Friday, December 16, 2011

The highest branch on the apple tree it was my favorite place to be (Crowded House)

In 2007 I saw graphic evidence showing the sharp drop in engagement of NZ students from primary to secondary school . Generally Year 10 continues the drop and then there is a steady improvement until Year 13 but even that is still below the high engagement figures from primary years.

I’ve been considering that graph in student engagement ever since and wondering why it is that students become more and more disaffected. 

What we ultimately end up with is a load of disaffected students in our secondary schools. I recently found  a helpful definition of all these terms.
Engagement versus disaffection in school refers to the intensity and emotional quality of children’s involvement in initiating and carrying out learning activities…Children who are engaged show sustained behavioural involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone.  They select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest

The opposite of engagement is disaffection.  Disaffected children are passive, do not try hard, and give up easily in the face of challenges…[they can] be bored, depressed, anxious, or even angry about their presence in the classroom; they can be withdrawn from learning opportunities or even rebellious towards teachers and classmates.
I am interested in this apparent correlation between engaged students and positive behavior patterns. On the surface it seems a no-brainer. We need to continue the flavour of primary high engagement through to secondary school (particularly for boys).

Why is it we are unable to do this. An inquiry method investigation would help with this.

As I’ve blogged recently – the behavior of our students at Ali bin Abi Taleb School is relatively good and the emotional engagement of students at our school is reasonably high given the Arabic context for males (many are eventually headed for government jobs - the police force or the army are two lucrative career paths).

In a NZ context it would an interesting area of action research. Maybe it's already been done?

I'll consider this and get back to you. I'm off tomorrow on holiday back to New Zealand. It's the end of the first Trimester here, the second starts on January 8.

While I'm away I will endeavour to keep up with the blog but you'll understand if it's not so regular for a while.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All things in moderation, including moderation (Mark Twain)

This week has been quite busy at school with all of our students doing tests in English, mathematics, Islamic studies, Arabic studies, science, geography, history and social studies.

The first trimester ends this Thursday and we have a three week break over Christmas before Trimester Two starts on January 8.

My dream team of advisors assist in English, mathematics, science, and Arabic so we have all been heavily involved with moderation of marking (Gavin is the ICT advisor but there are no ICT tests for him to moderate).

I’ve posted on this before but it’s worth repeating – Nu Zild educators could learn heaps from the rigorous moderation procedures we use here BEFORE the teachers mark their tests. They then have a benchmark to mark against. It so much harder to moderate after the fact.

And less is more, as this extract indicates (and Mark Twain's quote summarises):
Moderation is considered a key part of a person's personal development in Taoist philosophy and religion. There is nothing that cannot be moderated including ones actions, ones desires and even thoughts. It is believed that by doing so one achieves a more natural state, faces less resistance in life and recognises one's limits.Taken to the extreme, moderation is complex and can be difficult to not only accept, but also understand and implement. It can also be recursive in that one should moderate how much they moderate (i.e. to not be too worried about moderating everything or not to try too hard in finding a middle ground).
Anyway - here is a selection of photos showing the moderating process at work in mathematics with Jan, English with Peter and Arabic studies with me, without being too try hard!

Maths - Ahmed (HOD), Samir, Samer, Jan juggles the glasses. 

English - Peter, Nidal (HOD), Hichem, Jalal.

Arabic studies - Abdulla, Salem, me, Abdelazim (HOD), Shaban.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Monsters! Dying! By axes! Bleeding in the burning light! (Dream Evil)

Professional Learning and Development (PLD) appears to be the new fancy way of saying Professional Development (PD).

Don't ask me why we needed to overthink this and add learning to the title - maybe we weren't learning anything while we were being developed before. Who knows?

That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

Here’s some more:
  1. Why do we do PLD?
  2. What does it look like?
  3. What impact does it have?
  4. And – How do we know?
Actually I lied – these ones aren’t rhetorical at all. They are monsters to be slain by axes!

I’m going to have a go at answering them. My success criteria is to do so without overthinking it and without being too glib and hip (to the jive daddio). I'm going to leave them bleeding in the burning light!

Yes - I know, it's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it.

Less is more.

Here are my answers:
  1. No brainer - because learning is intrinsically good for us.
  2. It looks like this, according to me  –

     3. It improves teaching practice and results in improved student learning.
     4. And we know this because our teacher observations indicate improved teaching and  
         examination results indicate improvements in learning.


I love my job.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chinese music under banyan trees, here at the dude ranch above the sea (Steely Dan)

Further to my musings on the generally good behaviour at my school from a couple of posts ago – I have recently revisited an excellent little article by Jon Saphier and Mathew King called Good Seeds Grow In Strong Cultures.
They make a couple of good points.
School improvement, they say, emerges from the confluence of FOUR elements
  1. The strengthening of teachers’ skills
  2. Systematic renovation of the curriculum
  3. Improvement of the organisation
  4. Involvement of parents and citizens in responsible school-community partnerships.
Underlying all four though is school culture.

It can either energise the four or undermine them.

At Ali bin Abi Taleb School we have a team of advisors from Cognition Education (lead by me) who aim to address the first, third, and fourth ones. The Abu Dhabi Education Council is aiming to address the second one.

But without a positive school culture it’s a house of cards...built on sand...with a howling asefa rum liah (desert dust storm) blowing. You get the idea – school improvement is not going to work without it.

So, back to my little school.

Because of the strong, positive supportive culture here, (according to Saphier/King) improvements in instruction will be significant, continuous, and widespread.

In short – good seeds will grow in a strong culture.

Now that's a comforting thought!

Monday, December 5, 2011

She was gazin' to the future, riding on the Jack of Hearts (Bob Dylan)

The UAE celebrated its 40th birthday last week with fireworks displays, outrageous car decorations and blaring horns. Here are some images from the general UAE wide celebrations.

At school we had our own series of events for National Day. These involved a selection of animals, singing, dancing and poetry.

A selection of AbAT's finest.
Nidal leads the choir.
Wayno with a python at Khalifa Boys'.

Ali bin Abi Taleb staff and students

Some of the boys brought their hunting dogs for the day.

Jan with a falcon.

Hisham tries to translate falcon-speak.

The falcon's owner with the Principal (Mohammed).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I believe in a celebration, I believe you set me free (U2)

Punishment and reward. I've been musing over behaviour management of late.

In my little school there are very very few discipline moments. No exclusions, no suspensions, no malignant defiance of staff, no assaults on staff, verbal or otherwise, no drug or alcohol issues, no physical assaults between students.

Oh sure - it's a boys' school so there are the incidents of name calling and teasing and rough and tumble during the day, even a fight between boys from time to time but they are resolved quickly, and the spill over into serious discipline incidents is very rare.

Even the minor stuff is resolved quickly and without fuss (no detentions, no keeping in at break time, no punishments that I can actually name aside from boys who are not paying attention in assembly are moved to a visible position in front of their peers).

The answer from what I can see is good relationships and positive reinforcement of behaviours. Actually - forget good relationships, fantastic relationships. Fantastic relationships that start before they arrive at school.
The quality of attachment (early in life) predicts later development, positive relationships with peers, teachers and performance in school (Ngozi Onunaku).
The father son relationships I hear about and witness in school bare testament to this.

The great relationships that I see between the teachers (plural and to a man) and the students builds on this foundation.

Which all leads to a conumdrum.

Is it possible that this situation can be replicated in a New Zealand school context? Or is it unique to an Islamic/ Ali bin Abi Taleb context?

Mmmmm? I'll ponder that one for a spell.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

So round and round and round I go, and where I stop I don’t know (Edgar Winter Group)

This post is about some great teachers. But first some back story.

I had some dental work done this week and while I was waiting (unsuccessfully) for the anesthetic to kick in I had time to chat with my dentist - a lovely Hungarian lady called Monica.

I asked Monica about when she had decided to become a dentist. She answered that she trained to be a dentist as a mature student; she'd flirted with other jobs before deciding that that would be her career.

She said, "No one can decide what they really want to do when they are 15 or 16 years old".

And I said, "I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was 12". She was amazed.

Mr. Lindsay at Manukau Intermediate was my initial inspiration. He was a mathematics' specialist and a young enthusiastic guy but he was only my actual teacher for a short time (I had the deeply unpleasant experience of having Mrs. Kay for the bulk of those two years at intermediate).

When I went for my out of zone interview for Mt Albert Grammar in 1970 and the Headmaster (Mr. Hall) asked me if I had a job in mind for when I eventually left school I said, "I want to be a maths' teacher".

My father (another Mt Albert Grammar old boy) who came to the interview with me must have looked at me in an interesting way. I don't remember articulating this desire to him or my mother before this interview.

So my bliss found me aged 12 in August 1970.

I love the fact that I'm a teacher. It's all I've ever wanted to be; I know, in one form or another, it's all I will continue to be. 

Anyway this post was spost to be some great teachers so here's a random gallery of some great teachers who are no longer with us that have sprung to mind in the last five minutes. That would be Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a. Buddha), Jesus of Nazareth, Walt Whitman, Frank McCourt, Confucius, Henry David Thoreau, and, finally, with the TV show Lost in mind - John Locke (you'll be able to suss who's who).