Another dot in the blogosphere?

This tweet reveals a battle we rage in education. It is not the text or the link in the tweet; it is the image.

What is the battle about? Learning styles and the ignorance it perpetuates.

Why battle? Learning styles are very much alive and even celebrated. This despite research that has debunked it and the APA that recently made a statement against it.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently posted an article about how many people still believe in learning styles even though these have been debunked.

A cognitive psychology educator posted five-tweet thread to see how commonly accepted learning styles were in the top ten schools of education in the US.

He followed up with a blog entry to show how he discovered that eight out of ten of them had information about learning styles on their website. This information was supportive of or neutral about learning styles. Only one, the
“Teachers College of Columbia University produced an article which portrayed learning styles as a myth or in a negative manner”.

I agree with him. We should stop beating dead horses. The learning styles horse is very much alive. Where is my stick? Ah, here it is.


Video source

This video is as much about misconceptions surrounding screen time as it is about:

  • Reading beyond headlines
  • Understanding how newspapers are not journals
  • Distinguishing engagement and accuracy; statistical significance and effect size; correlation and causation

It also illustrated how large sample sizes can make tiny effects statistically significant even though they have no practical significance.

For example, the video cited a study in Nature Human Behaviour that had a sample size of 355,358 adolescents. The video (also this article in Vox) highlighted how the study found that “wearing eyeglasses and eating potatoes also had significant yet small negative effects on teens’ wellbeing”. And yet we do not vilify either.

Add to that the fact that researchers have to decide where cut-offs are that distinguish statistically significant effects from non-significant ones (e.g., P value 0.01 vs 0.05). The same researchers or the agencies they work for might also make cut-offs like recommended screen times of no more than one hour before age five, even if the evidence does not support strict limits for any age groups.

TLDR? Newspapers oversimplify complex phenomena by providing easy answers. Real learning is not in taking these answers at face value. It happens when you explore nuance and depth instead.

 
I remain cautiously optimistic for subject-based banding (SBB) to be implemented fully in Singapore schools by 2024. SBB is supposed to replace current streaming practices.

Academic streaming in Secondary schooling was first introduced here in 1981 — this makes it over 35 years old — and it is baked into our psyche.

Why is it being replaced? One might look to the study of another system to find answers:

In the latest update of Hattie’s influential meta-analysis of factors influencing student achievement, one of the most significant factors… is the teachers’ estimate of achievement (1.57). Streaming students by diagnosed achievement automatically restricts teacher expectations. Meanwhile, in a mixed environment, teacher expectations have to be more diverse and flexible.

While streaming might seem to help teachers to effectively target a student’s ZPD, it can underestimate the importance of peer-to-peer learning. A crucial aspect of constructivist theory is the role of the MKO – ‘more-knowledgeable other’ – in knowledge construction. While teachers are traditionally the MKOs in classrooms, the value of knowledgeable student peers must not go unrecognised either.

SBB as a replacement of streaming is still largely a concept as it does not yet have widespread implementation. I would like it to do well, so I look for potential pitfalls.

One obstacle is adult mindset. The policymakers, teachers, parents, and tuition agencies comprise of people who were likely products of streaming. It is hard to break out of what we know in order to try something else better.

Even if there is buy in to the idea SBB, the practice of comparing kids largely or only on academic standards remains. The SBB will see academic subjects offered at three levels G1, G2, and G3. A cynic might point out that these mirror the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic), and Express streams after reading this CNA report.

Upon entering Secondary 1, they will take a combination of subjects at three different levels based on their PSLE scores: General 1, General 2 and General 3. These three levels are mapped from the current Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express standards respectively.

The cynic would be wrong because a child might take two subjects at G1, four at G2, and one at G3.

The actual issue is parents or students wishing to take as many G3 level subjects as possible and tuition agencies claiming to have strategies to make those wishes come true. This keeps the formulaic and reductionist thinking alive at the expense of change and what is best for each student.

Normal stream students are stigmatised. CNA reported our Minister for Education saying:

…entering a stream that is considered ‘lower’ can carry a certain stigma that becomes self-fulfilling and self-limiting,” he added. “Students can develop a mindset where they tell themselves, ‘I am only a Normal stream student, so this is as good as I can be.

The SBB cannot guarantee that this stigmatisation will stop. Consider how parents and students might compare how many G1 or G3 students have on their plates. Load them with G1s and the stigma follows a different label.

Then there is the fact that our schools are already stratified. Students of certain abilities and/or socioeconomic status get into certain schools. Put plainly, some schools effectively have Express students only; even their N(A) students might be Express students elsewhere. The SBB policies deal with students already in schools and does not clearly address such stratification.

Administrative measures need to counter such stratification. These measures are not yet clear: The Ministry of Education and schools “will develop guidelines and assessment mechanisms, including using Secondary 1 year-end examinations”.

Assuming that school stratification persists, will students in such “better” be offered G1 subjects if they need them? How will such schools deal with the change in traditions and reputations if this happens?

Or might enacted policies blur these stratifications so that every mainstream school here opens its doors to students from all backgrounds? How will school administrators deploy the currently stead-state pool of teachers? If teachers cannot specialise, how will they be prepared to deal with even more diverse student needs?
 

 
Like the Minister for Education, I would like to see this happen:

The Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams, together with their labels, will be phased out… So from three education streams, we will now have ‘one secondary education, many subject bands… We will no longer have fishes swimming down three separate streams, but we have one broad river, each fish negotiating its own journey.

The reality is that fish rarely swim alone; they swim in schools and they do so as a survival strategy.

Like it or not, our students are also put into groups. Some of these groups are based on their choice, e.g., co-curricular activity. But some grouping is insidious, e.g., socio-economic status, general academic ability, behaviours, attitudes, etc.

Students will be taught in groups or classes based on new labels: G1, G2, and G3. These labels come with baggage in the form of fixed mindsets and current streaming practices. If we ignore this baggage, we might invite a change from streaming to streaming plus.

Assessment in the form of summative tests and exams is the tail that wags the dog.
 

 
Why the tail? Summative assessments tend to happen at the end of curricular units. How do such tails wag the dog? They shape what gets taught and even how it gets taught.

So one might be happy to read this:

But to what effect?

It might be too early to tell given that this movement has just started. There was this report that parents and tuition centres were not buying into the new policy. That report was a follow up to a previous one last year on how “tuition centres rush in to fill (the) gap” left by a lack of mid-year exams.

So is this a case of wait and see? Perhaps.

While some hair on the tail of the dog might have been snipped, the tail is still there. Like academic streaming, having one’s worth dictated by exams is baked into our psyche.

The MOE and schools can apply invisible pressure on stakeholders like parents and tuition centres by reducing the number of exams. These stakeholders might feel the change and pressure, but not see the point. It will take time and constant reinforcement that exams are not the be-all and end-all.

Today I link at behind-the-scenes (BTS) documentary about Game of Thrones (GoT) with the blog entry of an educator I follow via RSS.

George Couros reflected:

I am a big believer that challenge is necessary for growth and development, but I also know how criticism is delivered and where it is delivered from matter tremendously.

I agree, but I would also focus on who a critique (not just criticism) came from and why it was offered.

A criticism is negative; a critique can be positive, negative, or both.

Who a critique comes from and why matters. I would rather hear from a fellow educator or an authority from my field about my practice or my evidence than even the most observant outsider.

That is not to say that outsiders cannot provide unexpected or serendipitous perspective. They can. But they also do not have shared language and values, and in Couros’ context of reflecting on education, who offers feedback and why they do so matters.


Video source

The video above is a trailer for the GoT BTS documentary. It is a one-minute teaser for an almost two-hour insight into how the final season was prepared and delivered.

If social media feedback is taken at face value, then the final season of GoT was a disappointment. I say that the people who complained about the season should watch this documentary first. You cannot provide feedback on the product if you are not aware of the processes.

No show is perfect just as no teaching practice is perfect. Both are open for feedback in the form of criticism and critique. But the negative feedback on the final season of GoT seemed to come largely from armchair pundits. Many of their reasons were selfish: Self-promotion of self-proclaimed expertise, bandwagon likes on social media, calls for better entertainment.

That is the type of feedback that does not come from the right place for the right reasons. It demoralised and destroys. I have reflected before on how I believe in providing tough feedback as long as it is deserved and comes from a good place.

Who the feedback comes from and why it is offered matters.

The video below scratches the surface, but it provides an example of how to leverage on popular culture to seed discussion.


Video source

The panel explored a wide range of topics in law, psychology, economics, and politics. These stemmed from the “snappening” in Avengers: Infinity War.

Not only are such videos models of how one might conduct a class discussion of curricular content, I argue that they might be better than videos that teach content directly.

Videos created specifically for content do not and cannot cater for different contexts. They might also be designed to take the teacher out of the classroom equation.

On the other hand, videos that feature popular culture require an educator to actively shape the teaching and learning experiences. Used skilfully, such videos might highlight the inter and multi-disciplinary nature of issues and problems instead of presenting them in silos. Used strategically, such videos enable better teaching and learning while emphasising the importance of the teacher as facilitator.

http://edublogawards.com/files/2012/11/finalistlifetime-1lds82x.png
http://edublogawards.com/2010awards/best-elearning-corporate-education-edublog-2010/

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code


Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets

Archives

Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: