Tag Archives: literacy

When Learning Has Nothing To Do With It

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.38.53 PMLast week, Jan Wong, currently an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communications at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, wrote an article for the Chronicle Herald outlining her concern about her Journalism students cheating on quizzes.

The sentences from her post that most resonated with me are below.

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It should be no surprise at all that some students at a university are “conditioned to work for marks and only marks”.

The only criterion for acceptance to the university is “high marks”.

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When universities filter applicants based on marks, so that only students with really great marks can enter the institution, the students who arrive and attend class there will include those who have learned to play a game very well, and who will continue to play that game when they arrive.

Any senior high school teacher can attest to the fact that learning is not the priority for many grade 11 and 12 students.  The priority is getting the highest two-digit number possible through whatever means are necessary so that he/she can get access to a university program.

The ramifications of this selection process are numerous, and often do not relate to learning at all.  Some are, in fact, very negative.

  • Parents may bully the teachers who don’t give the needed or expected grades.
  • Students may select courses based on who they know will give them the marks they want.
  • Parents will track down a Principal in the summer and demand that their child’s marks be changed.
  • Students tell teachers that the mark they have received for their assignment is “unacceptable” and that they will need something higher.
  • “Cheating” is rampant on tests, exams and assignments.
  • Students learn to seek out exams from previous years, tests and student notes from previous years.
  • They learn how best to get as many marks as possible on every test and exam.
  • They will do almost anything for “bonus marks”, and they learn to manipulate a teacher to offer those “bonus marks”.

Students and parents figure out how to play the game.

Alfie Kohn has been writing about the problem with grades for many years.  One of his best articles is “From Degrading to De-Grading”  (http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm), where he explores, among other things, the observations that grades reduce a student’s preference for challenging tasks, the quality of their thinking, and their interest in learning.

The lack of interest in learning by students who have been told that marks are what matters is well-documented, as in the observation below from Janice Fiamengo:

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Those who do well are called “good students”.  Some schools give out awards to students with the highest marks, encouraging competition instead of collaborative learning, and reinforcing that marks are what is really important at that school.

While there is a large and growing movement to put learning at the centre of the what school is about, as long as that final mark is the only requirement for university entrance, marks will remain the focus.

And universities will get what they have selected for.  When students don’t get the marks they want at university, they will react exactly as they have learned to react.

Once again, Janice Fiamengo:

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Fortunately, even the straight-A students are questioning  their school experience and why “marks” are seen as so important. Afraj Gill from “An A+ Student Regrets His Grades“:

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Learning to manipulate teachers to get good grades becomes an art form in itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8s13_yOLeE

We need to deeply question a system with these values.  Is this the best way to graduate innovators and entrepreneurs?

I believe that we are rethinking what schools are for, how to nurture natural curiosity, and how to use focused innovation in our teaching in the K-12 sector.  I also see evidence that some post-secondary schools are beginning to understand that marks are not the best predictor of learning.

But as long as marks are the sole filter for entrance to university, we will be challenged to put learning, not grades, at the centre of what schools are for.

*Add-On -> A favourite post from @KarlFisch: http://thefischbowl.blogspot.ca/2013/10/your-gda-is-more-important-than-your-gpa.html

@sethgodinblog: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/02/doing-what-gets-rewarded.html

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Want More Pleasure? Study More!

How do you get more pleasure in your life? According to cognitive psychologist Paul Bloom, the answer is to study more (I don’t think even Dan Pink came up with this one as a motivator!).

Is this ‘just’ a fungus?

Seriously, to appreciate and truly derive pleasure from so many things in life, you need to understand them, says Bloom in a recent interview on npr’s TED Radio Hour, a followup to his TED Talk on “What Do We Value Most?“.

I recall my frustration when, while trying hard to align my teaching with student interests, I asked students, “What do you like to do?”.  The responses were all the same.  Not much, hang out with friends, watch TV.  So I rephrased the question to, “What are you interested in?”, and I was even more disappointed with the complete absence of any interests.  How could this be?  I could write a book the size of a small novel just listing my interests.

This was once again the case when I first started teaching grade 10 computer studies and I was introducing students to Netscape (use the link if you are really young and don’t know about Netscape).  I would say, “Look up anything you are interested in.  Just type the word in the search box” (we always used Dogpile).  But that is where the lesson derailed, because they weren’t interested in anything!

This has plagued me for years, because as a person who does not ever have enough time in the day to pursue all my interests, I cannot imagine having none at all.  But is this what I see every day in my school, when day after day students would rather be somewhere else?

I think that we do a really good job as educators to try to engage students, to use differentiated instruction, to give choice, to listen to student voice, and yet we still find so many youth completely disinterested in learning.

I am playing with this issue this morning and I will share some resources that I am using to try to dig deeper and figure out how to address this problem at my school. Please share any thinking you have on this topic.

Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Research – some of the research around how to develop literacy skills in teenagers, including the effects of policy decisions, and the challenges and successes of working with reluctant learners.

Adolescent Literacy Resources – From EduGains

Literacy Key to Keeping Youth out of the Justice System – Reading and writing as a crime prevention strategy.

No bounds in collecting books for NAN youth

Promising Practices in Aboriginal Education – So far I have been disappointed in that I have not found any ‘practices’ that are based in research, but I have hope (they do “promise”) that even the existence of this website is a start in the right direction.

Aboriginal Education: Our Moral Imperative to Teach Our Shared Canadian History – A touching letter that many teachers might enjoy reading to help frame their own thinking about our First Nations students.

Literacy Gains: Metacognition Resources – Lots of resources from Literacy Gains as they make Adolescent Literacy a priority.

Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. Toronto: Ontario Principals’ Council

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.

And if you have access to a library (some of these are not available to the public):

Pirbhai-Illich, F. (2010). Aboriginal students engaging and struggling with critical multiliteracies. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy54(4), 257-266. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1598/JAAL.54.4.3/abstract

pdf: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1598/JAAL.54.4.3/asset/JAAL.54.4.3.pdf?v=1&t=h4pkayzf&s=fd407d0fe8c3dfae6ee35e9e974472a78892972b

Report for Indian and Northern Affairs

Raham, H. Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, (2009). Best practices in aboriginal education: A literature review and analysis for policy directions. Retrieved from website: http://www.firstpeoplesgroup.com/mnsiurban/PDF/education/Best_Practices_in_Aboriginal_Education-2009.pdf

Van de Kleut, G. (2009). The whiteness of literacy practice in Ontario. Race Ethnicity in Education14(5), 699-726.

McKeough, A., Bird, S., Tourigny, E., Romaine, A., Graham, S., Ottmann, J., & Jeary, J. (2008). Storytelling as a foundation to literacy development for aboriginal children: Culturally and developmentally appropriate practices. Canadian Psychology40(2), 148-154.

Barnes, R., Josefowitz, N., & Cole, E. (2006). Residential schools impact on aboriginal students’ academic and cognitive development. Canadian Journal of School Psychology21(1/2), 18-32.

Luke, A., & Luke, C. (2001). Adolescence lost/childhood regained: on early intervention and the emergence of the techno-subject. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy1(1), 91-120.

Zeller-Berkman, S. (2012). Adolescent literacy policy.Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy55(8), 748-750. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00090

It’s Not Reform we Need, It’s a Revolution

Update: July 12/12: http://www.scoop.it/t/leading-learning/p/2159233406/we-need-different-not-better

I will just quote Will Richardson, because I can’t think of a better way to say it!

* We don’t need better assessments; we need different assessments that help us understand students as learners and constructors of their own ongoing education instead of knowers of information and narrow skills.
* We don’t need better teachers; we need different teachers who see their roles as master learners first and content guides or experts second.
* We don’t need better schools; we need different schools that function as communities of inquiry and learning instead of delivery systems for a highly proscribed, traditional curriculum.

… the idea of a fully networked, progressive learning environment would for the vast majority constitute *different* and would require us… to redefine the future.


Sir Ken Robinson on revolutionizing education.

Watch it here on YouTube: http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html

Hear this in the context of “Building a Better Classroom” on NPR TED Radio Hour: http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/