Who Needs Teachers?

Thanks to Dave Terron, I’ve just finished reading Why Do I need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google?’ by Ian Gilbert, a book which will make you reflect on everything you thought you knew about learning and teaching. Incidentally, the author provides what I think is a fair attempt to answer the question posed in the title as early in the book as page 22:-

‘The role of the twenty-first century teacher, I am suggesting, is to help young people know where to find the knowledge, to know what to do with it when they get it, to know ‘good’ knowledge from ‘bad’ knowledge, to know how to use it, to add to it even, to know which bits to use and when and how to use them and to remember the key parts of it. Add to that your powerful role in helping them develop their communication skills, their creativity, their curiosity, their ability to work well as a team, their confidence and self-esteem, their sense of what is wrong and what is right, their ability to deal with adversity, their understanding of their role as a citizen of the world – in other words all the things which computers can’t do yet – then you have a powerful role for the twenty-first century teacher. If the end of the twentieth century saw the democratisation of knowledge, then the role of the twenty-first century teacher is quite simple – to preside over the democratisation of learning. That’s why I need a teacher when I’ve got Google and Wikipedia and O2 and an iPhone and an iPad…..’

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There’s Been a Murder

I came upon this really interesting free movie-making software today, and I have been messing about with it to see what it can do. There seems to be an increasing number of these apparently frivolous sites which appeal to the frustrated Spielberg or Scorsese in all of us, some more compicated than others. What I like about Xtranormal is that it is simple to pick up and start using immediately, even for the most technically-challenged adult like myself. Based on the popular ‘freemium’ model, whereby you have access to the basic templates free, you start paying when you want more control of a bigger range of characters, settings and camera functions, although even then the charges don’t look prohibitive. I can immediately see the potential for this little tool in the secondary classroom (young people must be aged 13 and over to open an account), with kids bringing their own stories to life in the ‘text-to-movie’ module, or as a means of transcribing an existing text into the scriptwriting text boxes before ‘directing’ the movie version of their favourite story. Seems to me that however you might use it, the end result would be an increased understanding of the elements which combine to make a succesful story. I’m sure you’ll recognise my unoriginal script!

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Storytyne Gateshead

For me, narrative is at the heart of learning, so you can guess how delighted I was to be part of the Storytyne Conference in Gateshead on Friday. Organised by the irrepressible Steve Bunce (@stevebunce), Regional Manager of Vital in the North East, the event was headlined by the amazing Tim Rylands, aided and abetted by his lovely partner Sarah (@sarahneild). If there’s anyone out there promoting literacy for young people in more exciting and innovative ways than this couple, I’d like to meet them. It also gave me the opportunity to meet and hear a number of people I had only met previously on Twitter, including Bill Lord (@Joga5), who certainly didn’t disappoint. A great storyteller himself, Bill shared with us some of his work as a Primary Literacy Adviser, which he does with such enthusiasm that he has been known to dress up as Burglar Bill to take part in a webcast with kids from various schools. Both Tim and Bill have blogged at length about Friday’s event. Read their accounts of the day’s events here and here.

For my own part, it gave me the opportunity to introduce a whole new group of teachers to the joys of Inanimate Alice, the digital novel which I have spoken about previously in the blog. Breaking my own rules on PowerPoint, where I would normally focus on images and very few words, this time I put together a few slides consisting of some powerful quotes – gathered mainly from the Inanimate Alice website – which represent a small sample from teachers around the world. If you follow the links on the last slide you will find some interesting resources as well as some lesson plans and case studies. You can also catch up with Alice and friends on Twitter and Facebook.

In the final session of the day, Tim and Sarah rattled through some of the many free Web tools which are available to help teachers and young people develop their language skills. I will be reviewing some of these in the weeks to come, but if you can’t wait to find out what they are you can find links to all of them here. This list was created using Linkbunch, another handy little tool I hadn’t heard of before. As if that wasn’t enough, delegates left with a handful of goodies, including the very useful Thinking Dice, and they were even invited to take away their own ‘storychairs’.

In a very full and busy day, some of the key messages for teachers:

  • Storytelling is a vital part of learning. Do everything you can to encourage young people to tell their stories.
  • Think carefully about how you construct your own learning and teaching narratives.
  • Don’t be limited by outdated definitions of ‘text’.
  • There are no reluctant readers, only the wrong books.
  • There is a plethora of free online tools available to help you (and the kids) make exciting narratives, but it isn’t about technology. Talking and listening to stories, exploring, thinking critically, and creating, are what really matters.
  • Start with what they know. Young people who think that their stories are not worth telling, are wrong.
  • You can’t write about what you haven’t experienced. Immerse young people in experiences before asking them to write.
  • Visit other worlds, real and virtual. Put them in situations and ask them to record what they see, feel, hear, smell. Take time to look around.  One of my favourite quotes from Tim’s presentation: ‘Don’t just do something, stand there!’
  • Stories are not just about fantasy and make-believe. Information is communicated via stories too.

Thanks again to all of those who were involved and to the organisers, especially Steve Bunce, for a truly magical day. I hear a rumour that a storytelling roadshow may be in the pipeline, but like those subtly dropped hints about Christmas presents past, I don’t want to think about it too much in case it doesn’t happen.

Waiting for Superman

The American education establishment is braced for the release, later this week, of Waiting for Superman, the latest documentary from ‘The Inconvenient Truth‘ director Davis Guggenheim. While the 2006 dual-Oscar winning ‘Truth’ brought the attention of the world to the former Vice-President’s campaign to raise awareness of global warming issues  – the film was distributed free to all Scottish secondary schools, causing some commentators to express concern that children were being fed a politically biased account of an as-yet unproven theory – Waiting for Superman profiles some of the real people behind the shocking statistics  of the US state education system, and looks at the so-called ‘drop-out factories’ and ‘academic sinkholes’, laying the blame largely, if not entirely, on poor teaching standards and the power of the teaching unions.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, ‘The film isn’t exhaustive in its critique — the enormous downside of standardized testing isn’t mentioned, for instance, possibly because testing is how we know just how dramatically today’s system is failing — but it cites plenty of blood-boiling practices, like the $65 million-a-year “Rubber Room” in which bad New York teachers draw full salaries while waiting idly for the school district to prove charges of misconduct.’

How accurate a depiction the film is will no doubt be the subject of much debate, but with the latest statistics suggesting that something in the region of 1.2 million young people drop out of school in the USA each year, almost 50% fail to graduate from high school in the 50 largest cities, and one in six young people attends a high-poverty school,  the inconvenient truth upon which everyone seems to agree is that things need to change.