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Posts Tagged ‘change

This video explains why we tend to prefer the smell of our own farts.

Video source

Our diets and intestinal flora create unique signatures which we find familiar. When we are about to toot, we know what to expect.

Farts are like teaching to that extent. Much of our practices stink, but we like them because they are comfortable and we know what is coming.

But farting and teaching are not just about you. Both can be a shock and unpleasant to their recipients. We need to be like our learners to realize how much we stink.

Now don’t get me started on practices that are silent but deadly…

A headline or title like ‘Chalk and talk’ teaching might be the best way after all is designed to do a few things.

It attracts views.

It draws the conservative nay-sayers and entrenches them.

It ignores how the measures of learning and effectiveness often favour chalk and talk.

For some, the narrative is seductive because it sounds reasonable and even balanced towards the end (if you even read to that point).

But for me, the article sounds like fingernails slowly being drawn across a blackboard. One should never get used to that sound nor should one ignore it because it becomes common.

Such an article ignores developments in educational research and practice that reveal the inferiority of chalk and talk. They pull us back into the cocoon from which we have emerged and are supposed to develop away from.

Such an article places teaching above learning and the teacher above the learner. Even if an educator is not research literate, I wonder how s/he can look groups of students everyday in the face, see the obvious boredom or worry, and not want to do something about it.

Do something about it. At the very least, stop nodding in agreement with articles that support chalk and talk. Change. Step out of your comfort zone and into the learning zone.

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How seriously would you take an article titled 20 Baby Names Proved To Belong To The Most ‘Naughty’ Children (sic)?

The article could be used in an introductory research methodologies class on how NOT to collect data and report research.

It could also be used in a journalism class to illustrate how to appeal to base human intellect. Judging from the 1.4 million likes on Facebook and 2000 comments, people take the possible correlation of names and behavior seriously.

The article appeals but it does not raise the bar of critical thinking. It informs but it does not educate.

No pain, No gain by moostive, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  moostive 

Over the last few years, I have noticed far too many education or educational technology blogs that do the same thing. They highlight the cool but perpetuate old ideas. The generate buzz but do not encourage critical conversation.

People would rather feel good about themselves instead of learning how to be better. Teachers would rather read and tweet maxims than learn that they are wrong about homework, learning styles, or digital natives.

People would rather believe poorly conducted research (like the baby names) because it already supports what they believe in. They reject evidence to the contrary because it makes them uncomfortable.

Being uncomfortable is the first step to learning. We learnt that when we tried walking when we were babies. Learning is trying, failing, and feeling the pain. No pain, no gain.

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Ask ten people to define “innovation” and you will likely get ten different definitions. Like creativity, innovation is difficult to define. But you know it when you see it.

I like to define innovation as “creativity in action”, but that does not make the definition any clearer.

Before I gave an interactive talk on educational innovation two days ago, the organizers mentioned how innovation could be defined as “doing different things” or “doing the same things differently”. They preferred the latter stance.

I get what they mean by doing the same things differently if by different they mean better, more efficient, or more effective.

But I wonder if they have considered how doing the same thing, however different, eventually leads back to the same thing.

Take flipped classrooms for example. Most teachers have the impression that flipping their classrooms is different because they must prepare videos (instead of teaching ‘live’) and that their students learn outside class. How exactly is this different?

What if the teachers are still teaching didactically? What if the videos are as long and boring as ‘live’ teaching? What if the videos are worse due to lack of interactivity?

In other words, what if teachers are merely changing the medium, but not the mindset and method?

Kids are already learning outside classrooms when they ask their parents at home, tuition teachers at a centre, or their peers on social media.

Doing things differently is a matter of degree. Just how different is your difference from the status quo? Is it a marginal shift or a paradigm shift? The latter, or doing very different things, are more likely to be attempts at being innovative.


Imagine a satellite orbiting a planet and how it is kept on its path due to the planet’s gravitational pull. As long as it orbits, it is maintaining its path and the status quo. Updating the satellite, adding new bits to it, or even replacing it are not really changing or innovating. There is no change to its purpose.

But imagine how this craft might break from orbit and be sent to intercept an asteroid or to explore space. It has a very different purpose and must be redesigned on the run, refitted to do this, or ideally be redesigned from the ground up.

It is a lot tougher to do the latter, just as it is a lot tougher to really innovate instead of just making marginal improvements. Innovation is a commitment to do something different, not just to do the same thing differently.

There are two parts of my reflection today.

First, I use word clouds to illustrate what participants thought at the end of an interactive talk I gave yesterday on educational innovation. Then I answer two questions that participants asked in a Google Form.

I asked participants to complete an exit ticket. Among the tasks were two questions:

  1. What is your main takeaway from the talk?
  2. What might you do differently to innovate?

I collected the responses in a Google Form and Spreadsheet, and then used Tagxedo to generate a word cloud.

Here is one for the first question.


It is no surprise that “creativity” and “innovation” featured prominently since these were the foci of the talk. But I am glad that some of the key points like unleashing pupils, unboxing them, failing forward, and (not waiting to be fully) prepared stuck with participants.

The actionable items were varied.

tagxedo-actionReading their individual statements in full and in context, the largest words are actually less meaningful because they were necessary fillers about the main topic. The mid-sized concepts like needing to unlearn and relearn, outwitting obstacles, exciting (students), and (leveraging on) emotions are key to teachers unboxing themselves.

I would also like to address two questions teachers asked in the exit form.

The first question was: Since space and time is needed, how do teachers innovate as they need to finish a given syllabus?

The second was: In the context of our education scene where so much time and emphasis is placed on results, where and how do we find time to innovate n let our minds go free?

The questions, while phrased differently, have exactly the same roots. They deal with the issue of time and view the problem of balancing classroom innovation and completing a syllabus or getting good results as a zero-sum game.

The thinking is that something old must give way for something new to move in. I imagine that teachers feel like they are balancing a full glass of acid above their heads and want to know how much is going to be removed before more acid is poured in. Pouring in without taking out is going to burn them.

After consulting a few educators at #edsg chat last night, I have concluded that you can play a different zero-sum game or break out of that paradigm altogether.

In lay speak, pour in something that neutralizes the acid or stop playing the acid-balancing game.

1. Zero-sum game 1: Modular curriculum design
In this approach, teachers do not teach every topic over the whole year. They only focus on specific topics that they prepare all materials for: Teaching, learning, practice, assessment, etc. Teachers might work in teams if they have larger cohorts.

The result is that the curriculum race still gets run while teachers get creative with the topic(s) they are assigned and do less (or even no) work for non-assigned topics. Teachers get more time to think of innovative approaches and get to observe and critique their colleagues when they are not teaching.

2. Zero-sum game 2: Integrated or overlapping curriculum design
The main idea of this approach is to identify redundancies or commonalities in subject silos and attempt to teach them at the same time. Volume is both a Math and Science concept, so why teach it twice? There is reading comprehension in complex Math problems and report writing in Science, so why not combine it with Language? The stories and examples in Language can be Math or Science in nature.

An ideal outcome of such an approach is a more holistic and interdisciplinary curriculum. Even if that is not the goal of curricular redesign, more porous silos create better communication and understanding between teachers of different content areas. If such conversations go beyond “What do you teach?” to “How to you teach it?” teachers might discover new ways of doing old things.

3. Play a new game
Compared to changing high-stakes testing, curricular redesign is easy. Exams and tests are not likely to be de-emphasized in our system any time soon even though there is less focus on just getting good grades.

Teachers have to ask themselves which of these they value the most: A) the test of schools, B) the test of life, or C) both.

Most teachers are already in mode A. Progressive teachers and change agents prefer to look beyond the temporary road hump that is the exam and prefer to prepare kids for more important things in life.

A few teachers want both good results and well-adjusted kids. This is a tall order, but not outside their reach. The main strategy is not to hot-house and prepare students for exams hoping that this will teach resilience.

Quite the opposite. Kids should be given opportunities to think creatively and critically first, possibly with the help of curricula that is modular, overlapping, or integrated. It is their capacity to think first instead of regurgitating content that will help them operate outside subject silos and to transfer knowledge and skills from one domain to another.

This is a rant.

Educational vendors and leaders may know how to talk, but they often struggle to walk a plan or policy down the road.

Over the last few months, I have met several people who fall in these categories. They hear about “educational innovation” and “disruption” and talk about MOOCs, whole school approaches, or other flavourful processes and products.

Their knowledge of such changes in the educational landscape tends to be superficial. They use buzzwords and that is all they remain in terms of implementation because they do not connect cognitively and emotionally with teachers or educators.

If the implementation does no harm to teachers and learners, I would be fine with it. But when they bring in experts and “experts” at high financial cost, with low contextual awareness, and zero follow up, I object.

I liken such moves to hit-and-run road accidents. The difference is that implementations like conferences, seminars, and workshops are purposeful.

I wonder why some schooling outfits will throw money at someone overseas to buy acronyms like AfL, DI, DT, LS, TfU, and UbD when there is perfectly good (or even better) self help or local expertise. WTF?

The problem used to be that vendors did not speak the language of schools and educational institutions. Now they do some basic research, latch on to buzzwords, and target policymakers and administrators.

The policymakers and administrators may or may not have been teachers before. Those that were teachers may not have been good ones or they actually prefer not to teach. They are not averse to building ivory towers and learn to play the policy and administration game well.

Plans built on poor pedagogical foundations and a lack of ownership are very expensive. They waste money, time, and effort. They demoralize and disillusion. They create change apathy in the long run.

This might sound harsh. But informed and reflective leaders, middle managers, and teachers will probably nod their heads in agreement.

I would rather they remove their heads from the clouds and learn to shake their heads at people who do not bother about context or pedagogy.

This is a moving ad by Sainsbury’s that features the temporary truce that soldiers initiated in World War I on Christmas Eve.

Video source

This is the story behind the ad.

Video source

I reflect on this as I listen to discontent on our schooling system and read about what various people are recommending for change.

One key change is in assessment. The rationale is that assessment is a leverage point. Change that and everything else changes. While that may be true, there are other ways.

Changes in assessment are typically driven by a central or higher authority. I have noticed several fledgling and ground-up efforts in Singapore to bring change from the outside in.

The soldiers created a moment of peace in a senseless war initiated and sustained by their leaders. Likewise, passionate educators here can also initiate and sustain change without the permission of authority figures.

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