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  • The Education Technology backlash begins….

    The Education Technology backlash begins….

    Julian Thomas, Master of Wellington College  

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    THE wind is changing.  The movement to turn the use of technology in schools into the educational equivalent of the Emperor’s new clothes is gathering pace. The hysteria surrounding the introduction of greater technology in the classroom has, it would seem, finally generated a backlash.  A hysterical response to the hysteria, perhaps?  A new day brings a new report from the OECD about technology in schools with a predictable response from the media. “Computers do not improve pupils’ results says OECD” was the headline take on this report followed by an exposition on why technology is not the answer. Well, here’s the funny thing: nobody ever said that it was!  For that matter, neither did anyone suggest that unlimited use of mobile devices in and outside the classroom was a sensible way forward.

    It is worth looking behind the headlines generated from the OECD report.  Its main finding is that investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance.  Well, as my grandad used to say, you could knock me down with a feather!  Seriously, have you ever heard a more obvious conclusion?  No educator, even the most technically minded, would ever suggest that simply buying and using more kit is going to result in improved educational standards.  In the same way that buying more footballs for the England team won’t help us to win the World Cup.



    The problem seems to be that all of the ills of modern technology – perceived or real – are being lumped into one giant catch-all argument that is increasingly asking educators to take sides: are you in “Team Technology” or “Team Old School”?  This is no way to conduct an educational debate that can, and almost certainly will, revolutionise classroom learning over the next two decades.

    The starting point for any nation, school or individual teacher considering use of new pedagogy in the classroom should be the simple question: will the change I am about to make improve the learning process and outcomes for the children in my charge?  Notice no use of the word technology here as the question remains the same for any new idea or classroom methodology.  In some instances, the answer will be no; in others, yes.  The very best examples of the use of technology I have seen have been when schools or teachers have started out by defining what they want to achieve and then they worked backwards in order to ascertain how best to achieve it.  In some cases this involved utilising new ideas and technology; in other cases it did not.  Cause and effect.   Raising the standard of education should be the cause with technology (sometimes) the effect; the Reporting of the OECD report and others reverses this methodology by defining technology as a cause in itself and then states, to the surprise of few, that it has no discernible, or even a detrimental, effect.

    Forgive me if none of this seems like rocket science because, of course, it isn’t.  Interestingly, read closely behind the sensational headlines and you will find that most of the supposed protagonists have a surprising level of agreement, although the quotations used seem to be carefully selected to engender maximum animosity (and readability).  The result is a slow but noticeable entrenchment of respective positions with educators starting to identify themselves in one of the two camps.   In the early days of this discussion teachers who were unsure of technology seemed reluctant to state their concerns for fear of being seen as a luddite; these days you are more likely to find teachers enthusiastic about technology who do not like to speak up in case they look naive or, as one expert put it, “dazzled” by the use of technology.  This polarising of opinion makes for a good story and seems to capture the zeitgeist of an age in which the massive explosion of technology use in our everyday lives has caused a deepening suspicion.   In the process, we are stifling healthy educational debate about the best way in which to imbed new ideas for the benefit of the next generation.  And that is a tragedy.

  • Engaging Students in Their Own Learning: A Dialogue

    Engaging Students in Their Own Learning: A Dialogue

    By Denise Cook, English dept.

    I’ve been working on all that for the last few weeks, how to turn it into something I can actually use in the classroom.  Come the beginning of term, it’s time.  I decided to go forward with a general idea of ‘giving them space to learn’: I would provide the scaffolding and technical information, but so far as practical they would take responsibility for their own learning in the classroom space by deciding how we go forward.  Once the blanks (lessons) are filled in, which I’m planning to do over the next two weeks, give or take an hour, I’ll print and distribute.


    In my four lessons this morning we talked seating arrangements, timetabling and the differences between their learning experience on p.2 Tuesday and p.6 Friday.   We discussed having a mobile-free lesson once a cycle.  To my mild surprise, nobody raises any objections.  Is that a function of them really not minding or being compliant?

    But a picture is worth a thousand words, said someone.  Here are some from my first morning’s attempts at bringing the pupils on board with social emotional focus for academic progress (sorry: that’s a mouthful.  There isn’t a handy buzz phrase available yet).

    I asked them to set their own goals for the term/course.  (NB: Both offers of a goal for class work-shopping were from boys.)


    Yr 11 goal workshopped on the board: ‘Do all my preps by the deadline’

    Yr 13 goal: ‘Get A*s’

    I gave them these worksheets to help them bring together the information, the feelings/needs and their (self-determined) goals.


    Points of interest: the U6th form are most extrinsically focused (unsurprising, perhaps –  they’ve been in the system longer, they are looking beyond school…) All very illuminating and helps me to get to know them.  We started discussing the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation – we’ll pick up the discussion as we go along.

    Lastly I asked the U6 form, whose set I have just taken over, to use the feelings words from the list to give me some anonymous Post it feedback about how they felt at the end of the first lesson – one apparently misunderstood what I was asking them to do and two didn’t hand in their Post its.  Those are also forms of feedback.

    Feelings feedback

    The basis for several more illuminating conversations over the next few lessons.  I’ll keep you posted.


  • When Pupils Talk in Absolutes: Understanding Mindset though Self-Narrative

    When Pupils Talk in Absolutes: Understanding Mindset though Self-Narrative

    By Sarah Donarski, English Dept.

    With the hype around growth mindset, it’s no wonder there is more attention being drawn to the ways that students understand their strengths, capabilities and passions. I, myself, am extremely guilty of asking a child to ‘tell me about themselves’, to which I accept vague, absolute statements such as “I am shy” or “I don’t like talking in front of people.”   Even in my adult life, a lot of discourse is reliant on an individual being able to assert these statements and they are actually praised for doing so.  Think of the plus points achieved for saying things like “you’re a hard worker” and you “feel confident” in an interview – you probably nailed it.

    What we rarely bring ourselves back to is how malleable and environmentally influenced these personalities are.  In fact, there is no doubt you could take an extremely shy person and, given the right environmental factors (friends, family, relatives, passions), they could instantly become the most confident.  Similarly, the most confident could turn to dust if they are thrown into something completely out of their depth.  So actually when we assert these so adamantly, we are lying to ourselves.

    Which brings me to the classroom.  We have all heard these absolute statements “But Miss, I hate reading” or “I’m so bad at mathematics” or “I’m just not arty”.  Current approaches to teaching have (rightly so!) started to address this as a ‘fixed mindset’ and the most accepted solution to attempt to coerce the student away from this thinking is Growth Mindset (see:

    Many of us by now have been trained in Growth Mindset as an effective pedagogy to encourage students to believe in their ability. However, I am worried that too many training sessions do not successfully communicate the underlying philosophies related to a child’s (or adult’s) cognition but instead, simplify it by pinning its effectiveness to the word ‘yet’ – which I believe is just as damaging.

    While I do not condone the use of the word ‘yet’ in the Growth Mindset phenomenon, I do wonder its effectiveness in motivating the pupil who hears the word ‘yet’ in every lesson.  Let’s imagine, as a child, hearing your teacher assert the statement “You just can’t do it yet!” in your fifth lesson that day.  No matter how cheerful, or enthusiastically that is expressed, it is bound to be disheartening.  For me, hearing it for the 5th time would only reiterate three things: 1) I can’t do it 2) I can’t do anything and 3) It’s going to be a long, hard struggle to be able to do something.  Not only this, I also believe there will certainly be a point to which that person will become ‘numb’ to the idea of the word ‘yet’ as a self-motivating philosophy; certainly we, as adults, can see straight through it.  What we need is to properly understand is the underlying philosophies – the way we construct our self-narrative – to assist young people in their cognitive dissonance and to train their self-narration into adult life.

    So what is the underlying theory? It is simply understanding our self-narrative (note: narrative is the key word here – for all English teachers).

    To put it simply, it is the theory that we, as people, have a constructed image of ourselves.  This self-fabrication is the assumptions we make of ‘who we are’ and is generally based from previous experience, however, sometimes it can be constructed from nothing at all.  To make matters worse, however, we also construct the narrative that what we think about ourselves is accurate. In doing so, we constantly set ourselves up to be our strongest deceivers.

    Teaching pupils to understand that self-narration – or absolute statements about themselves – is a fallacy is essential for building their confidence both academically, socially and physically.  We have to teach them that their self-narrative is not only incorrect, but a fictional, malleable construction influenced constantly by a plethora of factors.  I do not want to be trained in persistently telling students “You don’t like English.. YET!” as though I am some teacher-guru-magician that will enable them, at some point, to reach a liking in English (a final destination in some journey they undertake by being in my classroom).  Because that is not the case.  The truth is, they have simply formed a narrative bias that makes them think they do not enjoy English based on previous and current environmental factors.  And there could be many: perhaps their previous teacher had no longer been inspired by the asceticism of Wilde? Perhaps they had never tried to actually read a book? Perhaps cognitive factors? Either way, it is not that they do not like English, or Science, or Maths.  It is that they currently do not have the right environment that enables them to delve into that passion and enjoy it.

    So what could be a useful tool in ensuring students are aware of this?

    1. Challenge any student back when they say “I hate _____” or “I’m bad at______”.  Simply ask them: when have you loved English? What book do you love? What famous quote? Coach them into searching for a time where they may have loved that subject or achieved something creative and inspirational in that subject.  Allow them to delve into a memory of that subject that really captured their imaginations and watch the way they light up talking about it.  There is bound to be one.
    2. Consider that child in your planning for a lesson.  You don’t have to go overboard, but delve into their passions and interests.  Enable them to lead.  Most importantly, in order to address the self-narrative, you must talk to the student after.  Ask them whether they enjoyed your lesson and, if so, make them aware of their own fallacy: their ‘absolute statement’ of “I don’t like English” – encourage them to consider why this statement is no longer valid.

    Growth mindset is a wonderful way to enable us to see the ways we can change, stretch and grow.  But it does not build a child’s confidence in challenging their own self-deception because it still relies on a lot of telling. If you can get a student to discover their own narrative, it acts as a counter to the story they have constructed.  It provides another preposition that makes their original statement a fallacy.  They can, in fact, love all subjects.  They just need to change their mindset and potentially one or two factors to achieve this more consistently.  Of course, this is not new to us as educators. It’s simply another way to look at it. ​