Monday, 21 June 2010
A magazine on Neuro Linguistic Programming in Education
No 112 June 20 2010
We hope that you are enjoying the World Cup in whatever place you are reading this. Such a global event is inescapable as even if we are not great soccer fans, we surely have some students who are and bring the topic into our classrooms. It is also a great opportunity to learn and teach something about the different countries participating and the host country, in particular. So often Africa with all the nations there that have English as an official language is forgotten when it comes to our general knowledge and all-round education.
In this month’s number, we continue with the theme of changes in the education system looking at the question of grades, marks and, to a lesser extent, exams. The prevailing education systems seem to revolve around marks and this can prove to be both productive and counter-productive in the process of learning. At times, the importance of grades can almost seem overwhelming and keeping a perspective on the issue can be a challenge.
The last chance to join our Practitioner’s Certificate course in English for this year iis this month. Our next meeting is on Saturday 26 June. Details below.
All the best for the month,
Laura and Jamie
1. The tyranny of marks?
2. Practitioner Course 2010
3. Calendar of activities for 2010
4. Workshops and coaching
5. Subscribing/Unsubscribing to our e-zines in English and Spanish and an invitation to visit
1. The tyranny of marks?
It’s that time again where I (Jamie) teach. The first term marks are due to come out and most teachers have been dedicating at least one long Sunday afternoon, calculator in hand, to the deadly serious job of working out averages and totalling scores. You can guarantee that any slip in the adding up and the borderliners, the failures and any other student keen on statistics will hunt it out in their determination to raise their grade even if it is just .5 %
With the marks out of the way, then it is time for the teacher to decide what comments to write. “Good work” or “Could do better” are not enough these days. One has to be comprehensively detailed and all within a Twitter-like 140 character limit! So, we squeeze in something nice, a plain truth, something to work at and a comment on the ability to mix with peers and hope it all hangs together in an intelligible way. In the end, despite our efforts we know that we could put anything as what really matters, what is brandished and argued over by students and parents alike – is the mark.
The energy and effort that goes into this whole marks business! Students start restlessly lobbying for their grades weeks ahead and repeat like broken records, “Have you worked out the marks yet, teacher?” Those expecting bad news try anything from doing completely unsolicited and irrelevant homework to bringing in a cake for the teacher or launching their charms of seduction on you. “But I’m always in a good mood in your class!” “If I promise to smile at you in English, will you raise my mark?”
Language and humanities teachers have an especially hard time. Maths and science teachers can usually reach a numerical total easily enough from correctly performed calculations or the inclusion or not of key information and this can be easily justified. Things are either right or wrong. But in the other subjects, so much is a matter of interpretation and how you choose to answer and there may well be no one right answer. Creating a good impression and backing up your answer with appropriate content and language is often the criteria for a top mark but getting everything possible to receive that top mark can be a challenge even for good students. This gives the grades an added air of subjectivity which doesn’t always lend itself to easy explanations to parents or students.
On the day marks are given out, stealthily hidden mobile phones are activated and grades are texted home in seconds. Within minutes, parents have clogged the school switchboard or beaten a path to the principal's office demanding to know why Juancito only got a 4 in Physical Education if he can breathe and stand up. No wonder the principal chose today to be away at a conference or insisted on previewing all the marks beforehand and on teachers raising the marks of those students whose parents came into the 'hard to handle' category!
All this energy and effort! Wouldn't it just be easier to channel it into schoolwork? It is tempting to say that students and parents alike are missing the point. They may nod in agreement when you say that the child's learning and overall progress in the process of acquiring the skill or knowledge is important or when you state that all a mark proves is that a student could satisfactorily perform the task required by a particular exam. But the marks given for a pass or fail in the subject seem to count for everything. We can spend months avoiding grades as much as possible, focusing our assessment on effort and participation, spotlighting the different intelligences students bring to a task and insisting to anyone who will listen that each individual's learning will go at a different pace. But sometimes the system in which we work gives relatively little weight to such matters to processes of internal assessment and to tools like portfolios to measure performance. How frustrating it can be in those cases when the term’s work all gets back to the one or two marks!
But maybe it is we educationalists who are missing the point. If all the energy is being put into lobbying for better grades it must be for a good reason.
Despite what we think as teachers in day to day contact with our students’ learning, we are just one source of opinion out there. Much of modern western society today seems to have an ambivalent attitude to formal education. While it is still regarded as essential for the transmission of knowledge and the educating of future citizens, it is also seen as a means to an end. That end is the piece of paper that acts as a calling card into the employment market. In short, the most valuable thing from education can turn out to be the certificate or exam result at the end and not all the other elements of learning that take place while we are at school. Consequently, for some students the years spent at school (particularly the last ones in secondary) may seem more like a nuisance which has to be borne in order to get the reward for lasting it out. The quicker and more easily it can be done the better. Armed with their school leaving certificate, first degree or whatever, students go out into the "real world", where important things happen like getting a pay packet and maybe a name in an influential field of work.
Of course this simplistic viewpoint does not represent that of many but it does seem to reflect the essence of motivation for a significant number. The measuring stick they use is the exam certificate or the grade. This is understandable when we see the same mechanism in action in much of the television we have these days. There is a plethora of shows judging people's talents at dancing, singing, cooking, designing etc, in a numerical way where often it is not who you are or how good you are at the talent but how well you play the game and accumulate points (or phone votes) that determines your survival. If you want to migrate to another country you frequently have to gather together 'points' which correspond to age, qualifications, language ability and various other features that in the past would never have been converted into a number. So, it is understandable that the game of life can seem to some like a question of chasing marks. In all this, the experience of learning, the intricacies and subtleties of the process and the creativity can get lost. After all, it's the winning that counts, not the taking part. Or as my dog might say, it is getting the bone that counts not how you contrive to get it.
This view may seem cynical and disappointing to us that believe that education is very much more than a piece of paper and who want to help our students develop their full potential as human beings. Fortunately, there are many people clamouring for other viewpoints these days and for a change in the way the functions of education are regarded. One of these is Sir Ken Robinson, an expert in creativity and education, whose very entertaining lectures in the TED series are highly recommended as giving food for thought as to where education should go now. http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html His belief is that today's schools have failed many students by precisely not providing them with tools for life, nor for developing their individual potential. This attitude presupposes that this is what education and schooling are all about, whereas there are other veins of thought which suggest that schools are more like babysitting establishments which teach students enough of the basics to get by but not too much so as to threaten the status quo. And, of course, to keep young people off the streets.
Then there are others who assert that students want to learn and grow but that the methods used and information involved in present-day schools are largely out-of-date.
Many societies seem to be lacking any sort of far-reaching debate on education and what its purposes are. As a result, we have the frequent comments that the education system is stuck in the past, in a state of crisis or whatever other negative description you care to find. It doesn’t seem to be giving societies what they want. Or is it that as a society, we haven't actually stopped to ask ourselves what we really want. So, if we don't know what we want, then people tend to stick with the traditional marks and exams that have served us so well for so long. The conveyor-belt education system of the last 200 years modeled on the factory assembly line has been very easy to set up and maintain and let's face it, it has managed to get most societies from a stage where much of the population was illiterate to one in which literacy and numeracy skills are taught to everyone (or almost everyone).
Changing to a much more individual - based system where the holistic development of a person has the space and time to grow and ‘be nurtured’ implies more resources, lower teacher-student ratios and a much less predictable means of judging progress. Some students may learn what they study in a twelve year schooling cycle in two years and others may take twenty-four years or never learn it. Is that all right? Would this be acceptable in a future society to have these personalised and wildly varied learning programmes?
Before we even get to answer that question though it might be useful to ponder on what we want adults in the future to know and be able to do. Such conjecture is going to be approximate as we don't even know what society will be like in 30, 50 or 100 years time. But that shouldn't stop us from trying to do the task. Part of our skills for the future will be innovative and involve creative thinking just as Ken Robinson advocates. We also have to be prepared for a world in which the old professional categories may well mutate into different fusions. A doctor, lawyer or engineer may well become that and something else at the same time. Other careers will emerge or disappear and it would seem to be true that this uncertainty and flexibility contrast with much of the hard-set nature of our schooling. This is not to say that we no longer need to teach basic skills, but simply that our purposes for doing so are changing.
Perhaps, the tyranny of marks is slowly coming to an end. Almost certainly many people will want to keep a firm grasp on an education system based on traditional methods of testing and examination but it may prove harder and harder to sustain that support when we realise that our students need something more than the paper to thrive beyond school. What can we do as teachers inside a system in which marks still prevail in importance?
We can make sure that we establish an individual relationship with each student, that they are not merely a number to us, that we notice and comment on details of their progress and that we encourage their awareness of their own learning and development. We can highlight for them all the different skills that are useful in operating successfully in life and not just those pertaining to academic prowess. Although we may be obliged and indeed wish to continue giving students marks it is worth we can also consistently give them or at least comments and feedback for skills not so commonly rewarded like creativity, imagination, sensitivity, ingenuity. Above all, we can be models for the fact that while grades or marks are important, there is so much else to value people for and so much else to learn that cannot be summed up neatly in a number and so be it!
© Resourceful Teaching 2010
2. Practitioner Course 2010
The third module of our new Practitioner certificate course will be held on Saturday June 26. The course runs this year and next and involves between 130 and 150 hours of direct training in the form of practical activities and guided practice spread over 16 modules. It gives students acquaintance with the methodology and many of the techniques comprising NLP and leads to an internationally recognised certificate as Practitioner of NLP in Education.
It is still possible to join the course in this module and we have a couple of places available.
For a course syllabus and further details see our website: www.resourcefulteaching.com.ar or send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Venue: Versailles, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires
Time: One Saturday per month 9.00 – 17.00
Next Module: Saturday June 26
Investment: 260 pesos per module
The course includes written material and a full bibliography and morning and afternoon refreshments. As much as we encourage reading, the real value of NLP is the putting it into practice and our students have constant opportunities to employ what they learn in their daily work and lives.
To enroll, please contact us for an enrolment form. Your place is guaranteed upon payment of the first module.
The Practitioner certificate with Resourceful Teaching offers you the chance to get an NLP certification and practise your English at the same time!
3. Calendar of Activities 2010
We are publishing below a list of the main events for Resourceful Teaching for the next few months. As each date gets closer we will give you more information and we will of course be updating the calendar with new dates as they arise.
June 26 2010 Third module Practitioner course in English
4. Workshops and Coaching
If you would like a workshop or training in your city or town, please contact us soon as we have only a few dates available on weekends each year.
We can offer you workshops as listed in the website www.resourcefulteaching.com.ar or design something especially for your needs. In English and in Spanish. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if you are interested.
Laura is also available for Coaching. If you wish to advance in your career or personal life and wish to design a plan of action to do so, why not have a coaching conversation with her. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Subscribing/Unsubscribing to our e-zines in English and Spanish and an invitation to visit
To subscribe simply send a mail to: email@example.com with your name and city stating 'subscribe' in the subject box. To unsubscribe, follow the same procedure but write the word 'unsubscribe'. We only send this e-magazine to those who have expressed the desire to subscribe by the above means.
To subscribe to the Spanish sister e-zine, send a mail to Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org
NB En contacto has different articles from those which appear in RT News and they are about NLP and other associated areas.
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