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Posts Tagged ‘paper

Does your mind go off on tangents after reading, watching, or experiencing something? Mine does.


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After watching this video on how a thin piece of rapidly spinning paper cuts through tough objects, I thought of a trick question I used to ask people: What is the hardest substance known to man?

Anyone sufficiently schooled might say diamonds. I tell them that it is paper. After all, paper builds bridges and destroys cities. It starts, maintains, and ends lives. Then we have a discussion about what that means (spoiler: blue prints, blind policies, birth certificates, money, death sentences).

That used to work. Now people might just watch this video and take things literally.

What is the point of paper qualifications (as in academic attainments) if you cannot make qualifications (as in exceptions to the rule) about paper?

Last week I volunteered for a school’s career guidance event for students. The students chose who they wanted to interview in half-hour intervals and we shared our hearts out.

A teacher inserted himself into my group’s discussion. As we meandered from one topic to another, that teacher declared this about his students: “They prefer pen and paper.”

No, they do not. Students have been conditioned to accepting them. The Principal of Change articulated this in a recent blog entry:

many of our students are so used to “school” that something outside the lines of what they know terrifies them just as much as any adult. If school has become a “checklist” for our students (through doing rubrics, graduation requirements, etc.), learning that focuses on creation and powerful connections to learning, not only take more effort, but more time, which sometimes frustrates many students.

 

The problem with... by horrigans, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  horrigans 

 
There is an immediacy to paper which needs to be examined in more ways than one. If you have a notebook or scrap ready, there is quickness of use and illustration that is hard to beat. Some might also value the feel of paper as a form of immediate recognition.

But paper is also immediate in that what happens there immediately stops there. There is no hyperlinking or ease of editing, copying, and sharing. The affordances of paper, as wonderful as they are, also have limited pedagogy: Go where I say, stay where you are, write neatly, do not copy, do not share, etc.

Paper is comforting because it does not push pedagogy to new ground, so schools use a lot of it. Other than the newspaper industry, I do not know any other organization that relies on so much paper. OK, maybe the toilet paper industry.

Ultimately, schools justify the pen and paper mode of instruction because of the pen and paper exams. This is despite the increasingly non-pen and paper life and work that awaits learners when they move on.


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Saying kids prefer pen and paper is like saying they would rather use encyclopedias instead of Google or Wikipedia. (BTW, they know the limitations of those tools better than teachers might expect).

Just ask enough of our kids the same questions the teens were asked in the video above. Their responses might not be as colourful as the ones in the video, but you are likely to get similar responses.

Like the video, you will get a few responses about paper-form books based on nostalgia and tactility. But these come from a place of honesty and passion, not from conditioning by a schooling system that refuses to change. These come from students who learn how to think by themselves instead of providing conditioned responses.

Do we assume nostalgia to be important enough not to change? Do teachers have a right to recreate their own world instead of preparing kids for theirs? I borrow another quote from The Principal of Change in the same blog entry:

if we do not challenge our students in the learning they do in school, what are we preparing them for? What mindset will we actually create in our students? It is important, if not crucial, to really listen and act upon student voice…

How much longer are we going to maintain conditions for “pen and paper” conditioned responses?

The press had a blast last Friday when the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) announced that entire Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) papers from the last three years would be sold to the public.

The response from the public was predictable.

Entire GCE O and A level papers have been available for generations of students, so why did the SEAB do this after years of holding out? The official reason was to reduce over-preparation

However, this response creates more questions than answers. Has anyone asked and convincingly found out if the release of high stakes exam papers at the secondary and junior college levels has reduced over-preparation? If so, might a comparison of pre-teen and teenaged learners be valid?

Perhaps the move is a social engineering experiment which is part of a larger plan for changing the mindsets of stakeholders. The larger plan is a jigsaw puzzle of changes in the last three years:

  • the push to label every school a good school
  • not announcing the country’s top PSLE students
  • de-emphasizing the importance of grades and refocusing on values
  • the rise of vocational education
  • the posturing on the value of basic degrees

Social experiments take time and face serious obstacles.

This social experiment will take years to monitor even as we hope to gain from increased transparency and lowered stress of exam preparation. The ones that gain immediately from the release of full PSLE papers are publishers like Popular, the neighbourhood publishers (nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and test preparation centres. There is money to be made by meeting the demand for these papers and stoking the fear and anxiety that high-stakes exams bring.

A social experiment is not a scientific one because it is less controlled. Other ingredients in the pot, like kiasu parents, are confounding factors. Kiasuism is a staple of our diet and telling parents not to hot-house their kids is like telling them to stop eating rice.

Our kiasu mentality and tuition culture are formidable obstacles against change. The main weapon that leads the charge for change is transparency.

Being transparent means being to see through something. In this case, the exam question transparency allows for more open discussion about the quality of the questions. Schools, tuition centres, parents, and most importantly, students, will be able to better prepare for the exams.

The stress of taking a high-stakes exam will not go away. However, the stresses associated with over-preparation or under-preparation might be reduced.

In the long run, I would like to see the continued transparency and discussion leading to better questions. Not exam questions, but questions about the PSLE as a sorting mechanism when children are just 12-years-old. This transparency is a long-term solution to looking past symptoms of kiasuism and unnecessary tuition, and dealing with the root problems instead.
 

Ta Prohm Roots (view on black) by mendhak, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  mendhak 

 
How did I arrive at that conclusion?

Our kiasuism is a result of our notion of meritocracy which starts with how well our kids play the schooling game. Success is measured almost solely on test and exam results, hence the premium placed on playing the game well.

If parents feel that teachers and schools cannot help their kids succeed, they purchase that insurance or enable the result with tuition, be it remedial or enrichment or both. When kids do well on paper, this justifies the kiasuism and reinforces tuition-dependency. This perpetuates the processes of testing and private tuition.

Some people see excessive testing and unnecessary tuition as problems. They are not. They are symptoms of more insidious problems with conventional schooling.

One need only revisit recent history of test design and schooling to realize that they were designed for the industrial age. Industry is about mass production and standardization. It is driven by one-size-fits-all efficiency. While that has put cars on our roads, smartphones in our hands, and nearly identical Big Macs in our stomachs, the quality control based on standardization and efficiency suit machines and food but not people.
 

 
Put people through schools based on industrial processes and there will be kick back. Teachers struggle with limited production (curricular) time and mass treatment (large classes) because they are counterintuitive to development time as well as nurturing and coaching small groups or individuals. Mass implementation and standardization go against personalization and individualization.

Teachers eventually realize that their students are not products of teaching that undergo quality control (tests) at the end of production lines. But people are malleable and adapt to the circumstances. People learn to be products. Parents with the means outsource coaching and preparation so that their children pass those tests.

The problem is the design of schooling. Testing and tuition are merely symptoms. The transparency of how exams like the PSLE are designed could lead to the questioning of our quality control and sorting mechanisms. In concert with other systemic changes, this could lead to the questioning of the design and purpose of schooling.


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Yes, but mostly for conducting tail-end business.

Those that want a return to a simpler paper and pencil time should read Scott McLeod’s reply to a paper-dependent luddite.

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A really disruptive policy would be something like banning the use of paper in an organisation. I know I try to use as little of it as possible.

I think that the only time I would support the use of paper is when it is the beautiful work of papernoodle.

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