There is an on-going battle over the prominence of synthetic phonics in teaching reading
And the new phonics screening test
Professor Dominic Wyse has co-authored The Early Literacy Handbook with primary head teacher Christine Parker. It makes a significant contribution to the on-going debate on phonics.
The Government, and in particular Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister are keen advocates of synthetic phonics. This Handbook claims to put forward a practical alternative to the government’s emphasis on synthetic phonics, underpinned by research evidence.
There are two main types of phonics – analytic and synthetic. In analytic phonics, children are taught whole words and later analyse their constituent parts, such as c-at or str-eet. In synthetic phonics, the key is to teach them sounds of letters and letter combinations first, then combine those to form words: c-a-t or s-t-r-ee-t.
Schools differ in their approaches .There is evidence that teachers use both synthetic and analytic phonics but alongside several other approaches to reading, and the debate is, in a certain sense at least, an academic one.
Synthetic phonics, claim its advocates, is the most efficient way of delivering the “alphabetic principle” to children, that’s to say, the abstract principle by which children learn that letters correspond to sounds and sounds correspond to letters. They learn this abstract principle through the specifics of “getting” (a) the examples where these correspondences are regular (“cat”, “chop”, “sit” and the like) and (b) from learning by heart “tricky words” – often the commonest in English – which are not regular, like “is” and “was”. By the end of year 1, children should have got hold of this “alphabetic principle” and to prove it, they will all sit down and do a “phonics screening test”. Wyse and Parker argue that children learn the mechanics of language best within the context of classroom talk and high quality children’s books. “Contextualised teaching begins with whole texts that engage children’s interest and motivation,” they write. “The most important features of texts, such as the way narrative connects with children’s sense of wonder and with their everyday lives, is emphasised first and foremost. Work on the sentences, words, letters and phonemes then follows naturally because these linguistic building blocks are made naturally meaningful when children experience them in the context of whole texts. Teaching about letters and phonemes is an important component in learning to read, but there are serious risks if it is magnified above all others, especially as the focus of high stakes national testing.” The book sets out to guide teachers in finding creative ways to develop their pupils’ enthusiasm for and engagement with reading and writing. While it describes teaching techniques and strategies which bring together research and practice, the book emphasises that teachers should “avoid the idea of ‘recipes’” and release their own creativity.
Each chapter opens with an account of theory and research that relates to topics such as “multilingualism” or “grammar and punctuation”. This is then exemplified and expanded by guidance and insights into the practice of teaching. The book encourages teachers to use technical terms such as “phonemes” (individual sounds) and shows ways to teach letters and sounds using rhymes and songs. Spelling patterns can be reinforced through games such as a treasure hunt for words ending in “ing”. Writing on the IOE London blog Wyse, professor of early childhood and primary education at the Institute of Education, London, says the Government’s draft programmes of study for English should be completely rewritten: “Pleasure, love and an emphasis on meaning all appear to be secondary to the mechanics of phonics, spelling and grammar,” he warns.
Critics of the phonics method, such as children’s author Michael Rosen, are rarely against the use phonics per se . They see, instead, Phonics as one tool, from a set of tools, that can help children to learn to read. Rosen argues that Phonics is only, and always only, part of the system by which we make correspondences between sounds and letters (or combinations of letters). We also do this through recognising whole words (as with what the synthetic phonics materials call ‘tricky words’ and the like. We also do it through such processes as prediction, part recognition by phonic methods (eg initial letter or letters), part by sense and meaning and so on. Many words in English cannot be entirely decoded using synthetic phonic methods. One example: the two meanings and sounds of ‘wound’. Producing both correct sounds will not of itself produce the right word. This can only be arrived at through context and meaning. Rosen also objects to the screening test saying that it is an expensive waste of time, labels very young children failures and goes against the grain of government policy which is to end top down prescription in education, and to give autonomy to schools to make these kind of decisions themselves.
Ministers, though, point to poor progress in young pupils reading over a sustained period, which is unacceptable, with too many pupils not reaching the required standard and who are then ill- prepared for the transition to secondary school . They cite research that shows impressive results from synthetic phonics teaching. ( eg The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment-A Seven Year Longitudinal Study- Rhona Johnston and Joyce Watson-2005)
The Early Literacy Handbook by Dominic Wyse and Christine Parker. Published by Practical Preschool Books, a division of MA Education Ltd. ISBN 978-1-907241-26-0.
Joe Nutt tells me ‘Anyone interested in this issue should start with Mariah Evans huge research project, “Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations,” published in the “Research in Social Stratification and Mobility” about two years ago to get an idea of just how important the family’s (not the school’s) role in literacy development is.’
England ranks 26th out of 34 OECD countries for highly able
Professor Smithers report for the Sutton Trust finds highly able pupils are neglected
But does it cut the mustard?
Why is it that politicians who put such a high premium on social mobility and place it top of their agendas spend so much time focusing on higher education, and improving access there , when young people’s chances of being socially mobile are determined much earlier in their lives? Clearly the most able and gifted children in the maintained sector have the most potential to become socially mobile, yet precious little effort is made to identify these pupils and once identified, to give them the necessary personalised support to fulfil their potential while ensuring that they are educated in a challenging environment that stretches them.
The Sutton Trust has just released a report that has found that the few high performing pupils we have in maths ,according to international tests, are nearly all in the independent sector or grammar schools. Are we to believe that among the 93% of our pupils in the state system there are virtually no talented mathematicians’?
England’s teenagers are just over half as likely to reach the highest levels in maths in international tests as students from other developed nations finds a major review of the support for highly able children. England ranks 26th out of the 34 OECD countries when compared in terms of the proportion of highest achieving children in maths tests at age 15 according to the Sutton Trust research. The few high performing pupils in the England come mostly from independent and some from grammar schools, with “almost no pupils” achieving top levels from non-selective state schools warns the report.
In England only 1.7% of children reached the highest level in maths compared with 7.8% in Switzerland and 5.8% in Belgium (8.7% in Flanders), and an average of 3.1 % across all OECD countries. But the report, by the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, says that on a world scale, the picture is even more concerning – 26.6% achieved the highest level in Shanghai and 15.6% in Singapore (full listing in table below). Maths in almost all countries is compulsory to the age of 18 except in England where almost 90% of students drop Maths after GCSE. So comparisons at the age of 18 would look far worse than the already worryingly poor performance at 15.The report argues that England’s poor international performance is the result of successive failures of policies and programmes to do enough to stretch the most able children.It advocates that highly able children should be identified in tests at the end of primary school, and their progress and performance tracked in published secondary school tables. National tests meanwhile should include more difficult questions, so that there is ample opportunity for the highly able to show what they can do.
The last government created the ‘gifted and talented’ programme to get schools to stretch their most able students, but the report argues that a more honest and straightforward term would be ‘highly able’.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “These are shocking findings that raise profound concerns about how well we support our most academically able pupils, from non-privileged backgrounds. Excellence in maths is crucial in so many areas such as science, engineering, IT, economics and finance. These figures show that few bright non-privileged students reach their academic potential – which is unfair and a tragedy for them and the country as a whole.”
In response, the Sutton Trust is announcing a call for proposals to pilot projects supporting and stretching the highly able in non-selective state schools. These projects will be rigorously evaluated, with those that are successful scaled up to many more schools.
Co-author of the report, Professor Alan Smithers said: “Policy and provision for the highly able in England is in a mess. The root of the problem is that ‘gifted and talented’ is too broad a construct to be the basis of sensible policy. In our view the focus should be on those with the potential for excellence in the major school subjects. The key issue is that secondary schools should be held to account for the progress of the highly able.”
The review found that when schools were required to report the percentage of ‘gifted and talented’ pupils, the percentages ranged from zero to 100%. Interviews with headteachers and ‘gifted and talented’ co-ordinators in schools provided the explanation for the unrealistic figures: they were unclear exactly what was meant by ‘gifted and talented’.“It was not unusual to hear the complaint that the highly able are a neglected group,” says the report. It warns that low income pupils in particular could be isolated in poor schools.
Some schools have attempted to provide for the high attainers within school through setting, streaming, accelerated learning and extension studies. Others have concentrated on out-of-school activities such as master classes, competitions and visits. “In some cases, ‘gifted and talented’ appears to have been more of a rationing device for popular trips than a means of high-level education.”The report recommends that the “confusing and catch-all” construct ‘gifted and talented’ be abandoned. Instead the focus, as far as schools are concerned, should be on children capable of excellence in school subjects, with pupils termed simply as the ‘highly able’.
Highly able children should be identified in Key Stage 2 tests at the end of primary school, possibly those making up the top ten per cent of performers nationally in state schools, and their progress and performance tracked in published secondary school tables. Evidence of under-performance of the highly able should be a trigger for the inspection of schools.
The report recommends that provision for the highly able should be integral to schools and not a bolt-on. At the same time national tests and exams should include more difficult questions, so that there is ample opportunity for the highly able to show what they can do.
But not everyone applauded the report. Tim Dracup , a former civil servant, regarded as a leading international expert on support for Gifted and Talented pupils, and who Tweets under the pseudonym Gifted Phoenix, was highly critical. He said that ‘ The Report accentuates the negative for its own purposes, failing entirely to recognise and celebrate the positive – and largely because of its blinkered adherence to such a narrow and impoverished conceptualisation of gifted education. Faced with a stark choice between:
an imposed requirement based on the recommendations in this Report, or
a flexible framework permitting a degree of autonomy in accordance with the principles laid down in the national identification guidance and Quality Standards
I would choose the latter every time – and I believe that most schools would do so too. By all means let us develop and implement a strategy to support our high attaining learners, but let us not pretend – as does this Report – that support for high attainers is synonymous with a properly designed gifted and talented education strategy.
There is considerable irony in the fact that the Sutton Trust – an organisation established to champion social mobility – has published a Report which, if its proposals were implemented, would almost certainly strengthen the advantage enjoyed by high-attaining students from more privileged backgrounds, while denying support to exactly those learners who need it most. (my italics)
In gifted education, as in all education policy, we must maintain a judicious balance between excellence and equity. To espouse one at the expense of the other does not cut the mustard.’
Educating the Highly Able; Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson Centre for Education and Employment Research University of Buckingham July 2012
Note-Sutton Trust Looking for Pilot Projects to support the most able pupils
Types of projects
We are particularly interested in project ideas which draw on academic evidence in this area, but this should not discourage innovative and creative approaches.
Applicants should also bear in mind a number of other points:
• We would like to receive project proposals that focus on those pupils capable of excellence in core academic school subjects – pupils we have termed simply the ‘highly able’.
• We are open to considering various methods of defining this group – for example those attaining at the 90th percentile and above, the 95th percentile, or the new Level 6, as recommended by the University of Buckingham research.
• As many of these pupils will be in grammar and independent schools, we are also open to projects which define the highly able on the basis of school performance and local context, providing the selection method can be justified.
• Projects may also focus on the “exceptionally able” pupils. Since, on average, there may only be one or two per year per school, we are interested in imaginative ways of bringing them together.
• The Trust is also keen to explore provision for highly able pupils that is integral to schools and not simply a “bolt-on” to mainstream provision
• The Trust already supports a wide range of initiatives focussed on university access at age 16-plus. We are therefore particularly interested in programmes that start earlier on, in key stage three or four, but which may continue to support the students through their transition to FE and HE.
• Applications can come from any not-for-profit organisation, including schools, charities, universities, colleges and social enterprises.
• All funded projects will be independently evaluated for impact by leading researchers in the field.
How to apply
At the initial stage we would like a simple, brief outline of the project idea, containing some key pieces of information: a summary of the project’s aims and how they would be delivered; how the students would be selected; the evidence behind this approach and its likely impact; as well as indicative costs and envisaged scale.
Please limit the proposal to two sides of A4 maximum and email to firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 September.
We will be in touch with applicants in the autumn with a view to developing the supporting the first project by the end of the year.
Do they make a difference? Maybe ,but not on attainment
Over the last 15 years, teaching assistants (TAs) have become a central part of policy and practice in meeting the needs of lower-attaining pupils and those with SEN. Over this period, TAs have grown to comprise an astonishing quarter of the UK mainstream school workforce. Some claim that that using TAs to provide one-to-one and small group support to struggling pupils works well. Others fear that they they dont have the necessary skills and training to cope with these specialist tasks.One serving teacher told me that the reality for many TAs today, is that ” they sit beside the most appallingly behaved children, lesson after lesson, and try to limit the damage they do by reprimanding them, encouraging them or distracting them.’
It does seem likely that schools will seek to extend this support work through the Pupil Premium. However, research suggests that schools should be cautious about the use (or misuse) of TAs assistants. Results first published in the 2009 book Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants: How Research Changes Practice and Policy, by Peter Blatchford, Anthony Russell and Rob Webster, on a five-year study of 8,200 pupils, found that pupils who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. In Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants the authors recommend:
- TAs should not routinely support lower attaining pupils and those with SEN
- Teachers should deploy TAs in ways that allow them to ‘add value’ to their own teaching
- Initial teacher training should include how to work with and manage TAs
- Schools have a formal induction process for TAs
- More joint planning and feedback time for teachers and TAs.
The five-year study, the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project (the largest study of TAs worldwide) measured the effect of the amount of TA support on the academic progress of 8,200 pupils, while controlling for factors like prior attainment and level of SEN. Worryingly, the analyses, across seven year groups, found that those who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. So given the resources invested in Teaching Assistants and their apparent lack of impact on pupil attainment, and the possible role they may have in support of the Pupil Premium , some searching questions surely need to be asked. But perhaps its unfair to blame TAs. Fully qualified teachers often value the support afforded by TAs. And the results from the DISS project seem to show that it is the decisions made about – not by – TAs, in terms of their deployment and preparation, which are at fault. http://www.schoolsupportstaff.net/
Great performance is not reserved for a pre-ordained few
Deliberate Practice the Key
Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor at Large for Fortune Magazine, painstakingly dissected in his book Talent is Overrated enormous amounts of scientific research in the field of performance improvement and utilizes case studies of famous athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, Nobel Prize winners, scientists and prodigies to lay the foundation for his main thesis: “the evidence shows also that by understanding how a few, become great, anyone can become better. Above all, what the evidence shouts most loudly is striking, liberating news: that great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and everyone”. So, what really separates world-class performers from everybody else? Researchers identify the secret as ‘deliberate’ practice. This is something that is not performed in our workplaces by most people, nor by the neurosurgeon at our local hospital nor by the scratch golfer at our country clubs. Certainly, there are many of these stars who are clearly very good at what they do but they never manage to achieve greatness, as true masters in their field. In case after case, Colvin recounts the studies of our greatest performers and how they reached the pinnacle of success through this ‘deliberate’ practice. So practice makes perfect? No, or rather this is not the complete message that Colvin wants to communicate. In explaining what deliberate practice is he is careful to explain what it is not. Practice alone, does not make perfect. Simply repeating actions in an unstructured way ie Repetition, repetition and more repetition is not the answer. Instead, it consists of five basis elements:
• It’s specifically designed to improve performance.
• It must be repeated a lot where both the amount of repetition and the type of activity are carefully calculated.
• It requires continuous feedback by a teacher, coach or mentor.
• It must be highly demanding mentally.
• It isn’t (much) fun.
The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to this deliberate practice. So, it encompasses activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.
Colvin conjures up a golfing image to describe what he means “Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day – that’s deliberate practice.” Colvin writes ‘Scientific experts are producing remarkably consistent findings across a wide array of fields. Understand that talent doesn’t mean intelligence, motivation or personality traits. It’s an innate ability to do some specific activity especially well.
British-based researchers Michael J. Howe, Jane W. Davidson and John A. Sluboda conclude in an extensive study, “The evidence we have surveyed … does not support the [notion that] excelling is a consequence of possessing innate gifts.” In short ‘There’s no evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice’. Vladimir Horowitz supposedly said, “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don’t practice for three days, the world knows it.”
Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else-Geoff Colvin (ISBN 9781591842248),
EMBEDDED FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT-DYLAN WILIAMS APPROACH
Five strategies and fifty techniques to improve teacher practice
What motivates Professor Dylan Wiliam is how to make pupils learning environment better. During his early years of teaching in private and inner-city classrooms, Dr. Wiliam focused on physics and mathematics. He later joined Chelsea College, University of London, which later became part of King’s College London. Here, he worked on developing innovative assessment schemes in mathematics before accepting leadership of the King’s College Mathematics Education Programme. He co-authored a major review of research evidence on formative assessment with Paul Black and has worked with many teachers in the United Kingdom and United States on developing formative assessment practices to support learning.
Making teaching more responsive to the needs of our pupils is what, he says, drives him. Dylan Wiliam stresses the importance of formative assessment as a key process for increasing teacher quality whilst having the biggest impact on student outcomes. We now have a greater understanding of the very significant impacts that good teachers have on pupil attainment. And he wants to make sense of what the best teachers do in the classroom, and the nature of best practice, then to share this practical knowledge with other teachers, so they and their pupils benefit. We must understand that teaching is very complex, he says. It is very difficult to change practice and teachers never get really good at their jobs, but, with help and targeted support, they can improve significantly. In education, research currently doesn’t really lead practice, although people assume this is the case . He sees his job as following behind the best practitioners and seeks to make sense of what they do .He then acts as broker to help other teachers, filtering this through the latest available research, to identify practical techniques that improve classroom teaching.
Although he knows the damage that poor teachers can do, he wants no witch-hunt to get rid of them out of the profession. He says that instead we should focus our energies on ensuring that the teachers we have in the system get the necessary support to get better, day in day out. (What about the teachers who get support but fail to improve?)
So what are the key elements of the formative assessment approach? Professor Wiliam describes this succinctly in a video interview. There are five key strategies:
Sharing with students the learning intentions
Finding out where the students are- and what they already know
Feedback- not so much looking back- more looking forward to the next steps in the students learning
Students should be seen as learning resources -helping each other in the learning process
Activating students to become owners of their own learning
He identifies about fifty classroom techniques that teachers can use to embed these strategies in their classroom practice.
Embedded Formative Assessment-Professor Dylan Wiliam-2011
The Rooted in Reading Programme- Improves reading levels, skills and enjoyment
A report out last week, published by CfBT Education Trust, looks at the impact of the Rooted in Reading programme . ‘Rooted in reading’ is a reading promotion project offering both primary and secondary school pupils a suite of 12 reading ‘passports’ to encourage reading for pleasure. The passports encourage the reading of a variety of text types and aim to expand the reader’s literary and non-literary experience. They cover the whole range of reading levels from pre-school children sharing their first books with parents and carers, through to high-achieving sixth-form students.
The report finds that complementary incentives can help children to develop a healthy appetite for reading by rewarding their success. The ‘Rooted in reading’ programme passports improve students’ reading levels, stamina and enjoyment of reading, and contribute to the improvement of their reading skills.
After reading a book, children complete an entry that takes the form of a short review in their passport. The student’s teacher, school or public librarian can then stamp their passport with the project’s tree logo to endorse their reading.
This study explored the impact of the specific reading promotion project (namely ‘Rooted in reading’) based on survey responses from a sample of 46 schools in Lincolnshire (16 primary, 28 secondary and one special) and Derbyshire (one secondary) which made use of the passports. The sample surveyed for this research report included only users or facilitators of the ‘Rooted in reading’ project.
The DCSF publication: Getting Back on Track – Pupils who make slow progress in English, Mathematics and Science in Key Stage 3 highlighted several areas that schools need to address in order to engage and extend their students as readers. These include: providing opportunities to discuss students’ reading habits, self-identification of students’reading abilities and capabilities, referrals to texts that will stimulate and extend reading ability, recommendations for wider reading, opportunities to read for enjoyment in a supportive environment, awareness that all types of reading count – not just fiction, and guidance on making independent decisions in relation to reading material.
With this knowledge, the initial passport was created during 2008, the National Year of Reading, with the aim of increasing students’ reading of a variety of text types, including fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, plays and poetry. After the creation and use of this initial passport, it soon became apparent that this one design could not meet the needs of all primary and secondary school students, so new passports were designed. To date, over 200,000 reading passports, in 12 different designs aimed at distinct target groups, have been requested and distributed to primary, secondary and special schools in Lincolnshire and Rutland.
Schools using ‘Rooted in reading’ saw increases in attainment
In primary schools that made extensive use of reading passports, the percentage of students gaining Level 4 or higher in the Key Stage 2 reading SATs rose by 4.4 percentage points between 2007 and 2009.
‘Rooted in reading’ has increased the amount of reading children do
Both teachers and students reported that the passports have increased the amount of reading that students do, and also, importantly, students’ enjoyment of reading; 75 per cent of students surveyed reported that the passports have had a positive or strongly positive impact on their enjoyment of reading.
The wider impact of ‘Rooted in reading’
As well as the positive impact on the quality and quantity of students’ reading, the research revealed a wider impact within the school community. Altogether, 68 per cent of teachers reported a positive or strongly positive impact on teaching in their school, and 87 per cent noticed the same results in relation to the use of reading resources within the ,school. In addition, just under half of the teachers (46 per cent) felt that the passports have had a positive or strongly positive impact on students’ use of public libraries
The future of ‘Rooted in reading’
Analysis of survey responses suggests that the factors most likely to make the passports successful are:
• Involvement of other teachers and the headteacher (for example by talking about ‘Rooted in reading’ in assemblies, taking an interest in the passports, asking about progress)
• Involvement of the public library
• Extrinsic rewards (stamping, certificates etc), although these work better in some settings than in others. Generally the impact seemed to lessen as the children involved got older; younger readers particularly liked the stamping element and obtaining the certificates and badges.
‘Rooted in reading passports: Are they an effective way of promoting reading?’ Research report, Steve Willshaw-CfBT Education Trust- April 2012
Note-In September 2002, CfBT began a ten-year partnership with Lincolnshire County Council. The main aim was to support the school improvement agenda in Lincolnshire schools.
The contract has been expanded to include the management of a number of services for the County Council, and has now been extended to 2017. The Lincolnshire School Improvement Service (LSIS) has overall responsibility for the governance, leadership, learning and workforce development in schools and settings. This includes the monitoring, support and challenge provided to these establishments to raise the standards and improve the well-being of children and young people in Lincolnshire.
LOSING OUT IN THE ARTS-US STUDY
Engagement with the Arts helps the attainment and civic engagement of the most disadvantaged pupils
Are the Arts being crowded out?
Rocco Landesman, the Chairman National Endowment for the Arts (US), says that over the past four decades, budget pressures and an increasing focus on just reading and maths have crowded the arts out of too many school days. What’s lost? Landesman claims -The chance for a child to express himself. The chance for the idiosyncratic child who has not yet succeeded elsewhere to shine. A sense of play, of fun,of discovery. But, adds Landesman , James Catterall and the fellow authors of a new report on Arts and Achievement, have shown that something else is lost, too- potential.
Students who have arts-rich experiences in school in fact do better across-the-board academically, and they also become more active and engaged citizens, voting, volunteering, and generally participating at higher rates than their peers.
The reports key finding is that ‘Socially and economically disadvantaged children and teenagers who have high levels of arts engagement or arts learning show more positive outcomes in a variety of areas than their low-arts-engaged peers.’ They earn better grades and demonstrate higher rates of college enrolment and attainment.
At-risk teenagers or young adults with a history of intensive arts experiences show achievement levels closer to, and in some cases exceeding, the levels shown by the general population studied
Young adults who had intensive arts experiences in high school are also more likely to show civic-minded behaviour than young adults who did not. They take an interest in current affairs, as evidenced by comparatively high levels of volunteering, voting, and engagement with local or school politics. In many cases, this difference appears in both low- and high-SES groups
Most of the positive relationships between arts involvement and academic outcomes apply only to at-risk populations (low-SES). But positive relationships between arts and civic engagement are noted in high-SES groups as well.
The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies; James S. Catterall, University of California Los Angeles with Susan A. Dumais, Louisiana State University and Gillian Hampden-Thompson, University of York, U.K.
DAVID SHENK AND GENIUS
Practise makes Perfect
David Shenk in his book “The Genius in All of Us,” referenced in Michael Goves most recent speech, argues that we have before us not a “talent scarcity” but a “latent talent abundance.” Our problem “isn’t our inadequate genetic assets,” but “our inability, so far, to tap into what we already have.” Talent is not a thing,” says David Shenk, “it’s a PROCESS.” This is actually quite an arresting thought. Talent doesn’t just come from genes, says Shenk. It comes from the way your genes interact with the environment. This means that, with enough effort, some people can learn how to be excellent at things. The truth is he says “that few of us know our true limits, that the vast majority of us have not even come close to tapping what scientists call our ‘unactualized potential’.” Shenk writes. “Genes are constantly activated and deactivated by environmental stimuli, nutrition, hormones, nerve impulses and other genes.” That means there can be no guaranteed genetic windfalls, or fixed genetic limits, bestowed at the moment of conception. Instead there is a continually unfolding interaction between our heredity and our world, a process that may be in some measure under our control. . Forget about genes as unchanging “blueprints” and talent as a “gift,” all tied up in a bow. “We cannot allow ourselves to think that way anymore,” Whatever you wish to do well, Shenk writes, you must do over and over again, even if it results frequent failures. This is known as “deliberate practice,” and over time it can actually produce changes in the brain, making new heights of achievement possible But he is careful to say that we are not born without limits — it’s just that none of us can know what those limits are “before we’ve applied enormous resources and invested vast amounts of time.” He relates his own struggle to achieve. “My attitude toward my own writing is simple: I assume that everything I write is rubbish until I have demonstrated otherwise. I will routinely write and rewrite a sentence, paragraph and/or chapter 20, 30, 40 times — as many times as it takes to feel satisfied.”
Gove used Shenks book to argue that there is plenty of evidence that our children are not, due to their genes or due to their environment (poor background broken home etc), pre-destined to fail at school . Our children can succeed if given the right support and encouraged to stretch themselves. Outstanding state schools can and do demonstrate this, by showing no significant achievement gaps based on their pupils background. Maybe we make too many assumptions about a childs potential or ‘intelligence’ based on too little information.
Sham Consultation- followed by weak Guidance?
What do you think?
Long delayed Statutory Guidance on Careers Guidance in schools has just been published (26 March). The delay suggests differences of opinion between Ministers about how robust and how detailed the Statutory Guidance should be. As Professor Tony Watts points out (see commentary) this delay means that schools have been setting their budgets for the financial year beginning April 2012, without guidance of any kind about the new duty they have to discharge from September 2012, and the financial provision required for this. The final published version of the Guidance does not according to Professor Watts, incorporate any of the substantive amendments proposed by members of the Advisory Group.
Section 29 of the Education Act 2011 places schools under a duty to secure access to independent careers guidance for their pupils in school years 9-11. Careers guidance secured under the new duty must:
be presented in an impartial manner
include information on the full range of post-16 education or training options, including Apprenticeships
promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given.
Schools ‘must have regard to it when carrying out duties relating to the provision of careers guidance for young people’ The purpose of this guidance is to identify the key responsibilities of schools in relation to careers guidance for young people. Academies and Free Schools will be subject to this guidance through their Funding Agreements
The Education Act 2011 inserts a new duty, section 42A, into Part VII of the Education Act 1997, requiring schools to secure access to independent careers guidance (Independent is defined as external to the school) for pupils in years 9-11. Careers guidance must be presented in an impartial manner (Impartial is defined as showing no bias or favouritism towards a particular education or work option )and promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given. Careers guidance must also include information on all options available in respect of 16-18 education or training, including apprenticeships and other work-based education and training options.
Crucially the Guidance states ‘ In fulfilling their new duty, schools should secure access to independent face-to-face careers guidance where it is the most suitable support for young people to make successful transitions, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who have special educational needs, learning difficulties or disabilities.
‘Schools may work individually or in consortia/partnerships to secure careers guidance services. Schools can commission independent careers guidance from providers engaged in delivering the National Careers Service or from other providers or individual careers guidance practitioners, as they see fit. Where schools deem face-to-face careers guidance to be appropriate for their pupils, it can be provided by qualified careers professionals.’
Note it says it ‘can’ be provided by a qualified professional rather than ‘must’ be provided.
Professor Tony Watts is absolutely scathing (see commentary) about the Statutory Guidance and the consultation, with the Advisory Group, that preceded the release of the Guidance. He described the consultation exercise as a sham and the document as ‘dismal’ saying -‘It effectively leaves it open for schools to decide not only what they want to do for their pupils in this area, but also whether they wish to do anything of substance at all. Most schools will do whatever they can, because they care for the futures of their pupils; but some will make minimal provision, because they consider that the Government does not require them to do more.’
The Guidance, he claims, largely ignores recent Ministerial assurances over the importance of face to face advice particularly for the most disadvantaged pupils. Watts writes:
‘The Statutory Guidance as published ignores these recent assurances. It offers no means for preventing a school from stating that it has discharged its responsibility bysignposting to a website or helpline. All the school has to do, in the terms of section 13 of the Guidance, is to state that it views such signposting, rather than providing independent face-to-face guidance, as ‘the most suitable support for young people to make successful transitions’. Despite the assurances sought and presumed to be given in the House of Lords, and the statements by Ministers …..the Guidance appears to provide no basis on which a sustainable challenge to such a position could be mounted.’
Watts continues ‘ There is no indication of who is to determine ‘where it is the most suitable support’, or on what criteria. Implicitly, it is left for schools to determine this, on whatever criteria they choose. If they decide that access to independent face-to face guidance is not ‘the most suitable form of support’ for most or indeed for any of their pupils, they are free to do so. No provision is made for young people or their parents to have any say in the matter, in the form of a right or entitlement.’
Watts adds ‘ The statement that such guidance is ‘particularly’ relevant to children from ,disadvantaged backgrounds or with special educational needs can easily be read as implying that it is only relevant to such pupils. The point was strongly made by the Advisory Group in the consultation that this should be balanced with a strong statement about the value of independent careers guidance for most, if not all, young people. No such statement has been included.’
There is genuine anger among many professionals who feel that expert opinion has been largely ignored in the consultation process and that the document doesn’t honour ministers very public commitments. The guidance is seen as too weak and will mean that many schools fail to offer access to face to face advice to those who need it most and that if and when it is provided, it doesnt have to come from a qualified professional.
Another dimension of positive psychology and its relevance to education
Positive psychology is making inroads into current educational thinking. Here is one aspect- Reaching a state of Flow-bear with me!
Flow in psychology’ is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
Part psychological study, part self-help book, Finding Flow is a prescriptive guide that ‘helps us reclaim ownership of our lives’. The author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has devoted his professional life to the study of happiness and how we can attain it.
Based on a far-reaching study of thousands of individuals, Finding Flow contends that we often walk through our days unaware and out of touch with our emotional lives. He describes the mental state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Our inattention makes us constantly bounce between two extremes: during much of the day we live filled with the anxiety and pressures of our work and obligations, while during our leisure moments, we tend to live in passive boredom. So, the key, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is to challenge ourselves with tasks requiring a high degree of skill and commitment. So at its most simple level-instead of watching television, for example play the piano. Transform a routine task by taking a different approach. In short, learn the joy of complete engagement. Though they appear simple, the lessons in Finding Flow are life-altering.
Flow first came to Csikszentmihalyi’s attention while he was studying artists for his postgraduate thesis. As they worked the artists seemed to go into a trance-like state. To his surprise he found that the finished product was less important to them than the process of doing the work itself. External rewards were less important than intrinsic pleasure, an observation that went against the grain of psychological thinking at the time.
According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors that accompany the experience of flow. While many of these components may be present, it is not necessary to experience all of them for flow to occur:
Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.
Strong concentration and focused attention.
The activity is intrinsically rewarding.
Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings of self-consciousness.
Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing.
Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented.
Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome.
Lack of awareness of physical needs.
Complete focus on the activity itself.
So what relevance does this have for education? Csíkszentmihályi has suggested that overlearning a skill or concept can help people experience flow. Another critical concept in his theory is the idea of slightly extending oneself beyond one’s current ability level. This slight stretching of one’s current skills can help the individual experience flow. Flow can lead to improved performance too. Researchers have found that flow can enhance performance in a wide variety of areas including teaching, learning, athletics and artistic creativity. Flow can also lead to further learning and skill development. Because the act of achieving flow indicates a strong mastery of a certain skill, the individual must continually seek new challenges and information in order to maintain this state.
In the late 1980s Csikszentmihalyi and several colleagues undertook a longitudinal survey of over 200 talented teenagers to discover why some are able to develop their talents while others give up. One of their principal findings, published in Talented Teens – The Roots of Success and Failure was that ‘flow was the strongest predictor of subjective engagement and how far the student progressed in the school’s curriculum in his or her talent’.
The authors suggest three ‘promising steps for promoting optimal experience in the classroom’:
1. The most influential teachers were found to be those who always continue to nurture their interest in their subjects and do not take their ability to convey that enthusiasm for granted. Learning was found to flourish where the cultivation of passionate interest was a primary educational goal.
2. Attention should be paid to ‘conditions that enhance the experience of maximum rewards’. Everything should be done to minimise the impact of rules, exams and procedures and to focus on the inherent satisfaction of learning. (In a more recent interview, Csikszentmihalyi has stated that although it makes some sense to work on students’ weaknesses, it makes even more sense to work on their strengths, ‘Because once someone has developed strengths, then everything else becomes easier.’)
3. Teachers must read the shifting needs of learners. The flow state is not a static one: once a skill has been mastered it is necessary to add more complexity if the student is not to become bored – there must always be a close fit between challenges and skills. The teacher’s sense of timing and pace, of when to intervene and when to hold back, is therefore crucial. There must be freedom wherever possible for the student to control the process, but teachers must also draw on their experience to channel students’ attention.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Rathunde, K. (1993). The measurement of flow in everyday life: Towards a theory of emergent motivation. In Jacobs, J.E.. Developmental perspectives on motivation. Nebraska symposium on motivation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1975), Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997) Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. Basic Books, New York.
Csikszentmihalyi, M (2002), Flow: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness, Rider, London
Thoughts about Education on www.newhorizons.org
Csikszentmihalyi, M, Rathunde, K, and Whalen, S (1997), Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Scherer, M (2002), ‘Do students care about learning? A conversation with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’Educational Leadership 60 (1)
- CRACKDOWN ON EXPLOITATION OF INTERNS
- PAYING FOR RESULTS-CAN IT HELP RAISE PERFORMANCE- OR DOES IT CORRUPT THE LOVE OF LEARNING?
- PROSPECTS JOINS MUTUAL JOINT VENTURE TO DELIVER PUBLIC SERVICES-GOVERNMENT KEEN ON EMPLOYEE OWNED MUTUALS DELIVERING PUBLIC SERVICES
- PROFESSOR TONY WATTS RESIGNS FROM THE NATIONAL CAREERS COUNCIL
- EDISON LEARNING AND THE NAHT UNION LAUNCH A SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT INITIATIVE WITH DFE BACKING
- THE FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT OF ACADEMIES-WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE ARE CONCERNS?
- PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE REPORT ON ACADEMIES-SOME CONCERNS OVER FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
- CAIRNS OF BRIGHTON COLLEGE BACKS ACADEMIES
- IS CAREERS ADVICE IN SCHOOLS EFFECTIVE OR IS IT TOO EARLY TO SAY?
- LEMOVS TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION -TOP TECHNIQUES USED BY THE BEST TEACHERS
- THE PUPIL PREMIUM AND SPECIAL SCHOOLS
- EDUCATION EXPORTS-NEW GOVERNMENT STRATEGY IN THE WINGS?
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