Posts Tagged ‘capacities’

This past week of visiting a range of schools has reinforced my perception about the critical importance of structures and non-negotiables in creating a powerful learning and working environment.

In everything we do as individuals we have habitual ways of operating, thinking, and organising ourselves. They are so habitual that we are unconscious to them. In fact, it is just part of how our brains operate efficiently – making the habitual practices we have unconscious. You don’t have to think about walking, you just do. You don’t have to think about speaking, you just speak (unless you are speaking in a language that you are new to and then you are often thinking about each word).

This is exactly the same in schools. The way a school operates is through systemic habitual practices. From what topic is covered when, to “bells” or “music” to signify the beginning or end of lunch or recess, to the habitual practices teachers have as they teach, to the way that staff and students interact. In fact, there are many programs and ideas that have been designed to create habitual practices in the classroom to improve learning: DeBono’s 6 Hats, Thinkers Keys, You Can Do It Program, Habits of the Mind, Bloom’s Taxonomy, using graphic organisers, etc.

Consider that systemic habitual practices are EVERYWHERE and that they are so unnoticed that you wouldn’t even think about it as something you do … “it is just the way that it is”. Consider that a number of those systemic practices have arisen, not because of any thought out strategy, but perhaps because they have always been there or someone thought it was a good idea.

Inside a commitment to creating an exceptional learning environment, extraordinary deep thinking is required to examine and challenge old habits, and implement systemic habitual practices that actually (with evidence and research) provide the learning environment you are out to build.

One school that I visited this week has been on this journey for the past 7 years. The primary (elementary) school lies in an area with generational poverty, sometimes up to 3 generations. Around 7 years ago the principal and the staff decided that it was insufficient for them to continue on as they had. While the results were OK nothing was shifting in the community and the students would end up caught in the cycle of poverty. The team created the vision for learning of “breaking the poverty cycle in the community”. A daunting goal, but one that the staff believed was worth their time and effort. This thinking aligns with creating a Level 5 Tribe as defined within the work of Logan, King and Fischer-Wright in Tribal Leadership.

The principal and staff looked at everything based in evidence. They began investing in a range of systems to be able to examine the student learning data. They started asking “WHY?” to everything they had done. They started looking at the progress of students through the school and what was missing. They looked at their habitual practices for professional development and paying replacement teachers (when out on PD). They looked at how teachers developed themselves. They started looking at every aspect of the child’s learning experience growing up in generational poverty. They then created what it could look like / feel like / sound like and started exploring the HOW. They created specific school-wide focuses and non-negotiables.

Here are some of their structures and the thinking.

  • Literacy and Numeracy are key focuses in the school. Research shows that by the time children from lower socio-economic families attend school they have heard only 10 million words of lower order thinking and language structure. This is compared to 40 million in higher socio-economic families. Actions?
    1. Some children use Fast ForWord to support the development of auditory processing abilities and linguistic development
    2. The use of a range of literacy programs from Prep – Grade 6 to build up all dimensions of literacy (THRASS, SWST, QuickSmart, etc)
    3. Focus on the language the every teacher and student uses in every interaction (built upon Ruby Payne’s work on the differing language between economic classes)
    4. In the lower grades, students have take-home readers but they only take them home after they have been read in class 4 times by the teacher. The repetition builds the decoding ability of children such that when they read them with their parents at home (some who struggle with these books) they can continue to build and grow.
    5. Awards are based on students taking ground in Literacy and Numeracy and they are given books as prizes. This builds up the library within the home – something these families can’t afford.
    6. The Principal has sourced getting black and white versions of books such that the children can take them home to keep. Again building the library at home. By the end of being at the school the child will have well over 100 books that are theirs.
    7. If the data shows that the children in grade 4 are struggling with a particular area in literacy or numeracy, then it is not solely a grade 4 issue. It is a whole school issue. The senior staff will go back and look through the data for the whole school and design a whole school action plan to eliminate the “missing” that all teachers will implement.
    8. The “bells” in the school are replaced with a musical version of the timetables which rotates through up to 12 times table. This has arisen because the school has the belief that learning is ALWAYS occurring!
  • Staff structures. Quite often the Principal and staff have to deal with many competing demands that have very little to do with the learning within the school. The Principal, Assistant Principal, and two Learning coaches (Literacy and Numeracy) share SAMs (Staff Administrative Managers) who handle most of the administrative day-to-day tasks thus freeing them up to focus on learning. The senior management are crystal clear that they are there to focus on the learning and development of each and every child. Inside of this, the professional development budget is rarely used to send staff out to PD but to fund in-house development. The Replacement Teacher budget is used to fund another position within the school to have extra teachers available all the time. Each staff must hand in an action plan by 9am Monday for how they are “value-adding’ to each of the students in their class.
  • Culture. It was critical that there was a consistent and coherent culture being built for the students and the staff. The staff are clear that their focus is student learning – all the time. This is not about covering certain material and ticking boxes, this is about whether the students have learnt what they need to learn to move forward. There are teacher rubrics that explicitly outline what the differing levels of the journey to a “great” teacher looks like / feels like / sounds like including room setup, how lessons run, building self-esteem, work displays, etc. The teachers are coached from these rubrics and supported in their development to achieve. Observational coaching and the viewing of other teachers are encouraged. The teachers are expected to develop mastery in consistently using the Covey “Leader in Me”, Habits of the Mind, De Bono’s 6 Hats, Thinkers Keys, Visible Learning in every interaction.

We could go on with a range of aspects but the point is that this school has done and continues to do the thinking to WHY and HOW they can achieve their goal. It hasn’t been an easy journey. The Principal is constantly looking for funding. The school receives visits from 200 schools per year. There were back-lashes and upset staff at the beginning. The staff does work longer hours than the norm. Yet … they are inspired, passionate, challenged, and fulfilled each and every day.

As you finish reading this I invite you to ask yourself some questions:

  • Is the school crystal clear about what its vision and focus (at most one or two areas) is?
  • Has the school identified, examined and challenged (WHY?) all the systemic habitual practices and measured them against the question “do these practices deliver, with researched evidence, the future that we are building”
  • Has the school identified, explored and implemented HOW they are moving towards the vision and fulfilment of the focuses?
  • Is there a high performance learning culture being built? How?
  • How is the school address the 3 major stakeholders in a child’s learning – student, staff and community (parents quite often)?

I promise you, if you begin to do this thinking and address these areas … your school will produce exceptional learners.

NOTE: if you want to see more examples, videos, audio files, etc they will be uploaded on the website ( soon!

If you haven’t been living under a dragon, you’ll know that the beloved Harry Potter film franchise draws to a close this week with the release of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.’ The author of the book series, J.K. Rowling noted in her speech at the film’s premiere that “ story lives unless someone wants to listen.’ And listen, a generation of young people did. But they weren’t the only ones. In schools around the world, teachers were listening to and seeing the impact of the Harry Potter books on young people firsthand. They could hardly avoid it. At one stage early in my teaching career, I can remember asking the class to open their wide reading books, only to find that of the 24 students in the class, nineteen were reading one of the Harry Potter stories.

Individual teachers and whole school communities found creative ways to include Rowling’s endearing fantasy series into their programs. From the humble book review (an easy sell once you suggested that the student could deconstruct a ‘Potter’ book) to discussions at staff meetings of using a house system similar to that of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy and projects too varied to describe, across all subject areas. School libraries became havens for lovers of all that was magical with enthusiastic staff directing thousands of listless kids towards the series, holding Potter- themed events and running extra-curricular activities, often resplendent in their own ‘Gryffindor’ gear.

I vividly recall watching one of the documentaries that came out when the final book in the series was released, way back in July of 2007. A small boy was asked by an interviewer who he thought would win the final, extravagant showdown between Harry and the tyrannical Lord Voldemort. His face literally glowing as he gazed back at the presenter with the conviction that only a child can possess, he emphatically replied: “Harry Potter.” Aside from a love of the story itself, this suggests an optimism that is the core ingredient in Rowling’s famous work. It is an optimism that teachers can continue to draw upon as they journey with students down the winding path of education in the new paradigm. Like Harry himself, this boy was small, dishevelled and bespectacled but his sense of infinite possibility represented the fire in this generation that schools must feed and nurture, in order to retain the idealism, imagination and innovative abilities so inherent in children. As Sir Ken Robinson, another visionary Brit, states: ‘Creativity is as important as literacy.’ Harry Potter has been so loved by so many millions, I think, because of the escapism it provides through the merged imaginative abilities of author and reader. It is this extraordinary relationship that educators must now look to for answers in this era of fundamental educational change.

In the end, the Harry Potter stories, which symbolise and make manifest the experiences and values of Jo Rowling herself, are about empathy, courage, leadership and resilience. They also act as a powerful argument for developing an unfettered imagination. These are the attributes that educators across the globe are now trying to bring to the centre of the twenty-first century classroom, in more explicit terms than ever before. Papers are written on them, think-tanks brainstorm ways to develop them in students and schools invest heavily in building them into their learning and teaching communities. I hope that I will always walk into a classroom and be able to find a copy of a Harry Potter book at a table, in a school-bag or on an e-reader. Kids (and many adults) love these stories because they recognise the value of the qualities listed. They want to be like Harry, Ron and Hermione. They understand intrinsically that the possession and development of these qualities can solve the challenges of the twenty-first century. This is, I believe, why the series resonates with young people as no series has before it. Jo Rowling’s difficult life experiences led her to reflect on finding a way though and ultimately, in the face of great societal challenges such as social inequality, climate change and the technological tidal wave, this is what young people must do. Looking for a ‘how to’ book on navigating the twenty-first century world and empowering kids to do so with a sense of wonder and hope? In case you weren’t sure, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’* is the first in the series.

Thank you, JK Rowling.

*The US edition is entitled: ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’


Recently in preparing to talk at the NSW Department of Education and Training Conference I thought about what would be necessary to think about if we are preparing young people for the 21st Century.

One of the topics that came up for me was school architecture. I visited Rowellyn Park Primary recently and had a walkthrough of their new school building with the principal and teachers. One of the conversations that came up was about thinking about using the new space. What a number of the teachers had discovered upon visiting other schools with open learning spaces, was that some teachers had begun to block off areas to limit the space. It brought up the point that we really need to rethink how we use space and how we develop students to respect and be responsibile for the way the space is used.

Given this and further discussions I have discover an article which i thought I would share with you from on design recommendations that American Architects are making to school designers and school districts. This article si 4 years old but highlights the importance of thinking about school design and use!

Here is the article in full:

Here are eight key principles for effective school design in the 21st century.

The National Summit on School Design, convened by the American Architectural Foundation and Knowledge-Works Foundation, recently brought more than 200 participants from around the country to Washington, D.C. After discussing several school-design topics, summit participants agreed on eight key principles for effective school design in the 21st century. These are:

1. Design schools to support a variety of learning styles. Not all students learn the same way, studies show. In designing new schools, stakeholders should reexamine the idea of the traditional classroom setting and focus instead on new kinds of environments that can support student achievement. This requires greater flexibility to accommodate a range of learning scenarios, both inside and outside of school.

2. Enhance learning by integrating technology. Besides the use of technology tools in classrooms, recent advances also allow schools to better control heating, cooling, air flow, and noise and to improve communications with stakeholders. Consult students about what kinds of learning technologies they’d like to use in school, summit participants recommended–and don’t forget to train educators in their use.

3. Foster a “small school” culture. Though the size of a new school should be determined within the framework of a community’s needs, vision, academic goals, traditions, and economics, there are important benefits to developing a “small school” culture that fosters close relationships, participants said.

4. Support neighborhood schools. Look for ways to preserve neighborhood schools whenever possible, participants urged. Neighborhood schools allow many students to walk to school; strong neighborhood schools boost property values for nearby homeowners; and preserving neighborhood schools reinforces the link between the school and its community.

5. Create schools as “centers of community.” Many school districts are building schools that serve as the hub, or central resource, of the entire community. In these cases, the facility is used not only as a school but as a location for other community services, such as recreational centers or performing-arts spaces–fostering greater public support and playing an important role in the community’s health. If you choose this route, however, make sure you consider policies and design elements that will ensure the safety of students.

6. Engage the public in the planning process. This process should start early, participants said, allowing for community feedback long before final decisions are made. The process should include all school and community stakeholders, recognizing minority opinions as well. It might help to start with a “visioning process,” in which stakeholders agree what the school’s role in educating students and serving the community should be.

7. Provide healthy, comfortable, and flexible learning spaces. Summit participants overwhelmingly agreed that school leaders should strive to improve the quality, attractiveness, and health of their buildings. Research and experience have shown the impact of spatial configurations, color, lighting, ventilation, acoustics, and other design elements on student achievement. Far from luxuries, these elements can affect students’ ability to focus, process information, and learn.

8. Consider non-traditional options for school facilities and classrooms. Explore options for employing underused civic, retail, and other adaptable, non-school spaces, participants urged. Many cities have community assets such as museums, colleges, research labs, and other institutions that offer the potential for experiential learning and real-life applications of lessons.

In last week’s blog we begun a discussion about developing leadership whilst student’s are learning. This week we explore, what John Maxwell calls “the quickest way to developing leadership“.

F.F. Fourneis, in his wonderful exposition Coaching for Improved Work Performance, CoachingImprovedWorkdiscussed four common reasons why people do not perform the way they should:

  1. They do not know WHAT they are supposed to do
  2. They do not know HOW to do it
  3. They do not know WHY they do it
  4. There are obstacles beyond their control

Despite that this was originally written about work circumstances it is apparent that this can also be said about students in a school situation.

The first two reasons are normally dealt with reasonably well within a classroom environment. We provide excellent explicit teaching on the WHAT and the HOW of doing specific tasks. Having well designed assessment rubrics go a long way to providing students with what they need to show that they have develop knowledge as well as skills and capacities.

Reason three, the WHY, is sometimes not addressed well in classes but can be developed with well designed “tuning in” sessions and linking to the students’ understanding in other areas. A strong WHY will have the students engaged, passionate and enabling strong transference of skills AND knowledge.

Reason four, however, is poorly dealt with by many schools, and in fact most people rarely develop the wherewithal to overcome the obstacles that life throws at them unless their survival is at risk!

[Interestingly, a social psychologist at a conference once shared with me how in a survey he performed of his clients he discovered that 6% changed their unproductive habits from advertising, 17% from an emergency (e.g. heart attack, cancer) while over 70% because a close friend or family member nagged them until they changed!].

One can consider that one major aspect of leadership is the ability to overcome obstacles to achieve the goals you set out to achieve. You look at any successful individual and you will find that they failed many times before they succeeded and what made them successful and leaders in their areas was that they learnt how to overcome or get around obstacles (the youtube video below gives some examples of this).

John C Maxwell in his book Developing the Leader Within You suggests that there are only two things that allow for powerful problem solving and leadership: the right attitude and the right action plan.

Given the importance of attitude to being a leader, next weeks blog will go in depth about the right attitude. At this point I just want you to consider that in a content focussed curriculum and school environment the right attitude of students is to give what the teachers want and what the assessments ask for that will give them the best marks. This does not naturally develop leadership.DevelopingLdrWithin

With respect to the right action plan John Maxwell outlined the following process to develop the problem solving approach that will give people the ability to tackle the obstacles they face

  1. Identify the problem – quite often we attack the symptoms not the cause. Identify the real issues that lie beneath the symptoms
  2. Prioritise the problem – quite often we become stopped because we seem to have too many problems or things to deal with. Being able to list the issues and them prioritise them will allow students to grapple with the reality of the situation and learn how to deal with what is most important first
  3. Define the problem – defining what is the problem you will tackle (e.g. a critical question the students will tackle in an inquiry learning project) gives direction to the solution process. Maxwell discusses 4 steps to this aspect
    1. Ask the right questions
    2. Talk to the right people
    3. Get the hard facts
    4. Get involved in the process
  4. Select people to help you in the process – I have observed that many people try to solve problems on their own and get stuck. What I have found is that the answers always lie in community. Consulting as widely as possible will allow for solutions that you, as an individual, have never thought of.
  5. Collect problem causes
  6. Collect possible solutions
  7. Prioritise and select the best solutions
  8. Implement the best solution
  9. Reflect on and Evaluate the solution

You have probably noticed by now that this process IS the process of project-based inquiry learning. Pure inquiry learning, where the students choose a critical question to research and then go about in a discovery approach to answer their question, requires the skills and capacities I have just outlined.

What I ask you to reflect on is … how are you developing your students in the above process EXPLICITLY? Do you have rubrics that the students fill out to train them? Do you have particular practices you use in the class to do this? Do you have specific templates where the students can ritualise this process?

Feel free to comment on the blog!

Next week .. developing the right attitude!

OneMinManIt is interesting when you start reading out of your field how many interesting ideas one discovers that are applicable to education.

Ken Blanchard is one of the world leading experts on management and leadership. He is the author of a series of books called the “One Minute Manager”. He, and his team, have sold millions of books and empowered managers and leaders in a range of industries worldwide in simple and effective approaches to developing leadership and managing their organisations.

In “Leadership and the One Minute Manager” I discovered an interesting table (see Figure 1 below) where the One Minute Manager discusses “Situational Leadership”. The principal behind the approach reminded me greatly of how inquiry–learning, project-based learning can be designed to empower and develop skills in young people. It actually reflects the essence of what Bertram Bruce from the University of Illinois pointed out about the stages that teachers must go through to develop skills in leading inquiry learning (Figure 2).

Figure 1

Figure 1

The table outlines the relationship between four developmental levels and the four leadership styles that a manager / leader would use with the person in that developmental level.

  1. Directing – for people who lack competence but are enthusiastic and committed. They need direction and frequent feedback to get them started.
  2. Coaching – for people who have some competence but lack commitment. They need direction and feedback because they are relatively inexperienced. They also need support and praise to build their self-esteem, and involvement in decision making to restore their commitment.
  3. Supporting – for people who have competence but lack confidence or motivation. They don’t need much direction because of their skills, but support is necessary to bolster their confidence and motivation.
  4. Delegating – for people who have both competence and commitment. They are able and willing to work on a project by themselves with little supervision or support.

So if one was going to develop independent learners who are responsible for their own learning teachers would need to use a variety of leadership styles. Teachers would also need to ensure that the students develop competencies and skills. They need to have the basic knowledge as well as the skills to use that knowledge.

Figure 2

Figure 2

However, how many teachers become stuck using one leadership style? Some are all about directing. Some are all about supporting or coaching. If a teacher does not use the appropriate leadership style to the student (and it gets even more complicated because students can be in different developmental levels for different subjects … and the One Minute Manager actually shares a story about this) then we can actually be counter-productive to learning.

What do you see? Tell us in the comments section of the blog.

Next week we will discuss another aspect of leadership … how do you actually set up your teaching to develop leadership.

I have had an interesting time this week as I went and visited a range of schools to observe teachers teaching (or should that be … provide a space for learning to occur?). I was able to sit in on a range of teachers and the variety of approaches they use to promote learning.

Before I get into the topic of teacher practices I think I must start by saying that good inquiry learning requires elements of explicit teaching, practicing, skill development, and inquiry. It is a mistake to think that you do not have explicit teaching or rote learning as part of the process. Why? Well … if you examine how the brain builds knowledge .. repetition is critical (look at anyone trying to learn a new sport). Explicit teaching is critical … you cannot develop critical thinking skills without having a knowledge base.

So let’s discuss practices …

The context where inquiry learning works best is one where the students (and teachers) are developing certain capacities and skills whilst learning about something. In a content focussed curriculum there is no focus on skills apart from that which has content understood.

They are two different paradigms and lead to two different outcomes.Kids Hands

In the paradigm of developing skills and capacities in our students … everything you or the students do is an opportunity to develop the skills and capacities. Let me give you some examples.

Example A

Two teachers were team teaching and while one led an inquiry into a particular topic the other teacher listened in and occasionally added reinforcement to what was said or added to the inquiry to help the students. It was excellent as I watched to see how the two teachers interacted with each other and with the students. The inquiry was engaging and had the students thinking and interacting. It was led purely by asking questions and the students responding.  There was even one point where the teacher had one of the students come to the front and share about a practice they had in the class (around literacy) for the other students. One practice I suggested afterwards … to support the learning of the students and to develop a capacity … was for the second teacher to write notes on the whiteboard of the inquiry as the inquiry runs. That way the students see a role model on how to take notes. If the teachers practiced this all the time and then later in the term / semester had the students taking notes as the teacher modelled it .. then they learn note taking skills much quicker (and improve literacy).

Example B

A teacher was running a game (called 10 seconds I beleive) where a person had to walk across the room and do it in exactly 10 seconds but without any watches apart from the timer the teacher held. The students then had to guest what time it was done in and the aim was for the walkers to get as close as possible to 10 seconds. This game was a great maths exercise as the students needed to work out “closeness” as well as strategies for thinking about marking time, etc. The teacher used her interactive whiteboard to put the numbers in a grid and had each student fill in their own grid before she filled in the group grid. It was a very rich exercise and I was really pleased about the range of practices and scafolding she had in the session. The one practice I suggested (again to continue to developing particular skills in the students) was to get up a second window on the Interactive Whiteboard and automatically graph the tries so the visually oriented students can see how it their tries are getting closer to the magical 10 second mark.

There are lots of examples of practices that teachers can invent standing in .. “what capacity will I build in my students now?”. Rather than leaving the training of internet research skills just to the ICT lesson … what about doing it in class interactively with the interactive whiteboard and show them your thinking as you search for information (use google, wikipedia, and a range of resources). Discuss about how some information is useful and not (have them say) as you look at things online. Have them give you the keywords to look up and inquire about whether they give good results or not.

A great inquiry learning unit will have lots of embedded practices that teachers have consciously placed in their to develop particular skills.

What are your practices … share your ideas in the comments section!

For those of you interested … two great links with great ideas.

1. : A website about one-to-one learning and the teaching practices you can use to scaffold learning as we enter a more one to one environment with technology

2. An excellent resource about neuroscience and the brain. It is a general website but some of the articles are extraordinary (e.g. Is Working Memory a better predictor of academic success than IQ?: Dr. Tracy Alloway summarizes a recent landmark study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, which tracked children over a six-year period. Key finding: Working memory can be a more powerful predictor of academic success than IQ scores)

This week I thought I’d make a short entry but one that could be really useful for you. Yep … I am giving you stuff in this one!

When I lead inquiry learning workshops with teachers one of the skills that they highlight as important for young people growing up in a 21st century environment is planning and organisational skills. If we are going to develop those skills we need to systemize the process such that the students know what to do.

For example, at a secondary school I have visited, they have a set number of templates that they use to generate ideas, capture ideas, display ideas, use to link and mind map, etc. So they train the students to go straight to the templates (tools) when needed. This approach will develop the habits that build the planning and organisational skills. It also lessens the workload for teachers once their students have be trained!

There is no need to reinvent the wheel as there are many resources available on the internet. Here are some:


Search through for what you can use and adjust them to your needs.

The second part of this week’s blog is around De-schooling school and the future of education. I came upon two interesting videos (which I have attached from Youtube) by George Siemens, an educational technologies expert. The first video discusses how schools (and society) are institutionalised and because of this constraint limit what is possible in schools.

The second video, Robin Good (the interviewer), questions George Siemens about what he sees the future of education. George raises soem very interesting ideas and thoughts about the skills for the 21st century and beyond.

I like to write thought provoking blogs that create discussion and comments … much like the government puts out websites that only give some information and cause newspaper headlines.

I both like and don’t like the My School website ( At one level it allows parents to look at  their school NAPLAN results and give some idea of how their child’s school is performing on certain standardized tests.I think it is important as a TOOL for enabling parents to become responsible for their child’s learning and to kick up a stink at the GOVERNMENT (not the school) to have appropriate funding for the school.

However, there are several things I have issues with

  • NAPLAN results are standardized content knowledge tests … they DO NOT define a school’s ability to empower their kids to be leaders, to think, to be empathetic, to be caring individuals, .. pretty much everything that schools are there for. In the 21st century it isn’t just about knowing something … it is about knowing how to find it, discern what is useful, apply it in various circumstances, knowing how to use the information that is out there, and preparing children for a world that is changing exponentially. NAPLAN tests are very poor predictors of this.
  • The media, despite being warned that it wasn’t about ranking schools and creating league tables … come out immediately to create league tables of schools. I checked the website … you would have to spend hours pouring over the data one by one to extract that information. Talk about creating the drama when everybody who understands the idea behind the MySchool website has been saying that it isn’t about creating league tables.
  • Finally, and perhaps the most important, the “Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage” which is used to compare each school with similar schools is flawed. Imagine this, (this is an actual case) your school is in a relative wealthy area (based on house prices) but its feeder is the housing commission flats right near the school. Many of the children are refugees, recent immigrants and generally people who are currenlty living off government benefits. However, because it is a relative wealthy area your ICSEA is skewed and it is rated HIGHER than one of the best private schools in Australia! You are thus compared to schools with the same ICSEA and is rated as a poor performer. We then have the media telling the world they are a crap school via their league tables. The ICSEA doesn’t look at the enrollment data for each school it looks at the suburb data and uses that information … not very clever.

So lets get into the Freakonomics side of this blog and link it all together.

As a saying goes … there are statistics and then there are damn statistics. As you can understand when you provide statistics such as the My School website they are open to interpretation by many people who are not trained in interpreting the statistics and what they possibly mean. It is interesting to note that there is NO scientific studies yet performed where a schools performance is CORRELATED to the ICSEA.Freakonomics

So what is important for a parent to producing great NAPLAN results?

It isn’t what you may think.

Steven Levitt, a professor in economics at the University of Chicago and he co-wrote, with Stephen Dubner, a book examining the stats behind a range of wide-ranging questions … from why do drug dealers live at home, what do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common, etc. It is a fascinating and fun book which examines the underlying causes of why things happen. Check out the website ( where it has study guides and more!

In one chapter on “What makes a perfect parent” they discuss the statistics behind the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that the US Department of Education undertook in the late 1990s. The study measured the progress of more than 20,000 children from kindergarten through to fifth grade. Rather than go into detail … you should read the book … here is what the data says is correlated with school test scores (e.g. NAPLAN):

  • The child has highly educated parents (positive correlation)
  • The child’s parents have high socioeconomic status (positive)
  • The child’s mother was thirty or older ath the time of her first child’s birth (positive)
  • The child has low birthweight (negative)
  • The child’s parents speak English in the home (positive)
  • The child is adopted (negative)
  • The child’s parents are involved in the parent teacher association (positive)
  • The child has many books at home (positive)

The authors then go into each and discuss the causality of each factor (e.g what does it mean that a child has many books at home and how could it be correlated to school performance).

Now … factors that were not correlated with the data:

  • The child’s family is intact
  • The child’s parents recently moved into a better neighbourhood
  • The child’s mother didn’t work between birth and kindergarten
  • The child’s parents regularly take them to museums
  • The child is regularly spanked
  • The child frequently watches television
  • The child’s parents read to him/her nearly every day

What do you think? What do you think makes a difference?

I have just been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book “What the Dog Saw” (Allen Lane 2009) and one of the articles iwhat-the-dog-saw-and-other-adventuresn the book had me thinking [].

In this particular chapter of the book called “Open Secrets” Malcolm discusses a distinction made by a national security expert (Gregory Treverton) between puzzles and mysteries and the different skills involved.

Something is a puzzle when we have to figure something out from not having enough information. Finding Osama Bin Laden is a puzzle. As Gladwell points out ” The key to the puzzle will probably come from someone close to bin Laden, and until we can find that source, bin Laden will remain at large”. Watergate was a puzzle where Woodward and Bernstein were search for a buried secret.

Something is a mystery when there is too much information and one is required to sift through the information and use one’s judgement and assessment to come to a conclusion. Gladwell used the cases of Enron and the British Intelligence prediction of the German V1 Rocket to show the distinction.

Now, while Gladwell is using his article to explore and examine the different skills required in the intelligence community given the nature of the world, it had me thinking about teaching and our schools.

Are we skilling our students to just solve puzzles or are we also preparing them for a information rich world where they also need the capacities to solve mysteries?

The actions of a puzzle solver would be to find more and more information that would shine a light on the puzzle one would wish to solve. When one is researching for a cure for cancer, or a new theory about physics, or why the beetles in a particular area of the bush are dying … then one would need to gain more information. Many thriller movies (e.g. The Davinci Code) and video games are based on puzzle solving. The blockers to resolving an issue would be factors like withheld information, lack of funding to do the research, etc. As Gladwell states “puzzles come to a satisfying conclusions”.

Mysteries, however, require another set of capacities because they are a lot “murkier”. It is like having a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle with an extra 500 pieces that look similar and could fit in the mix. Sometimes the information we have is inadequate or inconsistent. Sometimes having more information clouds up the issue. Sometimes the question asked itself cannot be answered (perhaps it is the wrong question or one that does not reveal what is actually being looked for). Mysteries require people with skills of analysis, of judging what is useful and consistent and what is not. Gladwell suggests, “it requires more thoughtful and skeptical people with the skills to look more closely at what we already know …”.

Are we not in a world where information is plentiful and there are many more inconsistent and contradictory references? When a student, or a teacher for that matter, wants to know something what is the first thing they do? Probably use a search engine (e.g Google) or go to Wikipedia. But there are reams or information there to sift through. What is accurate, precise or even relevant?

My question to you, as someone reading this blog, is are you preparing your students (or in the case of parents … your children) to solve mysteries? To be people who challenge ideas and are skeptical about information until it can be validated and made consistent in its pattern. To be people who network and ask questions to fit the information into a coherent whole. One capacity of someone who is a mystery solver is someone who challenges the status-quo. Do we do that as teachers and parents?

I suspect that, for the most part, we are purely preparing our students’ and children to be puzzle solvers. And that is not preparing them for even now … let alone the future.

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