Sunday, May 29, 2005

The teachers power to create a learning climate

Creating conditions for growth. Posted by Hello

It is the climate that conditions how organisms develop. In the school situation it is the culture of the school – ‘how things are done around here’ that influences the behaviors of both students and teachers! Some cultures are anti growth while others bring the best out in everyone. In a positive school culture all classrooms are aligned behind shared beliefs and all teachers speak a common language. In a negative culture schools can be compared to a number of sole charges with a shared car park!

One of the great educators of our time Haim Ginott summed up the powerful influence that the individual teachers have on children:

‘It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather…I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.'

The principal holds similar power in creating the climate of a school. If teachers and principals empower students and teachers then their behaviors flow from this belief. Our actions influence others behaviors. We are influenced by the people around us all the time. We need to be aware of our power and act accordingly.

Good questions to ask students are

1 What do adults do to help you learn at school?
2 What do adults do to put you off learning at your school?
3 What do other students do to help you learn?
4 What do other students do to put you off learning?

The answers to these questions will help teachers and students create positive learning climates – most of all it will make teachers aware of their part in creating the climate in their room.

Doing fewer thing well - a simple answer!

Helping students make sense of schooling. Posted by Hello

I have just returned from the opportunity to observe in a low decile secondary school for a full week. It is not an experience that I have had before. My role was to help in whatever way I could.

The opportunity arose because the government, in its wisdom, had closed several primary schools in the area and, as a result, the secondary school gained all students in the year 7 and 8 age groups. This restructuring has not been without its problems. Developing nine or so new classes has caused considerable stress for the school, the teachers, and not the least, the new students. And then there is the issue of skills that are lacking in students arriving at the school. I am not talking about test results schools say their students can do, but what students can actually do – there seems to be a difference. This is a common complaint throughout the country as students enter secondary schools? To counter this problem there is the research that says that students in the early classes in secondary schools are not engaged or challenged and get worse!

I have great sympathy for teachers working at both levels. Now is the time to clarify and focus expectations across the transition and in the process break down the division between primary and secondary teaching. For too long students have been caught up in this problem of school transition and too many students, for no fault of their own, have fallen through the cracks. For many students it must be as if visiting a foreign country!

The strange thing is that we know some of the answers but schools have been overwhelmed trying to implement confusing imposed curriculums. It is becoming obvious that secondary schools, as they are currently structured, might have suited students of earlier times, but they are struggling to cater for all students today. Teachers struggle to keep all students on task as too many students’ exhibit poor skills and attitudes to learning. Unless changes are made teachers will battle on trying to fit students into schools that just don’t fit them.

The first thing schools need to face up to this reality that all is not well. There are students who do get on with their learning born up by the high expectations of their own families. As for those who are less than enthusiastic, there are all sorts of reasons given as to why they don’t learn. What is too often ignored by schools is the research that indicates that it is the individual classroom teacher’s skill that is the most important variable in student achievement.

Teachers need to take the time to reflect on what are the basic ideas about teaching and learning they all need to use, to define them, and then be willing to be held accountable for implementing what they have agreed to do.

They need to consider what knowledge (including attitudes and skills) students really need to have in place, at any level, and then do their best to ensure they are in place. This means doing fewer things well. Rushing through content, as is the current practice, only produces thin, or fragile, learning at best!

The fewer things that are chosen need to be implemented by challenging experiences that engage students. This is the next challenge. Students need engaging content if they are to feel ownership of their learning.

For students to retain understanding and gain confidence requires that they be given appropriate feedback and guidance, and opportunities to reflect on what they might need to do next time. This suggests that the role of a teacher needs to be seen as one of a creative coach not a transmitter of knowledge. As for assessment, students should be able to demonstrate what they can do through action and demonstrations. Schools should not rely on abstract data, or marks recorded in teachers documents, passed on to the next school as seems the practice!

Such basic teaching would ensure that all students understand: what, why, how, when and what they need to do. Such ‘focused teaching’ would guarantee that all students gain success and that this success will develop into the positive attitudes that are too often missing.

If these simple ideas were put into practice from the earliest classes the students wouldn’t arrive at secondary school ‘at risk’, unmotivated, and with counter-productive ‘learning’ behaviors. And secondary schools would be able to extend all students at level 9 and 10 (or 7 to 10 depending on the school). Equally importantly, all teachers would not suffer from the draining pressure that represents their current existence.

Once these ‘basics’ were in place teachers could then introduce the more exiting ideas such as: higher order thinking skills, cooperative learning, constructivist teaching, the use of ICT and multiple intelligences. Without the basic ideas above in place, introducing such ideas will actually make things worse!

Considering these ideas might be a start for the school I visited.

It's not brain surgery!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Love to hear from you!

Great school entrance.Waitara Central.Pathway to the baskets of knowledge. Posted by Hello

I am not supposed to be home!

I was to have flown to work in a distant part of New Zealand today but the plane had developed a fault and the flight was canceled! Better I guess for them to have found the fault before we took off! Anyway it was raining!

I now go tomorrow. Back on Friday.

I will miss my blogging – it has become slightly compulsive. I guess it must be about the need to communicate or something? Writing not even knowing if anybody is reading them is a bit compulsive! I don’t really know how many read the entries – unlike our website which I can tell how many hits, visits, what people look at, and how many hits come from what country! We get about 2500 hits a day average!

Adding a comment is such an easy process – would love to hear from you.

So, while I am away, it would be great if some of you out there could write a few thoughts about what you would do if you had the power to change education? Any thing at all!

You don’t have to write much.

Hope to hear from you.


Friday, May 20, 2005

Passionate Learners

Just received from author today - thanks Robert. Posted by Hello

Robert Fried is refreshing writer. I wish we had someone in New Zealand writing about the reality of creative classroom teaching, and the concerns of learners, teachers and parents, as they make their way through all the imposed constraints that modern education has degenerated into.

Worldwide there are countless educationalists writing about educational reform but few spending their time and energy working alongside real teachers and students to make real and lasting changes.

Fried is concerned about what happens to the passion and curiosity that all children begin life with. He writes with powerful insight about the need to protect and extend this personal joy of learning and worries that, too often, this passion for learning is dulled or lost by the school experience of too many children.

Fried is on the side of creative teachers whose passion in teaching is ensuring all their students retain this openness and delight in learning. He is aware, as are many parents, that students subtly change their mindsets about learning the day they enter even the very youngest classes. Creative teachers instead, focus on capitalizing on children’s concerns and questions, not curriculum objectives. Their reward is the satisfaction and joy student’s experience, at any age, when their thinking has been challenged and deepened because of a personal concern. It this personalized approach that should replace the, ‘we know best, one size fits all’ mindset of traditional teaching.

The intellectual drive to explore and express, Fried believes, can either be deepened or blunted to the point of extinction by schooling. Certainly many students enter secondary school with much of this self motivation lacking and it evidently decreases further in the first few years of secondary schools - with disastrous results. Current remedies or reactions, blaming all sorts of factors, of more tests and targets, are solutions that belong to a past era.

What is now required is a need to move away from mass education conformist mindset towards personalized learning – tailoring education to the needs of each individual; and not putting the onus on each child having to fit into the school. Schools, as currently arranged, were never designed to educate all children at the secondary level and are obviously struggling now!

Fried shares small anecdote to make his point. When visiting a junior class he asked the children what they were learning in school they replied: ‘Not to run in the hall’, ‘No pushing or fighting’, ‘Sit up straight and don’t talk unless your hand is up’, and ‘Don’t throw stuff on the floor’. When he pressed them about what they thought they needed to learn, they replied: ‘To listen to the teacher’, ‘To be good’ and ‘Not to be bad’. Good children evidently listen to the teacher, bad children don’t, seems to sum up the children’s beliefs.

After reading Fried’s book (along with his more recent book ‘The Game of School’) it is not more money, or resources we need, to ensure all student learn. What is required is a philosophical change. We need to develop schools where children learn what they need rather than what distant adults think they ought to know.

If we could realize this understanding then we all could remain passionate learners. Life long learners being driven by the passion and curiosity we were all born with.

Worth a read; more fun than reading the soulless Ministry of Education Curriculum Statements, contracts and associated documents. Curiosity and passion must replace compliance and coercion in our schools. More passion less graphs!

Less technocratic control and more creative leadership is required!

Personalized Learning - The future!

Personalized learning Posted by Hello

We need a new philosophy of education that puts the needs of learners at the centre.

For many people teaching every learner as an individual is both powerful and attractive. But people also find it hard to imagine how this personalized learning could be realized. It would mean rewriting the whole educational script; it would mean focusing on each student’s learning pathway. It would mean involving students ( and their parents) making choices about their own education; particularly at the secondary level.

Essentially it is about fitting school to the learner rather than the learner trying to fit into the school. Teachers would need to act as professionals, negotiating learning challenges, helping students unlock their talents, and helping them develop appropriate skills. Teachers would need to act as advisers, advocates and mentors. If successful, each learner should be able to tell the story of their own learning, how, and why, and as well, be able to demonstrate the qualifications they have gained along the way.

Such an approach challenges the very ways schools ( particularly secondary schools) are currently organized. Most schools already recognize that some children have special needs. A personalized system would extend this concept to all students. Perhaps some system of earned autonomy might be one pathway, but whatever, there would need to be a change of role for teachers to help students make appropriate choices. Studies have shown that if people are given responsibity they use it well, and this applies to students as well as teachers.

Children with less ‘social capital’ may need more help to take advantage of such an approach.

In life, all learning is personalized, no matter how successful as students schooling has been. A successful future for all studends will depend on the quality of the judgments they have learnt from their previous experiences.

To develop such judgement students need a personalized education based on making their own meanings and living with their choices.

Personalized learning might solve the current dilemma over the NZCEA units - each student could make up their own combination of units around their personal needs with help of the school?

Check out personalised learning from the UK Department of Education and Science and in the US 'The Big Picture Company'( search google)

Re thinking schools

Relationship between teacher and learner vital. Posted by Hello

For too long students have been told that the material they are being taught they will someday need in the future. As one writer says, it is a ‘just in case curriculum’. Every thing about school is based on this concept of preparation; ‘some day you will need this’. The school curriculum has become a nightmare of irrelevant 'hoops' designed by equally irrelevant technocrats for children to jump through. And teachers are becoming exhausted trying to ‘deliver’ and assess all the nonsense.

This future preparation premise is at best shaky. Early last century John Dewey wrote that the best preparation for the future is to live well today. If an unknowable future is not a sound idea, then what we need, is for schools to prepare students to deal effectively with the present.

What is required is an education process that is both interesting and challenging and one that involves students in in-depth meaningful investigations. And, echoing Dewey, they should learn in truly democratic environments. This cannot be achieved by a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum based on standardization. What we need to is to value diversity, creativity and innovative thinking; diversity breeds a source of richness for our community.

Educator Elliot Eisner believes that schools should teach a number of aims to prepare students to contribute to ensuring true democracy continues to develop, particularly if we want to encourage a sense community which is lacking today.

The aims he defines are:

Developing judgment: students learn judgment by having deal with problems that have more one correct answer. They need to be able to make choices and be able to give reasons for their decisions. The curriculum thus needs to be comprised of a series of problems to think about – and the best problems, as always, will be messy and ill defined.

The second aim would be to develop critical thinking about the big ideas facing humans today. Students need to be able to critique ideas and enjoy exploring what they can learn from them. They need to consider alternatives and choices and to construct their own understanding with the support of adults.

A third aim to achieve is meaningful literacy. Eisner sees this as more than literacy and numeracy but also how to make meaning and develop their talents in range of symbolic forms – music, the arts, physical skills and information media. Life is about making meaning and through exploring ideas and expressing their thoughts. Students in effect invent themselves by cultivating their minds.

A fourth aim is to develop collaborative learners. Students need to work together collectively, in harmony with arrange of cultural groups, utilizing each others individual skills . Too much current education is all about competitive solo performances.

A fifth aim is to develop in young people a sense of service by young people contributing to their own communities.

This education cannot be just imposed from the top - it needs to grow out of local concerns felt by those who lead our schools and our communities. Real education about real things for, and by, real people.

Just in time education?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

What do good learners do?

Art or a science experiment? Both! Posted by Hello

Postman and Weingartner in their book ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity’ gives an excellent outline of a good learner.

First, good learners have the confidence in their ability to learn. This does not mean they are not sometimes frustrated and discouraged. They are …..but they have a profound faith that they are capable of solving problems, and if they fail at one problem they are not incapacitated in confronting another.

Good students tend to enjoy solving problems. The process interests them.

Good learners seem to know what is relevant to their survival and what is not. They are apt to resent being told that something is 'good for them to know’, unless, of course, their 'crap detector' advises them it is good to know – in which case, they resent being told anyway.

Good learners, in other words prefer to rely on their own judgment. …they are suspicious of 'authorities’ …that discourage (them)…from relying on their own judgment.

Good learners are usually not fearful of being wrong. They recognize their limitations….In other words they can change their minds.

Good learners are emphatically not fast answerers. They tend to delay their judgment until they have access to as much information as they imagine will be available.

Good learners are flexible. While they almost always have a point of view about situation, they are capable of shifting to other perspectives to see what they can find. ….they seems to understand that answers are relative. That is why, when asked a question, good learners frequently begin their answers with the words ‘It depends’.

Good learners have high degree of respect for facts (which they understand as tentative).

Good learners, for the most part, are highly skilled in all the language behaviors that comprise what we call inquiry. They know how to ask questions, they are persistent in examining their own assumption….they use metaphors…they are apt to be cautious and precise in making generalizations, and they engage continuously in verifying what they believe; they are careful observers…

Perhaps most importantly, good learners do not need to have an absolute, final, irrevocable resolution to every problem. The sentence, ‘I don’t know’, does not depress them.

I would possibly add that they are willing to learn off anyone, to share their ideas and to respect the different life experiences and cultures of others.

What we need to do as teachers is to create an environment in our schools and classrooms that such behaviors can flourish. Obviously this cannot happen in school with fragmented teaching and subjects. We are talking about an environment in which the full spectrum of learning behaviors – both attitudes and skills – being employed all the time; from problem to problem, from kindergarten to graduate school.

It is obvious that the attitudes and beliefs of teachers are a vital element to encourage such thinkers.

Considering the above was written in1969 what has changed?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Lost Intelligence

The power of curiosity and personal interest. Posted by Hello

The ingenious ‘dunce’

To follow up my previous entry it was interesting to come across the story of Bob Clifford in Michael Mants book Intelligent Leadership.

Bob Clifford , an Australian, is a boat builder extraordinaire who made his name designing the huge 'cat' boats to ferry cars in Tasmania when a major bridge collapsed. His 'cats' are now in operation worldwide.

But at school this entrepreneur felt inadequate failing the entry test into high school. He was sent to a private school and failed everything there – including woodwork, and failed his final exams. He didn’t even try to pass.

Significantly he began to read around 13 or 14 as a direct result of a new found passion , sailing. Interested in the technology and techniques of sailing he read every thing he could about the subject. He began to read when reading had a serious purpose; one that engaged his curiosity.

Mant reflects that what would have happened to Clifford if he hadn’t been exposed to sailing when he was at his private school? Sailing unlocked his intellect and was to later kick start his successful career.

Bob Clifford was a bright kid but not in the way that school teachers generally recognize.

People, like Bob Clifford, who fail school, need to feel capable about something. Too much continuous failure seems to be corrosive. Clifford was lucky. Others students who fail ‘school’ use their ‘intelligence’ in more destructive ways.

I guess we all know of people who failed school but have been successful in life - and vice versa. And we know of the number of adults in prison, in part, as a result of school failure.

The answer to this paradox is for schools to become aware of a full range of intelligences as defined by Howard Gardner. Michael Mant concludes his chapter on Clifford (in which he states he is now a real leader) by saying,’If I had anything to do with the education business I would want to understand how the possessor of a prodigious intelligence like Bob Clifford could have been regarded as a dunce at school. As Prime Minister, I would require my education ministers to get to the bottom of this conundrum – just to make sure that, in the future, not too much native Australian wit was junked for want of recognition.

Creating schools as learning communities to develop the talents of all learners would be a start.

Friday, May 13, 2005

A Question Based Curriculum

Tapping into student curiosity Posted by Hello

I wonder what would happen if all the expert’s curriculums disappeared; and all the standardized tests? And, with them, all the technocrats who believe that everything needs to measured and turned into data. Anyway such people never bothered to measure anything important such as, curiosity, love of learning and persistence; the very things that mark out successful innovative individuals

Instead consider what would happen if we decided to create entire curriculums from question and concerns? Obviously the questions would have to be worth asking and would need to help students develop their natural interests and talents, and as well the future capabilities that students will need to thrive in the future.

Be interesting for teachers, at any level, to list suitable questions that they feel would be useful to study. And, as part of the process, it would be equally interesting to ask students themselves what they would like to find out more about. From both sets of question most teachers could create, or negotiate, a valuable curriculum – but, more importantly, one that would be owned by both teachers and students. Teachers could also ask their students what future attributes they think they will they need to become life long learners. By introducing the concept of multiple intelligences to students other questions, or areas to explore, would emerge.

Even if teachers at various levels simply shared with each other the best units they ever used in their classrooms (judged by student involvement and enthusiasm) across the various learning areas, with a bit of tinkering to get balance, a viable curriculum would eventuate.

Whatever, it is important that students learn to frame their own questions and negotiate their own learning tasks. They would have to decide what is worth knowing. They also would need to negotiate the criteria by which they will assess their own learning.

The first task for teachers, using a curriculum based on student questions, is to ascertain the students ‘prior knowledge’ and then to negotiate tasks to challenge and expand their student’s ideas and, where necessary, correct their misconceptions.

Teachers have an important role to play both in organizing tasks and providing a secure environment for students to complete research tasks. As well, teachers need to: be alert to point out any connections with other learning areas; keep in mind the appropriate enquiry and expressive skills student may need; and provide 'just in time feedback.'

The teacher’s role is one of a learning coach; or a talent scout!

The point of education is to produce competent, caring and confident learners, who are genuinely engaged in their own learning. Students in the future will need to know ‘how to learn’ and to driven by mutual issues that concern them.

This would not casual or ‘free’ learning and, to be successful, students will need to do what they do in real depth, and be able to demonstrate what they have learnt to their peers or parents. Teachers, to ensure quality learning, would need to encourage the students to: do fewer things well; to develop perseverance and resiliency; an appreciation of importance of communication and collaboration; as well as old fashioned virtues of effort and the need to do their best work.

Such a ‘question based’, or ‘just in time’ curriculum, would illustrate to students how original questions often generate deeper questions and new trails of inquiry. It would also encourage them to see relationship between other areas of learning and avoid any ‘hardening of the categories’. Most of all they would see themselves as agents in their own learning, and appreciate that asking and answering questions is the source of all learning.

Losing prescribed curriculums would solve our current failure problem and would allow innovative individuals (who currently find school problematic, often blaming themselves in the process) to shine. And teachers, instead of delivering a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum, would be professionals, developing personalized education tailored to suit the needs of their learners – an education that was natural for students before they entered schools.

I would be easier for everyone! Except for the technocrats who have made a career out of writing, delivering and assessing curriculums!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Engaging Learners

How are we supposed to engage the cogs? Posted by Hello

There seems problem in education, in the year 7 to 10 year group, of ‘engaging’ a number of alienated, or reluctant learners, in their education.

Engagement is a mechanical metaphor and as such seems to relate to a mechanistic approach to education where teachers ‘deliver the curriculum’, and then measure and graph how much was transmitted.

It would seem better to ask what students are actually keen to learn about and tailor education around their questions. Creative teachers can easily ‘tie’ this back to official curriculums!

In Robert Fried’s excellent book,’ The Passionate Teacher’, a paragraph comes to mind:

‘For students to engage is not what is usually called ‘time on task’: responding to worksheets, recalling facts and dates, or reading chapters of a text and answering questions and the end. I want students to engage the way the clutch on a car gets engaged: an engine can be running, making appropriate noises, burning fuel, and creating exhaust fumes, but unless the clutch is engaged, nothing moves. It’s all sound and smoke, and no one gets anywhere.

In too many classrooms we see the sound and smoke of note taking, answer- giving, homework-checking, that so quickly follows. In the end, there is creativity and excitement for the few, compliance and endurance for ,most, rebellion and failure for some, but not very much work of high quality is being produced, and not much intense engagement of the mind and spirit takes place’

Is this a picture of any classes you know at the year year7 to 10 levels?

What is the secret to engaging students at this level? Is it any different from other age groups?

'In The Early World'

Best book on creative teaching Posted by Hello

For those interested in this book I can do no more than share what is written about it on the New Zealand Council for Educational Research site.

‘Although ‘In the Early World’ was first published in the 60s it is as relevant now as was then. Integrated curriculum, values education, the arts, inquiry learning, philosophy, and creative thinking are all part of the story told in this remarkable book.

New Zealand’s reputation for innovative and creative education has depended on the courage and wisdom of teachers like Elwyn Richardson. ‘In the early world’ is a story about teaching told by a teacher who believed passionately that creative teaching and intellectual growth are inextricably linked.

‘It is timely in the 21st Century to recapture teaching as an art. ‘In the Early World’ inspires teachers to take risks and to contemplate values and philosophies as central to the learning – teaching process and to adapt prescribed curriculum to the children’s own desire to explore and create’.

‘In The Early World’ is one of the great books about New Zealand education and is unique in presenting creativity at the centre of children’s learning.’

Available NZCER ISBN 1-877140-80-X NZ$22.00

I would love to learn of other New Zealand great books about education? Any thoughts?
Or people you think great NZ educators - past or present.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Teacher you went straight on!

The robin sang and sang and sang Posted by Hello

'The robin sang and sang and sang,
but teacher you went straight on.
The last bell sounded the end of the day,
but teacher you went straight on.
The geranium on the window sill just died,
but teacher you just went right on.

Elwyn Richardson ( NZ pioneer creative teacher) used to say that teachers in the 1950s stuck to their timetables so much that they would ignore an aeroplane crashing in the playground. Now, it seems, they would be to exhausted from delivering and assessing all the various curriculums to notice? I hope not.

More from the Geranium book

Good Morning class Posted by Hello

'Good morning class
Today I will prepare you for the future.
Listen carefully,
and don't interupt!
Any questions?

Today it is not questioning the teacher that is vital, it is having the courage to ask and answer your own questions. Who asks the most questions in your classroom? No prizes for the answer!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Geranium on the Window Sill Just Died...

But teacher you went straight on.  Posted by Hello

I received an anonymous comment in a recent 'blog' mentioning the above book, written by Albert Cullum printed 1971, and quoting one of the poems in it. It motivated me to go and find my copy of the book, which by now is well out of print but none the less relevant – perhaps even more so in this technocratic age of distant experts determining what happens In our classrooms.

The book was not just funny but wise and deep, and reminded us at the time of the wide gap that separates the perceptions and experiences of children from those of their teachers. The book's preface said, ‘from our students we should be taught’. The book should be rewritten for those today who believe so strongly in a ‘one size fits all' mentality who impose standardization onto schools.

The book encouraged us to listen to the variety of voices of our students and reminded us, at the time, of what it was like ‘to be small, penned up, bossed around’; and that students, no matter what happens, retain a sense of resiliency and joy.

It reminds us also how we felt when we were students, awkward and powerless in a world of teachers, principals and parents.

You my dear teacher,
You who tell me my thoughts are wrong,
You who are neat and strong,
You so strict and proper and lukewarm,
You who tell me that I can’t and shouldn’t!
You, you –
Who are you?

It would be enlightening to ask your students finish the three questions below and see what they say – what metaphors they call upon to use!

1. A school is a place where……
2. A student is a person who ……
3. A teacher is a person who…..

What would you want them to say? They should know what beliefs underpin your teaching, the purpose of school and the role of the teacher.

Be interesting to hear from anyone who tries the idea above.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Developing natural learners

Developing environmental awareness Posted by Hello

I have always believed that ‘before the word comes the experience’. That literacy is built out of, and from, the emotional or felt experiences children have as they play and explore their environments – preferably in the company of others and, even better, a perceptive adult.

This understanding was the basis for the language arts experience that was as once such a feature of New Zealand Primary schools. The idea that early literacy should arise from children’s own thoughts from exploring their environment (and their own personal life experiences) was developed early in New Zealand. Sylvia Ashton Warner first developed the idea of students writing their own books in the 50s. Elwyn Richardson, about the same time, developed both environmental poetry and prose, and personal writing, based on personally felt themes. To value children’s ideas Elwyn developed a process called ‘scribe writing’ that allowed students to express their ideas without worrying about spelling.

These are ideas that deserve a revival in our junior classes. Such writing, based on focused oral expression, is the true basis of literacy. I believe we have rushed students into books too early and, in the process, lost the concept of the valuing of students own sense of voice and identity. Most importantly we have lost sight of the idea that children build up vocabulary naturally in the process of exploring their thoughts and environment; ‘before the word comes the experience’.

Rachael Carson is another name from the past. An environmentalist rather than an educator, her ideas are equally valid. Rachael Carson’s book, ‘The Silent Spring,’ some say, was the beginning of the environmental movement. In 1956 she wrote a small book for her nephew called, ‘A Sense of Wonder’. It contains great advice for teachers and parents.

Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies around you .It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.

Her technique is ‘to just express my own pleasure in what we see, calling his (her nephew) attention to this or that’.

She writes. ‘A Child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonders and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most their clear-eyed vision…is dimmed … before they reach adulthood.’… ‘I should ask ( for) each child in the world a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life as an unfolding antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years…

Another author, Deborah Meier, writes that it is:

The power of children’s ideas that our pedagogy should centre on.’… ‘children should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on this complex world.

Teachers should capitalize on student’s natural linguistic appetite. They should surround them with a rich sensory environment, build on their desire to develop their own self identity as discovers and sharers and, most of all, help them realize the power of their own ideas.

These are the ideas that are too often lost when teachers stick to delivering an alien curriculum. Lots of practical ideas to help on our site.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Environmental Awareness

Maple tree in my garden Posted by Hello

Autumn leaves are now making themselves noticed!

Autumn leaves are an old favourite in many junior classrooms but for all that they are not used as well as they could be.

Making students aware of their environment, by educating their senses and imagination, is regarded by many as a vital ingredient in a person’s education. Certainly it has been an important part of my own philosophy and teaching. I have a feeling that making use of the immediate environment, particularly incidental events, is not as common as it once was. If so, it would be a shame.

David Elkind, in his book the ‘Hurried Child’, writes.

Over the years I have made a practice to take a little time each day to enjoy a sunset, watch a sparrow, admire a snowflake, Such moments should be shared with children.’

This practice should be part of every school day.

Helping children relate to their environment is captured by Walt Whitman’s poem ‘Leaves of Grass’:

The schooners, the waves, the clouds.
the flying sea crow, the fragrance
Of the salt marsh and mud, the horizon’s edge.
These become part of that child who went forth every day
And now goes and
Will always go forth everyday'

This connection with ones environment is important. From such experiences arise curiosity, questions, thinking, poetic language and the expressive arts and, most of all, a sense of place.

So look freshly at those autumn leaves with your class.

Visit the trees. Collect leaves. Kick them into the air. Observe the various graduations of leaves. See where the fallen leaves end up. Count and measure what you can. Collect the poetic thoughts and questions the children have to offer.

Back in classs build up a display around the topic. Include their question and their current views (and send then home to research answers). Get the children to do slow detailed observational drawing and, while they are doing this, get them to think of further questions to research. Get them to consider what is happening. Why do trees have leaves? Why don’t other trees lose all their leaves at any one time?

How far do the leaves fall ( on a still day)? Where do most of them fall (use a line to count the leaves)?

Make a display of the graduation of colour change in leaves from any one tree and research why?

Students could research the species of autumn trees in the school grounds.

They could write small three lines poems about autumn leaves ( one thought about the leaves still on the tree; one thought about a leaf falling; one thought about the leaves on the ground, or what happens to them).They could compose songs about autumn leaves and put them to music. They could create dances based on falling leaves.They could paint imaginative autumn leaves, extending the ideas from their close observation.

In the above activities the full range of multiple intelligences would be covered!More imporantly the process of looking at any event through a variety of frameworks would become natural to them.

Ideas for teaching observation through drawing, to develop awareness and environmental resources are avaliable on our website.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Some experience of excellence.

Experiencing excellence! Posted by Hello

One thing that I really believe is vital is, that no matter what happens in the classroom, it is really important that every student is encouraged to ‘stick’ at a task until they gain the feelings of satisfaction from comes from doing something really well.

Too many of our students give up whenever ‘the going gets tough’ and, worse still, seems to have internalized the idea that first finished is always best. If this is not addressed such children never feel the power that comes from completion. Instant gratification becomes the name of the game and effort and application are dirty words – far too old fashioned! The message seems to be that, if it is too hard (and if you complain enough) you give up!

I don’t mean students should persevere at any old tasks; although perseverance, resilience and ‘stick ability’, are important to help students get through the confusion and uncertainty that is part of all learning. I really mean tasks that are owned by the learner, that are meaningful, open ended, and involve student creativity.

The teacher’s role in any learning is to provide the help and encouragement to ensure students give things a fair go. This is difficult when teachers have to relate to twenty or thirty students (all at different levels and attitudes) but it is vital. How to achieve this focused interaction is a matter of classroom organization, but that another story.

I have always liked a quote from Harry Davis, University of Chicago, who wrote in an article in Fortune/Time 94 that ‘some experience of excellence’ is a key future skill. Saying that it:

‘…comes from mastering at least one thing supremely well. It can be anything- music, mechanics, motorcycle racing. If you don’t go deep into something, you don’t know what extraordinary performance is. You get satisfied with ordinary performance. And if you have never experiences it yourself, it’s hard to be a role model. Without an experience of excellence, you won’t appreciate the quality in others.’

Jerome Bruner, in ‘Essays for the Left hand’, a book about creativity, quoting Alfred North Whitehead continues the theme:

Education must involve an exposure to greatness if it is to leave a mark…. The ideas of excellence comprises as many forms as there are individuals…The school must have as one of its principal functions the nurturing of images of excellence.

Bruner continues that:

‘…the teacher must embody in his own approach to learning a pursuit of excellence.

The expressive arts provide an ideal means for schools to develop this sense of excellence (although maths and science fairs also are an ideal means). In fact, doing things well should permeate all aspects of school and be one of the messages children gain from their educational experience.

This would apply to presenting their ideas aesthetically, using design principles, in their books, research charts, all aspects of creative expression and of course sports activities. Strangely enough they have no trouble applying effort in self chosen artistic and sports activates. As teachers we could gain clues from the latter? Do we know what it is our student love enough to do well?

To achieve this sense of excellence would require teachers to do fewer things in their classrooms, and to do what is done in depth. They would need to see their role as one of a ‘creative coach’ so as to focus their valuable energy and time on coming alongside students to provide feedback to help them achieve their personal best.

Someone once wrote that, ‘You can tell a creative teacher by what they won’t do!

Makes sense to me? Are we trying to do too much and in turn not doing it well enough?

What do you think?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Best month for our website!

Data for Leading-Learning websitePosted by Hello

This has been our best month according to the monthly data.

Hits per day have risen from 1900 per day last May to 2533 this April

The most hits per day in April were 4000 (after we send out an e-zine the figure peaks to about 7000).

Visits per day have risen from 250 last May to 427 this April. Total unique visits for April 9038

Kbytes downloaded have risen from 33290 last May per day to 737914 this April.

Most popular visited and downloaded material – the educational quotes; approx 50% of all material. Single most download other article the Fullan newsletter ( No 3 2003) Followed by the Te Ara Vision which a number of schools have customized as the basis for their own school philosophy.

In April 22% of all hits were from New Zealand, 4% from Australia, 3% from the USA , 2% from Canada and the remainder from all over the world or unknown.

Our free e-zine now goes out to 3200 members. Newsletters are posted on site.

Bruce’s Blog is now featured on the site but we are not able to tell how often people visit except for those who make a comment. Informal feedback has been very positive – it seems there are plenty of ‘lurkers!’

Check it out every few days – now Bruce’s favourite part of the site!

There is no master plan!

Jackson Pollack - expressionist painter. Posted by Hello

In this fast changing world there is no grand plan held by the technocrats in Wellington, as much as they would like to think so!

All this certainty was put to rest by Darwin and his theory of evolution. Life evolves and it is impossible to predict what will eventuate. This applies to the universe as much as it own lives.

This provides real challenges for individuals and organizations.

The best thing is to work out where you want to go, and then to cope with whatever happens. As far as organizations (including schools) go, the ideal is to clarify a shared purpose, vision, or sense of direction that all buy into. As important is to agree to a set of shared values, interpreted as behaviors, to use as a moral compass to base decisions on. Whatever is agreed to, it must equally encourage diversity and creativity of all members to ensure evolutionary ideas are introduced to ensure growth and survival.

A few quotes:

‘We must build curriculums on messy authentic tasks.’ Grant Wiggens.

So out with all those detailed pre plans.

‘Curriculum guides must be more like a compass and a sextant than an itinerary.’ G Wiggens.

We need problems that cause students to …conduct inquiry, fashion agreement, and develop quality products.’ John Dewey 1916

I like the quality products – sometimes schools introduce all the inquiry skills and produce little of quality! Higher order thinking for thin learning!

There is a temptation to assume presenting subject mater in its perfect form to prove a royal road to learning.’ John Dewey 1933

Tell that to the curriculum developers!

The young should be given the chance to solve problems, to conjecture, to quarrel, as these are done at the heart of every discipline.’ Jerome Bruner 1966

As Michael Apple says, ‘There is no grand plan!’

By all means expose students to a full range of experiences. You never know which will attract an individual learner. But as Robert Hutchins aid, ‘You can tell a good teacher by the number of important things they decline to teach'.

At Leading and Learning we have always believed in teachers doing fewer things well and that in depth discovery and personal creative expression are equally valuable.