Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: October 2011

Is your glimp on its zort?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I have been trying to follow the rather arcane discussion around the new reading test for 6 year olds.  This is from the BBC:

The government's new reading test for six-year-olds is a waste of money that will not identify youngsters' needs, experts have warned.  They are "deeply concerned" about the test, and call on the Education Secretary Michael Gove to reconsider its introduction.

According to the Independent, the test consists of 40 words – 20 made up and 20 real – that children have to read out aloud.  Some examples of what they have been assessed on include: blow, cat, cow, glimp, mip, koob and zort.  The Indy goes on:

A pilot assessment carried out this summer revealed that bright youngsters were flummoxed by the unreal words because they suspected something was wrong.  However, they were then identified as being in need of remedial help with their reading.  The Government argues that the test will strengthen phonics teaching in schools, which research has shown is the best way of teaching young pupils to read.

I was reminded of all this at the weekend when reading a Dr Seuss book – The Lorax – to my granddaughter.  This proved too much for both of us at the end of a long day, but it's an interesting read with this controversy in mind as it is full of the sort of pseudowords that are in this new test.  Whilst there are no GLIMPs or ZORTs, there are plenty of:

Thneeds     Once-lers     Truffula trees     Bar-ba-loots     Swomee-swans

... and dozens more made-up words that come at you in waves of rhyme and rhythm that are Dr S's style.

Now I don't know very much about phonics and the teaching of reading, but it seems clear that the main difference between the Lorax (which, of course, is an environmental parable which so annoyed US loggers when first published that they published their own alternative narrative) and the DfE's latest wheeze is that, in the former, but not the latter, all the words are read in a context that makes them meaningful (allowing for age ...).

It makes me wonder what the DfE thinks reading is for.


Another day, another questionnaire ...

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This time, from the Higher Education Academy, consulting across the sector on its strategic direction for the next five years.  After some persistent nudging from SHED-SHARE and others, I gave it a go.  I thought the questions sensible and apt.  For example:

About the HEA – What new challenges do you anticipate in the next five years arising from changes in funding, student expectations and other external factors?

Working principles – What other principles should guide the HEA’s work?

HEA strategic aims – What are your views on these aims?

HEA objectives – Do you agree with these priorities?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

There was, of course, text to provide the background to these questions.  I thought that too much of this had a timeless quality to it, such that much of it could have been written in another era, and it did not acknowledge the existential issues we all face.  The nearest it came to this was with this inward-looking context statement:

Changes in funding and in student expectations create new challenges for HEIs in managing and delivering higher education to an increasingly diverse student population.  Student mobility, internationalisation and the growth of private providers are making higher education increasingly competitive.

Yes, indeed, but what about ... ,   I found myself asking – and then writing:

HEIs will need to work (with co-stakeholders such as NUS and professional bodies) to broaden students' understanding of key issues that face them as they graduate into the workplace.  Prominent amongst these will be the seeming relentless pressures on environmental services across the globe, and the threats to aspirations for a decent quality of life that these bring for societies everywhere.


... institutions and "the sector" do not exist in a socio-economic vacuum; ideally, therefore, the existential threats to human fulfillment ... should be acknowledged as a context for all HE.  For example, all this could have been written in 1991.  The world has changed, however, and the evidence from NUS surveys is that students know this. To pretend otherwise seems self-defeating.

A few months back, there seemed to be evidence that the Academy was preparing to be brave enough to grasp the sustainability nettle, but I am now wondering what has happened to this, and am fearful that the sniffy and precious attitude that many of us took to its texts, may well have contributed to this shift (hand held up here).  I hope not.


My poor divided brain

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

I have just watched the latest, rather breathless, RSAnimate by Iain McGilchrist on The Divided Brain.  Some myths debunked, and some ironies exposed.  Not sure which bits of my brain I was using, but I shall have to watch it again if I'm to take in more than the 10% I did first time round.  Great graphics – as ever.  Recommended ...

The ethics of teaching ethics

📥  Comment, New Publications

Significant publicity has been given recently to a new educational resource from Susted: Ethica -The Ethical Finance Game.

Susted says:

This is an educational board and role-play game. It lets players assume the roles of bank customers, investment bankers or co-operative business entrepreneurs with money to save, invest and loan.  It explores how well their ethical intentions stand up in the world of international finance.  Players visit different banks where they can choose a share investment, cooperative investment or a savings account.  Each investment gives the player either a positive or negative financial (Profit), social (People) and environmental (Planet) score.  This score is partly dependent on news of the business investments, global economic news and partly based on chance.

I thought this all to be welcomed, until I read the next sentence (which I take at face value):

Needless to say that the most ethical family investor and bank investor win.

Why do they, I wondered, given that they don't always manage this in the everyday.

The purpose of an educational role play (or simulation) is to hold up a mirror to reality to enable participants to learn about that reality vicariously.  The role play mirror may well simplify reality, it may make time move more quickly, but it is always a plain mirror and does not set out to distort the known world – otherwise the value of the experience is lost, and any learning from it may well be perverse.

So, in what sense is this an educational role play at all – when it sets out to distort reality in this fashion.  It sounds rather propagandist to me – especially as it clearly doesn't trust participants to come to their own views.  What a pity.  Seems a poor use of all that EU Leonardo cash.


The Tamsin Tristram Tamara Index

📥  Comment

Around 30 years ago, when I spent more time than was good for me driving round the west country watching student teachers work in schools, I developed – tentatively – what I called the Tamsin Tristram Tamara Index. I'd check the names on class registers to see how often Tamsin, Tristram, and Tamara (and a good few non-alliterative others) cropped up.  Depending on the score, I'd form a rough and ready view on the social catchment of the school – which I'd then check out with the teachers.  It tended to work.

I was reminded of this the other day as I wandered past St Pauls and had a good view of the anti-capitalist protesters out-staying the cathedral's hospitality.  I wondered how well the index would work here, and was pleased to see at least one Tristan recorded by the Daily Mail.   I suspect that Tamara and Tamsin were there as well.  Maybe they were in that bastion of anti-capitalism – Starbucks – along with Ev.

Alex Steffen meets Ellen MacArthur

📥  News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

To the RGS on Thursday night for a talk by Seattle futurist guru Alex Steffen, and a conversation between him and Ellen MacArthur.

According to a NY Times blog, Steffen is a "designing optimist, [who] lays out the blueprint for a successful century", and I see that Steffen himself billed the event on his website as a "brand new talk", although one TED-familiar colleague said that 'longer talk' might have been a better description.  However, he was new to me as I tend to be guru-deficient.  But his ideas didn't seem all that new: more repackaged, maybe, and I missed a sense of agency in the talk about what we [all] can do.   I felt a little better informed, but not much the wiser.

The subsequent conversation with Ellen was better.  I felt this at the time, and my notes confirm it as I read them now.  She was able to drag him (nicely) onto more solid real-world ground, but the agency focus came and went.  I wrote down a few of Steffen's aphorisms: "put the future back in the room" which I won't be using (ever), and "recycling as a gateway drug", which I just might, if I ever work out what it means.  I'd have liked more of this conversation, and less guru-speak, and then more time for points from the audience – tricky though this is at nine at night.

The event was billed in the UK as An evening with Alex Steffen and Ellen MacArthur

[The] Ellen MacArthur Foundation and [the] University of Bradford are happy to welcome Alex Steffen, editor of the best selling book  World Changing and leading futurist, to an evening lecture around innovative business practice and positive 21st century perspectives

... although this is not quite how Steffen himself described it, announcing, (via Twitter):

Londoners - I'm speaking on carbon zero cities at the RGS, next Thurs (20th).

Oddly, no mention of the Foundation.  Is this why his talk had only an oblique focus (and that is probably being kind) on the Foundation's interest in the circular economy.   This, and his going on at great length through his powerpoint(less) slides is why I felt rather short-changed.  This could have been so much better had he focused less on himself and more on the idea the Foundation is championing.

Ah, well, next time ...

Weirdest journal article title of the year

📥  New Publications

Although the competition is always fierce for this title, and there is a distinct people in glass houses element to my commenting on it at all, the following paper must surely have very short odds with the bookies this year:

Understandings of Retirement Concepts among Pre-service Teachers

Thomas A Lucey & Edgar A Norton have published this in Citizenship, Social and Economics Education 10(1), 2011.  Enjoy.


Talking Rubbish

📥  News and Updates

The benefit of belonging to the EAUC Member list is not just that you are kept up to date with issues that universities are trying (and often succeeding) to resolve, but also that eagle-eyed members share interesting events that they have spotted from round the country.  Today is one of those days, with Claire Charles forwarding details of Liverpool's talking (actually, singing) waste bins.

The story is carried in Environment Times.  The gist is that when something is thrown into a bin, some bloke from the 1960s sings "Thank you very much ...", or somesuch.  It is an initiative of the Keep Britain Untidy group, and there are already 1000 such bins (disguised as penguins) in schools it seems.

I don't want to be any more of a party-pooper than I usually am, but it strikes me that this is not really a waste initiative as everything in the bin's likely to go into landfill – including the symbolic copy of The Sun that features in the Environment Times story.  So, if it's teaching people anything, it seems likely to be: don't bother to be discriminating about your rubbish: just bin it.

Another day: another gimmick.


The Significance of a Missing s

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This text was sent to the EAUC's SHED-SHARE Maillist last week:

I have been engaged in the dialogues leading up to Rio+20 through the PrepComs and seen various texts which will be informing the policy positions and statements arising from the next Earth Summit.  Many of us engaged with this global process, have concerns that the role of education in the transition towards a more sustainable future is not understood or reflected in these recent texts.  Some dialogues are moving away from the Agenda 21 vision and UN DESD commitment to promote education as a means to learn our way out of unsustainable development and construct more sustainable futures.  Instead, technical and specialist training approaches, particularly in the area of economics, technology and ICT, are being promoted through the theme of a Green Economy.  There is little reference to learning based change or social or community learning approaches to sustainability to date.  In my view, we need to secure opportunities for promoting education that assists us to address unsustainable practice and create alternative futures, as well as identify technical solutions to current problems.  We are still in time to ask delegates to consider this important role of education.

This seems to be a significant issue, but it seems little wonder that ...

"... technical and specialist training approaches, particularly in the area of economics, technology and ICT, are being promoted through the theme of a Green Economy"

... given that such problems, approaches and solutions are much more amenable to specific identification and seductive promise than is what we are interested in.  Moreover, our insistence on using the word "education" as though it were monolithic, and hence meaningful, and our talk of  "this important role" as though there were only one, is all part of our own muddled thinking.

Is the role of a primary school really the same as the role of a university or a vocationally-focused college?  I thought not.  Does the role of a school remain the same from 4 to 19?   Not at all.  And then there's that role for that wide-spread community-grounded "learning" where no pedagogues are in view: does the notion of education really fit here?  Well, it doesn't, and this lazy conflation of education and learning as an interchangeable ideas serves us very poorly.

Anyway, since  when has it been a case of either education or training – as is unhelpfully implied here.  We do our own case no good by rubbishing what seems a necessary complement to it, as education and training and life experience (all of divers kinds) can all lead to necessary learning.


Back when Legends and History Collide

📥  Talks and Presentations

A good day in Birmingham on Saturday chairing NAEE's AGM.   I wrote this recently for an Association News Bulletin:

The argument that education programmes should help (young) people to have a critical understanding of the relationship between the environment quality and human development was as integral to the idea of environmental education as it now is for ESD, although this has not always been emphasised, or even understood.  In tracing the development of arguments, ideas and emphases within both environmental education and ESD in relation to both international policy and institutional practice ... it does not matter whether it is EE, ESD, or any of the many other ‘adjectival educations’ that is being pursued.  What is important is that institutions and teachers contribute to people’s learning about the issues that really matter to all our futures, and how well they are doing this, both individually and in collaboration.  In other words, it’s important to be the (environmental) educator you want to be, and to be good at what you’re interested in, but you should not pretend that you can cover all the issues by yourself.

An effort of will is now needed if practitioners are to play to their strengths (and to learners’ needs) through working with others, and overcome the considerable barriers that favour intellectual and practical isolation, and the limited learning opportunities that inevitably result.  This is not to underplay the value of teaching through subjects or disciplines that help learners to develop specialised tools with which to explore and understand their world, but it should go some way to eliminate the waste inherent in such teaching where little reference is made one to the other.  Thus it is that it is perfectly fine to be an environmental educator (once more), but not in the same narrow and self-satisfied way as before.