Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Standards Matter

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  • Just thinking,

    Islander, mimiti?

    Putaringamotu • Since Apr 2009 • 1158 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Parker,

    I definitely agree that parents can help, and their absence of support can hinder. But a loaded round of blaming does nobody any good.

    I think sometimes as teachers we are guilty of this, probably born more out of frustration than anything else. We do want the best results for the children we teach and our expectations are always high. I think the teaching profession is changing in this respect though especially those who have some knowledge of the work of Russell Bishop and his Te Kotahitanga project. Education is a partnership though between school, home and the wider community and sometimes teachers feel the greater burden of blame is placed on them when in fact they are doing there best.

    Napier • Since Nov 2008 • 232 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Nimmo,

    These days they'd just put Tootle on the Johnsonville line.

    Wellington • Since May 2009 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • Cecelia,

    What do you think of Russell Bishop's "deficit theorising", Tony?

    Hibiscus Coast • Since Apr 2008 • 559 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    We do want the best results for the children we teach and our expectations are always high.

    sometimes teachers feel the greater burden of blame is placed on them when in fact they are doing there best.

    Really? All of the teaching profession are like that?

    The trouble is, I have come across too many poor teachers who seemingly cannot be changed. A few years back, a friend of mine who was a deputy principal at a Wellington primary talked about one teacher in her school. This teacher was sufficiently bad that parents would move their children out of school in order to avoid her. All the school could do was place very strong teachers in the years either side of her, and ensure that children who were in her class one year were with one of these very strong teachers the following year.

    Then there were the teachers who ignored my concerns about my daughter's reading, telling me that she was achieving what was needed for a child of her age. That would be the bare minimum. And apparently that was enough, despite this child coming from a home that is an incredibly rich reading environment. You would think that would indicate there might be a problem that the school needed to address, but no. Apparently achieving the minimum is just fine, even when all the other indicators suggest that she should be able to read with comparative ease.

    At the other end, there are the teachers who have refused to acknowledge the excellence of my elder daughter's work in English. This is a child who in what I would have called Standard 4, and we now call year 6 in NZ, is working at the level required for average achievement in 3rd form (year 9), and came out in the 95th percentile on the UNSW tests. NB: it was her choice to sit them, not mine: the note came home from school and I asked her if she wanted to have a go.

    My niece has just started primary school (in NZ). Because she has come out of a Montessori preschool, and because she has a mind that works that way, she is a competent phonetics reader. But her new entrants teacher has told her, and her parents, that she mustn't sound out words, because it's the wrong way to read, and she must do whole language reading.

    Anecdata, I know. But that's a large part of the problem for many parents. We can get information about how our child is doing compared to what they should be doing for their age, but it's bloody difficult to get information about whether our children are reaching their potential. I'm not interested in whether my children are achieving what is required for children of their age, but I'm very, very interested in whether the school is helping them to achieve all they possibly can.

    Of course I have run across excellent teachers too. I was especially impressed by teachers my daughters had at Karori Normal, from the new entrants teacher with experience dripping out of her fingernails, to the teacher who gave my elder daughter extension work and encouraged her to research anything she was interested in, to the assistant principal who piled in the extra resources to help my younger daughters with their reading. Alas, despite all my social resources (y'know, highly educated, articulate), I have been unable to get them the same sort of help ever since we left there.

    It's also worth remembering that schools are sites for reproducing conformity. Be an introvert who loathes group work, a child who asks quirky questions, a child who is doing work she "shouldn't be doing yet", a kid who really doesn't give a damn about sport, and there are problems.

    Many teachers, and probably most, are undoubtedly doing their best. Some are not, and the people who suffer as a result of that are the children whose education is compromised.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    Education is a partnership though between school, home and the wider community and sometimes teachers feel the greater burden of blame is placed on them when in fact they are doing their best.

    This is cross-threading, but I hope you didn't take my comment on the 1, 2, 3 thread as a personal attack. I know from my own experience that it is never a simple equation and against some real hardship, most teachers do an excellent job. Obviously a learning partnership is desirable, and much effort should, and does, at least at our school, go into that. My (over) reaction is just to what Deborah expresses above. She has seen what good teaching and non-conformist based education can achieve, so is disappointed when it is not available.

    We seem to have established that National Standards are the stick. Now where's the carrot?

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    ChrisW
    Here are some questions I would like to know the answers to from the Minister (sorry about strangled grammar).

    1. What extra resourcing (money and time) is going into teaching and learning for those children who don't achieve the standard? Is it more than the already announced amount which has been estimated at providing only half a day's specialist teaching in total for each child?

    2. The standards rely on children having good written and oral communication skills to show they can achieve the standard. What about those who find writing or speaking difficult (eg ESOL or are nonverbal eg autistic)?

    3.Although the Ministry insists these are not formal tests, the National Party (taxpayer funded) leaflets strongly imply they are tests. Tests are the least effective way of assessing what young children know and the testing process itself can make some children extremely anxious and more likely to fail. Are they formal tests or not?

    4. Standards are published on the Ministry website. Will it be OK for children to learn what will be tested on by rote?

    5. Children often have uneven achievement over curriculum areas. Will children whose strengths are not in the standards tested be penalised such as by having to do extra schoolwork instead of having playtime or sport? What will happen if schools narrow their curriculum focus to standards assessment only?

    6. Visual graphs showing failure can be very demotivating. Why are you risking labelling children as failures so early in their school life? Do you honestly think that will inspire them to work harder, or are they more likely to disengage? Are standards therefore risking making the tail bigger and longer?

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3218 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    We can get information about how our child is doing compared to what they should be doing for their age, but it's bloody difficult to get information about whether our children are reaching their potential. I'm not interested in whether my children are achieving what is required for children of their age, but I'm very, very interested in whether the school is helping them to achieve all they possibly can.

    Deborah, couldn't have put it better myself. If the new standards are going to track children individually, why not really track them individually?

    I (anecdata-ishly) aced every single test I ever took at school, and most at university (grrr Phys110 and that Asian Geo paper, the only non-pointy grades on my transcript) but despite the occasional intervention from a particularly canny teacher, I hardly ever felt myself achieving all I knew I could.

    Thank goodness for grad school, which stretched my brain until it hurt and proved that I could actually work (and fail) at the limit. On the other hand, if I'd been sufficiently intellectually yoga-cised in school, perhaps I would have stepped out of the institution sooner and actually done something useful with my skills. As it was, I stuck around until I could be sure I was actually learning something, having fully bought into the definition of "learning" and "something" that school was selling.

    I can think of a handful of other folk, all of them either brilliant one-track-minders, or all-over-the-place creative thinkers, for whom school was similarly all about clock-watching, for twelve or thirteen of the most intellectually formative years of their lives. It really shouldn't have to be that way, should it?

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    I've just realised that I misrepresented my elder daughter's achievement in English. In year 6 (Standard 4 in the old money), she was achieving the average standard for pupils in year 10 (Form 4). And still that wasn't "excellent".

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    Crap teacher anecdote: in a parent-teacher conference when I was about nine or so (say, 1984), my parents raised the issue of my appalling handwriting. "Oh, that's OK," the teacher explained, "he can just learn to type."

    As it happens this was correct, and I've been touch-typing since I was 12. But my parents were unimpressed with the attitude.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Be an introvert who loathes group work, a child who asks quirky questions, a child who is doing work she "shouldn't be doing yet", a kid who really doesn't give a damn about sport, and there are problems.

    Hey, that was me.
    I also aced all my tests but one, the 11 plus (an exam taken at the age of 11 to see whether you were a Grammar or "Secondary" student) I found out later that my form teacher, who marked the exam, had made a pass at my Mother (divorced) which she had rejected. At the time I thought I'd done rather well in the exam. My "failure" in that exam meant that my brother and I were separated into different schools. I was lucky in the fact that I went to a Comprehensive School rather than the old type Secondary School as I was moved up to the Grammar stream half way through the first year when it was discovered that I was not the failure that my form teacher wanted me to be.
    It still pisses me off 45 years later.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Just thinking,

    Is Wellington returning the Ferrymead exhibits any time soon?

    Putaringamotu • Since Apr 2009 • 1158 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    Since we're sharing, I tended towards 'I'm a teapot' whenever testing came around. I famously, well in my household, went into an exam with 45% in the 50% course work, and got a B-.

    During Post-Grad Dip (yes in Business... Ok, so I'm a capitalist - shoot me) having been asked by the lecturer to use my EAP experience to teach the class of adults how to write essays for assignments and the exams, I thought I'd better overcome that little hang up, and luckily aced it.

    My god, I just realised that it took me until my 30s to become the teacher's pet. Hmmm, that's not going to go anywhere good, so I'll leave it there.

    Oh, and Jack, we share a similar hand-writing history. I may have shared this here before, but at the end of 6th form, as I prepared to leave provincial NZ for University (clock watching geek who was in a hurry) the teacher gave us all cup-cakes with letters on the top representing our learning characteristics. Mine had an 'e' on it. 'What's that for?' 'Your hand-writing is ellegible.' 'Isn't that spelt with an 'i'?'

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Then there were the teachers who ignored my concerns about my daughter's reading, telling me that she was achieving what was needed for a child of her age.

    It's even worse when your child clearly isn't achieving at their age level, and yet all their reports and teacher-parent meetings clearly state that they are.

    We just changed schools after one year of intermediate, and got a damning report four days in of how much he was struggling and how much work we have ahead to make him ready for high school. Showed the new teacher and principal his end of year report from the old school, and they just shook their heads.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Cecelia,

    Deborah, I can well feel your frustration. What is going through my mind is that you would be quite a formidable parent for the teachers to face up to because like so many of the people here you are so damn brainy.

    Have you tried Speld and a child psychologist? Perhaps because I was a teacher myself (secondary) I never expected schools to deal with my less conforming son and sought outside help. Sounds awful but it's how I felt. Just as now on my same old same old cancer "journey" I never expect one doctor or the medical establishment to know all the answers.

    Hibiscus Coast • Since Apr 2008 • 559 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    I've just been at the school, asking her teacher the totally open question, "John, what's happening with [Miss Eight's] reading next?"

    The answer was a good one. The school has a new deputy principal, who is responsible for Science, and for Evaluation, meaning making sure that each student is being evaluated, and her or his progress and learning needs assessed, and acted on. This is a new thing for the school - it has a new principal (appointed last year, 'though she was previously DP), and hence a new DP. Our new principal is very keen on monitoring each individual child, and making sure that each child is getting what they need. So... Miss Eight is due to spend 40 minutes or so with the new DP tomorrow, working on evaluating her reading, and the school will work out what to do from there.

    So yes, if I'm not happy with what the school is doing, the next stop will be an educational psychologist, to get some outside input on what she needs.

    The curious thing is that Miss Eight is a twin, and an identical one at that. Her twin sister, Miss Eight the Elder, with the same genetics, and the same environment, after a slow start with reading, is now up and flying. That's what I want to achieve for Miss Eight the Younger.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    My son, last year, had a teacher who couldn't quite seem to see that a kid could be way ahead in reading and grasp most concepts really easily and yet find writing very challenging without there being a learning disorder going on. The result was that he landed up having a whole year in which everything was focused on his area of challenge and his strengths were largely forgotten. Even though he made quite a bit of progress with writing his image of himself as a learner was damaged quite severely. The goal for this year is to rebuild as much of that confidence as possible.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Deborah, how is miss Eight senior with Maths?
    I ask because in some twin studies on learning disabilities it has been found that Language and Maths abilities have a genetic correlation so one twin may be good at reading where the other is good at Maths.
    Generalist genes and learning disabilities: a multivariate genetic analysis of low performance in reading, mathematics, language and general cognitive ability in a sample of 8000 12-year-old twins
    And
    Generalist genes 'cause all learning disabilities' NewScientist
    Interesting reading.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Isabel - and yet, if he were learning another language, there would be no problem at all with his written expressive ability being a year or so "behind" his reading. It's an absolutely normal progression: hearing-speaking-reading-writing.

    We've got a similar dynamic going on here. Mr 8 is reading a paperback per day, while struggling mightily to write a paragraph (and yet not struggling to spontaneously craft a multi-page newspaper about exciting events). Mostly he's struggling to see why he should be writing the paragraphs, but it also does seem to be empirically difficult somehow.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    Jolisa - your Mr8 sounds a lot like my Mr8 - he reads Coraline in one sitting and plasters the house with little signs about the playdough sweet-shop he and Mr4 are running but tell him he neds to write because it's writing time and he just freezes.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    Interesting stuff all this. Our twins, 7 nearly 8, are fraternal, and reading skills seem similar, but one definitely better at maths than the other. This we put down to a year with a non-numerically minded teacher, while the other was with Ms numeracy-romancer extraordinaire.

    We decided early on that controlled experiments were morally bankrupt, but the temptation remains, in the interest of anecdata.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    numeracy-romancer

    Nu-romancer, perhaps?

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    @ Steve

    Miss Eight the Elder does fine with maths, 'though she doesn't seem to have the intuitive grasp of how numbers fit together that Miss Eight the Younger has. So there could be something going on to do with the maths / reading split discussed in those studies.

    I've just been talking to my mum about Miss Eight the Younger. Mum taught in, and then ran, a Montessori pre-school for about quarter of a century, with real success in literacy. The school has just opened a new library for the children and parents, and it has been named after her. She always chose to start a child reading with phonics (pure Montessori), but she came across a fair few who were better off using whole language techniques (not Montessori at all, but clearly what that particular child needed). So she's very, very experienced in assessing what is going on with children's reading. She's fascinated, and worried, by what Miss Eight the Younger is doing. She can't do phonics, and she isn't managing whole language reading. She's making odd mistakes i.e. not the standard mistakes that a child who has difficulty reading will make. Most kids who struggle with reading struggle in standard ways, but Miss Eight the Younger has quirky difficulties. I think this is why the school has been so slow to recognise that she has reading difficulties.

    Miss Eight the Younger is also the family practical joker, and actor, and performer. She's got an excellent sense of comic timing, and a real sense of word play. We've been working very hard on recognising and celebrating all her excellences, especially language-related ones, because like Isabel's lad, she is starting to lose confidence.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Oh, and Jack, we share a similar hand-writing history.

    6 primary schools is wot I done. Printing at one (using pencil) , italics (fountain pen), cursive (pencil), printing again(ballpoint), .......get my drift......I now print scribble that gets more and more indecipherable......

    Thank Dog for keyboards!! I have diarrhea now....

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Miss Eight the Younger is also the family practical joker, and actor, and performer. She's got an excellent sense of comic timing, and a real sense of word play.

    Sounds to me like she is bored but has a great ability with language in a creative sense. Along the lines of the Maths Professor that has difficulty budgeting but can solve complex equations in his head..

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

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