Another dot in the blogosphere?

Teachers, and teacher educators in particular, should never take for granted the long-term impact of what they say and model when they teach.

Every semester I provide feedback on the lesson plans of future faculty. I also evaluate their ability to facilitate a short lesson using learner centric strategies.

Every semester a few cases will require me to correct a well-intentioned but ultimately harmful practice — the use of extrinsic rewards like chocolate or other candy. I provide this feedback to adults who might have experienced such extrinsic rewards in their primary or elementary schooling 15 to 20 years ago.

This teach-as-they-were-taught mindset is frighteningly common. I observed this when I was a full-time teacher educator over 10 years. I fought to break this mindset then and I still fight it today. I do this by citing critical research and reflective teaching practice.

One rationale for avoiding extrinsic rewards is the matter of pragmatism. It is costly to keep doing this, it establishes the wrong set of expectations, it taps the wrong source of motivation, and it distracts from learning outcomes.

One argument that my learners might state is that students need to develop an internal drive. They claim that their candy rewards are an attempt to move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation.

I gently but firmly tell them this is bullshit. A reliance on extrinsic rewards is a learnt behaviour, not an inherent trait. Kids learn by watching some other child get rewards or by experiencing it first hand.

I do not mean that extrinsic rewards do not work. They can, for a short-term behaviour modification. However, they also set up an insidious longer term expectation and establish this as acceptable practice.

Being well-intentioned is not enough. Teaching practice needs to be informed by critical research and reflective practice. Both focus on the long game that is not fuelled by mere candy.

It this tweet about “infective“ tuition did not sell you on tuition, then this ad for a tuition agency might.

Tuition ad: The right answer: We prepare your children not just for exams - but for life.

The ad claimed that the agency could prepare kids not just for exams, but also for life. To reassure parents, the agency claimed that it had “the right answer”. In the spectrum of schooling and life, this group had one colour to rule them all. This is shortcut schooling and parenting at its best!

Now, not all tuition is the same. There are honest and earnest educators who provide remedial tuition as coaches. They do not advertise on YouTube because 1) they do not have the revenue, and 2) they have a collective conscience.

Then there are the enrichment centres that have entry tests, formulaic approaches that sometimes contradict what teachers do in classes, and give the industry a bad name. They charge top dollar — because Singaporeans equate quality with cost — and they widen the gap in equitable access.

This may be one of the reasons why all Singapore students in mainstream schools will soon have access to the Student Learning Space (SLS). The SLS has already been touted as providing equal (not equitable) access to high quality resources.

Those that buy in to that idea are missing the point. Tuition in all its forms — remedial, enrichment, other variants — is not just about access to resources. It is about personalised attention and coaching, bragging rights, babysitting, taking shortcuts. It is about catching up, keeping pace, or leaving someone in your smoke.

Let us not oversell tuition as practiced here. Let us tell it like it is.

Today I link a tweet and a YouTube video that I discovered last week.

Aaron Duff declared this on Twitter:

Yoda said this near the end of a new animated short:

Learn your should, from your Master. But take what you learn and make it your own, you must.

Video source

Both speak of empowering learners and creating real ownership of the learning process and products. The reductive statements are powerful, but easy to make.

Far more difficult is the daily and long-term process of HOW to do these. But this does not make the statements about empowerment and ownership any less relevant.

Now if only more teachers made the mantra of learner empowerment and ownership their own…

I LOL’d when I watched Shmoyoho’s latest songify, Pokémon Power. It was a mockery of a minister’s fearmongering of pocket monsters.

Video source

Laughter aside, the video illustrated how anyone can demonise anything. Rationality and evidence be damned!

The ridiculousness of the minister’s sermon is probably obvious to most. But there are more insidious sins when gamification (e.g., Pokémon Go badges) and game-based learning (playing Pokémon Go in general) are applied in schooling.

For example, there is the practice of blind gamification with badges. The badges in the current version of Pokémon Go add little tangible value to the player. This is like awarding stars for reading books or giving students stickers to BYO, but the lessons for doing these are lost. This is because the motivation is decoupled from learning and its outcomes.

In game-based learning, earnest but uncritical teachers might have justified their use of Pokémon Go to promote exercise or to teach content. There is little evidence that PoGo does both effectively. But again, rationality and evidence be damned.

The lesson that is hidden deep in any game worth playing is this: The motivation to play is linked tightly to the learning of skills (e.g., negotiation, strategic thinking, planning) and/or the adoption of values (e.g., persistence, patience, fair play). These aspects may be so insidious that they are difficult to describe or quantify. But this does not mean that they are less valuable than what lies on the surface.

Observe, listen to, and play with any child enthralled with Minecraft. You can do the same with a persistent neighbourhood auntie or uncle with Pokémon Go. They will teach you a thing or two. Rationality and evidence be embraced!

Being “data-driven” seems to have garnered a bad name in some schooling and education circles.

This is probably because of its misuse by edtech vendors for so-called analytics and misinterpretations of what being data-driven means by policymakers. Each is bad enough on its own. Both are lethal in combination.

But here are two recent examples of how being reliant on data is a good thing.

In a recent contest in Singapore, teams of students relied on shared pools of data to create visualisations.

Video source

The video above used data to create awareness of the difficulties that face families who have children with special needs.

Video source

The next video presented data to question commonly held misconceptions about ex-convicts.

Providing concrete visualisations of abstract data is not the same as being data driven. The former is about seeing what is not immediately apparent. The latter can sometimes be about playing the numbers game above all else, and that often ignores or harms the people that make up those numbers.

When being data-driven loses its original intent to inform decisions to actually help people, perhaps data visualisations like the ones above are a timely reminder of what good data might do.

A few days ago, I reflected on a criticism of Chromebooks in classrooms. In my reflection I unpacked the criticism and weighed in on the issue.

Today I share another perspective: Chromebooks are a means to a larger end.

For Google, that end is mind share. The goal is to get as many kids aware of what Chromebooks can do and how to work in the cloud. When the kids grow up and can afford to buy things or make important decisions, Google knows that mind share becomes market share.

But an educator typically does not think this way. So what it the long term appeal?

Chromebooks are a strategy to get fast and reliable wifi in schools. As just about everything must be accessed and done online on Chromebooks, wifi is a basic necessity. A teacher cannot teach and students cannot learn without it.

Chromebooks then are a chess piece in the larger edtech game. The wifi and Internet pipe that schools get as a result could then power many other efforts, be it the modernisation of administrative processes or the liberation of libraries.

This is assuming that gatekeepers do not apply too many locks and filters to the pipe. But not to worry. If they do, the kids will figure out workarounds and the adults can learn from them.

After you read this STonline article, you might not bat an eyelid, but you might shake your head.

The article started with a story about a Primary 5 boy (11-year-old) who attended a camp and could not tie his own shoelaces. The author, a school principal, also mentioned that camp instructors said that there were Secondary 3 students (15-year-olds) who could not do the same.

You might not bat an eyelid because you have heard such stories before or know at least one child — without physical or mental conditions — like that. This is the new normal.

You might shake your head, but you do so prematurely or at the wrong people. Do not judge the child. Think about their upbringing.

I have a relative who uses a pair of scissors to cut her daughter’s food into smaller pieces. Some parents might do this when their kids start to eat solid food. The girl in question is a normal 6-year-old child.

Some people call this helicopter parenting. I call this being shortsighted.

But wait, you say, what is the harm if shoelaces go away and if cutting food lowers a choking risk?

If you can actually see clearly that far down the road, you might be right about the shoelaces. But you are wrong about the food. My relative found out the hard way.

Last month, the mother accidentally cut a small part of her daughter’s thumb off while trying to slide and dice the food. The pain was immediate and the reaction was dramatic. But the lesson did not register.

Last weekend, we had a family dinner and the scissors came out again. The girl sat very still because she had learnt to fear the scissors. But the mother kept needlessly cutting the food.

So spare a thought for teachers who are another set of parents for such children. Not all kids are like them, but there are more of them than before. This is why we hear or read about movements to have more resilient kids.

Teachers have to reflect on the way they teach too. Some choose not to discipline their wards. Some continue to spoonfeed their students. This might look like care in the short term, but it does harm in the long term. Such kids do not learn about boundaries or how to be independent learners.

The hearts of helicopter parents and caring teachers are in the right place. But the consequence of their actions is not as immediate as a cut thumb.

Their actions are also not that obvious to them because they are so close to the children. Like the kids who could not tie their shoelaces, it took camp facilitators to point this out and intervene.

So spare a thought for observers and watchdogs. They are looking out for you and your children too. They could be offering help that does not hinder.

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