Thursday, 29 August 2013

After school classes- pleasure or pain?

Like many parents, I wanted to ensure that my children (I have three) were well rounded individuals, exposed to a variety of interesting and stimulating experiences that would see that they grew into balanced, responsible and happy adults. To this end, they went to a variety of after school and Saturday classes to help them achieve this goal.

I wanted them to enjoy learning about things outside of school- dance classes, swimming coaching, rugby, piano and so on. Was I successful? Well yes, they are all great adults. Did these lessons help? Yes...and no!

Now I have the privilege of looking back, I can see that the classes that were the  most successful were the ones they themselves selected to attend. The ones I wanted them to go to because I thought it would be good for them, in spite of protests, were the ones that added stress and pressure and really, in retrospect, should have been dropped.

Funnily enough, I think most of the stress and pressure was on me as I 'encouraged' my child to perform. I certainly felt my blood pressure rise when they did not and over the years, I have laughingly told my friends that Saturday morning sports were the most stressful part of my entire week! My son is the only child I know who could turn rugby into an individual sport!

After school activities seem to be a way of life for many of our students and some attend a staggering array of activities. I remember one student who attended no less than 17 after school classes each week. The China Daily USA (23.08.13) recently carried an article about a 'switch' between the attitude of American and Chinese parents. The US parents want more pressure on their children to succeed in school , the Chinese want less. The article suggests that the "intense focus on test taking" in China and "the long hours of test preparation were a bit too much". Parents in the US however, have now taken heed of years of low test scores and under performing schools and want improvement.

So what is the answer? It is, of course, balance. We should encourage our children to follow their passions, to have high expectations (that are reasonable and achievable) of achievement, to encourage a diligent work ethic and so on. They do not need the stress and pressure- and nor do parents, of trying to excel or perform or even participate in an area that they just do not have a passion for.

As for my children, the dance lessons paid off and one of my daughters ended up being a champion salsa dancer. My son still has absolutely no interest in rugby or cricket, but did end up being in national championships in a team sport that he chose to participate in. None of them continue to play a musical instrument, but all love music. Most importantly, they are all balanced, responsible and happy adults, so I guess as parents, we did succeed!

Below are some photos from last year, of our student participating in ...and enjoying after school sports.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

How important is a good teacher?

Well, school is back, the new term has started and everything already looks settled and smooth. Our students are all with great teachers and are ready for a year of learning. But what is it that makes the difference to that year?

Probably not surprisingly, recent research shows that is the teacher who is one of the most important influences on learning outcomes and their classroom practice.

Professor John Hattie, who has been labeled as 'possibly the world's most influential education academic' (TES connect 14/9/12) undertook, in 2008, the biggest ever collection of evidence- based research into what makes a difference to learning in school.

It synthesised more than 50,000 studies encompassing the experiences of more than 80 million students across the English speaking world. From this, he was able to identify 136 interventions and rank them in order of effectiveness.

His research found that the best and most effective way to improve education outcomes relies on such things as setting learning goals and feedback from teachers.

Hattie says
" achievement is enhanced to the degree that students and teachers: set and communicate appropriate, specific and challenging goals; achievement is enhanced as a function of feedback; increases in student learning involves not only surface and deep learning but also a re conceptualisation of information" ( Hattie, Influences on Student Learning, 1999)

To achieve these things, the teacher is vital as they are the facilitators of the above.

One really interesting thing for me as a Principal, is that some of the things that many parents worry about, such as class size and homework have little effect on learning outcomes!

Hattie says
"The thing that really intrigues me is that the things at the bottom of the table still dominate our debates...We like to talk about things that really don't matter, such as all the structural things and the ways schools are set up."(TES connect 14/9/12)

So what are the top 10 list of influences on achievement according to Hattie?
Here they are, see what you think, they are taken from his book " Visible Learning for Teachers. Maximising impact on learning. (2012) The numbering is as per his book.

1. Developing high expectations for each student/ self reported grades
2. Piagetian programs
4. Response to intervention
4. Teacher credibility
6. Micro teaching
7. Classroom discussion
8. Comprehensive interventions for learning disabled students
9. Teacher clarity
10. Feedback

By the way, Homework is #94 and class size is #113. Other factors, like having a friend in class is not even on list.

It is good food for thought and as educators, the teachers at Bradbury, who all know about this research and have in fact heard John Hattie speak, constantly evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes, how they are teaching and whether or not they need to make changes to their pedagogical style.

It is great to be back. It is an interesting job, sometimes challenging, but always a pleasure! My best for a great year ahead. Below are some photos of learning this week: