and integrity helps us to interact in such a way that we build good relationships. That this is an ongoing evolution and that by constantly reflecting those relationships can flourish and people’s acceptance of Pākeha using Te Reo grows.
I’ve been doing quite a lot of walking/running recently and it provides me not only with a well-needed brain break from the computer, leg-stretch from a chair and eye break from a screen but also time for my brain to slow down and stop thinking. Well, maybe not stop thinking but it helps me to filter my thoughts, get them in some sort of order through disordering them, breaking them up and somehow putting them back together again. I don’t necessarily gain any answers but they get “un-piled”!
Data has been top of mind in my work in the last few weeks. What is data? Despite myself, but also because I am a competitive soul, I can’t go for a walk or a run anywhere without trying to do it faster than the time before. I find myself calculating how many minutes it takes me to walk a kilometre, how many kilometres I can walk in an hour, was it faster than last time, slower, was the terrain similar, how much should I take off for stopping to take a photo, should I take anything off? If I hadn’t had to wait 45 minutes in the gully while everyone went through the hole in the rock, and then another 20 minutes for people to cross the river and climb the 3m rope climb how long would I really have taken to walk/run 23km and how would that equate to a half marathon…? But it is clear that those calculations are not just based on pure numbers, on data, they are based on human action, on nature, on the terrain, on feelings, on emotions, on abilities and competencies and relationships. Relationships between people and the environment, on rational and irrational fears, on prior experience and knowledge and understanding.
Take this weekend, for example. As part of the event I participated in we had to squeeze through a hole in a rock wall to get out of a gully. ‘Squeeze’ is an interesting concept – it was clearly not that small a hole as plenty of large-ish men got through with relative ease. My prior knowledge and experience of caves and caving meant that I was unafraid, eager, in fact to face the “challenge”. People around me who didn’t have that knowledge were fearful, anxious, uncomfortable. Feelings that were made more acute by the wait and the conversations and the “chinese whispers” passed back – the “fishermen’s tales” – “the hole is tiny!!” with hand gestures that indicated the smallest of gaps. But with support from those of us who did know, with encouragement, explanations and modelling of how to do it, with patience and with care everyone got through.
If this had been a test for which we were being assessed, I would have got top marks. My prior knowledge meant that the test was easy, my experience and my preparation meant that I had no problems slipping through. I may have also gained extra credit for being a “leader”. For others it was not the case, they may have been ‘judged’ not to have got top marks because they hesitated, or didn’t slide so gracefully through, or took too much time.
Personally, I think their achievement was all the greater. The obstacles they overcame to get through; emotional, physical, rational, irrational made their achievement more meaningful. Give me a situation where I have no prior knowledge, no confidence, no experience, irrational fear and I wonder how I would have fared.
So, how do you measure that sort of data when you assess people in academic tests? How do you compute immeasurable data such as emotions, human nature, social background, with knowledge and experience to make meaning, build connections and create pathways for learning?
This evening, I was talking with some friends. Both teachers and ex-colleagues. One of them is a drama teacher and some of her students do extremely well. Students who don’t do so well in other subjects. Students whose motivation for coming to school sometimes is simply because they have drama that day. Part of her inquiry this year is looking at why those students are motivated and engage in drama but not in other subjects. She said that one of the things she does is talk to her students about who they are, about their families, what they like doing, what their parents do, how many siblings they have, where they are in the family, what they do when they aren’t at school, where the family comes from, who they live with, who they spend the most time with; she finds out what makes them tick. She builds a relationship with them, trust, respect, interest, she cares. That’s what makes those kids come to school. That’s what makes those kids do well in drama.
So, in schools we need to look at our students, not just as they are in front of us, but who they are in their family, their community, their social groups, what they do in the classroom, of course, but what they do on the sports field, in the arts, in the community. Build on their experience and use all of that information, that data to gain insights, and generate meaningful action to personalise learning for them, give them and their whanau a voice, a stake in their decision-making and the pathways they choose. That is the rich data. It’s not all about test scores. It’s about who we are, it’s about building relationships, making connections, trust, respect, humanity.
At the GAFE Summit in Auckland this week there was a lot of interest, in fact more than interest – fascination, excitement, an insatiable curiosity for VR in various forms. Jim Sill‘s sessions on the Google Cultural Institute and the VR experience through Google Cardboard were well over-subscribed and there were at least three other sessions on 360° photos and Streetview.
The opportunities that being able to see the world in 3D offers for education are undeniably huge. We can send our students on virtual field trips – indeed LEARNZ already
“assists New Zealand teachers to provide online experiences for their students that are
Geography teachers can enable students to immerse themselves in the volcanic landscapes they are studying and see the impact on landforms without leaving the safety of the four walls of their classrooms, history teachers can visit archaeological ruins, battlefields, museums, and sites of significant historical importance, English students can put themselves in the shoes of the characters of the books they are studying and walk down the streets of the novel’s setting, and art students can visit galleries, see artworks so close that they can explore the brushstrokes and details of the colour they couldn’t possibly see even in real life.
THE LOVE-HATE RESOURCE: Re-evaluate an old resource in your subject area.
As a language learner and teacher being able to immerse myself and my students in the culture is a key element to successful language acquisition. Capturing the curiosity and fascination of a country, its people and its culture is what engages us to want to learn more about the language. My first memories of learning French in the early 1970s were at the age of 9 when our teacher showed us grainy black and white images of Paris via a manual filmstrip projector (can’t for the life of me find an image of one!) but I was hooked. I wanted to go and actually see what those blurry buildings really looked like in colour. My desire to travel was sealed then and there. Likewise in geography, our teacher showed us slideshows of his travels – snapshots where the scenery looked so far away but a glimpse was tantalising enough to whet my appetite.
In the mid 1980s as a new teacher, I remember winding similar film reels on to the bobbins of the projector and showing photos of France – by now in colour – to my students. Over the years slides gave way to videos, videos gave way to DVDs, DVDs to Youtube films and now we have 3D and Virtual Reality.
The power of images and especially moving images to capture the imagination and excitement of learners is not in dispute. However, my wonderings last week as we explored what the Google Cultural Institute offered, and the “surround sound” experience of Google Cardboard went like this;
Are we taking the “comfort zone” out of field trip experiences? Much of the learning happens when we are outside our comfort zone, when we have to “mind the gap” and adapt to new surroundings, new experiences – are we sanitising exploration too much?
Can we really learn about culture, language, history without being able to touch, smell, hear, connect, communicate and build relationships with the people and the place?
Are we taking so much of the mystery out of the world around us that our young children will not seek to travel and experience the “real thing”?
“We can learn about the world from books, from the internet, we can “see” the world through the millions of photos , videos and TV documentaries and we can learn about cultures and people. But travel offers the chance to touch and feel and smell and taste and hear. How do you transfer those tangible aspects of knowledge to a machine? These are the things that give understanding and compassion to knowledge. ……. A sense of belonging to the world, of having your place in the world, interacting with people , the culture and the environment.”
Grainy black and white photos inspired me to learn languages and to travel but for some of my classmates it was enough just to see the pictures. I loved being able to show my students photos of France and Spain and other places I had visited – images and videos, used appropriately, are a powerful way of engendering interest and engagement which leads to deep learning.
Google Cardboard and the Google Cultural Institute are the natural next step on the continuum of media use that has underpinned my language teaching. My latest “thing” is taking 360° photos, uploading them to Streetview, exploring photos that are already there and looking at them through my Google Cardboard. I love the sense of “being there” that they provide. I know that for many VR experiences maybe the only way they can “be” in these places and I certainly wouldn’t deny anyone the chance to have them as there is so much we can learn from them. But, like any resource, beware the way you use it in the classroom. It is a bright, shiny, exciting, tool so keep learning and the learner at the heart of how you use it and it will send students into another dimension of learning. Hopefully, they will still have the opportunity to connect with people and touch, feel, see, smell and taste the world around them and let those experiences inform who they are and make a difference to their lives.
PS – just because I can ….. check out my 360° photo of Mount Thomas in Okuku, Rangiora and this one of Mount Eden , Auckland.
All images used in this blog taken by Anne Robertson- CC BY-NC-SA
“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn't have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realised that you either became a power or you were crushed” Joe Strummer