Back to work after 40 years

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This is very short – so watch carefully. If you’re under 40 you might not get it.


Free technology Toolkit

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Here is an incredibly useful site that highlights lots of free resources with inclusion in mind.


There are many links to some really interesting resources which could be hugely stimulating and valuable to all learners but especially those who learn in non-traditional ways.

UDL stands for Universal Design for Learning:

a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

My passion is to remove the obstacles to learning for all students and these free tools offer opportunities for struggling learners that promote academic success. When material is digital or electronic, it is flexible and accessible. It is our responsibility as educators to provide materials that promote success. Please encourage all educators to consider using these free tools.

Check it out.

Just discovering Glogster (Where have you been all my life?) is worth the visit!

The world of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity

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There are some commentators who state that the printed word is fighting a rear-guard action against not only computers and television, but also a whole host of digital parvenus from hand held devices that do everything but make the tea (or perhaps they do now), iPads, Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, instant messaging, blogging, sharing music, pod- and videocasting, Flickr, and plentyof other disruptive technologies that haven’t penetrated my consciousness.

The ubiquity of the internet and especially the mobile phone mean they hold an unassailable place in the hearts and minds of most teenagers in the western world. (Email is dead, apparently, except when they reluctantly use it to communicate with adults).

Meanwhile, newspapers, magazines and books have ‘faded to shadows of their former selves, as this post-literate generation finds its facts and fun elsewhere’. Despair that kids aren’t reading anymore, that electronic media, of one sort or another, now occupy every spare moment, is commonplace in staffrooms, parental conversations and the mass media. There is a fear that digital technologies are responsible for numbing our kids’ intelligence and aspirations, and creating an ignorant generation unable to think for themselves. Sometimes commentators use statistics to support such a view: the PISA figures for 2009, based on assessments of 15 year olds in 65 countries in reading, maths and science, show that performance in Scotland has levelled off since 2006 (although it is above the international average in reading and science).

A frequent conversation in staff rooms decries the prevalence of electronic media’s demand for spectacle and brevity which is, it is claimed, wholly responsible for a reduction in children’s attention span. But this equates brevity with debased taste, and sees patience for long stories as a mark of high culture. But if brevity is to be deplored, what should we make of haiku, sonnets, and ink-brush calligraphy?

On the other side of the coin, lengthy sagas are not the sole prerogative of the literary elite. Pop culture has its share of huge tales – witness the Harry Potter canon. Indeed, for every pared-down presentation pumped out by the electronic media, an engaging narrative can be found. ‘From literacy to digiracy: Will reading and writing remain important?’

Just look at the plaudits showered upon the TV series ‘The Wire’. It’s been labelled essential viewing, with a staggering ambition, Shakespearian in its scope. It is a ‘dense, novelistic drama’ whose viewers ‘care deeply about the fate of the characters’. The Wire has been described by many critics as the greatest television series ever made.  Surely this is as valid a piece of storytelling ( and as lengthy and complex) as anything written in a book.

The naysayers are in good company. Socrates, too, had grave concerns about the impact of the written word. He challenged the new technology head on, questioning whether the mythical discovery of the written word served any useful purpose. The written word would ‘provide forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it’.

We do know that our sources of trusted wisdom are eroding fast. Look at the Wikileaks debacle. We can no longer view our institutions or leaders as sources of reliable information. John Naughton writing about the EU’s investigation into whether Google is abusing its dominance of the market for internet searches says that the EU’s

beef is that Google’s non-paid-for search results deliberately favour its own “Shopping” service and disadvantage them. Given that Google has effectively about 90% of the search market in the UK, it clearly has considerable power.

The article in the Economist continues:

Our trust of Google, which ranks a web page by how many other pages are linked to it, and how many other searchers view the page is in question.

I know that I approach such searches uncritically, trusting in the engine rather than my own judgement. I don’t think I’m alone. Our faith in such search engines highlights how easy it is to be seduced into accepting a ranking by ‘the wisdom of crowds’ or, more sinister, by commercial considerations.

I recognise that many young people have superior skills in making sense of contexts that are constantly changing rather than entrusting to a set body of knowledge. But this is not to say that teachers are irrelevant.  We have a significant role to play in supporting young learners to take control, to use the tools available to develop critical thinking, grow their understanding of what is and what is not of quality – in whatever format. And ultimately – excitingly, creatively, collaboratively – to help them to make their own interpretations, their own stories in a world that is constantly connected to everything and everyone.

And just because the world in which our children are growing up is light years away from that I experienced, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could help me to be part of that world too?

21st Century literacies

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The ability to read, write, speak, listen, view, investigate, collaborate, and communicate are essential given the 21st century contexts with which our all engaging.

We all need to read complex, multi-genre, multi-modal texts and we require practice in developing skills to access, interpret and construct our own understandings. We ignore the diverse range of stimuli available at our peril, not least because we will lose the engagement of our young people and miss out on a vast array of stimulating, enticing and educative experiences.

Essential skills are:

  • Listening – fundamental for the collaboration and connecting that allows us to develop as learners.
  • Questioning – there is no good search, without a good question. Our questions allow us to make meaning, discern what is important and what is not, to analyse, validate, and seek out what is most critical.
  • Self Efficacy – the feeling of self worth and competence that intrinsically motivates us, the belief in one’s own ability to perform a task.
  • Adaptability – to succeed one must be adaptable. The acknowledgement that the need for adaptability is constant enables us to change where necessary, to manage that change, and handle the ambiguity that comes along with not knowing the future. Being adaptable helps you be resilient and maintains effectiveness in a changing environment.
  • Connecting – in this complex world, engagement is enhanced with connection. Our brain needs connection to make sense of learning. Finding, connecting, and collaborating with others is vital to all our futures.

CPD Question Time

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I attended an event at LT Scotland’s Glasgow office last week (yes, in my holidays) which proved to be a stimulating event.

I can’t better the summary posted by Nick Hood.

 My question to the panel quoted from Fullan and Hargreaves’ ‘What’s Worth Fighting for in your School?’. I was about to ask it when I realised I was doing exactly what I was complaining about: using language that excludes those ‘not in the know’. Luckily I realised this in time and reframed the question. Here it is:

How do we mitigate against a ‘Balkanised culture’ in which separate factions reflect and reinforce very different group outlooks on learning and teaching, the curriculum, and 21st century education?

I had in mind not just those who sit at training or staff meetings with arms crossed and ‘lips pursed like a dog’s bottom’ but also those whose passion for the next new gadget or idea imbue them with a sense of virtue and superiority.

I’m afraid I fall into both categories at times.

Nick has a more complete summary of the thoughts of the panel. I was so worried about what I would say if the chair asked for my opinion that I fear I didn’t pay the fullest attention.

My feeling is that it is essential for a common understanding to be thrashed out prior to real change occurring. Shared meanings must not be assumed. Some consensus about definitions of such terms as self-directed learning, readiness and interest grouping, locus of control, multi-modal resources, authentic assessment, divergent thinking, is essential. Most importantly the notion that societal transformation is happening now and that the current way of doing things is untenable in the 21st century needs to be grasped by all concerned in education. Such radical reframing takes time and support.

 It is impossible to mitigate entirely against diverse clusters forming – that’s how people are – but open discussion about the philosophy of change and the impact this has on us all is one way to promote an ethos that is moving towards re-conceiving the culture, structure and processes in which we all learn.

I like dead trees


Appropos of my previous post:

I am excited about the new definition of text as the medium through which ideas, experiences, opinions and information can be communicated. I actively encourage colleagues to keep a wide range of reading materials available.

There is a real likelihood that hard pressed teachers (and the squeeze is becoming tighter) will have not have the resources – emotional, intellectual, economic – to familiarise themselves with a broader range of texts than those we already use.

However, we do a profound disservice to our young learners if we ignore the fundamental habits of deep and earnest reading and embrace the new unreflectively.

While my sons at 8 and 9 years old adored having books read to them and were very literate in the broad sense, they were totally uninterested in reading. Then they were introduced to ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. These ‘interactive’, non-linear texts (this was the early ’80’s) were the breakthrough for them, not least because they just had to read short paragraphs and felt they were actively involved in creating the story. Determining the protagonist’s next course of action, albeit from a very limited range of choices, was immensely satisfying for them. After a preference was made, the plot branched out and unfolded, leading to more decisions and eventually multiple possible endings. But a crucial point was that such books required less stamina than more traditional ones.

They rapidly moved on to more sophisticated and, it has to be said, more conventional, texts, eschewing the comic books, early graphic novels and sci fi so dear to many of their contemporaries. They built up stamina, learned to read stories which not only had more complex vocabulary but more profound concepts that needed to be pondered upon, incubated, borrowed and for and incorporated into their own thinking. For this, they needed time and space, practice and more practice (with encouragement at times), the opportunity to explore their new learning and link it with what they already knew.

I fear that the bells and whistles of ‘transmedia’ texts (what’s the difference between these and games? Perhaps there doesn’t need to be a distinction) represent an easier option.

Oh I do struggle with all this ‘transmedia’ stuff. I try to act as if I’m in the 21st century – honest. But I wonder about the efficacy of promoting these interactive books without the caveat that we have must not discard books. I don’t believe there is a set body of knowledge, a prescribed list of classics with which every child should be familiar (I’ve never read Dryden and have little inclination so to do). I do sincerely believe that unless young people are exposed and – yes – sometimes urged to step out of the constantly changing scenery of a game or text such as Alice, then they may never acquire the mature skills (or more importantly, the deep pleasure) that come when you finish a good book. It’s a different and equally necessary part of developing literacy.

I’m all for relevance and engagement. I know and dimly understand where kids are coming from today, although I do think it a myth that all youngsters are equally ‘wired’. I am keen on utilising all available tools to support learners to develop and grow and construct their own learning.

But… But… But…

‘Literacy experiences’ don’t always have to be immediately ‘relevant’ and full of whizz bangs just because that’s what the kids are used to. (Forgive me if I’m sounding like Chris Woodhead. Perish the thought!).

The joy of story stems from the emotional connection between reader and read to as well as the quality of the yarn: the child snuggling up to someone who loves her in the age old tradition of listening to a tale. No inanimate object, however jolly, can replicate that. Would I prefer to read ‘The Secret Garden’ to our 6 year old cosying up on the sofa and then take her to the theatre production or would I rather sit her in front of a screen to be made to feel sick at Alice’s trajectory through the desert? I know which she would choose. How about you?

When I’m reading a good novel, I want the story to continue, I need to be immersed and totally involved, to have my imagination exploded and my emotions squeezed.

I want to suspend my disbelief.

I really have no desire to exit the story. I make a story my own by being enraptured, wrapping myself in it, linking what I’m reading with my own experiences. Any exodus, distraction, interruption means I lose my focus, my involvement, my joy in the narrative.

There may be occasions when I want to be a ‘co-creator’. That’s fine. Kate Pullinger, the author of Alice writes about the ‘potential for interactivity that has come about as readers around the world create their own versions of new episodes of the story’. Another commentator describes ‘students developing their own works and stories, using the story as a launch point’.  That’s great. We need to enable our children to express themselves, to create, but that’s something separate from deep reading. Disruption is not conducive to the experiential reading that results in profound thinking and lasting ownership. At least not for me.

People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell. What I need as a reader is fewer distractions and a comfy chair. And children need the same. Perhaps not all the time, I agree. Of course there is a place for interactivity; I would never object to any tool that enabled anyone to explore and learn. After all, my life’s work has been to enable learners with dyslexia to access literature.

But, you know, we need stories as much – at times more – than food to stay alive. Some people need them more than others. And there are some who may never have the experience of self discovery through immersion in a book unless we in school provide the opportunity. We don’t always have to produce something in response to a stimulus in order for it to become part of ourselves. It seems that we’re in danger of focusing more on valuing what we can most easily assess rather than assessing what we value.

Possibly I’m exaggerating (moi?). Perhaps the drive to encourage digital technologies to become a part of learning to read is necessary because my grandchild’s literacy lesson may be very familiar to my sons or even, heaven forefend, to me.

But, I keep thinking of that poor baby and its bathwater.

The Future of the Book


The Future of the Book. (from IDEO on Vimeo).

Here is a thought provoking video – sorry I am defeated once more and can’t embed it.

Thanks to Ollie Bray for the  link.

I was particularly interested in the section of this video about ‘Alice’ as there has been some discussion of ‘Inanimate Alice’ here and here.

Bill Boyd describes ‘Alice’ (I assume it’s the same thing) as

a genuinely new concept in reading which combines elements of the written word, digital still photography, moving image, drawing, painting, puzzles, music, sound effects and elements of computer gaming. Unlike a computer game, however, it does have the linear progression of a book, and the reader ‘turns the page’ when he or she is ready to move on.

He quotes a teacher who thought it

so wonderful seeing some of my most challenging students and struggling readers completely engaged with this text.

I am sure that for those ‘developing their transliteracy skills’ it is a great resource. And I couldn’t agree with Bill more when he writes that if young people are to be considered literate,

we have a responsibility to equip them with the critical skill necessary for them to be able to interpret and create the kinds of narratives with which they will be surrounded.

I’m just a bit concerned about thowing the baby out.

I am trying to stop myself from ranting so will leave this here and post another time!

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