Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Observation - a missing skill?

A book by educator/ botanist Bill Clarkson that every teacher who wants to help students learn to observe closely and then to ask insightful questions needs to have. Contact me for a copy NZ$15

Walking into any classroom these days it is easy to get distracted by the latest piece digital technology - these days more often than not an electronic whiteboard.

Those who really value students deeper understanding need to really look around the room to see 'evidence' of students focused observation, their in depth thinking about whatever they are studying, their 'voice' in their personal writing, and the creativity of their artistic expressions.

All too often visitors will be disappointed.

Helping students develop their observational skill is a simple way to remedy the situation. Bill Clarkson's book 'Observation at the Outset' offers insightful and practical ways to make use of observation in the classroom

Drawing, Bill writes, is an ideal way to introduce a study to the class. His book provides a number of ways to make use of drawing to develop student's thinking.

Observation he notes is a facility scientists have developed as they exhibit their need to know about their world. From their observations arise questions, preliminary ideas and theories. Young children have the same innate capacity to explore their world and need similar opportunities to explore their world, to ask their own questions and have their views taken seriously.

This curiosity, or need to make meaning, is the basis of a constructivist approach to learning where children 'prior views' are challenged and new understandings developed.

Students need to be taught to observe carefully, to notice things and to ask good questions. Children's questions, Bill states, provide the most valid openings to a child centred path of learning.

The act of drawing is an ideal way to begin the learning process. Drawing, another educator writes, is a way of asking questions and drawing answers. As well drawing is the ultimate reflective act because as the 'artist' draws his, or her, mind is free to wonder about what it is is being observed. In an age of attention deficit behaviour this is a valuable activity.

The act of drawing, whatever is chosen, helps develop a 'mental set' to get things started. Bill Clarkson suggests drawings fall into four categories to sustain inquiry:

Direct drawings from living things.
Direct drawings of inanimate abjects such as museum artifacts and man made objects.
Indirect observation through drawing photographs or other illustrations.
Drawing from memory.

I might add one other, extending observed information into the imagination.

Bill makes it clear that drawing requires close and sustained observation; that the process of drawing develops a sense of ownership and heightened personal interest, curiosity and desire know more about the object; that there is intrinsic satisfaction to be gained through the act of drawing; and, finally, when children draw from memory( before or after the study) their drawings will reveal a lot about what they understand to be true.

Memory drawing at the beginning of a study indicates what students already know about the study . Observational drawing from real life, or a photograph, fosters curiosity and leads to the development of possible study questions to select from ( Bill suggests selecting two or three to focus research). Some drawings provide valuable data such as the growth stages in bean seed germination. For activities such as studying an old house drawings are a way of gathering information that can be used as the basis for further research at school, or to extend into imaginative art or language. Imaginative work, writes Bill, 'rings true' when it extends, transcends, enriches, or personalizes perceived realities. Drawing is also a means to facilitate and strengthen factual or descriptive writing and, while drawing, students can be encouraged to make inferences about things they notice.

It seems there is more to drawing than what meets the eye.

The teachers role in the process of students drawing is vital.Students need to be encouraged to take their time ( to 'slow the pace' of their work) to allow details to be noticed. At first students may rush their work but as they gain experience they learn that time is required for quality results. It is important for teachers to appreciate that every student has their own way of drawing and that this individuality needs to be valued.

In classrooms where observational drawings are valued the results will be clear to see. Little equipment is required ( pencils, black biros, coloured pencils and perhaps watercolour paints).

In such rooms digital technology an be easily integrated with observational experiences to research questions ( those that are unavailable to be researched through first and observation) to extend and share what has been learnt.

And, when established, observing nature becomes a life time activity and contributes to the valuing and protecting of the environment in natural way.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

30 Years ago - so what has changed?

Class of 78.My 'e-mailer' front row right

Recently I received e-mail from a student I hadn't heard of since she was in my class in 1978. She wrote about how great it was to experience the class and how much all that we did has stayed with her over the years.

With this in mind I searched out something I wrote, at the time, for the team of teachers I was leading. I was curious to see how much my ideas had changed since then.

What follows are extracts I wrote to clarify my thoughts and to share with the team followed by some reflective comments.

'Education is a means of helping all students achieve their full potential...this includes the development of interests that might lead into personal fulfilment or a career. As well we need to broaden each child's awareness of their immediate environment and the wider world.The key to any success will be seen in the attitudes of each learner to their own education. There will be students in our classes whose attitudes will have been subverted by their previous experience.It is these children who will offer us the greatest challenge so they can be restored to become self directed learners. The hope is that all children will move towards a healthy self concept and a caring attitude towards each other. For some children we need to be thankful for the smallest signs of growth.Helping such children gain personal pride through achievement is the key to their success'.

For me I would change little if I were to teach a class today..Sound like today's vision of a 'learning community based on shared values and teaching beliefs'.

' To do this we must accept the individuality of the children, respect their personal views and develop as much as it is possible a personalised approach to learning. All children like feeling competent and all thrive on success. All children get a good feeling from doing something really well'.

Personalised learning - now there is a phrase we hear about a lot today!

'We will need to develop safe and secure organisations to provide time to help those in need while at the same time developing in students the skills to work independently.Whatever we do children will need to know what is expected of them. Some parts of our day will be formal and directed to introduce to students the skills they will need but we will work hard to provide students with choice and responsibility. The morning will be structured around the more traditional areas of reading and maths and the afternoon around the class studies. We will introduce much of the skills required in the reading/language programme. It is over your confidence whether or nor to use ability grouping in 'basic ' areas but my own thoughts are that ability grouping has created more problems than advantages.I still think that there will always be times when groups of students, with common needs, need to be brought together for special help.' Our class organisation pattern will revolve around rotational groups and our blackboards will make it clear tasks for each group - this covers language, maths and study groups.

I still think that ability grouping end up more for the teacher convenience of than for the students benefits. Clear group tasks are the key to independent learning and focused teaching. The above includes what are now 'called key competencies'?

'We will use the students own experiences and feelings as the basis for as much work as is possible - particularly in language, content studies and art. It is very important that children see their experiences , feelings, questions and artistic and poetic expression as important and worthwhile. All too often schools unintentionally replace student's real experiences with far less personal ones. With this in mind all students will keep personal writing books to capture their thoughts about their lives. We need to ensure that by the end of the year students ( and their parents) will see real growth in quality of the writing and presentation'.

Personalised learning and 'evidence based' progress!

'The 'energy' for most of the classes work will come from the studies we introduce.These will emphasize out rich immediate environment ( (bush stream seashore and the small scale world) and local Maori and European history and architecture. Such studies will require us teaching inquiry learning skills of observation, information searching and presentation of ideas through language ( poetic and research) and art. We will also provide cultural studies to give students ideas of other times and places and an opportunity to exercise their imaginations'.

This emphasis on students studies is in contrast to much of what can be seen today's classrooms with their almost obsessive focus on literacy and numeracy.

'An important idea is for us to 'slow down the pace' of students work as many have developed a 'first finished is best' attitude. In all we do we need to encourage an appreciation of quality thinking including visual presentation of in all their book and chart work. We need to encourage the idea that a 'job worth doing is worth doing well'. Students will keep a topic book to records their idea about class and incidental studies - these also will need to show quality improvement as the year unfolds. Early in the year topic book and chart work should be well defined until students develop personal standards. We must do everything we can to encourage students to take a growing pride in their work'.

It is this 'slowing of the pace' of students work that encourages students to develop a reflective approach and also provides the space for teachers to assist learner in need or sharpen up skills not being used well. Today much of what students produce illustrates 'thin learning' not withstanding an emphasis on 'higher order thinking'. Students topic book represent a living portfolio to illustrate progress to parents and students.

'Our room environments will celebrate student's questions and their completed research based on the current study, along with topics selected from language , art and maths areas. Such studies should have clear headings. We will mount and display students observational and imaginative art, and language with the respect it deserves. All work displayed should represent individual student responses and, as such, represent their individuality.'

The key to quality room environments is doing fewer things well. Room environments represent an important aspect of 'what counts as important' and ought to be seen as representing a major 'message system' for any school.

All classrooms should be 'learning communities' that celebrate student's individuality and creativity if developing personalised learning is to be the future challenge.

Actually there is not much I would change even after thirty years. All that is missing is modern information technology which , if introduced as a tool , would enhance the students ability to collect data, research questions and present their ideas.

Perhaps the new environment offered by our 'new' curriculum will allow present day teachers to develop newer versions of such creative teaching? That is if they take back the responsibility, or have the courage, to work with their students to develop curriculums that align with student's needs. All those years ago i worked alongside a number of other local teachers - teachers again need to search out like minds to share ideas to gain confidence to have faith in their own professionalism. Professionalism that has been all but destroyed by the imposition of technocratic curriculums and obsessive assessment requirements.

As for me it is all a bit back to the future.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Reading the environment.

A student highly 'trained' in the skills of observation, after observing a spring on the mountain, recreates her experience in an amazing piece of art. This quality of observational art is sadly lacking in many schools today.

I have aways enjoyed the following quote from art educator Elliot Eisner:

'To be able to write one must be able to see.To be able to write one must be able to have access to a content, one must be open and able to see the world and experience ones encounter with it. To see the world one must learn how to attend to it, how to penetrate its deep structure, how to capture what is significant.It is through the literacy of sight, and smell, and touch that literature and poetry, drama, science and dance are given the stuff with which to work.'

Too many of our students, if we are to believe teachers, enter schools with poor language ability. If this is the case, and I believe it to be true, then to remedy the situation, we need to help our students see, capture and express their thoughts about their personal and environmental experiences.

Unfortunately we often ask students to explore their environment without first helping them develop skills to make full use of such experiences. That many of our students have lost their inborn exploratory skills is a sad reflection of our technological age where students no longer explore their world as once they might have.

All students need assistance at developing sensory awareness and teachers ought to ever on the alert to point out environment experiences, both from the intimate world and major seasonal weather events, so as to educate each students individual sensory pathways.

A skilled teacher takes advantage of any such experience and helps the students focus their thoughts and feeling and takes the time to gather their question and 'prior' ideas.

To do this teachers must not only be visually aware to the potential of environmental events themselves but also be prepared to spend the time to take full advantage of such experiences. Students need to be helped to appreciate and notice patterns, movements, sounds,shapes, colours, and textures, to be seen in the immediate world around them.

Unfortunately this is not often the case. This is a shame because, from an early age, students should learn to value their ideas and questions. They should be given the time and assistance to do something really well, whether written thoughts or a piece of quality art. It is through the intrinsic reward of doing something really well that gives each student the 'learning power' and courage to do better next time.

Teachers, by helping students 'slow the pace' of their work develop in their students a kind of inner quiet in contrast to the frenetic environment of many classrooms.

Outdoors students need to learn to observe and gather their thoughts perhaps by writing, or dictating, thought poems or simple haiku. They need time to draw things of interest both outdoors and back in class. Digital cameras could be useful to gather useful ideas to explore and later to add personal thoughts below.

Such experiences, combined with quality means of expressing their ideas, will provide students with growing confidence and competence. A great deal of the curriculum of such classes could simply 'emerge' from student's questions and concerns.

Most of all students skills in literacy will developed through the valuing their 'voice' and identity.

As Eisner says, 'the writer starts with the vision and ends with words. The reader starts with the word and ends with the vision.'

It is worth remembering, particularly teachers obsessed with 'book' literacy, that 'before the word comes the experience'.

Valuing this world of experience has always the approach of creative teachers.

Our environment is full of information to be gathered if students have developed awareness to take advantage of such events. As teachers we need to help our students develop the awareness and critical skills to appreciate their environment both aesthetically and scientifically.

The future will need people who are 'in tune' with their environments, not only for personal enjoyment, but also as a means of inspiring creative responses.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Something out of left field....

My ex student collecting thoughts while visiting an impressive carved meeting house in the mid 70s. As a special challenge the thoughts gathered had to be expressed through art from drawings gathered on the day.

Last month it was a very pleasant surprise to receive an e-mail from a student I had had the pleasure of teaching over thirty years ago.

It was enlightening to read her recollections of her experiences of her time in 'our' class. I will let her express her thoughts without editing ( except to preserve her identity - I will need to ask her permission to do this).

In my reply to her I said that I had learnt as much from class members as they hopefully did from me. To put things into perspective it was my first year of teaching; all my previous experiences had been as a nature study specialist and science adviser. In this itinerant role I had had the experience of visiting a number of creative teachers and later worked with small group of very innovative teachers to develop an environmental approach to learning.

At the time we were all heavily influenced by the inspirational writings of Elwyn Richardson who in his still relevant book 'In The Early World' wrote, 'They are my teacher as I was theirs and the basis of our relationship was sincerity, without which,I am convinced there can be no creative education.'

Back to the e-mail:

'This will be a little out of left field but...hello from me...your student from days past...I hope you remember the ten year old because you are indelible in my ten year old brain as the person who showed me how to feel,see and say.

You had (and still continue to have) a profound effect on me and my development..I'm sure the reason I am an artist today is because of you...I have often thought of that class and of the things you showed and shared with mother recently found an incredible piece of evaluation you had written( for some reason about my character) It was so prescient and predictive, sensitive and apposite and it seems, and all agree, I'm the person exactly as I was at ten...hmmmm.

I just wanted to express my thanks for all you gave taught me about the trees and their Maori names...I remembered them all my life and tried to show my kids the same kind of magic..neither of them has had a passionate teacher like you and I can feel the lack in them...

I gave a small talk at my daughter's school a few years ago about the importance of feeding and opening a child's imagination and I mentioned the influence one teacher had had on me...

And whenever I want to create something I go back to the ten year me and find that centre...the open and questioning ten year old it was a great gift and you are unlikely fairy godmother...and I wish someone could wake up my ten year old girl who is full of talent but more worried about being popular...sigh.

All I could say back to my past student was thanks for the most wonderful feedback a teacher could have. All teachers live in hope that that what they do will have a positive effect in the future lives of their students and so it was wonderful for my ex student to feel it important enough to let me know and to attach examples of her paintings.

As an aside I would never have picked my ex student as future artist. I thought that a future destination might have been a writer , a dancer, or possibly a model but, from her her actions and writings, I knew she would be involved in a creative field.

My few years teaching in the 70s have remained with me as my most inspirational educational memories, and confirmed my beliefs (that I continue to hold to this day) about the importance of creative education. I keep in touch with a number of my local ex students but the e-mail was areal treat.

Certainly 'out of left field....'

So thanks again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Digital technology:Over promised and under-delivered?

Students use technology to present their ideas, developed from their research, on famine and child poverty in Africa.

Schools throughout the developed world are preoccupied with a headlong rush into computer technology.

When I was principal of a school in the 90s the Board of Trustees, led by a computer 'expert', were concerned that the school had not introduced computers for their children to use. The feeling was that if we didn't introduce computers the students would be 'at risk'.

It seemed we had no choice and computers were added to every classrooms. Missing from the discussion were questions about the suitability and implications of introducing computers and even the considerable expense involved was not felt an issue.

At the time that the promise of improving educational achievement through computer education was more rhetoric than reality. Any opposition immediately was seen as being some sort of educational 'Luddite' trying to hold up progress.

I had my doubts about the importance of computer based education then and still do so today. It not as if I do not appreciate the considerable learning power of technology as I currently have an active website, an e-zine with over 4000 members, and a blog site. My continued observation of classrooms, to this day, has still not fully convinced me of their value, except where teachers integrate them into realistic , or authentic, active learning situations.

Ironically I noticed that the parents who were enthusiastic about introducing computers never visited to see how they were being used. Having them was enough to indicate to all that school was part of the future!

My concern was,and still is, that introducing computers would divert money from such areas as the creative arts , library books, and necessary consumable material for teachers and students, and most importantly divert teacher time from interacting with students on a personal basis.

Today research is slight to demonstrate that student achievement and the quality of teaching has improved due to computers. A principal researching the use of computer technology in schools, even with being given the names of schools supposedly making best use of them, found educational integration of computers less than wonderful. To make things worse, after refocusing on inquiry based learning, the results were little better.

For all this there is no doubt in my mind that if used wisely such technology has the power to transform our schools, currently locked in industrial aged structures, into twenty first century 'connected' centres of learning.

It seems however that modern technology is sold to schools by people who see schools as a 'cash cow'. And,once technology is introduced, there is aways new technology to replace old models, new upgrades to 'keep up with the play', eating up scarce financial resources of the schools.

It would be wise to spend money on professional development to assist teachers to use the technology sensibly. Apple Computers believe teacher technology education takes up to five years.With this in mind it would be common sense to ensure that this is the area that schools should focus on; until this is done the full potential of new technology is all too often lost . The recent rush for schools to introduce electronic whiteboards is a good example. As the latest 'silver bullet' their introduction places active pedagogy at risk as students learn to use them return to sitting in rows to 'learn' from them. They, however, are impressive and have a 'halo' effect on all who come into contact with them.

Our breathless love affair with modern technology has left the focus on pedagogy in the dust. Energy in learning how to use computers has all too often replaced the focus on learning from real experiences that would make their use valuable. All to often introducing computers has resulted in the 'techno- centric' virtual world replacing the richness of exploring the real world. As well too much time watching electronic screens is felt by many to be bad for student health and well being ; some even believe it contributes to violence,autism , attention deficit disorder and obesity!

The challenge for educators is to integrate technology into solving real learning problems either in subject disciplines or, better still, in problems that integrate a range of learning areas. 'Life in the real world is far more interesting, far richer than much of what is seen on a computer screen', according to Clifford Stoll author of 'Silicon Valley Snake Oil'.

Even if used in integrated studies to collect and express students ideas their use, all too often, results in very 'thin' learning. This is not helped by teachers who mistakenly believe that 'process', or 'learning how to learn', is more important than what is learned. This emphasis on 'process' results in, what some call, the 'google effect'; cutting and pasting information without any real scholarship. Such an easy way out to learning does not respect the effort involved in real understanding or 'deep' learning, or reflection. A quick read of student research will confirm the presence of such passive learning. If students do not work hard to research their own questions, do not interrogate conflicting ideas, then real comprehension and ownership' is lost.

Such superficial fast paced learning is all too often seen in classrooms. 'The Internet is a great medium for trivia and hobbies but not the place for reasoned, reflective judgement' , say computer critic Clifford Stoll who also believes that students need an hour of conversation for every hour online. He would much rather a student telling him what is in his imagination , rather than in someones else's. He adds, 'if a child doesn't have a questioning mind what good does all the networked technology do?'

Visitors to rooms should look hard to see if students key questions are evident to focus their research; they should look to see how individual students 'prior ideas' have been challenged; and they should look to see evidence of student observation, drawn or written. Student presentations should also illustrate not only the depth of thinking but also the tentativeness of much that has been researched as there is aways more to be learnt.

In such classrooms information technology, if appreciated, would be a real asset to capture information in the field ( with digital cameras for example), to get relevant ideas from the Internet, and then to express what has been discovered in their own words - both scientific and poetic. Much of what is currently observed is just too superficial; a result of 'surfing', dipping into knowledge, not thinking.

In serious learning classrooms the teacher remains the most important 'technology' in the room. Without sensitive teacher interactions who would know what faulty thoughts are being expressed by students. Teachers need to know what ideas he, or she, hopes the students will acquire; they must have the skills to enter into 'learning conversations' so as to challenge their students thinking; and, finally, to have the confidence to make educational use of appropriate information technology. Only the teacher, with the right relationships, not the technology, can draw out the pupils awareness, insight and personal knowledge. All the whizz bang high tech can't compare with a walk to study a piece of native bush or sitting quietly contemplating by a stream.

Before schools introduce technology into their classrooms it is important that they clarify their teaching beliefs and philosophy to ensure that the technology introduced do not become expensive white elephants to maintain and repair.

Principals would be well advised to see how well their teachers are using these expensive innovations. As Apple's Steven Jobs writes , 'What's wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology' and from Bill Gates, ' Technology is just a tool in terms of getting kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important'. Minds think with ideas not information; processing power is no substitute for inspired thought.

Clarify school educational purposes first then introduce technology to assist, as required, would be good advice for school leaders. And for all the promise of virtual communities is worth remembering that it is equally valuable to learn to explore and appreciate the 'real' environment.

Technology has dramatically changed all area of human work and entertainment. Advocates of technology in schools often envisage similar dramatic changes in the process of teaching and learning.It has become painfully clear that in education the reality has lagged far behind the vision. Education is just to complex for the simple solutions of Clifford Stoll's 'Silcon Valley Snake Oil' salesmen.

It is unethical to push students into a high tech future without providing them with relevant problems to solve and the critical skills to use the technology wisely to assist them.

Monday, July 14, 2008

New politics for the 'left'.

Needed - a new caring and conserving vision for the future.

I have just read a Australian book on politics ( 'Beyond Left and Right' by David McKnight) which suggests the political 'left' needs to rethink it's position. Although it does not mention New Zealand it is very relevant for our Government in the months ahead. As an aside, although published in 2005, it also fails to mention Kevin Rudd. Things can change quickly in politics!

The 'left' worldwide, the book suggests, has lost its sense of direction while the radical neo conservative 'right' has held the high ground since the 1980s. Centre right governments have simply watered down the worst excesses of privatisation policies ( 'third way' politics) without defining a new position for themselves.

The book argues current political thinking is trapped within a linear political spectrum of left to right beliefs which are now largely irrelevant. This irrelevance, the writer believes, offers a new opportunities, or ways of seeing the world to be developed.

Issues about the environment, the family, economic inequality, cultural diversity, and even deeper issues concerning purpose and meaning in our lives, cross traditional 'left/right' boundaries and need to be re thought through by the 'left'.

The writer suggests the 'left', once the party with ideas of vision and conviction, has lost its radical lead to the 'neo conservatists' since the days of 'Thatcherism', 'Reaganism' and, in new New Zealand, 'Rogernomics'.

The most powerful ideas, in the minds of people are now with the 'right'. The 'left' is increasingly being dismissed as as too focused on intervening into all aspects of our lives - summed up by the phrase 'nanny state'. The 'neo conservative' right being seen as valuing individual responsibility, self sufficiency, less government, more competition, pro business, deregulation, and privatisation of government services. It will pay to be a 'winner' in such a 'free market winner takes all' society; profits before people!

The ills of privatisation are being in danger of being forgotten as the politicians of the right are keeping a return to this radical agenda to themselves ( nothing in the first term !). The 'right' focus prospective voters on the excesses of the 'nanny state', too many highly paid bureaucrats, tax relief, and a sense of a need for change for its own sake. As a result the labour government is forced into an unproductive defensive role.

What the government needs to do is define what it will do in the future along with pressing the opposition on its 'privatisation' policies and what such policies would mean for such areas as education.

Up until now 'privatisation' policies have created a 'winners and losers' society without any promised 'trickle down' to the less fortunate.

The countries following neo conservative policies ( including New Zealand), according to the The World Health Organisation surveys, have higher amounts of distress,anxiety and social problems in their societies than the continental Western European democracies. These European democracies pay far more tax for welfare and social services than we do and, as a result, do not suffer from the stresses that countries like New Zealand do. It is a clear contrast between 'Selfish' and 'Caring' capitalism.

There is a way forward for a revitalised left is the thesis of the book.

Neo conservative policies have left many on the traditional conservatist of the 'right' uneasy as 'new right' policies are putting pressures on the environment, our resources and in the process creating unnecessary social distress. A 'new left' movement needs to tap these conservative feeling towards our environment, and the need to give all citizens a 'fair go'. A society based on consumerism is simply not sustainable.

Traditional conservatists believe in 'conserving' natural resources. The future demands that this need to conserve resources be placed above wasteful unsustainable short term profit motives. The climate crisis needs to be laid at the feet of unsustainable 'free market' capitalism. New policies need to sponsor sensible growth and not simply believe in progress at all costs.

A second area of focus is the family
. Families are under stress and polices to assist would be appreciated. Caring is an area that the new right are uncomfortable about unless such services can be privatised. Provision of an income to encourage mothers to stay home to look after children, if they wish, for the first three years would be worth considering. Another welcome innovation would be to dramatically raise the hourly rate given to all those in the caring institutions that look after the sick and the elderly. People in care should be seen as citizens with rights not 'clients' or consumers.

Older conservatives equally value this need for dignity and care and are uneasy about everything being defined by a monetary value. New 'left' politics need to value peoples need for protection and security.

New concepts of multiculturalism will need to be thought through. Too many conservatist citizens see 'left wing' politics as favouring cultural groups and differences at the expense of the majority. Core New Zealand inclusive values need to be developed that all cultural groups need to live within while at the same time respecting individual and cultural differences. There has been too great an emphasis on differences rather than obligation to the common good and social cohesion.

A 'new left' vision needs to be developed to encourage people to see beyond limited horizons. If this is not achieved people will continue to limit their thinking to short term selfish gains.

The world simply cannot survive with the 'selfishness' of free market capitalism
.There are are caring and conserving values that the 'free markets' are unable to consider. Everything cannot be left to the 'invisible hand' of the market - new left politics must develop the equally important 'invisible heart' of a caring, civilised and sustainable society.

Neither the current pragmatic left wing politics nor the neo conservatist monetary politics will provide solutions to the problem facing individual countries such as New Zealand or the bigger issues facing the sustainability of the earth itself.

To face up to the new realities and to achieve such a vision will demand of the 'left', according to the author, a rethinking of basic assumptions and the goals of a 'good society'.

Capitalism could be a powerful force for good, not greed, if it became 'green', conserving and caring.

New visions have the power to encourage people to act to be part of a better world.

The ideas in the book represent a need for new of values and a battle of ideas. Humanistic values need to confront the self interestness of the libertarian free market values.

New visions have the power to encourage people to act to be part of a better world to develop a conserving 'better society', one that all gain from and feel part of . To do this 'new left' politics needs to combine with older conservative ethics of care.

Building a moral framework for such a vision, based on humanistic rather than monetary values, is the challenge for the 'new left'.

We haven't seen much of this new vision so far.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Back to the future.

A wonderful resource written in 1961 to develop a creative personalised programme in your class today! If it hasn't been thrown out it would makes enlightening, and practical holiday reading.

The other day I was sent some heavily annotated photocopied pages from 1961 Suggestions for Teaching English in the Primary School. The note with it was passionately pointing out, 'so what is new'.

After reading the document I wished there were such perceptive writers residing at the Ministry of Education today - and, thank goodness, there were no 'bullet points' to be seen. The document was an attempt to share the creative practices of teachers of the time and it made it clear there were no 'best practices' - every teacher and school needed to work out what was appropriate for themselves; ideals that are similar to those found in our 2007 curriculum.

In those distant creative days of the 60s and 70s, before the imposition of the standardized curriculum's of the 80sand 90, creative teachers used this publication almost as a bible.

Maybe we are returning to such creative ways of teaching? If so a read of these publications would be most useful - particularly the pages outlining the five stages to make the shift from a formal to a creative integrated approach to teaching.

The philosophy behind the booklets was a developmental one - where each teacher takes a learner from where he is to as far he can go. This is in stark contrast to today's technocratic check list and benchmarks approach.

The teachers, in these earlier and more enlightened days, were advised to see their pupils as persons with needs, talents, and interests to develop. The teacher's vital role was to put their students into situations that would help them understand more and to be able to use language better.

Reflecting similar challenges that face teachers today the publication stated that the major obstacles to change was the system of attitudes teachers had built up over many years. In those days it was escaping from tightly timetabled, 'cut and dried' programmes, and testing - today the challenge is to escape from the endless learning objectives of the curriculums of the 80s and 90s.

Teachers were being asked to focus on how children learn and to developing a diagnostic and supportive role, helping each student according to their individual need. The challenge was to integrate language skills into realistic student studies based around science and social studies and the local environment.

Teachers were asked to constantly take stock of of their children's progress, ensuring that work in all areas of the curriculum excited children's interests and powers of expression.

Language was not to be seen in isolation, instead it was to be seen as the medium in which teachers and students thought and worked. The quality of the language (and related art s) was to be reflected the quality of the students products.

Today there is no such time for such an integrated programme with the current emphasis on achieving literacy and numeracy 'targets.

In the 60sand 70s a great deal of the work was done in a creative spirit where students discovered things for themselves with the assistance of their teachers. It was, what we would call today, an inquiry programme; students solving problems in the pursuit of their own purposes; developing appropriate skills in the process.

Students and teachers worked as partners with genuine respect for each other, appreciating the worth of their discoveries of the world around, or within them. In such rooms grew a a trust and love which liberated both children and their teachers and made learning what it should be - a joyful adventure.

The publications were an attempt to share the creative energy of earlier pioneer teachers like Elwyn Richardson. This is exactly the role our current Ministry should be taking today. Creative teachers are the key to lasting educational change - teachers today ,exhausted from accountability pressures, are hardly in the position to be creative!

The quality of the language programme depended on the rest of the curriculum; language is the medium, but not the only one. The focus was on building on the interests of the students themselves ( today we would call this 'personalised learning). The encouragement of independence, self discipline and responsibility relate to today's 'key competencies');character being nurtured through the children's maturing awareness of themselves. As students developed independence they were given more responsibility.

Reading, rather than being isolated as today, was based on assisting children gain meaning to: serve their identified purpose, to follow an argument, pick out essential ideas, and to respond with sympathy and imagination the text. Teacher assistance was given, as required, according to individual or group needs.

Class studies provided the 'energy' or relevance for student work. Particular students' interests in class studies would lead them into a range of individual or group areas of interest and time was given to produce work of quality.

Much of the educative value of the work lay in the integration with of the creative arts and encouragement of an open minded experimental and resourceful attitude to the media being used.

Perhaps it to this style of teaching that our 'new', for most of the ideas within it are hardly new, Curriculum now encourages?

If so then we once again may see creative teaching take centre stage.