Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A view from the edge

Stephanie Pace Marshall

We live in an increasingly uncertain world and it is during such times that successful individuals need to have the confidence to try thing even if they don’t know what to do. It is this attitude of mind that will get them into the future.

Unfortunately our schools, particularly our secondary schools, were developed with old industrial aged minds and unless they change dramatically such schools will not be able to cope with the needs of their increasingly diverse students. A fragmented mass one size fits all system cannot transform itself in a personalized learning community without upsetting the status quo. Tinkering will not do. The growing number of disengaged students will force change on schools whether they like it or not.

Developing confident creative life long learner is the essence of our ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum. I say 'new' because there is really little that is really new in it – it is just that those who wrote the curriculum have thankfully caught up with the game. Schools need to be relevant and meaningful to all students not just the academic.

The challenge is well expressed by gifted American teacher and space shuttle astronaut Stephanie Pace Marshal who has said, ‘The liberation of genius and goodness of all children, the creation of new minds, and creating learning communities that invite and challenge the wonder and awe of the human spirit’ Addressing her fellow teachers she asks. ‘Is this the work you want to do?’

If so we have a long way to go.

Uncertainty about the future ought to encourage in us courageous thinking. ‘The future is uncertain’, writes Physicist Ilya Prigogine, ‘but this uncertainty I sat the very heart of human creativity’. The previous governments New Zealand Curriculum, while admittedly not new, was an important official step in the right direction seeing, as it does all students as ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’. It is a curriculum which places ‘intellectual curiosity at the heart of all learning’.

This ambitious 212stCentury curriculum, with its emphasis on learning how to learn competencies infused in relevant learning contexts could set the scene for developing the talented citizens our country needs to survive in uncertain times.

Instead all is being put at risk by a reactionary imposition by a populist government determined to introduce testing basic standards, the introduction of which has narrowed the curriculum in other countries. This obsession with winning the achievement stakes will create an environment, according to creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, where ‘teachers pore over variances in achievement with intensity and value of voodoo chiefs staring at bones’ and distract teachers from providing real, but less easily measured, desire to learn.

Recently the UK Cambridge Review of Primary education presented a damming indictment of primary education, stating that an overemphasis on testing the skills of reading, writing and maths is compromising student’s natural curiosity, imagination and love of learning. ‘Basic skills’ now take up over 50% of all learning time, a situation that would be common in NZ schools even without testing! The report is critical of the politicisation of basic skills in a way that is detrimental to more rewarding learning. This subversion of learning has been distorted by their equivalent of the Education Review Office. (Ofsted).

Educationalist Roland Barth has written that , ‘many of our schools seem en route to becoming a hybrid of a nineteenth century factory, a twentieth century minimal security penal colony ,and a twentieth century education testing service’. No wonder we are having problems with behaviour and truancy.

Real learning, or creativity, according to Sir Ken Robinson, is about tapping into the natural grain of young people’s dispositions. He warns us that ‘mining our student’s heads’ to achieve higher literacy and numeracy scores means we neglect other, just as important, qualities and talents. ‘Creativity is just as important as literacy and numeracy’, he writes. And thinking expert, Guy Claxton, echoes Sir Ken by saying ‘learnacy is just as important as literacy and numeracy’ He writes, in his powerful book, ‘What’s the Point of School’, that we ought to be focusing on developing the ‘learning power’ of all students.

Negative school experiences, even for the so called successful, Robinson writes, ‘stamps us with deep impressions of ourselves’ impressions that can be ‘negative and hard to remove’. ‘This success or failure’, he writes, ‘can affect our image of ourselves for life’ and he reminds us that some of the most brilliant successful people, in all walks of life, failed education. Unfortunately many school failures never recover!

‘Re-engaging’ learners, or keeping them ‘engaged’, requires more than a focus on literacy and numeracy, it require new thinking
. Futurist Dan Pink writes that the future will ‘require that the current domination of the left brained technocratic information age needs to give way to right brained qualities of inventiveness, empathy and making new meaning’; all implicit in out ‘new’ curriculum.

Even Canadian consultant Michael Fullan, one of the originators of the failed UK testing and ‘league tables’ , has had second thoughts believing now that it now is important to ‘broaden and widen’ definitions of literacy and numeracy. His ‘widening and deepening’ look like our key competencies! But he still conservatively sticks to placing the emphasis on them rather than seeing such important areas ‘reframed’ so as to focus on, and contribute to, inquiry learning. This is the advice of highly respected educator, Linda Darling-Hammond, in her latest book ‘Powerful Learning’. This is a book all principals (and politicians) should read. She is one of President Obama’s advisers.

My advice ‘from the edge’ is for teachers and schools to stand firm on the implementation of the ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculums and to fight hard against the imposition of the flailed political agenda of national testing and the possibility of demeaning ‘league tables’ of any sort.

The Cambridge review’s solution is to introduce a new curriculum which sounds very much like our own ‘new’ one. The review message is a wake up call to NZ schools to protect the creative opportunities the NZC provides from the interference of politicians.

We do need to ensure every student leaves our school system ‘confident creative life long learners’. Unpacking this rhetoric is the real challenge for schools the success of which will solve many of the problems currently created by trying to fit students into a ‘one size fits all’ system. As the saying goes ‘if the only game in town is poker, and there are some very good chess players, then the chess players will be handicapped’.

We need to work hard to personalize our schools so as to provide unique pathways for every learner so as to value the learning identities, cultures, the gifts, and ‘voices’ of all our students.

It is worth reminding ourselves that all young people are born with an evolutionary disposition to learn and to keep this desire alive is the challenge for us all. We need to recognize and amplify every learners extraordinary natural capacities; we need to observe them to see what area of strengths they have and then to build on them Real creativity, writes Sir Ken Robinson, ‘comes from finding your medium, from being in your element’ and that ‘discovering this right medium is often a tidal moment in the creative life of the individual.’

Teaching is about creating the conditions for all students to realize their potential; for all students to have the opportunity to be their own ‘seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge’. ‘The dream begins ‘ said Dan Rather, ‘with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called the truth.’

To achieve the right conditions will require courageous leadership and faith in the creative potential of teachers. Teachers who if given the right conditions will do the best for all their students

Nothing must be allowed to get in the way of such a vision. Not even politicians!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

National's 'populist' Standards

John Key a master at populist and rear vision thinking: imposing National Standards – is this the best we can do in the 21stC?

An image that sticks in my mind before last years election was the then Leader of the opposition Mr Key driving in a car looking over his shoulder and saying, ‘vote for me and I will ensure all students leave literate and numerate’.

It now seems an appropriate metaphor for the proposed reactionary backward looking literacy and numeracy standards his government plans to impose.

As part of John Key’s ‘crusade’ ‘national standards will be set in literacy and numeracy; every primary and intermediate student will be assessed regularly against National Standards; and every…school will report to parents in plain English.’ Proposed requirements suggest report to parents, to the BOT and reports to the Ministry. The first are common practice, the report to the Ministry is problematic.

On the surface national testing sounds appealing. Shouldn’t all schools be measured regularly to see how well they are delivering programmes in literacy and numeracy? And ought not parents to be informed so they can see how well their children are doing and how their children (or school) stacks up against others? On the surface it seems like a good idea.

Before the politicians rush in to sort out teachers and schools it would be advisable to think about the consequences of such simplistic ideas. National testing is an idea from the past and has had a long history full of unintended consequences. Teaching and learning is far too complex to be assessed by such simplistic measures. As Margaret Wheatley has written in her book, ‘Leadership and the New Science’, it not the targets you hit that count, it is the ones you miss because you were to busy focusing on the ones you have been told to aim for.

In the UK students are regularly tested from an early age and the schools results are published in what are called ‘league tables’ creating ‘winner and loser’ schools. These lists do not even take into account the socio economic environment that the schools are sited in; hardly a ‘level playing field!’

None the less achievement scores in literacy and numeracy did rise in the UK but over time scores have levelled out and now are tracking down. UK educationalist Guy Claxton has written in his inspiring book, ‘What’s the Point of School,’ that other surveys have shown that students have lost interest in the areas targeted– no doubt because of all the pressures. Claxton, and others such as Sir Robert Winston, are reporting a disturbing rise of anxiety in English students. Claxton writes that a side product of measurable improved achievement results is also killing the joy of teaching.

In the USA test results place so much pressure on principals to see their schools succeed that they pass this pressure right on to their teachers – and teachers in turn to their students. Scotland, being a little more perceptive, has wisely avoided the ‘league table’ concept. We should at least achieve a similar position in New Zealand if common sense prevails.

In the USA, as part of George Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ (NCLB) testing programmes, there has been a distortion of the educative process as stressed teachers narrow their teaching and ‘teach to the tests’. As a result in both the UK and the USA enlightened teaching is being replaced by imposed expectations and as a result, in both countries, there is less emphasis on the creative arts, cultural studies, and environmental and social issues let alone the need to focus on identified future capabilities (our ‘key competencies’) that all students will need to thrive in such uncertain times.

This distortion of education, as we enter the 21stC, is too big a price for any society to pay and is hardly ethical or moral for students whose gifts and talents lie in other areas.

As we enter a new age, some are calling the ‘Second Renaissance’ or ‘The Age of Creativity’, it is vital that schools are not diverted from their real tasks of developing the gifts and talents of all their students – including the ‘foundation skills’ of literacy and numeracy. That school are currently not achieving worthwhile learning for all students (we still have 20% of our students who leave without any school qualification) developing the gifts of all students ought to be the focus for a visionary new government.

As we leave the now failing Industrial Age it is ironic that the new government, which prides itself on individuality, freedom and enterprise, is about to impose initiatives with their genesis in a Victorian Age that will restrict the spontaneity, creativity of both teachers and students.

Contrary to the opinion that our politicians have spread, that our schools are not currently focusing on literacy and numeracy, the opposite is true. An English commentator has written that in the UK ‘literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the entire curriculum’. Imposing National Standards will create a similar situation in NZ.

Perceptive educationalist Kelvin Smythe has written that New Zealand school are too dominated by testing, ‘schools are already assessed up to the gunwales…the last think they need is more pressure from the Review Office for even more assessment….some of the tests schools are encouraged to use are overblown, providing lots of data and little information.’ Kelvin Squire, previously a president of the NZPPF has written, ‘I’ve travelled all over the world with the Principal’s Federation and I have seen it doesn’t work’. Rather bravely he continues, ‘I’d resist national testing, do civil disobedience, if I had to!’

In Australia the same political agenda is being followed. According to past Director General of Queensland Phil Cullen this measurement obsessed mentality is destroying the true purpose of education. He quotes Alfie Kohn, one of Americas most outspoken critic of testing, who writes, ‘ a plague has been sweeping through schools wiping out the most innovative instruction and beating down some of the best teachers…ironically this has been released in the name of improving schools invoking such terms as tougher standards.. this heavy handed, top down, test driven version of school reform…is turning schools into test prep centres, effectively closing off intellectual inquiry and undermining enthusiasm for learning..this is a political movement that must be opposed.’

Lester Flockton, in the NZPPF Magazine November 09, writes that ‘it is unfair to expect that schools alone should be accountable for the educational malaise….schools are good but they cannot overcome deep deficits’. Kelvin Squire has also written ‘it is all too easy to fix blame on schools and then only to offer populist solutions’.Lester Flockton has written, ‘that national standards get it right when they include a well balanced and interrelated set of abilities and dispositions including those which are not reality, or appropriately measurable by tests .e.g. enjoyment and engagement in reading.’ And he writes they ‘must cause no harm’.

There is no doubt that the concept of National Standards is a major break from current practice and there is also no doubt that, if imposed, they will cause unintended consequences to the detriment of teacher creativity. An unnecessary tension will be created between imposed expectations and creative education that will dramatically affect the schools ability to provide a rich and full curriculum. If test results were to be passed on to the Ministry this would result in teachers teaching to the tests. What we don’t want is for the ‘assessment tail to wag the dog’!

The solving of the so called ‘achievement tail’ will need more than imposed tests by a ‘big brother’ state. We all need to face up to the challenge of this ‘achievement tail’ (along with rising prison and crime rates and environmental issues). Challenges created by past misguided political decisions will only be solved when social inequality, the growing ‘rich poor gap’, is faced up to

Strongly missing from the debate by the present government is any mention of the new New Zealand Curriculum, a curriculum seen by such people as Canadian Educator Dean Fink, as leading the world. It would be a shame if the real advantages of this curriculum were to be sidelined by the standards debate.

The New Zealand Curriculum is an exciting curriculum for the future –and one that pays due respect for literacy and numeracy. If there is a need for assessment then our future citizens will need to be assessed for their full range of talents, their attitudes towards learning, and their ability to self assess, self monitor, and self regulate themselves. Any assessment ought to be broad enough to ensure students become ‘confident life- long learner’ and ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' that our new curriculum asks of schools.

To ensure that the creative spirit of this curriculum is not overpowered by narrow literacy and numeracy testing will require courageous principals able to have the confidence to create the conditions to protect creative teachers from misguided policies. Even today even excellent principals exhibit what some call ‘anticipatory dread’ at the thought of an upcoming ERO visit. National Standards will increase the demeaning pressure of this escalating technocratic audit culture by adding new levels of ambiguity and confusion about how to interpret expectations. Solving such messy challenges, such as aligning different sources of evidence to make a ‘best fit’ with National Standards in sensible ways, ought not to be the focus of school leaders; this would be waste of their valuable time and energy. Who will want to be a principal as they turn into accountants? What’s the bet that, as confusion mounts, that contracts will be given to develop uniform tests able to compare school with school? This will be the beginning of the end of the creative teaching and school innovation that New Zealand educators have been long recognised for worldwide.

If we had appropriate authentic tests (tasks) then it would be advisable to teach towards them, but with narrow tests focusing on literacy and numeracy this survival strategy would be suicidal
. Powerful forms of assessment should focus on ‘whole’ learning tasks – performances of writing, reading, ability to research, and demonstrations, exhibitions and presentations. Such a multiple approach to assessment provides a ‘better picture’ of the whole child and provides wide ranging evidence to share with parents and the Review Office. This is what innovative school and creative teachers are already doing. Assessment expert Paul Williams tells us that, ‘successful learning occurs when learners have ownership of their learning; when they understand the goals they are aiming for; when crucially, they are motivated and have the skills to achieve success’. This research is duplicated by John Hattie who has written that learning is dependent on positive learner teacher relationships and that the prescription for student learning is clear, ‘dollops of feedback, specific and changing goals , and a constant attention to asking how am in going?’.

These well researched approaches to assessment and purposeful teaching seems to have bi-passed our politicians who obviously have their own agendas to back their simplistic and populist proposals.

Creativity and diversity in our schools, not mediocre conformity, will be the mark of a successful creative 21stC country.

One thing is clear. National Standards are more about politics than learning. They have more to do with fixing blame than creating solutions. They will do little to serve the interests of the students who ought to expect more of us. The real revolution will not come about by collecting and analyzing more data. We already have tons of data thanks to our computers that we don’t use very well now.

Schools will only improve when they are designed to engage the humans inside them
– schools that focus on nourishing and amplifying the abundant innate creativity of our students. The proposed National Standards, and the inevitable bureaucratic systems that will be created, will only divert the valuable energy to achieve this.

If we want to be a creative country we need to ensure all the talents and gifts of all our students are realised. If we want our future citizens to be able to use their creativity and imagination, to solve problems that are beyond current thinking, then we really have no choice. It is unfortunate that envisioning such a creative education system seems beyond our current leadership who find their answers looking backwards into the past when they ought instead to have the ‘future in their bones’.

Maybe it is time for some civil disobedience? As Albert Einstein wrote, ‘Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.’ He also wrote, ’Imagination is more important than knowledge. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, require creative imagination and marks real advance in science.’

Last words from a NZ teacher now living in Victoria.

‘We are right into national testing over here. There is now national testing of all year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students. It used to be only in the other states. We were told we were lagging behind these other states. We also have online testing in numeracy and maths with the results going to the Department. Our reports are also put directly into the Department. This is done three times a year. Accountability is everything, dont worry about the teaching. We are told that it does not matter where the student’s starts our job is to get then up to the national average and they are trying to bring in performance pay as well.’

So much for the ‘nanny state’ of the previous Labour Government - bring on ‘big brother’!

‘With all the best intentions in the world we are stealing the kid’s future’. Alvin Toffler

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Checking out your class, or school, for quality learning.

Is your classroom a quality learning environment where students are able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge' as it states in the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum?

Here are some questions to focus on.

1 Are your students self managing able to set and achieve their own goals, or plans, and able to show continual quality improvement in all they do
( in Japan this incremental growth is called 'kaizen').

2 Do you 'negotiate' ( to ensure 'ownership') with the students what is expected in any learning task and demonstrate these expectations by 'focused teaching', 'scaffolding' ( giving temporary help), modelling, demonstrating or 'thinking aloud'?

3 Do you make use of literacy time to teach 'seeking , using and creating' skills needed to work independently when involved in inquiry learning. Some call this idea of developing prior understanding, or skills, 'front loading', or 're framing' literacy and numeracy, to service inquiry learning.)

4 Do students appreciate that creativity and quality are more important than quantity; to appreciate the need to 'do fewer things well' and where to improve on their 'personal best' is internalized?

5 A a teacher have you defined, with students, how to design and present their research and language work and does the students' book work show continual improvement ('kaizen'') both in presentation and quality of ideas? Some schools have 're-invented' students' books as a form of 'portfolio' to send home to demonstrate growth to parents during the year.

6 As a teacher to you see the need to cover fewer topics in depth so as to ensure depth understanding rather than trying cover too many things superficially?

7 Are you as a teacher, and are your students, aware of the strategies involved in any activity and are students able to articulate what it is they are doing and why?

8 Can you , and your students, articulate the basic inquiry model being used to underpin all learning in the class ( or school)?

9 Can you, and your students, articulate the 'key competencies' ( or future learning capabilities) that all students need to internalize to become 'confident life long learners'?

10 Do you 'negotiate with' your students the criteria for assessment of any task so they can self assess their own learning and are able to set new goals. ( It is important to ensure that individual creativity is one of the criteria to avoid standardization)

11 Is there evidence that classrooms are well organised ( by tasks for language, maths and inquiry tasks defined on whiteboards or blackboards) to allow both teacher interaction ( to provide guidance and feedback) and for students to be able to work and interact independently.

12 Do the room environment displays reflect creative quality achievement across the curriculum and do these displays both celebrate and inform students finished work by using: headings, key questions, processes and evaluations as necessary. Is there evidence of both student's 'prior' and 'post' ideas?

13 Is there any evidence of agreed school, class or school communal behavioural values?

14 Do you monitor your teaching against agreed school beliefs ( or such a set of questions as these) as an integral part of self appraisal and can you show new ideas you are trialling or that you have introduced to improve your teaching?

15 Are you able to articulate the school vision, values and teaching beliefs and can the students, and their parents, do so in their own words?.

If the answers are positive for most of the above then the class is true creative learning community?

If it applies to all classrooms the school is a learning community.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Reflection on my teaching beliefs

Reflection of Mamaku fern frond in a lake.

Recently I read an article by educationalist Andy Hargreaves who wrote about 'Four Ways' of educational change since the 1960s. His thoughts reflected many of the thoughts about educational changes that have concerned me over the years. It is obvious that what 'officially counts' in education is driven by forces beyond the classroom. The creativity of the 60s that 'emerged' out of decade of security following the Second World War, is a good example and was when my education journey, or story , began. The creative education arising out of this era is Hargreaves 'First Way'.

This is worth thinking about for there are many, including myself, that believe we are now entering a new age of creativity - some even call it a 'second Renaissance'. If this is so then many of our current organisations, with their genesis in an industrial age, will need dramatic transformation, as will, more importantly our mindsets. We will need new minds for a new millennium.

We will need to create networks of creative schools so as to to be in the forefront of such exciting changes. To achieve this schools, and their communities, need to stop and think about what is required of education in such exciting and very unpredictable times. Traditional education just won't do.

Back to my beliefs.

Ensuring all students leave formal schools 'creative confident life long learners' able to seek, use and create their own knowledge', as stated in our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum, is number one for me. Currently there are many students who leave less than confident and creative, and far from equipped to thrive, or contribute, to a new creative era. Developing the gifts and talents of all students ought to be the focus of education.

Creative teachers, led by creative leaders, in concert with the wider community, are the key to future education writes Hargreaves. We have long way to go. The past decades, the 60 and 70s excluded, have not been an easy time for creative teachers. They have been decades of standardised curriculums, accountablity, and compliance requirements and make up Hargreaves 'Second and Third Ways'.

Creating schools as creative learning communities ( 'communities of inquiry') is the future 'Fourth Way'. Such learning communities need to based around students, at all levels, exploring authentic learning challenges, integrating the 'foundation skills' of literacy and numeracy into inquiry learning, learning 'how to learn' attitudes and skills ( or 'key competencies'), and, in the process, digging deeply into all the appropriate learning areas or disciplines. Such an education will demand new roles for students as inquirers, teachers as learning 'coaches' or advisers and principals as leaders who are skilled in establishing the conditions to allow this. Very few schools work in such creative holistic ways.

Such communities ought to be examples of democracy in practice where everyone involved 'voice' is valued and listened to. Democratic school simply do not currently exist! It is time to apply the democratic ideals espoused by John Dewey over a century ago!

My more specific beliefs add greater definition to the possibility of developing creative learning.

To achieve all students as confident learners, with positive learning identities, we need to place our emphasis in valuing their interests, their questions, their ideas( theories), their cultures and their immediate environment. With such an approach a relevant curriculum will 'emerge' ; one that will lead into the need to explore traditional disciplines. This would turn traditional preplanned prescribed curriculums on their ear.

Really valuing each students 'voice' and 'choice' will obviously be important. Creative classrooms ( the whole school environment) should celebrate students' creativity, their writing, their art and their research . To achieve such 'personalisation' of learning ( the agenda for the new century) we will have to leave behind out current orientation towards the 'standardised' learning more suited to an a failing industrial age. In too many school the students 'voice' is silent

A source for much of students learning, other than that arising out of student's interests and concerns, needs to centred exploring their immediate natural, man made, and historical environment
. It will be important to develop in students a strong sense of place by developing an awareness and appreciation of their environment. As a part of this environmental education it will be necessary to value educating learners sensory awareness and their ability to interpret and express what is experienced creativity through a range of 'frameworks' or intelligences ( Howard Gardner).

Underpinning such learning is a 'co -constructivist' approach where 'teachers' and learners work side by side to develop in depth understandings in whatever area is being studied. It is an approach often called 'Inquiry Learning' or 'negotiating the curriculum' and is often a messy process at the beginning of any study. This is essentially a creative process of discovering as you learn. For teachers who see learning as transmission from teacher to learner such teaching is a real challenge.

New ways of teaching will need new ways of assessing. Simply stated the best way to assess what students can do is for them to demonstrate what they have learnt by means: of listening to them, by examples of their work on display, portfolios, performances and exhibitions, including innovative use of ICT. Such assessment offers a challenge to the traditional ideas of standardised testing. While it will always be important to value the students processes of learning ('key competencies') it is equally valuable for students to produce work of real excellence and quality. When student produce work beyond their current expectations ( and often also their teachers) these are important transformational moments for the learner and are almost impossible to measure. These are moments of personal pride resulting in attitudinal change and often providing motivation for life long learning.

Reflecting on such beliefs it is obvious that many of them are already in place in many classrooms although few schools come to mind. With the exception of ICT most of the ideas were in place in classrooms in the 1960s. The past politicized changes of the past decades, resulting in a surveillance accountability culture, has imposed a compliance mentality on our schools and has not been kind to creative education

The new 'creative era' asks of us to have the courage to bring creative teaching to the fore once again.It will require schools to work with others by creating networks to share expertise and ideas; and to work with parents and communities to ensure all develop an unformed understanding of the value of such approaches for their individual children, their communities and the nation. All students leaving school as confidant learners is a more positive ideal than presently 20% of students leaving disengaged and alienated!

We need to develop the creativity of the 60s again but this time to do it better. This was the essence of Hargreaves 'Fourth Way'.

Lets start the reflection, school community by school community, and begin the 'Great Debate'!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What do we all need to be life long learners?

We are all born with an innate need to learn so as to make sense of, and learn from, our experiences. The question is why do so many students lose this natural disposition?

While the government is determined to introduce national standards in literacy and numeracy the bigger question is to ask is, 'why so many students are currently failing in our schools'? To load it all on to a perceived lack of standards in literacy and numeracy is just to simplistic.

The danger is while schools place their focus on the implications of national testing they may lose focus on what education is all about. The government is placing far too much on our schools to solve problems more often caused beyond the gates of the school. Worse still national standards simply haven't worked in countries they have been introduced - instead they have distorted the educational process and narrowed the curriculum in the process.

If we want all our students to succeed and to become the 'confident life long learners' desired by our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum then we have to look deeper than literacy and numeracy, as important as they obviously are.

We need to ask what kind of world our students will be entering. One thing is certain it will no be a predictable one and their 'passport' to the future will need to contain fully developed gifts and talents along with the dispositions to learn from whatever experience they will have to face ( in the language of the 'new' curriculum be equipped with 'key competencies'). Our current education system marginalizes student's creativity and talents and this will be worsened with national standards.

For students to remain positive towards learning our classrooms learning communities need to provide students with the following vital elements.

Students need to be given choice about what it is they are to learn. Classrooms should feature their sense of curiosity, their confidence to ask questions and celebrate their ideas. From their choices and decision making they will learn the importance of taking responsibility and to appreciate consequences of their actions.

The second element to value is students sense of identity and 'voice'. All students need to feel they matter. Students bring to the class great diversity of experiences talents and cultures to share with other students. All students need to feel a sense of belonging ; of being accepted for who they are and that they have ideas of value to contribute.

Thirdly students in classroom need to feel a growing sense of competence or 'learning power'. Competence is gained when students are given the time and help to do things as well as they can. When students 'surprise' themselves and achieve beyond what they have previously done, positive learning attitudes develop. To achieve this requires students 'digging deeply' into their learning, persevering, making use of whatever skills are required and in the process appreciating the need to do do 'fewer things well'.

Finally students need to have fun- to experience the joy of learning. True learning experiences are transformational - they change who we are in the process.

If teachers can provide the above in their classrooms students will want to learn. They will need to use literacy and numeracy to solve their problems and also to enjoy them for their own sake. Students will become ,as our 'new' curriculum asks of teachers, seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

'Engaging' students would not be a problem in such classrooms - there would be no such thing as failure.