Motivating the Lower achievers – Humanising the Education system – Ipsative Assessment

Think about something that you have little talent for. Now imagine that you spend your days continually assessed on that area that you lack talent in.  You are constantly compared to your peers and shown how poor you are.

I love singing, but sadly have very little talent, not helped by congenital hearing loss. I wasn’t aware of my lack of ability, choosing to ignore the negative comments until I used the playstation game Singstar that brutally and quantitatively confirmed how bad I was.  Did this motivate me to try harder ?  It did briefly , although it was more about trying to find a song I could sing (Clash Should I stay or should I go! ) but being trashed by everyone soon lost its appeal and now I don’t sing any more in public. Which is no great loss to the world, but it is to me.

The thought that singing ability could be what the education system values allows me to empathise with the lower achievers. Of spending my days singing in front of others and however hard I try most other people are better than me. I may have other talents (I may be deluded here) but these are not recognised. My only value is my singing, the good singers are celebrated and their superiority over me quantified and celebrated.. This carries on for 11 years until in relief I leave an education system that has utterly failed and humiliated me.

This is how many lower achievers spend their school life. You are really not very good and if you put lots of effort in you probably still wont be . You can argue for a growth mindset at this point (which I believe in to a point)   or take the view that we are telling penguins that they might be able to fly if they flap their wings really hard (reality also has a place )

Research from the EPPI in 2002 has found that Summative assessment, so loved by those who are good at it and who also run the system  can be highly motivating to some higher achievers , but damaging to many others with the lower achievers particularly vulnerable.

The current widespread use of summative assessment and tests is supported by a range of arguments. The points made include that not only do tests indicate standards to be aimed for and enable these standards to be monitored, but that they also raise standards. Proponents claim that tests cause students, as well as teachers and schools, to put more effort into their work on account of the rewards and penalties that can be applied on the basis of the results of tests. In opposition to these arguments is the claim that increase in scores is mainly the consequence of familiarization with the tests and of teaching directed specifically towards answering the questions, rather than developing the skills and knowledge intended in the curriculum. It is argued that tests motivate only some students and increase the gap between higher and lower achieving students; moreover, tests motivate even the highest achieving students towards performance goals rather than to learning goals, as required for continuing learning.

What were the findings ?

Evidence of impact – Remember this was from 2002

Between them, the identified studies considered a number of the component aspects of motivation, but none considered all. The following main findings emerged from studies providing high-weight evidence:

• After the introduction of the National Curriculum Tests in England, lowachieving pupils had lower self-esteem than higher-achieving pupils,whilst beforehand there was no correlation between self-esteem and achievement.

• When passing tests is high stakes, teachers adopt a teaching style which emphasises transmission teaching of knowledge, thereby favouring those students who prefer to learn in this way and disadvantaging and lowering the self-esteem of those who prefer more active and creative learning experiences.

• Repeated practice tests reinforce the low self-image of the lower achieving students.

• Tests can influence teachers’ classroom assessment which may be interpreted by students as purely summative, regardless of the teacher’s intentions, possibly as a result of teachers’ over-concern with performance rather than process.

• Students are aware of a performance ethos in the classroom and that the tests give only a narrow view of what they can do.

• Students dislike high-stakes tests, show high levels of test anxiety (particularly girls) and prefer other forms of assessment.

• Teachers have a key role in supporting students to put effort into their learning activities.

• Feedback on assessments has an important role in determining further learning. Students are influenced by feedback from earlier performance on similar tasks in relation to the effort they invest in further tasks.

• Teacher feedback that is ego-involving rather than task-involving can influence the effort students put into further learning and their orientation towards performance rather than learning goals.

• High-stakes assessment can create a classroom climate in which transmission teaching and highly structured activities predominate and which favour only those students with certain learning dispositions.

• High-stakes tests can become the rationale for all that is done in classrooms, permeating teacher-initiated assessment interactions.

• Goal orientations are linked to effort and self-efficacy.

• Teacher collegiality is important in creating an assessment ethos that supports students’ feelings of self-efficacy and effort.

• An education system that puts great emphasis on evaluation produces students with strong extrinsic orientation towards grades and social status.

It would appear that the more importance we put on summative assessment the more likely our education system is to become;

  • A narrow, what gets tested gets taught, system
  • Focussed on performance rather than learning with all the damage that this entails
  • A qualification system rather than an education system
  • Highly divisive with those exam decoders motivated by success and those without this arguably arbitrary skill
  • One that only values those high performers and there is evidence these high achievers at school do not continue into society as high achievers in life  (link to blog)
  • One that dismally fails and alienates many students who leave feeling they have no value and have had their school years wasted

Does these sound depressingly familiar?

Formative assessment (see blog here for ideas ) has developed hugely where students are told what they need to do to improve, however this for some has only limited value. Would I be motivated to sing in public if after tuition I went from being appalling to pretty awful? Probably not. The system has inherently damaged many of these students and caused them to withdraw from putting in effort. You can only be humiliated if you have appeared to have tried. Want to keep your self esteem? Then don’t participate, show you don’t care or deliberately under perform to demonstrate your contempt for the system.

It doesn’t matter how good your formative assessment is if your students cant see the point in improving and are still measured against their peers.

Enter Ipstative Assessment

Rather than comparing yourself to the world, you look at creating personal bests. I am a cyclist and if I compared myself to Chris Hoy or Bradley Wiggins I could never feel good about myself. I am however motivated to improve my best times and that has sufficient value to not care how far behind the others I a would be.

This is the fundamental principle behind appositive testing. Research has been limited to distance learners but the results encouraging here http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk/6744/1/Hughes2011Towards353.pdf  and workshop files here 

You mark progress rather than simply products. Bringing in formative assessment in order to improve their appositive mark.

To give a measured grade a students work is compared to a previous piece of work

If a student has improved from 50% to 60% they would get an ipsative mark of 10%

The focus is on improvement and being the best that you can be hence everyone can make progress

The research which was the effects on distance learners looks highly encouraging and it makes sense as a human being.

I can find limited evidence of it being used in classrooms so please get in touch if it has been trialled and any thoughts on it

Advice on watching the eclipse for students and schools

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Eclipses are a relatively rare event and are fantastic learning opportunities  – a timetable is available here  for the next ones . The one on March 20th follows this path

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A really useful booklet can be downloaded from the Royal Astronomical Society here (Thanks to Alistair Gittner)

Safety is of paramount importance so please ensure that students are given this advice

Viewing a solar eclipse is potentially hazardous and should only be attempted with caution. You should never, ever – under any circumstances – look directly at the Sun!  – Even when it is partially covered and might not look very bright

Sunglasses will NOT protect your eyes from potential permanent damage from looking at the Sun.

Even worse is looking directly at the sun through binoculars or a telescope, though these can be used safely to project an image onto a card.

Safe ways are outlined below from NASA

sun-eclipse-viewing-120509b-02

Eclipse glasses can be bought ( in bulk ) from here   but quickly to guarantee delivery in time

A box pinhole projector can be very effective – although you may look a little strange ! Instructions are here  A photo or video could be taken by a phone from inside the box

pinholeprojection

 

Want to photograph the eclipse ?

There is a very useful article here   Dont destroy your cameras sensor – Use an appropriate filter !

Want to use your mobile phone? It will probably be a waste of time as you will see only a tiny blob. You can take a photograph from the objective of a telescope , but the telescope should be filtered to prevent damage to the cameras sensor . The photo below was taken by  Dean Regas  here

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There are some useful resources with videos on how to build pinhole cameras etc  here

Shoe Box Pinhole camera

I like this Pringle Can viewer here

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Please add any more useful sites /videos and tips in the comment section

 

 

 

 

Confusion vs Clarity – Great teachers who beat themselves up and poor ones who think they are great

We like clarity – defined as clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity. So surely this is what we as educators should be aiming for. Brief succinct and to the point and our students are happy.

Confusion on the other hand is something unpleasant and to be avoided says conventional wisdom.  This may be true for superficial tasks such as rote memorising, but there is mounting evidence that confusion promotes learning at a deeper level of comprehension.

Science is different than most subjects in that most students enter our classrooms with a preconceived notion of scientific concepts . Their minds are not a blank slate (sadly as that would be easier) but a mass of beliefs, many of which are wrong.

If we use the classic teaching idea of showing a demonstration and then having a discussion about what they have seen, that must be effective. 

demo-observe-discuss

It would appear not, from research from Eric Mazur,the Harvard physics education researcher that we are better off not doing the demonstration at all unless you get them to predict an outcome first. If only the demo is viewed you tend to remember it in a way that confirms your belief rather than the reality. This is a common fallacy that we remember things as they really are. Making the prediction seems to force us to realise that we got it wrong and hence more likely to change our minds. The social discussion afterward seems to have no direct effect on their performance although longer term benefits were not evaluated. Nor was peer instruction used which would have been interesting.

Dr Derek Muller – with the youtube channel Veritasium exploits this improved performance with his videos that deliberately confuse  Great Youtube Channel

Students prefer not to be confused and far prefer teachers who give clear explanations,  .  Is this always a good thing?  Mazur tried an on-line test on several topics, where he asked students a couple of hard questions (novel situations, things they hadn’t faced previously), and then a meta-question, “Did you know what you were doing on those questions?”  Mazur and his colleagues then coded that last question for “confusion” or “no confusion,” and compared that to performance on the first two problems.

confusion-learning

Again the results are counter intuitive. The confused students actually perform way better than the ones who are not. Which probably means that the students who are happiest with their teachers are the poorer performers – (this has huge ramifications for fee paying schools who want their teachers to be popular )

For teachers we may be faced with the choice of being popular and ineffective, or unpopular and effective!

Not only are students poor at judging how effective their teachers are they also according to Mazur are very poor at predicting their own performance.

This could be partly down to the Dunning-Kruger effect where people have a tendency to overrate their own ability. This is usually down to ignorance rather than arrogance. In virtually every survey done more than 50% of people judge themselves as being better than average attractiveness, intelligence and ability as a driver. Perversely the least competent are the ones most likely to overrate themselves and the highest performers underrate themselves.

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Perceived logical reasoning ability and test performance as a function of actual test performance

An article here outlines Dunning – Kruger effect and there’s a detailed blog here 

Add all these things together and you can have very popular poor performing teachers who think they are great as they lack the analytical skills to see their failings and unpopular, but  high performing teachers who beat themselves up. It can be a cruel, unfair  world!

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I will be launching a new YouTube Channel to support this so please watch this space

Humanity – Pedagogy – Technology

The world is changing in unprecedented ways. Mobile technology becomes ever more powerful, more wearable and we become more connected(or isolated from the real world and immersed in a virtual world – depending on your perspective)  As educators we need to be able to use this technology effectively. It’s easy to get carried away with the shinyness of the new and forget the core of education and forget what has to be in place first

To me it needs to be;

Humanity – Smile ! Build authentic relationships and quickly establish their identity by valuing them – Learn their names, find out about them, know what they are good at. If you have students who have high status outside your classroom, but are weak performers in it, then you can expect problems. Imagine that your headteacher has only seen you at your weakest, has never seen you perform well, how would you feel about them observing you ? We need to remove the fear of failure and we do that by making them feel secure so we can lead them on journeys into the unknown and push them to their limits. If they never fail, they will never know how far they can go.

Pedagogy – Teach them , or allow them to learn effectively. I passionately believe there isnt a right way to teach. We teach students, not a subject and we teach what is in front of us. The variables are so huge that to me much research doesnt inform us of very much. So reports like the Sutton Trust point out that

  • allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves – is not supported by evidence

As a scientist this is like saying; In the short term (passing exams )  if you give people fish they become fatter than if you teach them how to fish. Later when we then expect them to do something for themselves, some of these dependent ones will not know what a live fish looks like, let alone how to catch one. This may be my confirmation bias kicking in, but I want my students to be independent learners (and I do give them fish at times as some would starve without that extra support)

 

Technology – Add the things you cant do without the technology. Technology is neutral, neither good, nor bad. It can be used effectively or it can waste hours making pretty presentations with no effective learning. As teachers we dont need to be able to use all these technology tools. Our role as educators is to assess learning , however it is presented to us. preventing the students from using technology because we dont know how to use it is a sin ! We need to know what can be done and release the students from the bondage of our own limitations.

 

humanity - pedagogy - technology venn

 

I used this Video to support my presentation at #2015TMBETT. You need to decide in what  order the cartons fall over in.

The crowd had to make a decision as to the last one to fall over. Put your left hand up if you think it is the empty carton, both hands for the half full and right hand for the full one. Keep your hands up and find someone who disagrees with you, tell them why they are wrong and try to change their mind. How many changed their opinion ? 2 out of 450 ! When we have a belief we hang onto it – The work of Jonathan Haidt is interesting here

The answer to the cartons is here 

Ok so it isnt. We remain curious about things that are incomplete, that we dont know the answer to. Even more so when we have a stake in the outcome – hence getting people to argue. I did this in a class and a girl lost it when I was about to reveal, then said I’d do it tomorrow.

‘What! you are going to leave us in suspense?’

“Thats exactly what I’m going to do”

‘You are the most annoying teacher alive’ then in an aggressive manner ‘I’m going to do it at home!’

A total paradigm shift to most classrooms – a challenging student saying – stuff you,  I’m going to learn this ! Its thinking through the back door.

At the Teachmeet I started to show Infuse Learning, but ran out of time. I do think this could be a real game changer. I was going to get the crowd to draw their understanding of the cartons (I’m hopelessly optimistic as to what you can achieve in 7 minutes)

In Infuse Learning you can send a drawing to others to annotate and then can see all the results. It is rapid to set up, free and reliable. What’s not to like! Another feature is ordering results, so for example you can have 4 statements which are all correct but some are better than others. This is in terms of thinking a world away from the simple right and wrong that most quizzes produce.

And the answer to the cartons?

Do it yourself ! I dont give people fish when they can catch them themselves :)

 

Behaviour Management – beyond compliance – Humanising the Education System

Behaviour – beyond  compliance – a personal viewpoint / ramble

There are a lot of behaviour gurus out there, some offering genuinely good advice and others with very slick and entertaining stage shows that lack any real substance. This is a personal account of what I have found works for me. I feel immensely privileged that within my various roles I still teach regularly, observed by others, and can be in a failing inner city comprehensive one day and a top performing independent school the next. We have to take our students on a journey they may be reluctant to go on, armed with only the force of our personality! That is a serious challenge! I have taught in some of the toughest schools on the planet, sometimes successfully, at other times failing miserably. Failure is always a learning experience and my last nine years of teaching as an AST in challenging schools was filled with many of these. There were also those days where you walk out of the classroom buzzing, knowing why you are a teacher; a feeling you can’t explain to those who have never felt it – those who often decide educational policy!

Turning around failing schools is not rocket science, it’s very hard work. You need to change an embedded culture of anti learning. One model is to follow the way that the New York Subway System was reclaimed in the 1980s – identifying the ‘broken window syndrome; where if one window is broken and not fixed then all the windows would be subsequently broken. The carriages were covered in graffiti, a clear indication of lawlessness and this was the first priority to fix. The strategy was interesting: they found that the graffiti artists/vandals (use whichever fits your viewpoint) would take 3 days. The first day they would paint the carriages white then build up their artwork over the next 2 days. They were not prevented from doing this, instead as soon as they had finished the work it was painted over, thus demoralising them. They were not preventing them from wrongdoing, they were preventing them from benefitting from wrongdoing. No car covered in graffiti was allowed back into service.  Not letting miscreants benefit from their bad behaviour can be more effective than trying to prevent them doing it. Think the torture of the Grinch when he realised that stealing the presents hadn’t affected the happiness of the town

Another example in New York  was fare dodging which was endemic: when others were clearly getting away without paying the temptation was to do it yourself. A very visible system of punishment was created with fare dodgers daisy chained together on the platform and processed in a bus parked outside the station. No windows left broken; rules that are enforced clearly and consistently undeniably work and can lead to compliance and hence control is regained. Is it simply compliance we want in the classroom though?  It is possible to make a dog come towards you by offering a treat and move away from him by kicking it, what is much harder is to get the dog to obey you without these extrinsic drivers..Reward and threat can give us the behaviour we want to see, but is this enough? I want my students to behave because they understand that it is the right thing to do, not from a fear of the consequences or a rote response. Students misbehave because their needs are not being met. The behaviour may not be the problem, it may be their way of dealing with a problem. Should we be ignoring their needs and just deal with the symptoms rather than trying to find a cure?

I am sure I am not alone in admitting that I am often probably the most disruptive influence in my classroom. When they are all quietly getting on with work I get bored. I hated teaching in a school where the students worked in silence. I wanted to know their hopes, dreams and fears, what motivated them. I teach young people first and the subject second and find that showing a genuine interest in them pays dividends in their behaviour and performance. By building relationships, I could use the most powerful weapon of all – disappointment. We reflect anger but disappointment is crushing (I can still remember the sad look on my much loved Biology teacher Mr Woodward’s face when I hadn’t done my homework!) I hope I have been a good role model by showing those with challenging home lives how to build genuine caring relationships. The teachers who influenced me most and had a lasting impact on my life were not the most efficient ones, they were the ones with a passion who were not afraid to show their humanity.

We can create systems that force compliance. We can make students stand up as we enter the room to ‘show respect’. These systems of rules tend to have the opposite effect on me personally and bring out my subversive side, honed in my own traditional grammar school education that bored me to distraction. I was very successful at decoding exam papers and that was all that was required to be ‘successful’ with very little effort nor in depth thinking taking place (hence the shallow person I am today!) Reactance – What would you do when faced with this photo?

image

Why the compulsion to do what it tells us not to? We suffer from reactance which often compels us to break rules because we have lost the right to choose. an interesting study here suggests that raising the drinking age actually caused higher levels of underage drinking     Reactance often causes us to act irrationally, particularly in those ‘difficult’ teenage years where our reaction to the nagging of our parents rarely was the way they intended, nor what was best for us. Yet somehow we expect our young charges to take notice of us! Some interesting research on reactance is here.

Evidently we need to make our rules purposeful, but rather than set rules I negotiate inviolable rights The right to be safe – mentally and physically The right to learn The right to be treated with respect These are then protected with rules We have the right to be safe so I will not endanger others We have the right to learn so I will not interfere with the learning of others We have the right to be treated with respect so I will respect others This is pretty much a catch all – you will only fall out with me if you break any of these 3 rules, but you will always fall out with me if you do. This also allows us to deal with the students talking when we are by challenging them with “if you were talking to me and I started talking to someone else, would I be treating you with respect?” They can’t answer ‘yes’, so you point out they have broken the rules and hence have lost the right to …. sit there/leave the lesson on time/other benefit. As opposed to getting into the argument ‘ I was talking about the work ….’

I never talk about work in my lessons, always learning. I’m not impressed with pages of notes that have no meaning to the student or the copied and pasted stuff they seem to consider as good enough.

As the students come in I smile at them firing up their mirror neurones Using brain imaging, scientists have explored the areas of the brain that are activated when we see another person smile. Of course, you’d expect the visual areas of the brain to light up. But other areas of the brain light up too, including the premotor cortex, an area that helps activate our own smiling muscles and the somatosensory and insula cortices, areas that report what it feels like physically and emotionally to smile. Neurons that fire both when we observe and when we take part in an action are called mirror neurons. When we see someone smile, mirror neurons simulate our own smiling. Does this simulation or reenactment help us to understand what another person is feeling? Full article here  Similarly if you frown at your class you will get them mirroring unhappiness back at you – that doesn’t seem worth it to me!

I now attempt to analyse my class to identify and work with any threats, using a not very scientific version of Mclellands Theory of needs . This is a very imprecise technique but it seems to work for me. It is very easy to label students and then use confirmation bias to see what you expect to see, so please use with caution and forgive me for gross generalisations. We have three basic needs according to Mclelland. The need to achieve, affiliate with others and to have some power. I’m looking for the individuals who have a major need for power. I watch their body language as they enter the room: some will be making themselves small, these are unlikely to be threats. Others will have wide open stances and hold eye contact for a little longer than the rest, it is within this group that there is likely to be the possible threats.

Achievers have a key driver of being successful. I divide them into two broad categories: Quiet achievers : groups of girls who tend to sit near the front and never say anything. The ones I used to feel guilty about for never giving them enough attention or knowing anything about them when parents evening came (and their parents always came!) Individual boys who often would be sneered at by the others for the crime of trying hard. These types are not threats, but are often very needy and can dislike independent learning tasks.

Noisy achievers: spotted as soon as the first question is asked as they shout out or wave frantically at you. These can be the most annoying kids on the planet, often the offspring of the most annoying parents on the planet. These can destroy your lessons by dominating questioning. They are often deeply unpopular with their classmates but are completely unaware of this. Using ‘pose pause pounce bounce’ outlined by @teachertoolkit here and Dylan Wiliam below. I target them first and regularly come back to them.

Affiliates: By far the largest group, these may well be wearing the regulation Superdry/Hollister/Nike/Armani (delete as appropriate to the socioeconomic status of your school!) or the slight defiance to school uniform short fat tie etc. The haircut will also conform to the unofficial (hence far more likely to be adhered to) regulation norm. Being part of the group is far more important than being successful and if you have an embedded anti-learning, or that which I find worse, apathetic culture, then you have your work cut out. I remember as a clueless NQT admonishing the whole class with ‘if you carry on like this you will all fail!’ Thus bonding them together to fail as one with all the nonsensical rationale that only teenagers can muster.

Power People: This group hold status as the most important driver. These have the potential to be a threat, either in terms of behaviour or in turning the class against me or my teaching methods. If they are a personal power person they tend just to want to fight and have little influence on the others. Group power people have the potential to lead the affiliates and hence every lesson can turn into a battle over the allegiance of the affiliates. Male power people: tend to be alpha males and will enter your room noisily. Falling out with males rarely is a long term issue and tends not to extend to their friends who can be marvellously disloyal. Female power people: tend to be those that are the most extreme in dress – the brightest orange/shortest skirt/most makeup/biggest hair/other extreme feature! However, it is the number of social interactions which really hold the key to their power. Falling out with these can create an enemy for life and one with a hugely loyal army who also hate you unreservedly! Sometimes there is little you can do apart from damage limitation and wait for them to leave! How to deal effectively with these power people in the longer-term, I’ll leave for another blog. However if their status depends entirely on how well they perform in your classroom and they are not naturally gifted at your subject then you will tend to suffer. By being aware and dealing with these different drivers we can create a classroom climate where the needs of the individual students are being met. Seek to understand, then to be understood and you can create self regulating students better equipped to deal with the world .

These are some resources and blogs that I have found useful The first person who ever seemed to give me stuff that worked was Bill Roger,s the ever reliable Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher has a great summary blog here  Sarah Findlater  @Msfindlater has got some useful links on her excellent Pinterest account here  Ross McGill @teachertoolkit has some useful stuff as always including the 5 minute behaviour plan available here

Comments welcomed

Restorative Justice – Humanising Education

Restorative Justice – What is it and how can it make our education systems more human?

School discipline has for the most part based the criminal justice system. A compelling idea for many elements of society (and a great vote catcher)  we punish wrongdoers with the aim of enforcing behaviours that are safe and non-disruptive. One of the biggest flaws with this system is that it assumes that the perpetrators when punished have the will and capacity to change their behaviour.  This works very well for the majority of people, but not for those ‘now orientated’  ones incapable of delaying gratification. (ie the ones most likely to get into trouble)  The products of upbringings where actions were rarely questioned, with very poor role models. When punishment does not work, misbehaving students may be excluded through suspension or expulsion, with possibly serious long-term harmful consequences to them and society. There is little or no opportunity for any social and emotional learning. We cast these students adrift, they don’t feel part of our wider community and so feel no responsibility to it.  Instead they may find acceptance in a different and antisocial community.

an-eye-for-an-eye

I worked with young offenders before I became a teacher and what was very clear was how ineffective at changing behaviour punishment was for most of my charges.  Punishment was a way of life for these children.  Its easy to forget when you see them strutting around with their gang mates that they are children.  On their own, out of their gang, you would realise how emotionally vulnerable they were, kids who had needed to be hugged and to be told they were loved by parents.   Often they were simply amoral with no understanding of the impact of their actions.  The biggest sanction society could impose was removing their liberty, but for many their life conditions were massively improved when they were incarcerated, safer, better fed.  Some of my charges went into Borstal (it was a while ago) as daft petty offenders and came out as hardened well connected criminals.  The rise of the structure of ISIS may well have been massively facilitated by imprisoning large numbers of people with a similar mindset to create their own communities. There is an interesting article here  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/11/-sp-isis-the-inside-story

Restorative practices in schools are based on restorative justice principles instead of punishment. They aim first to build classroom communities that are supported by clear agreements, authentic communication, and specific tools to bring issues and conflicts forward in a helpful way. They provide specific pathways to repair harms by bringing together those who are affected by misbehaviour in a dialogue to address concerns, achieve understanding, and come to agreement about setting things right.In addition to serving the cause of fairness and justice, restorative approaches make safer schools and contribute to social and emotional learning

Restorative justice is not a ‘cup of tea and a hug’ approach to changing behaviour.  The first time I saw it used was with a couple of our students who had set fire to the local heath. The people who had been affected came and sat in a circle, a fireman, heath warden, dog walker, local resident whose house was next to the heath and a policeman.  The students were as uncomfortable as it was possible for them to be. They would have taken any punishment rather than sit through something that forced them to consider the consequences of their actions on others. Each in turn spoke about the effect the fire had had on them without blame or anger.  These were apparently ‘hard’ kids, they reflected anger with anger, its the only defence mechanism they had. But make them try and explain why they did it in front of others without emotion and it was clear how poorly equipped these children were to make good decisions.  We didn’t talk about punishment, we talked about how to put things right and they negotiated that they would work with the warden pulling up bracken – the bracken grows faster than the heather and can choke it if left unattended. The result of this was something that genuinely changed the behaviour of the students and built relationships with the community. A win-win compared to the possibility of alienation and further divisions.

On a smaller scale two of my students broke a school picnic table, so the restorative justice was to work with the site manager fixing it.  Not only did they build a good relationship with him, I also caught them berating another student they found jumping on ‘their’ picnic table. They had come from outside the system to feeling part of it.

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What shifts are needed – These are all about empowering the students and making them feel part of a community that they share responsible for.

The first shift acknowledges that troublesome behaviour is normal, and when students behave in troublesome ways they create opportunities to learn important social and emotional skills. What is important is not so much that they got into trouble in the first place, but what they learn along the way. Making things right is a powerful learning experience.

The second shift is a departure from the retributive model in which an authority, after taking testimony from the aggrieved party, decides guilt and assigns punishment. In restorative practices the authority figure acts more as a convener and facilitator. The initial investigation is concerned with identifying who was significantly affected by the incident. The facilitator invites them into a circle dialogue and, if they accept the invitation, helps prepare them. During the circle dialogue the problem and its impacts are explored and the group comes up with ideas on how to make things right. Usually this means the students who were the source of the trouble take specific actions that address the consequences of their choices. Consider the difference in outcomes between the authoritarian/punitive approach and the restorative approach: the first breeds resentment, alienation and shame and/or possibly an equally troublesome habit of fearing and submitting to authority; the second builds empathy, responsibility and helps restore relationships.

The third shift moves the locus of responsibility for well-being of the community from the shoulders of the experts to the community itself.  While counselling and similar strategies have their place and are often helpful by themselves, they are immeasurably strengthened when complemented by restorative practices that challenge those who are in the circle dialogue to share information with each other and to come to agreements as a group.

rest 3

Is Restorative justice the answer to all our problems?

rest 2 pros cons

Clearly not, it is simply another tool that is very effective in most cases but there will always be those that it has little impact on.

It is a step forward in humanising our education system though link

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Humanising the Education System

Why does our education system seem to be so poorly adapted for human needs?

Why are schools only judged on academic outcomes when this is a tiny part of what makes us human?

Can we really change the world?  How many teachers really believe in the current system?

What would we consider if we were to start again ?

buck fuller

Educational research appears to be showing us the most efficient ways of teaching, but are we in danger of missing the whole point of education?  Is this the equivalent of tinkering with the engine of a car when the tyres are completely inappropriate for the terrain ahead? 

Currently success is based on how well our young people manage to answer questions sitting alone with a pen, isolated from any technology (how relevant is that to the 21st century?!); for some we say “you are clever” and to others we say “you are not”. In so doing we condemn many to a lifetime of thinking that they are stupid: that’s pretty dehumanising.

In many schools we have lost sight of how lovely it is working with children . There is a great post by HeyMissSmith:  http://heymisssmith.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/teaching-is-wonderful.html

We have lost sight of integration of all types of people. Here is a beautifully written blog by Nancy Gedge”  http://notsoordinarydiary.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/battle-weary/ 

Good teachers impart knowledge effectively to their students, but their influence rarely extends beyond their classroom; good teachers have good relationships with most students.  Great teachers inspire for life and this always comes about through personal communication and relationships.  Every outstanding lesson I have seen has an undefinable buzz and feeling of a shared journey: there is a connection between teacher and ALL students that cannot be measured on any inspectors check sheet.

The system theoretically supports this drive for outstanding, but the reality is that it all too often it inhibits it.  Many schools suffer management by spreadsheet, a depersonalised, data driven process that does not take into account the complexities of teaching.  Systems are risk averse – we have no idea how far our students can really go, which is appalling, and surely a wasted opportunity.

“We start out with the intention of making the important measurable, and end up making the measurable important.”   Dylan Wiliam.

There are some amazing things happening in many primary schools, but when the students hit secondary suddenly it becomes serious: it is now all about performance.  The problem with a performance culture is that it tends to leads to only looking at the end result and not the learning.  The most important part becomes sidelined and our students learn little about learning, resilience or independence.  How many very ‘successful’ students have been coached purely to pass exams and only what gets tested gets taught.

A child comes back from a football game. What questions are the parents likely to ask them?

“Did you win?”

“Did you score?”

Suppose the match was lost and they haven’t scored, what value has the game had? With this outlook – nothing, the scenario is entirely negative and for the next game there is a pressure to score and win.

Alternative questions could be:

“did you play well/have fun?”

“what was the score?”

“did they deserve to win?”

“what would you do differently next time?”

These questions focus on the game rather than the result and builds a useful evaluative practice into the child’s life.

Robert Bjork on Learning vs Performance

We can impart knowledge efficiently to achieve an end result such as an exam, but a real success criteria is how much further the students choose to study the subject and how much effect it has on their life.

If we were to construct an education system that was designed for humanity what would we produce?

The starting point should be looking at what we need to be fulfilled: our basic human needs.

We can look at Maslow’s hierarchy (updated for the digital generation) and what this might look like broken down further. What might self-actualisation really mean?

Maslow_2014_revised

Our fundamental needs can be put under three main headings:

Control – That we feel safe and confident with some sense of order and influence

Humans need to have a some sense of control in aspects of life in order to be happy.  Part of the supposed deterrent of prisons (research is mixed – but certain element of society do love punishment regardless of whether it is effective!) is the total removal of any control the prisoner has.  Sadly many schools have a very similar approach with students, unable to control any aspect of their education.  Then, without irony, we moan that they are not independent.  Some prisoners become habituated and struggle to leave their very ordered world, not surprisingly some students do too.  A teacher at a very high achieving girl’s school was telling me how high the drop out rate was at University – the girls struggled with freedom and self-motivation. 

We also need parts of our world to be certain.  We can’t control others behaviour and this can lead to all sorts of problems of jealousy and unhappiness.  Think how edgy, unpredictable and moody teacher/spouse/sibling can make you feel.  Any teacher who has a class out of control will know how long those few minutes to the end of the lesson can appear to be.  I remember observing a teacher who had ‘lost’ the class and as chaos erupted around her she tidied up the scissors and stationary – here’s something I can control.

In any classroom students need to know how they will be treated by the teacher and classmates.  As a teacher you need to have clear expectations and to apply the rules fairly and consistently (though this is so hard to do!).  One of the reason teachers with weak behavioural management skills are so unpopular is that their classrooms are filled with uncertainty, hence stress.

Routines are very important to give this sense of order, it is probably less important what the routines are than that they are always carried out.  School routines such as line up outside, coats off etc are better than individual teachers creating their own ones.  This depersonalises the rules so there should be no arguments like “Mr Linklater lets us listen to music, why don’t you?”. The ability to respond to the students with ‘the rules say ….’ is undermined massively if this happens.

Every failing school I have worked for has had massive inconsistencies in behaviour management strategies, which led to many unhappy students and behaviour that was out of control at times: every rule was open to negotiation.  Those who applied the rules firmly were seen by the students as ‘harsh’ and having a problem.  **The first step was always to ensure if there was a rule, that it was applied.**

The importance of consistent rules are supported by the broken window theory here.  This states that preventing small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.  Although debate is raging as to whether it is really effective and whether it has caused more harm than good in the US here, it seems to make sense that keeping the little things tight can prevent the big things from happening.  Just because it seems to make sense doesn’t mean its true.  We are not rational beings, although we delude ourselves in thinking that we are. If you are not convinced try this http://youarenotsosmart.com/

Teachers with a high reliance on certainty can come across as rigid and control freaks.  Their classrooms may be very ordered, but sometimes their relationships with students can be shallow as they give very little of themselves.  Order is more important than variety which suits some students perfectly, but not others. The importance of autonomy, purpose and mastery are outlined by Dan Pink:

Stimulation – The need for variety, the unknown, change, new stimuli.

Variety is the spice of life, but if there are no elements of certainty present, also potentially a source of stress.  We all need variety in order not to get bored.  However many high achieving students, particularly those who have sussed the system and have no real interest in the learning, simply the exam performance, do not want variety – “can you just teach it to us”.  These are often the Type 1 Gifted and Talented outlined here http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx.  On the other hand those sparky and potential troublesome students need variety to keep them interested as they are not motivated purely by exam performance.

Variety people tend to be thrill seeking, now orientated beings not great at long term planning . 

Stimulation is also about growth and improvement.

Variety driven teachers tend to be more chaotic than the certainty driven ones; more likely to take risks and try new ideas.  They are usually the ones we remember from our own school days; they can be inspiring, shocking or a mixture of both.  The rise of spreadsheet management and the homogenising of the teaching profession into OFSTED pleasing performers has been disastrous for many of these impulsive teachers not bound by the rules.

Identity – A sense of self and a place in the community

We need to feel significant: that we have an identity and that we are valuable.  This can be either as an individual or as a  part of a group – proudly being a member of form 4C, or a goth, a gang member, one of a sports team.  Your status may be completely different depending on your environment and the group you are in at the time. Ali who is captain of the rugby team is a god outside your maths classroom and a mass of insecurities in it as he’s horrified he might appear dumb. Chloe the orange girl with the make up and short skirt is queen of her gang and when she is in her form group she is a terrifying. She is a terrorist in Mr Perkins’ science class, but a pussycat in Ms Anichebes’ who knows her very well.

It is important that any school promotes a strong sense of shared and inclusive community and values all students.  Otherwise competing group identities with a strong attraction – You can be one of the bad boys/girls with an expectation that you cause trouble. Gang culture can be very persuasive because you can be a ‘nothing’ in the classroom, but a big deal out of it.

In the classroom the quiet ones are sometimes the missed ones, the ones almost without an in class identity because the teacher doesn’t make any time for them.  In challenging classrooms these hidden students who keep their heads down to prevent being targeted, often feel they have no value and leave school with little sense of self-worth.  Our education system has failed these students but we often didn’t notice (I feel a sense of guilt looking back about some).

Introverts are often underestimated and extroverts overestimated.

Extra curricular trips and clubs are fantastic opportunities for building relationships and learning the identities of those students. These should be promoted as much as possible, but these are in decline within the state sector.

Research indicates that eating together has incredibly positive effects, so this clearly should be a priority; sadly in many schools lunchtimes have been reduced to a brief functional eating activity.

There is strong evidence that when people feel anonymous and not part of a community, that their behaviour deteriorates.  An interesting study on the Lucifer Effect is here with a summary below.

I believe that environmental, societal conditions contribute to making some members of society feel that they are anonymous, that no one in the dominant community knows who they are, that no one recognises their individuality and thus their humanity. When that happens, we contribute to their transformation into potential vandals and assassins–a danger to my person and my property — and to yours. This is particularly so for minority group members who are rendered as “invisible men and women” by the prejudiced attitudes of “in group” members.

Can we change it?

gandhi shake world

If we really want to we can

Comments welcome