Cyber-bulling and digital citizenship

 

I came across the above picture on Imgur, of a man who had just graduated from elementary school, with the caption ‘So proud of my dad’. I consider this worth highlighting for the attitudes of both the dad for going back and emphasising to his child the importance of education, perseverance and trying to improve, and the child, who recognised this achievement and wanted to share his pride. However, instead of celebrating this, most of the comments were derogatory, denigrating the man’s appearance. Bullying is as worrying in the digital world as it is in the physical. This is perhaps one of the reasons for the reluctance of some teachers and parents to interact with technology, or to allow technology into the classroom.

 

However, avoidance is really not the answer. A responsible parent does not respond to the potential for bullying in the playground by refusing to let their child out. Instead, they teach their child how to interact with other children and how to report incidences of bullying. So, parents and teachers aim to help students avoid being the victim or perpetrator of bullying. CEOPS and other organisations are trying to tackle the latter, but much of the teacher training in this area seems to be trying to tell teachers not to use facebook and other social media. Similarly, parents are scared by newspaper articles about worst case scenarios and often have little experience of the sites and platforms their children frequent. According to the NSPCC (2011) , 48% of young people in the UK have been effected by cyber-bullying and 28% did not tell anyone about it. If teachers, parents and other responsible adults are known by a child to not understand the platform and its cultural mores, who can the child ask for advice?

 

On the other hand, I was delighted to see on twitter the below Acceptable Use policy (tweeted by @IanYorston). In my opinion, this document reflects exactly what we want to be teaching our students about using the internet. Not only does it promote respect and protecting the student themselves, but also gives equal weight to treatment of others over the internet. This is vital. As parents and teachers would encourage considerate and ethical behaviour in the physical world, so too must this be taught in the digital realm. Unfortunately, the potentially faceless nature of some internet communications does mean that children (and adults) don’t always think about how their hurtful comments can effect others. Therefore, explicit reminders such as those on @IanYorston‘s poster are important steps for reducing cyber-bullying. Whether this cyber-ethics is taught at home or at school, as part of ICT, Philosophy, PSHE or other subjects, students should be made aware of the impacts of their behaviour online. The neglect of this aspect of the fight against cyber-bullying is eerily reminiscent of the assertions of anti-rape lobbyists, who insist that females (or males) are taught to avoid dangerous situations and not to dress provocatively, but that males should be taught not to rape.

 

 

 

 

To educate about the internet, teachers, staff and parents need to be aware of the possibilities, platforms, functions and forms (both positive and negative) and promote responsible use so that students not only avoid victimisation, but also avoid causing hurt to other people or infringing on their rights (such as copyright). Let’s celebrate the wunderkammer that is the digital world and the unlimited possibilities for learning and socialisation, while helping our students become considerate, full digital citizens.

 

Related

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/resourcesforprofessionals/bullying/bullying_statistics_wda85732.html 

 

http://www.bullying.co.uk/cyberbullying/

 

 

@IanYorston

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Teacher = parent, physician, psychologist and…

One of the most worrying trends I’m observing in the Conservative education drive is the increasing movement of responsibility from parents to teachers. While I applaud the discussion and raised profile of FGM and of mental health issues (among others), it seems that the government and media are identifying these as yet more additions to the teacher’s job role. Where do they fit?

 

For example, my sister teaches Early Years in a London primary. They do have a breakfast club, but a significant proportion of the students in her school are not brought in in time for this and have not had breakfast at all. It is of course impossible for children (or adults) to concentrate while hungry, so that is half an hour out of the school day to feed them, while still aiming for implausible targets. On a similar level, the school also runs a get fit club for the students that need more exercise. Again, many teachers run a club – it’s a great way to interact with students on a less formal level, so that is not unreasonable. However, this get fit club (and obtaining the funding) requires that each teacher assesses each child for levels of fitness and exercise. I’ve rang several parents in the past to request that they make sure their children go to bed earlier as they were falling asleep in class. While every member of staff at school has regular safeguarding training, how far are teachers responsible for nutrition, exercise and sleep? Given the amount of training and CPD teachers already undergo, where do we fit in what basically amounts to medical training? I don’t know any teacher that would neglect any student needs on any level of the Maslow hierarchy (or beyond). However, the responsibility for meeting physiological needs for 400-odd students is a Herculean task. The basic caregiving responsibility is not that of teachers and nor should it be.

 

Vince Cable tells us that teachers know nothing of the world of work (as exemplified by our selfless and hard-working politicians). Teachers should, we are informed, be able to give detailed career advice for all walks of life and not just about university choices. This is, frankly, ridiculous. Teachers come from all paths of life, not just university and stereotyping teachers in this way is incredibly insulting. Anyway, although I might not be able to give advice from personal experience about being a hairdresser or politician or many career fields, we can certainly direct students to the appropriate person or resource to learn what they need. Rather than learning reams about every career pathway, this seems a far more sensible approach. No more than politicians can teachers specialise in every career.

 

Many, if not most, teachers are absolutely heroic in terms of attitude, effort and time given for their students well-being, development and education. Personally, I’ve always felt that the only reason Batman was a superhero is that he knew when to take the help of Albert, Gordon and the others. Instead of burying teachers under a mound of responsibilities and paperwork, including those of parent, social worker, doctor, psychologist and counsellor, they should be encouraged to get the help they need to get the best for students.

 

 

Related

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/vince-cable-teachers-know-absolutely-nothing-about-the-world-of-work-9171019.html 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/apr/15/pupils-mental-health-cuts-services-stress-teachers

 

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/apr/16/teaching-union-atl-conference-advice-fgm 

The Lego Movie – lessons for teaching

I went to see the Lego Movie recently. I rather enjoyed it – the pathetic Green Lantern, the angsty Batman and the mockery of cat motivational posters were particularly appealing to my geeky soul. Okay, it was clearly a kids film and had the necessary saccharine moralistic ending. Bear with me!

 

One point really struck me in relation to teaching. It was at the end, when Emmett, the ordinary hero, was appealing to President Business, the evil OCD overlord who wanted to glue everything so that nothing would ever change or move. Emmett gestured, in a lego-like way, to all the odd vehicles and weapons that the ordinary people had made in revolt and pointed out that they were all based on President Business’ own inventions and that everything shouldn’t always be the same, shouldn’t be controlled or restricted by one person, even if they are a good idea.

 

One of the things that really aggravates me the most in teaching is how some educators will hoard their resources – perhaps share with a long standing colleague, but otherwise holding them close to the chest. This attitude is not, in my view, justifiable as a teacher or as a researcher. If we come up with a good idea for teaching, say, risk assessments, this should be shared, adapted and expanded freely by other teachers. For example, a teacher in my previous school took the idea of exit tickets and made end of topic bunting to decorate the classroom with. Or I made a lesson for Physics coursework teaching risk assessment by risk assessing the Triwizard Tournament. I shared this with my colleagues and on TES and another teacher in the department changed it to Twilight, as her class were particularly obsessed with the series. My class did not produce any less exemplary work because another class had access to the same resources.

 

I think that the hoarding attitude is prompted by the obsession with league tables. Every state school is compared with their neighbours in the competition for students, funding, teachers etc. So, it’s not only about providing a good education for your students, it’s also about trying to make sure the school does better than other schools, or conversely that other schools do worse. OFSTED criteria also add further fuel to this – to achieve an ‘outstanding’ lesson all students have to demonstrate ‘rapid and sustained progress’ so much better in comparison with other schools. This sounds nice in theory, but it is another contributor to this unhealthy competition. As with students, comparisons are simplistic and counter to the goal of improving educational standards.

 

No teacher goes into education thinking “I want to help students, but only the twenty sitting in front of me, so I’m going to keep all my good resources”. Some teachers have justified it to me by saying they put a lot of work into their worksheet/presentation/whatever. So what? You are not losing the resource and if everyone shares their material, you can save time somewhere else. Anyway, I don’t know a single teacher who just passively takes resources and delivers them mindlessly to their class – even a resource I made myself that I was perfectly happy with last week will receive a make over to be appropriate for this week’s students, current events and so on.

 

As with President Business’ Lego constructions, teaching materials can be shared and developed to make something unique and appropriate for each teachers needs. I’m not insisting that we must all be “special little snowflakes”, as President Business mocked. However, wider sharing of resources (as is happening with such MOOCS as iTunes U), as we have seen with computing and other open source developments, can help and support teachers and students alike. Share your resources and see what fantastic developments other educators might make! You lose nothing, and you could be helping hundreds of students far beyond your classroom. In the words of the annoyingly catchy Lego theme song: “everything is awesome when you’re part of a team”.

 

 

 

 

Equality or Equity in School?

Yet again, we read that there are too few girls in physics or too few boys in childcare or some other difference between the gender uptake of various subjects. This is not news – as a female Physics student, the ratio was approximately 1:10 and my Dad was the only male on his nursing course. It is an issue that the government and many organisations are sinking lots of time and research into solving. But is this symptomatic of inequity or inequality? Or is the prioritisation of gender parity actually promoting inequality?

Equality and equity are not always the same, in this or any other educational issue. Broadly speaking, equality relates to everyone being treated the same and equity relates to accommodating and meeting the needs of specific individuals. Sometimes, these ideals align. However, any educator can tell you that this is not always the case. Treating students fairly involves accommodating their individual needs.

In relation to gender differences, discrimination in school subjects is far from the norm. Girls and boys are, in this country, offered the same opportunities. Achieving a 1:1 ratio is an oversimplification of both our responsibility as educators and of the gender argument in general. While numbers are important, our students are more than statistics.

Perhaps the reason government initiatives for gender prioritisation are ineffectual is that teachers are, rightly, guiding students on an individual basis towards the subjects that best meets their needs, goals and talents. Our ethical responsibility is, without discrimination, to make students aware of the possibilities and help them make the right choices for themselves, rather than the right choices for a political ideal. Attempting to force females into Physics or males into Childcare is almost as discriminatory and outdated as forcing them into traditional gender roles. Show all students the engaging, fun and extended worlds in these subjects and we will come closer to achieving both equity and equality in our educational system.

Related

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/mar/18/girls-physics-boys-other-subjects-gender-disparity 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10506087/Girls-maths-physics-A-levels-The-real-reason-why-girls-dont-do-maths-A-level.html

Blogging for students, teachers, schools and researchers

Why do we blog? Well, to some extent, it is to validate and show off our thoughts and achievements and to communicate with like-minded others. However, while we want our students to be proud of their achievements and thinking, the main focus as educators is to shift that pride and praise towards their development as a process, rather than the outcomes. So, blogging can be used to promote a ‘look at what I did’ outlook, but is, I would argue, best applied for a ‘look at how I did it’ outcome. In this way, blogging can encourage metacognitive awareness for improved development for all stakeholders.

Broadly, metacognition is defined under two areas:

  • Understanding what you know
  • Understanding how you know

So, metacognition is, basically, thinking about thinking. Metacognition has two proposed benefits. Most importantly, that the learner knows how to use strategies effectively in learning. So, a metacognitively aware student might approach a science text by chunking, summarising and/or looking up unfamiliar terms because they are aware that this helps them to think and learn. In contrast, a less metacognitively aware student might just try to passively read it and get disheartened by a lack of understanding. Metacognition is therefore a very useful educational goal and process.

Blogging for metacognition is not a new concept. Learning Journals and so on have endlessly proposed that writing about a learning process can help students establish useful learning habits and self-discipline. It is an engaging and self-reflective process, especially when given some direction. Blogs work in a similar way, except that they further allow the teacher and public to engage with the learning process also, giving futher motivation (albeit extrinsic) for the learner. This equally applies to teachers with their CPD or political developments and academics with their research and attempts to integrate research and practice by extending to a wider audience. I have found that writing this blog has helped me consider what aspects of my working style are most useful, which are problematic and how to overcome the challenges I have faced so far.

An example of use of blogs in education is the newly established SPFTogether, a blog looking at promoting collaboration and sharing between three schools in the Stephen Perse Foundation. While at an embryonic stage and currently written primarily by teachers, it is hoped that soon students will be direct authors and editors and that this will evolve from an outcome showcase to include metacognitive awareness of process of learning. Elements of this are already to be seen in the Sixth Form Peliblog. These articles are written by Sixth Form students and blog posts can frequently be observed to describe, if only in passing, references to how that particular student thinks. I would love to see this metacognitive consciousness expanded and promoted by all students in all schools. I don’t think there are many professions that are quite as self-reflective (and often unwarrantedly self-critical) as teaching. It is this self-reflection, without the negative self-criticism, that we need to help our students to practice and express. I believe that blogging is one of the easiest methods, both for the student and teacher.

There are, of course, other benefits to encouraging blogging within the classroom – awareness of the potential and the pitfalls of the digital world, for one. All these teacher photos begging for reposting to show how easily a photo can get around the internet are, rather negatively, making an interesting point. Frankly, I think that most teenagers have the negatives of the scary internet world drummed into them enough (although I had a CEOPS lecture last year where the speaker talked about screen-munchies, frappe-ing and snape-chat, showing a deporable lack of understanding of of either the origins of the words or the dangers these can pose). Panic-mongering is not helpful. Rather, the positives of safe internet use should be emphasised and digital interaction should be integrated into formal education. Blogging can help with this, as argued above – students (and teachers) should be learning about new technologies, copyright issues and other issues supported by regular and thoughtful blogging or tweeting. I applaud the introduction of the year of code, but I feel that equally important is teaching students about how to use safe, positive and engaging learning tools such as blogging, educational apps and twitter beyond the add-on gimmickery some teachers and researchers fear. Learning is always the goal, but the digital world is both a tool and a necessary learning outcome of education.

Related

http://infed.org/mobi/writing-and-keeping-journals-a-guide-for-educators-and-social-practitioners/ 

Should state students be made to learn Latin?

Michael Gove has the laudable goal of closing the gap between state and private schools. His latest suggestion is that state school students have compulsory Latin lessons. However, I am not sure that this  is fully thought through. Latin is, certainly, part of our world’s history, shaping modern languages and places. For me, there are perhaps four main reasons for learning a language; communication, culture, cognitive benefits and employability.

Firstly, there is the practical aspect of language – communication. If you learn Spanish, you can speak to 387 million native speakers, more than double the number of native English speakers. Mandarin speakers alone comprise 935 million people. It is egotistical, to say the least, to assume or expect that all people we meet should speak English. Learning a language opens your world to other cultures. Perhaps equally important, it opens you to the realisation that, privileged as many English speakers are, we are not the centre of the universe, either collectively or individually. Although Latin has influenced many European languages, it does not really directly help you communicate.

Secondly, you might learn a language as an integral part of a culture, like Irish, Welsh or Manx. In Ireland, for example, every school student must learn Irish up to the age of 18, learning the poetry, prose and mythology associated with the Irish language and culture. Irish words are part of everyday speech in Ireland, even where the first language is English and the oft-parodied syntax of the Irish speaker is influenced by the different syntax of the Irish language. So, I can appreciate the argument for learning a language as part of a culture. Certainly, Latin speakers have had a major effect on European culture, but I would argue that it is not strictly necessary to learn Latin to understand any European culture. If we are arguing on the basis of the influence on English and on English culture, I would suggest that German, French or even Scandinavian languages have at least equal relevance.

Thirdly, there is the argument that learning a language can potentially support cognitive development. Beyond the ability to speak another language, several studies have observed gains in memory, problem solving, multitasking and a reduced incidence of dementia in bilingual children (Adesope et al., 2010). These are all gains to be pursued. However, Latin is not a spoken language and it is unsure to what extent these gains would be observed in a second language that is not spoken. I think that in this area too, a modern foreign language might be a more beneficial option.

Finally, you might want to learn a language to boost your employability or potential university choices. Being able to speak a language other than English makes you more able to go to university or work in another country. Now, apart from studying theology in the Vatican City, more current languages would be more helpful if you want to study or work abroad. Mr. Gove also argues that it makes you more likely to be attend top notch British universities such as Oxford or Cambridge. Latin will unarguably boost your chances of getting onto a Classics degree. However, I do not suggest that I have conducted a rigorous survey in this area, but I have studied at Cambridge for three years and I don’t think that there is a higher percentage of Latin learners than in other universities.

I am not suggesting that Latin or Ancient Greek should never be taught or learnt, or dismissing their value. Not only have these languages shaped the modern world, but some of the most amazing poetry, prose, philosophy and sciences have been developed in these languages. Think of Aristotle, Horace, Virgil, Plato, Socrates, Catallus, Homer and so many more. The classics were traditionally the mark of a good education, with some reason. However, we should not remain so wedded to tradition that we forget the reasons for learning. As John Dewey famously observed, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” (1944, p. 167).

Consider Keats, who, unlike many of the celebrated thinkers of his day, was not classically educated. He was the son of an ostler and wrote the poem, read below, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer describing his emotions on reading the translated Iliad and Odyssey. I think it is my favourite poem because of the joy of learning and discovery communicated within the fourteen lines. It also shows us that Latin and Ancient Greek are not compulsory for enjoying the fruits of those cultures. Classical languages are interesting and rich sources of culture, but not the be all and end all of learning in the state or independent sector.

Related

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10614868/Gove-Classics-lessons-to-help-state-pupils-compete-for-university-places.html 

Bibliography

Adesope O. O., Lavin T., Thompson, T. & Ungerleider C. (2010). “A systematic review and meta-analysis of the cognitive correlates of bilingualism”. Review of Educational Research 80 (2): 207–245.

Dewey, J. (1944) Democracy and education. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Adrift in drafts

Less than six months into my first year of my PhD and I am on draft number 9 of my preliminary literature review (in Cambridge, we write a first year research proposal of 12,000-20,000 words and have a viva on it before we get such privileges as a locker in the PhD room). As a relative newbie, perhaps I am being naive but the process of redrafting is actually pretty satisfying.

The Merriam-Webster definition of a draft (incidentally, a word that originates in the Middle English word draght, related to the word for drawing) is this:

a version of something (such as a document) that you make before you make the final version. (Merriam-Webster, 2014)

However, I feel that writing drafts is not as linear as implied by this definition. As Elbow points out,  “writing is a way to end up thinking something you couldn’t have started out thinking” (1998. p.15). For Elbow, each draft marks a development of thought that may be returned to, refocused and revised. It is an iterative, circular and systematic process of clarification and discovery. This approach is reminiscent of the Vygotskian view of the intertwined nature of thought and language.

My supervisors and my incredibly wise father both gave me a similar piece of advice – keep former drafts. I may have cut a paragraph from my current draft due to word count constraints, but will want it in the extended edition. On a contrary note, I may inadvertently regress my research questions or focus and not remember quite why I altered it in the first place. So, having previous drafts to refer to is an incredibly useful idea. So, instead of just having one document (imaginatively) called ‘Literature Review’, I currently have Literature Review drafts 1.1-1.4 from before my supervisor gave me initial feedback and Literature Review drafts 2.1-2.5 responding to points my supervisor highlighted. There will undoubtedly be drafts 3.1-3.x and possibly even 4.1-4.x. Most of these will be filtered out and archived by the time I submit my interim report, but even now it is rather heartening to go back and see how my thinking and research has developed and refined.

The distinction between drafts is not that I rename it every time I made a slight edit, nor do I label it a redraft for the same reasons every time. Sometimes, I change drafts because I have added or taken away a significant amount of text (usually at least a page). Sometimes it is that I have refocused my ideas. For example, following a discussion with my supervisor, I re-drafted to make my focus much more process-orientated, rather than concentrating exclusively on outcomes. While I may not have added many more references, my approach has undergone a change, so a new draft is justified.

Between each draft, I tend to take a couple of days off to get my mind clear and give some distance. Then, I often print out the document and go through it, highlighting the main points of each paragraph, figure and section. Are they clear? What is their purpose? How do they relate to the surrounding information? Are my references useful and correct? Finally, I ask my long suffering family to read over it to check that it is clear and purposeful for an independent reader.

My tips for drafting

  • Allow more time than you think you need to redraft, always. If you don’t use it, enjoy a brief and guiltless break. Far better to have extra time at the end than to procrastinate and then panic.
  • Due to the healthy fear of losing what I am working on, I save all my drafts directly into Google Drive and, just to make doubly sure, email myself everything at the end of each day. Don’t let your work be lost through carelessness!
  • Are you saying what you want to say? Is it worth saying? Will the intended reader be able to understand it? What are alternative interpretations or arguments? These are simple questions but worth bearing in mind.
  • One of the most memorable pieces of advice I have come across about re-drafting is the piratical ARRR approach. This suggests; Adding, Rearranging, Removing and Replacing. I think that the order in which this is proposed is a useful one, but it assumes that your general focus or approach has remained unchanged. It is, I suppose, a bit granular for a first re-drafting, but useful in the final stages.

Drafting is an incredibly useful process in developing an argument and, even more fundamentally, in identifying exactly what your argument is, why you are proposing it and what evidence you can provide. I try not to approach it as a box ticking exercise or as a self-satisfied grammar check, but as a thoughtful and engaging activity in its own right. Hopefully, I will continue in this happy attitude in years to come.

Bibliography

Elbow, P. Writing Without Teachers. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1973, 1998. p.15

Merriam-Webster (2014) ‘Draft; definition. Available at:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/draft [Accessed: 2 Feb 2014]