Thursday, 29 November 2007

Literacy - the path less chosen

I have just got back from 10 days in the US attending the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) where I was talking about the Shakespeare resources I have developed (more about those later). In walking around, my eye was taken by a reading system called “plugged into reading”, which has been developed by Janet Allen in the US. Now, my interest is not in literacy but I was taken by her approach, which was not phonics, or rote-learning or based on any system… it was built on great literature. She hand-picks books (both fiction and non-fiction) for a series of age groups and offers them the books and the audio version to listen to as they read. Of course this is what attracted me as I am a 100% advocate for audio in the classroom. Having trialled my own audio-based resources with hundreds of students and teachers I know how the imagination is stimulated by audio, and especially audio drama (my speciality). So I looked closer at the “plugged into reading” course – and yes, it has classroom time used to read and simultaneously listen but the second stage struck me as hugely innovative. This is a peer system where the students are placed in small groups and each one is given a job within that literature circle, and a title. One student is the tour guide, leading the group through the text, another is the archaeologist, looking to unearth connections in the book, another is the magician looking to see how the book could be different. There are more, and here is a link to read further, but I was blown away because this was no longer about reading but it was about becoming a detective and in my own SmartPass resources our stated aim is to enable students to become literature detectives.
So yesterday as I heard politicians arguing about the result of England and Scotland in the PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) I felt quite cross. Labour threw out the figures for money they had invested (lots) and how they had introduced phonics all over the country. The conservatives said the money was squandered and that phonics was hardly used and everybody blamed the computer game. It seemed like a witch hunt on parents who let their kids waste their time on games and on all those Peter Pan developers who never grew up and don't want to see our kids grow either. But is it really the case we want to blame them?

In the UK children spend 3 hours on average on computer games. Okay so that seems like a lot, but nobody asked; what is a computer game? Well it varies but it is generally a quest to collect enough skills to win something or defeat some great evil… in essence it is a narrative. It is a great novel boiled down to its constituent parts and within that is a mystery to unravel, keys to find – it is literature and it stimulates the brain and the imagination but does not teach you how to read? No! But it uses the parts of literature that grip you... reading is just a skill, what we need to be activating in our students is a love of literature – the realisation that the stories in books, the quests and challenges are far more entertaining if you read them than if you waggle your thumbs on a joystick. It is a paucity of imagination that is forcing our students down, not just a reading skill. Lets tackle bringing literature alive for the student – let’s take away the visual stimulation that makes them lazy and ask them to listen in the classroom. Then let’s ask them to become detectives and tease out the meaning – make connections to history and society and to other books. We have compartmentalised our curriculum so much that nothing is inter-disciplinary – but the world is and literature is. Reading is not just a skill to tick off, it informs all of life and the way in which we interface with the world is the real skill to test. Politicians need to stop arguing and look to creatively using the fantastic literature out there to energise the student. There has never been so much great writing for young people, such access to literature that touches the body and soul of young people. Writers speak to young people at a very deep level and we need to use that. I have called this post -literacy, the path less chosen as I believe we are on the wrong course. We muct stop teaching from the point of view of evaluation and tests, if we don’t then it does not matter if all of our kids can read, because they won’t. They will watch TV and play games and lose out on the incredible journeys the mind can take.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Episode 2. Lines of Desire.

Rose Luckin hit the nail on the head this week in the second part of our debate on the sustainability of the classroom and school in our modern world. The episode is available as a podcast here.

Rose talked of Lines of Desire, an architectural term describing the way people will find a way to navigate themselves to a certain position if they want to get there. Rose likened this to the holy grail of education, that there are many avenues to reach it, and they alter as we develop and mature. But what if our sense of direction is maimed by the education system we grow up in. Listen to the debate as it widens out, with Ian Cunningham, Fred Garnett, Rose Luckin and the host Phil Viner.

Monday, 5 November 2007

The Learning Agreement

In the first episode of All the World's a Classroom, Professor Ian Cunningham talks a little about his practice of creating a learning agreement with his students. I was curious about this so asked him to elaborate and produced this short 6-minute podcast. The idea is to ally the student and teacher/facilitator in a common quest and to build not only a short term agenda, but a long term strategy for learning. The basis for this are key questions - Where have you been? (what past experiences have built up the student's world view) Where are you now? Where do you want to go? (what are the students thoughts about their life and career).
Then once this has been discussed the final 2 questions really jumped out at me as entirely missed by most educational models: How do we push this forward in your entire life and How will this make you happy and fulfilled? This belief in learning being fun and joyful is such a breath of fresh air in a world where results and league tables seem all important and all powerful, and empowers both the student and teacher to grasp the nettle of learning and make it all about today - not about merely preparation for the future. Listen to Ian's thoughts on the podcast, I think that while he uses this approach with students that are outside of the school environment, it could and should be used with all students to give them a sense of ownership around their learning.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

All the World's a Classroom

Well, after two trial posts I can finally announce that All the World's a Classroom, the Oneword radio education debate show is here! Hosted and produced by Phil Viner, developer of the SmartPass Education system, the first episode premieres on Friday November 2nd at 9am. You can catch it on freeview, cable or satellite TV, digital radio or on the internet. The show is also being podcast so you can download them all and hear them any time.

The series kicks off with a debate featuring Rose Luckin, Professor of learner centred design at the London knowledge lab (part of the Institute of Education), Fred Garnett, an expert in community learning and social inclusion and Professor Ian Cunningham, founder of the South Downs Learning Centre.

The intention of this blog is to build on the ideas and thoughts raised in the show and to contribute to future episodes -so please leave your thoughts and comments here and I will respond to them and include them later in the series.