“How to escape education’s Death Valley?” June 17, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics.
Tags: creativity, curriculum, education and transformation, NAPLAN
by Jane Hunter
The provocation in this post is the title of Ken Robinson’s latest TED talk. When teachers at Coonamble High School in rural NSW viewed this talk recently it was greeted with thunderous applause as it concluded. According to executive principal of the school, Margaret Mulcahy: “enthusiasm for what Robinson describes in the TED talk launched what turned out to be a highly successful school development day that firmly focused on 21st Century pedagogy and the Australian National Curriculum”.
What is really interesting here is that alongside pedagogy for classrooms in more technology-rich contexts, some schools are also seeking to re-examine their focus on standardized measures of students’ performances as key arbiters of what students know in 21st Century contexts. There is disquiet in the teaching ranks and Robinson’s work, among other education scholars (Craft, 2012; Ito et al, 2013; Jukes et al, 2012; Martinez & Stager, 2013; McWilliam & Taylor, 2012), calls on governments, schools and teachers to rethink the focus of learning.
This new TED talk now forms a quartet of my favourite Ken Robinson clips, the others being What is in the school of your dreams ; Creativity, learning and the curriculum and Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. Leaving the other clips to one side for the purposes of this post, Robinson’s most recent conversation uses the metaphor of Death Valley – the driest place on earth – to draw our attention to a new metaphor for education. Robinson explains that the possibility seeds are all in place … surviving … just below the surface and they are waiting for the right conditions to germinate and to burst into flower. He says: “Current education policies in many countries are mechanistic. The push for better data from standardised tests to give us better information to fine tune schools …. is just not true … it won’t … and it never did”. His argument is based on the fact that education is a human system and the compulsion of more tests, more conformity, less breadth in curriculum and more emphasis on teaching as task, will not facilitate good learning for students. He describes how levels of disengagement among students in schools in many countries are evidence of the failure and slippage of current ‘testing’ policies in education.
Like Robinson, I agree ‘tests and testing’ have a place in schools and in education more generally, but they are not the whole story. When governments look to standardised tests as barometers by which to gauge, success or failure, or good or poor teaching in schools, it is ‘thin education measurement’. Rich measurements of schools, teachers and students’ performances comes through using data, for example, to diagnose how students are learning, see how curious they are, understand how well they engage with the whole curriculum, and how often they are given opportunities to produce and express learning in creative ways. This type of measurement and this kind of learning takes time and time means students may cover less content but what they know is deeper, plentiful, imaginative and motivating. And, in such classrooms students are given, as Csíkszentmihályi (1996) found: “Time to get into flow in their learning” (p.22).
In new research (Hunter, 2013) exemplary teachers in Stage 1-5 classrooms in some NSW schools spoke about NAPLAN in the context of how they conceptualized their knowledge of technology integration. While the study teachers were not completely critical of NAPLAN they called for it to be re-imagined. For example, one teacher said: “NAPLAN should be telling us about our students’ progress and how I can improve my teaching” and another described its effect as meaning: “The hijacking of learning in schools right now”*. In examination of more than 500 separate references to support research in the doctoral study (Hunter, 2013), a strong case is made in the work of Zhao (2009, 2012) that shows following East Asian models of schooling (characterized by high levels of testing with recall and reproduction seen as important) in countries like China, South Korea, and Singapore will not develop young people’s creativity and entrepreneurship, nor allow opportunities for exploration, experimentation and expression of meaningful learning. Zhao (2013) cites statistics that show less than 1% of the world’s patents (as useful measures of original thought and innovation) are produced annually by China, whereas in countries like the US, patent production for the same period is greater than 34%. Other education literature (Chen, 2010; Pellegrino & Hilton, 2012; Richardson, 2012) details how ‘innovation and individuality’ are being driven out of public schools globally as a direct consequence of ‘testing regimes’. Such evidence aligns with what Robinson repeats in this recent conversation.
And finally, to return to the conclusion of the TED talk, Robinson invites jurisdictions, schools and teachers to shift the ‘testing focus’ and to think about education in a climate of possibility using his Death Valley metaphor. He reminds us of the famous Benjamin Franklin quote about three classes of people in the world: “The immovable, the movable and … those that move”. Perhaps, now is the time for educators to move?
*Submissions to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee’s Inquiry and Report on “The effectiveness of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)” were received until the 7th June 2013. The list of submissions can be viewed here.
Chen, M. (2010). Education nation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Craft, A. (2012). Childhood in a digital age: Creative challenges for educational futures. London Review of Education, 10 (2), 173-190.
Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins.
Hunter, J. (May 2013 – in examination). Exploring technology integration in teachers’ classrooms in NSW public schools. Unpublished PhD dissertation. University of Western Sydney.
Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., Schor, J., Sefton-Green, J., & Craig Watkins, J. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Irvine, CA: The Digital Media and Research Hub.
Jukes, I., McCain, T. & Crockett, L. (2012). Living on the edge: Windows on tomorrow. 21st Century Fluency Series. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
McWilliam, E., & Taylor, P. (2012, April 16). Schooling for personally significant learning: Is it possible? Retrieved from http://www.ericamcwilliam.com.au/personally-significant-learning/
Martinez, S., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.
Pellegrino, J. W., & Hilton, M. L. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Retrieved from http://sites.nationalacademies.org/xpedio/groups/dbassesite/documents/webpage/dbasse_070621.pdf
Richardson, W. (2012). Why school? How education must change when learning and information are everywhere. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Zhao, Y. (2009). Catching up or leading the way: American education in the age of globalization. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Zhao, Y. (2012). World class learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Zhao, Y. (2013). Keynote address at Inspire and Innovate Conference, NSW DEC, April.
Jane Hunter is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She researches in the field of technology and learning, pedagogy and teacher professional learning.