Dunce

noun: a person who is slow at learning; a stupid person: he was baffled by arithmetic and they called him a dunce at school



Origin: early 16th century: originally an epithet for a follower of John Duns Scotus (see Duns Scotus, John), whose followers were ridiculed by 16th-century humanists and reformers as enemies of learning.

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It’s been a couple of weeks of ups and downs in real ‘roller coaster’ fashion for me.  I think that I have finally worked out a few things about myself and other people that will make life a bit easier for me at HPSS.  One of the aspects that we have covered as a part of restorative practice is the impact that ‘shame’ has on people.  I believe that shaming never has a positive outcome and that there is no longer a place for it in education.  Traditionally, a ‘well-used’ tool in education, shaming has an unbelievable power to manipulate and control thought processes and supress the human spirit.

At HPSS we currently have a ‘secret buddy’ scheme running until Christmas where each staff member is assigned an anonymous secret buddy who will buy little gifts for their assigned person.  From my buddy I received a copy of a Pink Floyd documentary.  While viewing the video I remembered a particular scene from the movie ‘The Wall’.

In Pink Floyd’s song ‘The Happiest Days of our Lives’, Waters sums up exactly how shame was used as a mechanism to destroy a students dream and shame is in fact a major theme of this movie.  This small clip and selection of lyrics has always made me ache, uncomfortably, and now I know why.  I watch this clip with even more distain for traditionalism than ever, as scenes like this were very real in my schooling, in a system that sought to emulate the imperial model as set in the movie ‘The Wall’.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m55RDNlWnLI

When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would
 hurt the children in any way they could.  By pouring their derision upon anything we did
 and exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kids…….” (Waters 1979)

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Unusually, either quite deliberately or serendipitously, we see clearly the gross affect of shame outplayed here in quite a graphic manner.  Even though I know that this is a movie I can’t help but feel the pain that this nasty teacher inflicts, but this scene also allows us an unusual insight into the teachers own shame.  If this is what education was or is like it is no wonder that we had a few generations screaming out the lyrics “We don’t need no education”.  As a point of interest I rate the guitar lead break in this song as my favourite of all time and Comfortably Numb is rated one of the best ever.

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In a model called ‘(Mis-)Managing shame’ presented to us by Margaret Thorsborn, it explains the places that we go in our emotions,feelings and in our actions when we experience shame.

1) Attack others.   2) Withdrawal.   3)Avoidance.    4)Attack self

The model developed by (Nathanson), 1992 shows us these four compass points which all have degrees of severity from minor to extreme behaviours that are driven by the feelings created when we experience shame.

When I look at this in relation to my own life, it is surprising that I even made it out alive. When I view the lives of others that I have come to know I can now understand so much more about the what, the how, the when and particularly the why of their actions.

I think that understanding the impact of shame on this aspect of human nature and it’s impact on things such as learning and relationships allows me to have a new insight that empowers me to respond with this new understanding instead of reacting out of anger or confusion.

 

When I was a kid my cousins and I often used to go to the Naenae Olympic Pool for the day and leave the relatives at home to drink and argue.  We would stay there from dawn until we were kicked out at dusk, heading back on up the main road to number 2 for dinner.  I specifically remember the day when Glen and I decided that we wouldn’t swim.   We were going to sneak into the movies through the back door.  The Naenae picture theatre was a classic forward sloping affair with wooden floors.  I remember almost tripping as we made our way in the dark up to the almost full front row.  We lay our heads back in the seats just in time to see the opening sequence of The Sound of Music…..”the hills are alive with sound of……”.  Shortly into the movie Glen said “give me you towel”.  He lay both of our towels across the base of our seats on the floor and smiled at me in the glow of Julie Andrews.  It was about ten minutes later when we received our first Jaffa’s.  You may well think that  catching Jaffa’s at the front of the theatre was just an urban myth but I would like to confirm that this was an actual food gathering event that we became really good at.  Even in the winter we would take our towels to the movies.

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One might ask what this has to do with anything at all but while out walking tonight was thinking about my transition from living in New Zealand to becoming a resident of Auckland and the connection to our Jaffa hunting jaunts as kids.  You may, by now, realise the connection.  I have been on a Jafa hunt for the last 3 weeks.  If we are to believe the ‘Hosking’ blogs, one could be forgiven for thinking that the ‘Jafa’ is alive and well in the City of Sails.  To be honest, the search for a ‘Jafa’ so far in Auckland has been a dismal failure.  So far I have only found some seriously neat people, however I did think I found one last week when a woman wanted to replace her car simply because the alternator was buggered, but alas the car was repaired displaying some sense of normality.

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 While walking past our new school tonight I was quietly getting very excited by the progress of the building and the anticipation of working there.  I reflected on the previous three weeks and clearly remembered back to my first week.  Back then I thought that I was reasonably skilled as a teacher and quite prepared for the change of teaching and learning style that was being implemented.  I thought that I knew how I was going to fit into the big picture and what skills I would bring.  Only three weeks in and my reflection reveals just how shallow that initial thinking was.  In fact I have been challenged and stretched to the point that many of my ideas about learning have shifted.   These shifts have occurred because of the amazingly skilled and knowledgeable people that I work with and the collaborative nature of the work that we do.  I feel incredibly confident that what we develop over the next few weeks will result some of the most effective education that many of us have ever experienced. 

Early into the 7pm sitting of the movie my cousin and I decided that we had better make a move.  We had been too scared to leave the theatre for fear of being recognised as imposters and had viewed the movie 3 times.  Gathering our towels we crept to the exit at the front of the theatre and made our escape.  I never really enjoyed ‘The Sound of Music’ or ‘Jaffas’ ever again.

 

 

We made ’20 minute sculptures’ today, the ‘Newbies’ and I.  She said “you have 20 minutes to create a sculpture out of these ‘environmentally damaging and questionable materials’.  Go!!

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I looked down at the environmentally damaging materials on offer…..searching for the colour black.  Even before I had consciously decided what I was going to make, my subconscious had it down as if on cruise control.  I found one item amongst the environmentally damaging materials that was black.  The crepe paper was unceremoniously ripped into short shreds and in pompom-like fashion I fashioned a fuzzy, round, black sheep using pipe-cleaners to tie it and use as legs.  I poked in a small semi-inflated black balloon for my sheep’s head and stole some Twink from a passing child (quietly glad I wrote those two characters the correct way around) and drew a smiling sheep face on it.   I was done in about 6 minutes.  I fiddled around with some more environmentally damaging materials to make a stack of rocks while I waited.

I thought I was being funny and clever, describing myself as a black sheep.  That would explain a few things that I felt about myself and allow me some leeway when I eventually did a few things that might be misconstrued as being out-of-the-normal range of acceptable behaviour.

I sat and listened to the other stories about sculptures made from environmentally damaging materials.  I learned that I work with some incredibly talented and skilled educators now, and while listening to their stories the whanaungatanga cut to yet another level as I formed links and ties to each of those who spoke.

“Black sheep do not make ties” my previously mentioned ‘subconscious’ taunted.  “Black sheep do not hang out with other sheep…..they need to stand out….alone in their field….doing shit……shit that other sheep don’t do…like using swear words in blogs and other baaad baaad black sheep behaviour.  It was at this point that I became a little emotional sitting on my bean-bag….the air-conditioning was running cold and making my eyes water anyway.

In my head the debrief and struggle to understand was brief but brutal as I realised that I had always felt like a black sheep and therefore felt rather unaccepted in many contexts and company.  I guess that’s why I always find myself in the kitchen at parties….(it is already a song).  In all honesty being told that “the real Pete was left at the zoo and we bought a monkey home by accident” didn’t help ..Mum!

So where to now?……um…..?  a few points I guess:

  • I am different than some others and I love it.
  • I love other black sheep because I understand them.
  • living outside of the paddock exposes ewe to all sorts of different experiences.
  • The view out there is quite different, so you often see things from a different perspective.
  • I can hang out with white sheep too…and some of them are cool.
  • I didn’t choose to be a black sheep but I can choose not to do black sheep shit.
  • Even black sheep need to be shepherded from time to time.
  • And….we can use better resources for this activity that are less environmentally damaging.

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Adventurer Or Tour Operator

 ImageOk, sometimes I need to renew and restructure my educational thinking.  Not only because I need to change my practice and pedagogy, but because I need my thinking to catch up with and make sense of my practice and those things that develop along the way.  Sometimes my thinking drives the changes of my practice but at this point my practice needs to be examined and explained so I can make sense of what I am doing.  Some people have no problem processing their thinking regularly but a great way to do this is to build and apply a metaphor that explains thinking and practice in a meaningful and useful way.  In this blog I want to re-examine my previous metaphor and then modify it to help me make sense of my educational thinking and practice. ,

Up until this point in my metaphor I have seen myself as an outdoor guide bringing learners into an outdoor environment and leading them on tours around some really interesting places, providing them with my knowledge about the environment, offering them safety and teaching sets of skills as we travel toward our final destination.  The environment is familiar to me, the places of interest are places I frequently visit and I could even hand out the compass and maps to the students occasionally allowing them to lead while I take up the rear guard, knowing full well what their mistakes might be and how to safely bring the students back onto the well-trodden pathway and back to the planned route.  In this metaphor I am the leader who possesses the knowledge and the skills and  I can choose to stand back and become a follower if I want.  I know where we are headed, how we get there and what we will learn along the way.  I can safely stick to the course outlines and deliver what I have promised and can neatly tick all of the boxes along the way.  Perfect, but perfectly boring!!!

My issues with this metaphor are many.  It simply does not describe my teaching practice and educational thinking any more.  In that metaphor there are many aspects that negatively affect the learning.  As a tour guide I simply cannot provide the outcomes that are required in the contemporary context.  Quite simply the model is essentially too safe, too controlled and too prescribed.  While the planning and the pathways may be effective they are very limited, providing outcomes that are predictable and in many cases unrelated to the realities of life.  Much like taking hikers on a tour of your back yard, it is only interesting for a while.  Very quickly the safety and familiarity of the “back yard” experience will get boring not only for the students but for you as well.    From a teaching perspective it is an easy formula to plan each year, term or day using the same game plan that is both safe and familiar.  We hear students frequently talk about ‘Mr Smith’s” iconic year 11 physics lesson or ‘Mrs Jones’s table setting for silver service week or the generic prescribed tasks that a school may impose to provide a timely lesson.  Students actually speak to each other, unlike some staff, so what we present as teachers is not always new to each student or year level and is certainly not a responsive curriculum.

So what about my new metaphor?  There are many aspects of teaching that I now need to make sense of.  I now view my practice as an adventurous partnership between my students and myself where I am no longer a guide only leading students into familiar environments.  I am now an adventurer along with my students where my role is to provide the safety, the maps and to teach some specific transferable skills that they can use along the way.  I am now also a linker who links learners with relevant learning and at times this may mean that the learning comes from students who also possess all sorts of experience and skills.

In an adventure-based metaphor the students and teacher can view their learning and the learning environment as and exciting and endless wilderness just waiting to be explored.  We might start our journey in the back yard where we learn a few skills and get a bit of practice using our navigation, organizational, planning, observation, safety and the many other transferable skills that could serve us well in any adventure context but to do this we need to jump the fence and venture out.  By learning these generic skills and applying them in in an authentic environment allows us to navigate any environment.  This means that as teachers we can actually change the maps and the destinations frequently and who knows what we will discover along the way.

As I progress through the teaching year of 2013 at Opotiki College I am developing a strong, student focussed, personal teaching philosophy.  I have become ‘tuned in’  to the learning needs of my students so much so, that I now view this perspective as the critical disposition for effective learning and planning.  To base my teaching on the assumptions and expectations about the learning needs of my students is simply wrong and that explains my title “The tail that wags the dog”.  This is a reference to how we as teachers, educators and ministry agents, often dictate the learning methods, content and reporting mode of topics to our students.   We all too often set about teaching  assessment-driven or prescriptive tasks in an effort to gain performance and achievement criteria that neatly tick off standards for the satisfaction of the technocratic predators that we think watch, wait,  measure and judge.  (This is another blog….I don’t believe that these guys even exist in big numbers now).P1010398

If the students in our school are important then lets call them the dog in this metaphor.  This then allows the educational process and the function of learning to be aptly labelled as the tail.  How often does the school, the teacher, the national assessment machine and even parents dictate how, what, why and when our students learn?   We place on them foreign expectations and set standards that often have no relationship or bearing on the realities of life.  We sometimes, unwittingly,  place pens in the hands of the finger-less, books in front of the blind and speak in the ‘Queens English’ to those who don’t understand and say “perform like everyone else”.  When they do well, we pat ourselves on the back and say “I am a great teacher”.  When they don’t do so well we ‘deficit theorise’ or manipulate the statistics so things don’t look so bad.  Isn’t it about time we collaborated with our learners to form effective , meaningful and authentic learning processes and outcomes?  Outcomes that mean something and enable our students to flourish in the many contexts of the 21st Century.

My year 12 class are working very well this term.  They are writing about their most important food memory/experience which we will publish online, to produce a hard copy book simply called ‘Plenty’.  This work will help me assess  AS91302, Evaluate Sustainable Food Practices but so far I haven’t even mentioned this standard to them.  This work will also be assessed in their English class as well, allowing them to gain 12 credits overall.  Don’t get me wrong the standard will feature at some point for a little while.  I am working closely with their English teachers who are also assisting these students to write about their food experiences and establish some of the many  features of writing into their work.  These students are so engrossed in this that when I set a practical cooking task for them to do, which they normally love, at least ten of the twenty students chose to continue on with their writing.  One student took it upon himself to coach another, who was having difficulty with his story and spent a full block of 100 minutes sounding very much like a teacher.  “What did you feel, see, smell, hear…?” I heard him say several times.  The next step for them is to provide a recipe inspired by their food experience, which we will individually cook and refine and also take a high quality photograph to use in the book.  Did I mention that there are four photography students in this class as well as eight media students.  Let’s see, that makes a possible 16 -18 credits possible for some.  ‘Oh yes’ and let’s not forget the three music students who will also use music to report on this using their own compositions as a reporting tool.   Am I excited about all of this?  Hell yeah!

We have had a quick look at the student roles in this so now let’s have a closer look at the teacher role, my role.  Like me, students get really bored, really quickly if there is nothing in it for them.  I showed them a copy of a well-made online book that was about a 40th birthday party.  They were very interested in this otherwise boring event, why?   Quite simply it was similar to but slightly more difficult than editing a Facebook page.  It used technological tools and was based online.  It resulted in a high quality product.  It was interactive and allowed the student to have a certain creative control and it most importantly it was centered around and about an individual that they all knew.  In other words it had a familiar appeal for many reasons.  My role is simply to assist the students with their pathways and the best way to do this is to say “yes” as much as possible. Once the exciting initiating activity has been delivered my role is to stand back and not get in the way of the learning and act as a guide, rather than be the authority. In fact the more I teach the less I see myself as an authority and  I have also become the tail of the dog, wagging back and forth,  as I set about delivering the learning demands of my students.

To function this way requires a lot of faith and the relinquishing of the control that some teachers have engrained in their default mode. A familiar saying tells that we won’t  be able to teach an old dog new tricks but that is probably because we have always tried to tell the dog what to do.  Now more than ever we need to ensure that we build a learning disposition into our students to face our rapidly changing future.

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I got really excited last year when our school was able to totally revamp our old cooking room.  The old room was probably built in the 1960’s and featured a small flat unit and kitchenette where girls (the primary focus of home economics) could practice being excellent housewives.  I shudder in my shoes at this thought.  The little area set up for this role play was probably an innovation designed to meet the requirements of the day, where young woman were sculpted to become housewives, secretaries, retail assistants and many other roles that were acceptable for girls to study.  The boys were allowed to perform manual assembly tasks in woodwork and metal work as they were prepared for jobs in our assembly, manufacturing and primary industries.  No one was really required to develop thinking skills because the roles did not require employees to think but to simply perform as required.  These gender and educational issues are another whole set of blogs.

When my cooking room was being re-vamped my classes and I were banished to a small area set up as a classroom at the side of the school hall.  While this space was not ideal we set about learning as normal.

  •  My year tens over-ran a workshop as they set about designing and making Kahawai lures.  The success criteria to, catch a Kahawai on your own home-made lure, was driving their work.  Competition and interest was high students set about researching designs, sourcing materials, filing, cutting, crimping and finishing their lures in anticipation of the big trip to the Motu River where the Kahawai run (spawn) in the thousands.
  • my year elevens continued building and developing their community garden and worm farm  as a part of a their learning based on the subject of sustainability.  One glance out of the window at times would reveal three classes sometimes engrossed in this activity.  The construction course we’re overseeing my food students and helping them build, while s junior mathematics class spent quite some time checking measurements  and using their new found skills to assist. 
  • My year thirteen students became fascinated with aspects of our new supermarket being built up the road and this fascination included the employment opportunities that were on offer.  Suddenly for this group the knowledge that we had acquired over the previous few years became all important as they jostled for employment positions in this new market.
  • Only my year twelve class were to ever work in the new classroom area.  The hall kitchen had recently been  revamped and as we cooked a few dishes in this kitchen the idea developed that we could run a small cafe to deliver food and beverage to a major art and crafts show that was soon to feature.  They set about practicing their cooking, designing menus, costing food items and developing systems that would help them to cater for the 5000 people that were soon to attend the show.

To cut a long story short in term four of 2012 we finally gained access to our new room.  Of course I was unbelievably proud of our new room and set about displaying photos and making comments to anyone who would listen.  Interest was high, the local news paper came and took photos for an article and many people came and shared our excitement.  In the midst of all the excitement I posted a comment on social media with a photo of our flash new room.  I remember quite clearly my utter disappointment when my school principal posted a comment “Ho Hum”.  I was gutted!  My bubble had been burst and I was reduced to a quivering heap as I sat sulking and disillusioned.  What had he mean’t by this cutting and insensitive comment?  Did he think I was a show-off and not appreciate my enthusiasm and excitement?  

It took some time for me to approach him and ask him “what were you thinking when you said Ho Hum?”  He simply said to me “there’s hundreds of great cooking rooms all over the country and yours just happens to be a new one”, and he left it at that.  It wasn’t until several weeks later, when he made another comment, that I ‘got it’.  

His comment was a compliment (I think) in that when my students and I were confronted with the issue of not having a classroom in which to base our work, that we had carried on as if nothing was amiss.  No complaints from the student, their parents, the teacher or other teachers.  We simply carried on with our learning.

  • All but one year ten student caught a Kahawai on a home-made lure.
  • The garden fence and worm farm were completed and continue to be developed in 2013.  This work also empowered the academic achievement of these students.
  • Many of my year thirteen students are now employed by the local supermarket and most used the new market as a source of research to be used in their academic achievement.
  • My year eleven students turned over $3600 in their cafe and used these funds to cater for a very special need later in the year.

Ok, so what have I learn’t through all of this?  I have learned….

  • that a classroom is not necessarily the center of learning.  It is one of many learning environments.
  • that the acquisition of a modern classroom or in fact any modern learning environment does not guarantee that effective learning outcomes are being delivered.
  • that flexibility to encompass student perspectives and interests along  with the provision of authentic opportunity is the key to student engagement, and this is less likely to occur within the classroom setting.  These ‘other’ environments and authentic contexts ensure that there is meaning by applying learning to a high-interest activity and this also supports academic rigor.
  • that any classroom can easily, and is likely to allow a teacher to fall into a traditional or default teaching mode, where the teacher resorts to their experience as a student or teacher and becomes ineffective in the modern context.  By this I look at the outcomes set in the NZ Curriculum document and make an assumption that that traditional methods cannot effectively deliver these outcomes of

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So yes, “Ho Hum”.  A classroom is like any other tool you can use it to be effective or you can use it to be ineffective.  A flash, new, modern, star-of-the-art classroom is pointless unless I use it well.  They are not the key to great learning.

This blog is all about my experience as a Food and Hospitality teacher at Opotiki College throughout 2013.  Over the year I will document the successes and failures as I share about a  variety of learning environments and experiences with my students.  It is my belief that high quality learning is supported strongly by authentic opportunities and that a key feature of our learning environment/s in 2013 will center around authenticity.

I met, for the first time today, with all senior classes 2x year 11 (level 1) 2 x year 12 (level 2) and 2 x year 13 (level 3).  They are a mixed bunch of students who, when asked today  why they wanted to take this food class, had a variety of answers.  Some said that they were wanting to pursue a career in food and hospitality, some loved our new food room and wanted to work in it, some actually said they liked me as a teacher (like whats with that ??), others wanted to develop specific cookery skills and one student had no real idea why he was  there at all.  My challenge in 2013 is to identify the key-individual-passions and learning drivers of my students and totally exploit that avenue of learning potential.

One thing that I know about my students is that they are all very different.  Their motivation and reasons for pursuing learning in the food context is individual and often very personal. Some of the students that have become attached to me as a teacher are students that I have formed caring, trusting quality  relationships with over previous years.  I also believe that healthy-quality relationships are also a key to quality learning.  At the other extreme of this there are students who are not particularly well known to me but are there because they want to learn a skill or acquire knowledge or who seek particular experiences in our learning area.

As well as the differences that I have already talked about ‘academic ability’ is also a major factor.  This also serves to effectively create a huge diversity within these classes.  Some people question the likelihood of providing quality learning outcomes for all students with such mixed ability and while I have given some thought to this issue I seem to enjoy the fact that this diversity exists because it adds challenge and encourages creative thinking. This also leads me to a final point and that is that all students bring value to our learning environment.  The less academic gum-boot-toting hunter can teach the completely tech-savvy geek and vice versa.

I want to document my belief that ‘authenticity’ is the key to not only quality learning but how it also enables and empowers a learning environment.  My final thought tonight is that while I am considered to be, labelled as, employed as and paid to be a teacher, I take great delight in being a learner alongside my students.  Quite simply there’s lots of things I don’t know and often the least likely of students has the required knowledge.

So what are we going to do this year?  I will let you know in the next blog!!

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