Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who am I ? Developing a positive learning identity.

Photo from film Boy?

The things all teachers should keep in the forefront of their minds is how the classroom experiences they provide contribute their students developing a positive sense of self - a positive learning identity - and positive feelings, or memory, about what they are learning.

All to often the demands placed on schools to 'deliver' and 'account' for progress in literacy and numeracy are the priority. A look at how time is apportioned in classrooms indicates schools priorities.

The experiences students have at school determine how they see themselves for better or worse. We all have questions in the back of our minds about: Who am I? Where am I going? Am I worth it? Life, and learning, is about developing a positive story of themselves.

This is important as the image we hold of ourselves determines our future actions and responses. We all know of people who get into trouble when they lose the plot!

How our brains develop a sense, or concept, of who we are was the topic of a recent radio talk. The theme of the talk was research about dealing with amnesia (where patients are locked into the present moment unable to 'time travel') and dementia (where only past events are recallable - 'a death of memory').

It would seem to be something teachers should think about? How do students develop positive memories about themselves and the things they do? Are their students developing positive 'feelings for' such things as mathematics as well as other people ( both in their class and other cultures).

No one measures such things. I guess it is far to hard but it is vitally important for teachers to keep in mind as they interact with their students.
The radio talk mentioned how people are different people in different contexts -some difficult students are no trouble to other teachers.

There appears to be two identities a personal identity you have of yourself and a social identity that others have of you. Somehow most of us develop a unified sense of self.

It seems we are made up of the stories we hold in our minds about ourselves - or memories. The more positive memories, or stories, the better. What we feel effects what we think.

Throughout our lives we all weave our own stories; we are the sum of all our personal narratives. As we gain new experiences we all constantly connect with past experiences which in turn colour how we respond to a current experiences. Our feelings determine our response.

When students indicate they can't do an activity teachers needs to think about how to make it more personally meaningful to the individual student.The teachers artistry is the ability to tempt their reluctant students to have a go so as to change their minds. It is important , the radio talk said, for people 'to create positive stories of growth'.

The provision of interesting experiences, within the students capability, that attract students attention is preferable to teachers plodding their way through predetermined progressions. Sense can only be made by the learner, but only if they get the story, or message, of the experience.

Personal narrative writing is a wonderful way for students to celebrate the small dramas in their own lives and ought not just be 'ticked of' as another genre for the teachers to cover. Through such stories ( or pieces of personal art) students are given the opportunity to 'invent' themselves and, for teachers, the opportunity to appreciate the real life experiences of their students . Helping students craft, or 'forge through revision', powerful writing ( or art)is the art of the teacher.

Such writing and talking
( scribed for the very young) is the beginning of students getting a 'feeling for' the power of writing and reading. This sense of 'voice' is missing in many primary classrooms.

Getting back to memory, there are different sorts of memory. Automatic memory of a skill that you just know what to do with having to explain. Episodic memory about particular things that can be put into words and is connected to the past, and, finally, semantic memory where the knowledge is abstracted and not tied to a specific event. It is the last two that contribute to who we are

The radio presenter quoted John Locke who said, 'the self is made by memory.If we lose our memory who are we?' Without memory we are nothing. One wonders where all the material teachers teach goes? Certainly many students have not captured it their memories - such teaching ( no matter how well planned) didn't make enough sense to them. They didn't see the point of school.

Evidently ones sense of self is secure by the early twenties. The years between 15 and 25 are times, it has been shown, when most people have the richest memories, memories that provide significant 'signposts for the rest of our journey'.

Students personal writing about their early experiences would reinforce a positive sense of self. Telling stories is a skill that improves with experience and age.It is a way of sharing wisdom. Maybe those morning talks were more important than we thought - and maybe it is time to reinvent them, and to focus them to ensure our students develop a positive story of themselves. Certainly many older students seem to have lost the plot! Reading and writing would then become valuable bi products. With patients who have memory problems success has been gained through 'reminiscence therapy'. Students also can gain by connecting with their past felt experiences.

A positive sense of self provides a role in making future decisions, and positive memories allow us to imagine possible futures. The past and our memories are the making of who we are.

Our classrooms ought to reflect such students' stories past and present. It helps students answer the question 'How do I know who I am?'

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We have lost so much the past 50 years. We need to return leadership back to creative teachers.

As the end of year, and my career in education, draws near time for some reflection. And it not all good and, with National Standards on the horizon, getting worse but it is not the time to meekly comply.

The rise and fall, and possible rise again of the leadership of creative teachers.

It was in the sixties when creative classroom teachers working within a shared educational philosophy were the real leaders.

In contrast to all the structural changes that have happened since the advent of Tomorrow's Schools the role of the teacher has been neglected. There are some, such as Professor Frank Crowther, University of Queensland, who says that, since the 1970s, the professional respect for teachers has diminished. This blog reflects his thoughts.

The only hope , Crowther believes, is for creative leaders to return to the centre stage of school leadership again.I agree.

Timing is everything when it comes to transformational change

After the end of the Second World War there was an undercurrent of feeling of a need for a better world and great faith was placed on education as an important means to create a more equitable society. By the early sixties the conditions were right for innovative teaching approaches to spread, building on the work of earlier pioneers. In the UK the Plowden Report was published and in the USA there was what was called the 'open education movement'. Both gave recognition to progressive ideas that influenced innovative teachers in New Zealand. At the centre of such developments was an appreciation of the importance of the creative classroom teacher. They were exciting times.

Frank Crowther talks about teachers meeting in the local pub on a Friday afternoon to talk about teaching and sharing ideas, and this was our experience as well. What was interesting was that we did not look to principals or distant curriculum developers for permission to try things out. Instead we spend time reading, talking and visiting each others classrooms. We developed a strong group in our own area and, to this day, our area of New Zealand, Taranaki, is still known for its quality teaching. And New Zealand teachers generally have a well earned international reputation for being creative teachers. A lot, however, has happened since the mid 70s, and for teacher autonomy and professionalism, for the worse.

Real ransformational change

The progressive 'child centred' education of the 60s and 70s transformed primary education forever. Out went the arid formalism and teacher centred teaching of earlier decades. Secondary schools, at the same time, remained more or less impervious to such learning centred changes. A key influence in New Zealand were the school advisers, in particular the art advisers, who spread ideas such as the importance of student self expression through the arts and also integrated programmes. Now all these advisers have been scrapped!

They were dynamic times but at best it was a half finished revolution. The ideas were strongest in the developmental approaches of the junior classes and only exceptional teachers were able to transform older classes. But today teachers, in comparison, according to Crowther, haven't been given anything like the reward and recognition that teachers gained in those times.

Then teachers took one step back - socio economic issues more important.

By the mid 70s things were beginning to change for the worse. As the courageous work of the earlier pioneers gained official recognition, a 'bandwagon' for all to climb on board was created, and there was an inevitable 'back to basics' backlash against such 'play way' approaches, as they were called by the critics.

As well, in the 70s, various reports, in particular the US Coleman Report stated that no matter how good your school is, what matters in child's life chances most are socio-economic considerations. The role of the teacher as a result became less relevant as schools were asked to focus on implementing equity issues.

There can be no argument about the need for such equity issues, or the need for greater home school partnerships, but it did take away the emphasis on the importance of keeping a focus on quality teaching and learning.

Then the 'God of curriculum' came on the scene - and the rise of the distant 'expert'.

Perhaps, according to Crowther, more damaging to teacher professionalism was the development, for political and economic reasons, of centralized curriculums. Earlier, in the 1950s, the launching of the Russian satellite 'Sputnik' had shaken the complacency of the USA and the resulting curriculum revolution eventually spread to New Zealand. Rightly or wrongly teacher initiative was supplanted by, what Crowther calls, 'the God of curriculum'. Distant curriculum experts now called the tune.

Teachers who had jumped uncritically onto the 'progressive bandwagon' now found new ideas to accept leaving creative teachers to fight their own battles against the growing conformity of imposed curriculums devised by distant elites who had little experience of the reality of classrooms. And today this imposed curriculum issue is worse leading formulaic best practice 'state teaching' to National Standards.

Then principals were to be the 'heroic saviors' - teachers take another step back.

In recent years the myth of the principal as the key to school transformation became persuasive and as result the principal's status has gone up commensurably. Crowther questions this myth, believing that the reality has not lived up to the rhetoric. The so called 'heroic leader' may effect short term change but all too often this is a temporary transformation. It is ironic, believes Crowther that the image of the school principal as the centre of school reform has contributed to the lowering of the status of teachers. This hasn't been helped by a pressure for principals to be mere managers responsible for complying with Ministry directives.

And then this brings us up to the era of 'market forces'.

Once again this is the case of an international 'force', or ideology, influencing all organizations and systems, none the least schools. Self managing competitive schools were 'sold' as a means to empower local communities, and as away to escape the paternalism of the then educational bureaucracy. With time it has shown to be a mixed blessing but one side- effect was to further sideline the classroom teachers, and as well, a new even more confusing technocratic managerial bureaucracy has been established creating a 'low trust' audit environment that does not sit well with teacher creativity.

And now technocrats in are total control - teachers now 'deliver' curriculum!

What was left of teacher professionalism was further put at risk by the implementation in NZ of a bland copy of the UK standardized National Curriculum, followed up by the almost incoherent Learning Area Statements, with their endless strands, levels and learning objectives all to be assessed and checked off. In secondary schools the technocratic nightmare of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement has soaked any remaining energy of secondary teachers and has put the possibility of real secondary educational transformation years away.

Teachers can now be seen as technicians 'delivering' imposed curriculums.

New Curriculums, which began as rational solutions are now recognized, even by the Ministry itself, as 'overcrowded' and increasingly incoherent.It seems along way from the days when teachers felt able to 'design' their own curriculum to suit the needs of their students!

All around the world the once wise men (and woman) of the educational elites are now busy 'slimming down', 'stock-taking' and modifying their once impeccable curriculum documents.

Quick fixes also include a return to basics by focusing on literacy and numeracy, and of course targets and testing. And we now have 'key competencies', which do sound very much, like the old 'learning how to learn' of the 60s! A brief moment of light occurred with the introduction of the 2007 revised New Zealand Curriculum but this was soon dampened by the new governments Standards agenda. It still remains a potential fuse for real change if teachers had the courage.

Creative teachers hang on against all odds

It has all been an abysmal failure but its worse feature has been to undermine the creativity and innovation of individual teachers. There have been those who have managed to 'subvert, colonize, or mutate' the curriculum and assessment requirements, and this is to their credit, but it has been at too great a cost. It is now ironic that the Ministry is recognizing that the quality of the individual teacher is the most important factor in a child's learning, and is also now encouraging schools to share innovative ideas. This change of mind is all a bit too late, but all the welcome none the less. Once again the Standards agenda is diverting such moves.

Now time for the Ministry technocrats to face the truth - the Emperor has no clothes.

Someone 'on high' needs to take responsibility for the legacy of confusion that has been created but they have all sold out to the demands of their new political bosses. This is unfortunate as there is a real need for the personalization of learning and the tapping into student's interests and talents, if we are to 'engage' students and prepare them well for the unpredictability of the 21sTC. We need to move away from the current standardization and accountability ideology to a one valuing co-operation, diversity and creativity.Where are our leaders now?

All that has been gained is teacher burnout, stress and overload

Imposed school reforms, that are not 'owned' by those who have to implement them, are doomed to failure but not before that have all but destroyed what they intended to reform.

Full circle - a time for teachers to add their voice to the debate.

There were signs that the technocratic lunacy and the associated compliance and audit mentality may becoming to an end, or at least diminishing, and that schools may be able to foster more creative approaches. It is time for schools to work together to develop a set of shared beliefs about teaching? It is time for schools to value, and share, the wisdom and creativity of their teachers? Maybe it is time to appreciate that it is the relationship between the teacher and the learner that is the critical factor? And may be it is time, once again, to see teachers as curriculum 'designers' rather than curriculum 'deliverers'?

Hope dashed by National Standards

It will take teachers, principals, students, and the wider community, to create learning communities that work to together collaboratively to move beyopnd the Standards. It will require creative leadership, both the local and central government levels. Central governments need to 'restructure' themselves, to 'let go', and instead to focus on creating the conditions to give a democratic 'voice' to teachers, parents and students. There needs to be recognition that local problems can only be solved at the local level, but then only with appropriate support. What is required are ways to 'mine, cultivate, and share the wisdom' within the system and to 'engage the ingenuity' of those at the local level. But all this is on hold while we return to the 19th C.

The development of professional learning communities.

Frank Crowther, who was feeling that his, 'whole career had been wasted, that (he) had spent (his) whole life living under a cloud', even though he 'had seen some wonderful things happen' in spite of the system, is now feeling positive at the end of his long career. He quoted in his presentation, what he calls an extraordinary statement, by Peter Drucker, a highly respected business philosopher:

'In the post industrial world, into which we are emerging, schools will be located at the centre of the community. Professionals who create new knowledge and meaning will be the leading class.' Creative teachers as leaders working in tandem with principals; the principals leadership role is to create conditions for this to happen.

Crowther believes that by creating professional communities and by focusing on pedagogy student outcomes can be 'improved in quite extraordinary ways'. A strong profession community, he goes on to say, is where 'people take a collective responsibility for everything that happens'. And authentic teaching is where there is an approach to teaching/learning developed by the people in the school to suit the needs of the school. The key is to replace the imposed beliefs of distant experts with those developed by teachers who understand the complexities of teaching through 'enlightened trial and error'

Crowther believes we have a 'once in generation opportunity' to develop such learning communities. The last such time, in his opinion, was in the 1970s and while a lot of what was then achieved was successful we have to make sure we get it right this time. In New Zealand we just have to get past the Standards.

It will require leadership beyond the concept of the 'heroic leader' and will require the re-establishment of teachers as leaders.

This will require real skill on behalf of principals because, due to an imposed compliance and audit culture, teacher confidence has been all but lost.

There are schools that currently provide such positive images, schools where principals have worked with their teachers to create visions that relate to their own aspirations. Many of these schools have developed visions around metaphors that provide a focus for all they do. From such simple metaphors they have crafted out their teaching principles and behavioral values with their students and the wider community, to the point that all in the community know 'what they stand for'. Such schools are reinventing themselves as vital centres of their communities and are well placed to take the next step to link up, and share energy and expertise, with other schools.

Parallel Leadership the key.

As for leadership Crowther believes the future lies in 'distributed leadership' where all take 'collective responsibility for anything that might come up'. This 'parallel leadership', he believes, is crucial and accepts 'the absolute critical significance of the school principal in a slightly different form' but introduces the concept of teacher leadership as of equal importance. 'You can't say one is more important than the other - it's two different things. What we know is when we get them in place is that you can actually sustain the school improvement.'

This, he continues, is about creating mutual trust. It is about valuing individual expression and it makes the principals role a difficult one. 'To create an inspirational and memorable vision is difficult enough', he says,' but to create a particular identity, a sense of belonging, a distinctive culture is very difficult'. Successful schools create alignment between the vision and a way of teaching and, when this is done, everyone develops a 'shared sense of direction' and 'wonderful things happen'. In such schools there is a 'sense of excitement about the place'; such schools, 'raise their expectations, the work becomes more focused, they say no to a lot of junk that gets thrown at them by all kinds of people'.

Learning to say no - the worms are turning!

This is Crowther's vision of the 70s done well! He believes 'the worm has turned' and principals who say no to imposed reforms can develop creative schools with extraordinary teachers who 'make learning stretching, creative, fun and successful.'

But he concludes with a warning. 'We got a lot of things right in the 70s and we got a lot of stuff wrong - we can't afford to do that again. It is not enough to let a thousand flowers bloom and then to fade'. The wisdom, he says, must be mined, gathered and shared. Schools need to lead to value their 'collective autonomy' and 'lead the educational agenda and enjoy the magic of momentum.'

Are we ready?

It is time for creative teachers to take their rightful place at the centre stage of educational reform; they have been waiting in the wings long enough.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Do not put trust in the Ministry of Mis-education

My greatest inspiration for the ideas I share can be linked back to the wonderful work done by Elwyn Richardson in his small rural Northland school in the 1950s. If any reader does not have a copy of his book 'In The Early World' they ought to get hold of a copy from the NZCER.

Elwyn established his classroom as a true community of scientists and artists who , for their curriculum, explored their own personal worlds and their rich local environment. This was very experimental work and he was given protection from inspectorial grading ( the equivalent of today's ERO) to develop his creative philosophy. At the same time, and in the same area, a group of Maori schools worked with the Art Advisers to develop similar ideas.

At the heart of these small experiments was the belief in the creativity of children and teachers given the appropriate conditions. In Elwyn's case it showed the importance of classroom teachers as leaders. A man before his time.

Later throughout New Zealand other groups of teachers (helped by art advisers) continued developing similar ideas.I worked with a small group in Taranaki who became teacher leaders. Just before Tomorrow's Schools there were in Taranaki whole schools working along similar lines and, best of all, these schools were sharing ideas between each other.Then came the confusing curriculums ,an obsession with accountability and assessment, and competition between schools. Today most schools are still trapped by this nonsense.

Since Tomorrows Schools teachers insights have been all but ignored being replaced by a technocratic belief in imposed curriculum's ( with endless levels and learning objectives all impossible to assess), in the principals as leaders, and more recently standardised testing and teaching. We have moved well away from valuing the creativity and collective wisdom of classroom teachers and now, sadly, most teachers only know about all this formulaic best practice imposed teaching approaches.

Creativity is all but lost!

Now we have the politicians ( with Ministry support) National Standards to distort teaching even further and who knows what will mutate out of these imported ideas when they are in place. The Ministry has lost touch with the reality of classroom teachers. Most have never experienced it.

Teachers need to make a stand and get behind those few who still believe in the transformational power of creative classroom teachers. We need to value as leaders those teachers who help individual children develop their talents and gifts and their innate desire to learn and make sense of the experiences. Teachers who help their students express what they feel and know in whatever way suits them.

Time to toss out all the so called experts living in their ivory towers with their fat salaries.The Ministry is full of highly qualified people who have little real experience of classroom teaching or inspirational leadership. And many come to their jobs from an academic secondary environment which is as far away from creativity as you can get.

Personally have given up on them all and this included their contracted 'delivers' of Ministry curriculum and compliance targets. And it will get worse with the introduction of hordes of literacy and maths advisers - the ultimate boring restricted individuals.

New leadership must come from creative classroom teachers supported by principals ( or lead teachers). Any good schools vitality comes from creative classroom teachers. Who would want to talk to principals with their concern with surveillance and gathering of evidence of targeted learning goals?

It is time to go back to what learning ought to be about- developing every learner as a 'confident life long learner'.This is their 'default' approach to life until 'flipped' by less than wonderful home experiences and misguided schooling. We need to to ensure all students become 'seekers, users,and creators of their own knowledge' as stated in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

We need to identify remaining creative teachers in our areas who have survived with little support and help them recover their battered integrity and then to share their ideas.

A new creative era is dawning and classroom teachers are the only ones able to take the lead so as to develop a new consciousness of unlimited possibility in their students. Principals can't do this. School leaders need to create the conditions for such people to thrive and to link them up with other schools and, in the process, share and celebrate teacher strengths. Like Elwyn they are the real experts.

Teachers as leaders were gaining strength in the 70s and 80s but the music died with Tomorrows Schools. As the Bee Gees sang 'When the feeling gone you can't go on, it's a tragedy'.

Education is developing a 'feeling for' learning not achievement on standardised tests.
Time to fight back.

If you haven't read Kelvin Smythe's latest read it now. We need to listen to voices such as Kelvin's - and we ought to be skeptical of any thing coming from the Ministry.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wounded by School

Kirsten Olsen author of 'Wounded by School'.

Today a friend of mine, who works with students the school system is unable to cope with, returned a book I loaned him.

There is no doubt, in my mind, that school is not aways a positive experience for all children. This is all the more so when one takes into account the current focus on achievement gaps, accountability demands, National Standards, obsessive testing ,and setting of targets, all concerned with a narrow range of academic abilities to the detriment of other equally important areas of learning. This accountability surveillance culture harms both creative students and teachers. As a result this distortion distracts teachers from the biggest problem schools face the one of disengagement of students and, as a result, many creative teachers are leaving the profession.

Kirsten Olsen writes powerfully in her book about students wounded by schooling. Wounded by the emphasis on conformity and compliance to centrally imposed demands. A system that increasingly rewarding conformity over creativity, a system that flattens students' interests and dampens down their differences.

Current accountability approaches will simply fail to produce the kinds of minds needed to thrive in the 21st Century. Such demands will sidetrack the good ideas in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum. Instead schools will continue to shame, bore and disable many learners.

Creative teachers and creative schools are the only solution but they are swimming against the tide. It is vitally important that creative schools and teachers keep the joy of learning alive. Such teachers need to celebrate and value the diversity of their students rather than trying to fit them into demeaning politically imposed National Standards.

The Ministry of Education ought to be ashamed with their support for such failing policies.. They have lost the trust of the teaching profession.

Olsen's book is a powerful argument for transforming our schools. She believes current schools harm everyone by ignoring their individual gifts and talents and judging them by narrow criteria for success.

The below is poem by Olsen from the preface to her book.

A Learner's Bill Of Rights

Every learner has the right to know why they are learning something, why it is important, or may be important to them someday.

Every learner has the right to engage in questioning or interrogating the idea of 'importance' above.

Every learner has the right to be confused and to express the confusion openly, honestly, and without shame.

Every learner has the right to multiple paths to understanding a concept, and intellectual inclinations as completely as possible.

Every learner has the right to understand his or her own mind, brain wiring, and intellectual inclinations as completely as possible.

Every learner has the right to interrogate and question the means through which his or her learning is essential.
Every learner is entitled to some privacy in their imagination and thoughts.

Every learner has the right to take their own imagining and thinking seriously.

Kirsten Olsen 2008

'A bird does not sing because it has an answer
It sings because it has a tune'

Chinese Proverb.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Inquiry Learning; an educational agenda for a future era.

Professor Brian Cox ( Chief Science Adviser to the UK Government) doing science on the Jonathon Ross TV Show. Science , according to Cox, is being comfortable with the unknown- a search for questions in answers. Almost the opposite to what current education is all about with the heavy formulaic emphasis on teachers' intentions, criteria and pleasing the teacher through feedback. Conformity rather than creativity.

The future requires developing schools as communities of inquiry.

1 What is inquiry learning?

Inquiry learning is the innate way humans learn from birth unfortunately this 'default' mode is all too often ‘flipped’ by schooling writes Daniel Pink’s in his book 'Drive'.In this respect scientists and artists are people who have not lost their innate inquiry dispositions.

Inquiry ought to be central to learning in the 21stC just as the ‘Three Rs’ were in Industrial Age.The New Zealand Curriculum asks teachers to develop their students as ‘seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge’ as inquirers, ‘meaning hunters and makers’; constructing their own meanings from experiences.

All Learning Areas emphasize an inquiry a model although there is not a section on inquiry pulling ideas together. The pedagogy section essentially sees learning as a constructive approach with teachers as learning advisers. The Thinking key Competency, in particular, is all about developing an inquiry disposition (‘seekers, users and creators’).

Inquiry education has a long history going back to John Dewey (‘learning through experience’) and was, and still is, in conflict with traditional content transmission teaching which still underpins much of current practice. Until this dilemma is faced inquiry education will not be successful.

I have been a convert to inquiry learning since the 60s and believe that creative teachers (then and now) hold the key to fully developing inquiry learning for the 21stC. Elwyn Richardson (see his book ‘In the Early World’) developed his class as a 'community of scientists and artists busy exploring and expressing their ideas about their local environment’. In Taranaki, in the late 60s and 70s, integrated inquiry based programmes were developed by Howard Wilson (first integrated study in Taranaki) Bill Guild, Robin Clegg and John Cunningham. Similar developments were being actioned throughout New Zealand.

All this was 'torpedoed' by the 'blitzkrieg' of nonsense resulting from the introduction of the technocratic New Zealand Curriculum in the 80s with its strands, levels, incoherent learning objectives and unrealistic assessment demands. Creativity was the last thing looked for by ERO- and still is!

Schools are still recovering from the surveillance culture imposed!

Today we stand at a crossroad – one side the revised 2007 NZC (basically an inquiry document) and on the other the current formulaic ‘best practices’ literacy/ numeracy approaches (with their heavy accountability requirements).On the horizon the reactionary National Standards with the possibly morphing into National Testing.

It is Weta workshop education v a McDonald’s crossroads. It, however, is not one or the other decision but a matter of emphasis. Inquiry supported by literacy and numeracy (as ‘foundations skills) not literacy and numeracy plus inquiry if time allows as at present

It is about how schools spent their time.

2 What Inquiry dispositions do students need?

Our students will have to face up to a very unpredictable future and will no longer have jobs for life. ‘Students will need to know what to do when they do not know what to do’ says Piaget and Costa, or ‘to be comfortable with the unknown’says Prof Brian Cox UK Adviser in Science, or to 'enjoy the challenges of creativity' says Sir Ken Robinson.

'Future-proofing' students is the basis for the NZC Key Competencies, Art Costa’s ‘Habits of Mind’, or Guy Claxton’s ‘learning power’. It is about learning ‘how to learn’.

Dispositions to encourage include:Question asking/ wondering/ curiosity/ openness to ideas/a need to know. An ability to observe closely/ to describe observations (writing and drawing) to answer questions.The ability to learn through senses and emotional interest ( so as to uncover questions).To happily change their minds (their ‘prior ideas’) when challenged by new evidence. To continually deepen their understandings about selected content. And to develop a widening ‘portfolio’ of interests and talents (Sir Ken Robinson)

All this points towards a personalized approach to learning – one valuing the ‘voice’ and learning identity of each student and this is in conflict with current traditional (‘teachers know best’) teaching approaches.

3 The role of literacy and numeracy programmes in the 21st C

Literacy, in particular, plays a key role in Inquiry learning if we want to transfer skills. We need to see reading and writing as thinking. Students need, as stated in the revised curriculum, to be taught how to ‘seek, use (critically) and create their own knowledge’. Unpacking this phrase is the key to inquiry.

To do so literacy needs to be ‘re framed’ to ‘front load’ content and skills to ensure in depth inquiry learning. (All too often literacy and numeracy stand alone and skills taught are not transferred).Inquiry content needs to be used for comprehension and ‘key’ question answering. Research writing needs to be taught so as to go beyond ‘cut and paste’. It is good advice to never set a question that can be answered with one 'click' of google! Teachers need to encourage their students to use their own ‘voice’.This can be recognised by ‘markers’ such as 'I used too think but now…’ Students need to be able to write position papers or reports about their inquiries. Inquiry vocabulary can be introduced in literacy time. Students also need to be taught (using inquiry content) how to use various ICT media. Poems, even handwriting practice, needs to relate to the current inquiry. Modeling science experiments recording in literacy or numeracy time is a valuable idea and introduces students to physical science thinking all too often missing these days. Numeracy time should be used to introduce any practical mathematical skills needed e.g. graphing.Design presentation layout skills (computer wizards) need to be taught and bookwork ought to show qualitative growth throughout the year – to be seen as portfolio of progress.

4 A basic Inquiry Model –an attitude of mind –a human disposition

We use inquiry in all aspects of our life; it is often called‘enlightened trial and error’. All inquiry models have the same elements (a learning cycle) of a problem to solve or an issue to explore; questions defined; research or activities undertaken; presentation of ideas; and reflection to consider what has been learnt.

The Learning in Science (a co-constructivist model) is good stuff. Problem or issue defined; what are children’s ‘prior ideas’/skills; experiments /research activities; and reflection on new learning.

Each Learning Area provides variations on the inquiry models. Many schools use Kath Murdock’s model: tuning in; finding out; sorting out; going further; now what; reflection. Others use Yoram Horpaz's ‘fertile questions’ approach (Israel) and others Garth Boomer Australia approach: What do we know already?; What do we want to find out about?; Who will do what and when?; How will we know when we have finished?

James Beane ( a USA Middle school educator) outlines a process where at the beginning of the year students are asked to write out concern and things they would like to learn about. Student responses are then developed into the year’s curriculum. This is also called Negotiating the Curriculum. Students’ ideas tend to reflect traditional learning areas

5 What is the role of teacher in the 21stC?

The teacher in an inquiry approach acts as an interactive and diagnostic learning coach ensuring any skills required for quality thinking are in place. Inquiry teachers responds sensitively to students’ questions, ideas and needs to ensure all students can show continual quality improvement (‘personal best’). As Jerome Bruner says, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’.

An inquiry based teacher establishes positive relationships of respect with every learner and tailors assistance personally where possible. Such teachers follow Vygotsky advice, ‘What learners can do with help today she/he can do by themselves tomorrow’ Scaffolding.

Inquiry based teachers negotiates with studies, activities and assessment criteria so as to share responsibility with students.They establishes predicable classroom organizations (group timetables) so all students know what to expect and to allow for teacher diagnostic interaction with students who need assistance.

Inquiry teachers ensure the room environment (the main ‘message system) both celebrates student creativity and informs all who visit.

6 The importance of rich, real, rigorous and relevant studies

Most current inquiry is shallow and superficial with students gathering information with no real interrogation and ‘disconnected’ from literacy and numeracy blocks.

To get in depth thinking it is important to do ‘fewer things well’ ( as in the revised NZC) and to ‘dig’ deeply into what is being studied.

Whatever is chosen needs to be explored through as many intelligences as possible and leads to integrated learning. Teachers need to be selective. Each study should result in three or four focused outcomes: research based on 3 or four ‘key’ questions) including ‘prior’ ideas and references; perhaps an observational drawing, descriptive writing or diagrams; and possibly a creative activity. Students should use ICT as appropriate.

Inquiry studies could last up to five weeks. Week one for negotiating questions and activities; week two for rotary group work (some work drafted in literacy time); week three finishing off and extension work; and week four evaluating success of the unit.

Teachers need to see the need to introduce their students to a set of themes to cover during the year (two a term?) based on the strands of the Learning Areas. Some studies could cover several Learning Areas. Some studies might ‘emerge' and become ‘mini units’. All studies and themes need to be seen as a means for individual students to uncover and to develop their talents.

Possible themes:

Environmental studies (term one and four)
Physical science /technology/maths study (term two and three)
(Above two linked to science/maths fairs?)
Local heritage study (term one or four)
Maoritanga study (could combine with above)
One of the creative arts (drama, dance, music) as an intensive study – linked with Arts Festival.
A modern cultural comparison – to develop a ‘feeling for’ other cultures.
An historical comparison - as above (both in term 2 and 3)
An independent study in Term four as an ‘authentic’ assessment of inquiry skills.

7 What would the evidence be of inquiry learning?

Students exhibit curiosity about whatever captures their attention or imagination ( be ‘seekers, users and creators of the own knowledge’).They would be responsible for much of their own learning able to work independently calling on teacher as required (or if the teacher has seen a need to interact to assist). These skills are the essence of the modern work force.

Evidence would be seen of clearly defined class expectations to allow for independent focused learning. This could be seen by negotiated rotary group task in literacy (language arts), numeracy, and inquiry groups. The latter is rarely seen.

Inquiry based classrooms would reflect a community of scientists (and artists) busy exploring issues of importance to them, equipped with all the key competencies and inquiry and expressive skills to achieve personal excellence.

The current inquiry topic would be integral to the whole day’s programme providing the current study, supplying the energy and inspiration for the day work.

In inquiry based rooms students’ bookwork, and work on display, or in electronic portfolios, should show students ‘voice, their thoughts arguments, justified opinions, new knowledge, even unanswered questions should be seen.

Most of all in an inquiry room students ought to be able to undertake an independent study using key questions, ‘prior’ ideas, research proposals and research/experiments/ data, including an evaluation of their learning and possible future actions.

The room environment would reflect the current inquiry from key questions to completed research, work displayed reflecting student ‘voice’ and individuality.

8 To conclude.

A 21stC education needs to be based on ensuring all students retain (and expand) their innate inquiry dispositions ( the key competencies).

The need to develop the gifts and talents of all students is the challenge of 21st education through in depth understandings/ exhibitions/performances.

To develop inquiry based classrooms ‘literacy (and to a lesser degree numeracy) need to be refamed to develop in-depth comprehension of content is vital. Literacy and numeracy need to be seen as vital ‘foundation skills' to develop all students as ‘confident life long learners' able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge.’

I know of no school that has as yet achieved a truly inquiry based programme but several are working towards it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Teachers' minds 'colonised' by formulaic teaching? We need a creative alternative.

A Battlefield for the Minds of our Students

There is a battle being fought for the minds of our future citizens between those who see education as a means to achieve narrow political or economic ends versus those who see education as developing the full potential, or gifts and talents, of all students.

The current government’s desire to introduce reactionary national standards into primary schools has polarized the situation but clarified the issue for teachers.

The politicians view teachers as both the problem and the solution to introducing their National Standards. In contrast the teachers, while appreciating their importance, see the problematic ‘achievement tail’ as the result of difficult home circumstances and wider social issues.

On one side stand the conservatives with their minds firmly fixed on solutions with their genesis in the industrial era; an era of efficiency, control, of measuring a narrow set of targets and standardisation. These conservatives who push this populist point of view are tapping into the insecurity of parents and their need for reassurance in these difficult times.

On the other side but less secure in their vision, stand educators who see the need for a new mindset for a new age; these visionaries see the traditional school structures and culture as part of the problem, unable to develop the full potential of all students.

Ironically the Ministry of Education is seemingly pushing both points of view. The reactionary standards agenda on one hand and, in opposition, the revised New Zealand Curriculum with its vision of ensuring all students leaving school as ‘confident life long learners’ with the competencies in place to thrive in an uncertain and ambiguous world. There is no doubt where the Minister and her Ministry stands – for standards solutions from the past. They can’t have it both ways.

As result of these confusing agendas teachers find themselves in an educational ‘no mans land’ facing both the past and the future, uncertain of which direction to face. The excitement sparked by the revised New Zealand Curriculum has been clouded by the confusion created by the political standards agenda. Schools are being pressurised by the Ministry to follow the government’s stance, placing their personal integrity and professionalism at real risk. Hardly the best position for schools to be in to ensure their students are equipped to face up to the very real challenges the future holds, challenges that will require citizens with confidence and creativity.

From my recent experience in schools most teachers seem trapped in no mans land -and, worse still, many teachers seem unaware of the battle going on. These teachers have been colonised by the formulaic 'best prectice' teaching approach being peddled by contracted literacy and numeracy advisers. It can only get worse when the Minister appoints her squads of literacy and numeracy shock troops backed by ERO.

There is a need need for creativity and imagination; an alternative vision.A vision premised on the importance of the arts and of creativity generally. Such a vision is not new it just need to be followed by schools. The revised New Zealand Curriculum provides such a guideline and foresees students as ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’. This curriculum, if implemented, provides the means to escape from ‘no mans land’.

To realise such a vision requires the replacement of the current failing ‘machine metaphor’ with a creative ‘living system metaphor.’ A living metaphor would encourage those involved to act and learn, as the very young, or artists or scientists. For teachers who like tidiness and efficiency this creative vision would provide a problem because it is very difficult to measure progress in a continually evolving learning situation.The current drive in New Zealand to gain instant results, through standards, is simplistic and will inevitably encourage a surveillance culture and a risk-averse mentality.

To escape from ‘no mans land’ teachers need to find a way out of the mechanistic status quo and to reach for that unknown future. If we are to realise, what some perceptive futurists call, a Second Renaissance or Age of Creativity we urgently require our students to develop new competencies, allowing them to thrive in uncertain times.

Until the situation is resolved creative teachers find themselves locked in a power struggle for the shape of the future minds of our students. There is plenty of ingenuity or creativity to call on but far too much teacher energy is being wasted by those in authority (including principals) who want to keep things exactly as the way they are.

Positive learning attitudes come from students completing work of personal excellence in the arts and the sciences – or indeed in any area of purposeful endeavor. When students are engrossed in such activities they often lose any sense of time and this is the power of engagement, of fully living. One has to wonder why, when and where, the emotional intensity and curiosity to learn of the very young is lost.

Teachers who have succeeded in developing such powerful learners have encouraged their students to slow the pace of their work, to do fewer things well (in depth) and in the process have helped students savour and appreciate each learning experience for its own sake. When such a level of involvement is achieved the work and the worker become as one, lost in satisfaction of real learning.

There are many educators who can lead us out of ‘no mans land’ we are in. Many names come to mind: Elliot Eisner, Sir Ken Robinson, Guy Claxton, Maxine Greene, John Dewey, Howard Gardner, Art Costa, Linda Darling-Hammond, William Glasser, Daniel Pink and Carol Dweck are names that come to mind.

In New Zealand many teachers still cling tenaciously to a holistic teaching model that developed in the 60s and 70s. This approach was led by Dr Beeby, the then Director of Education, and spread by the Art Advisers of the day. Along with creative teachers and schools, past and present, these ideas provide a true alternative to the current highly rationalised and standardised approach that schools currently suffer under. A return to a creative and personalised education is the agenda I enthusiastically support along with people like Kelvin Smythe, Mac Stevenson and Perry Rush and his friends. And lots of others I hope.

We are are asking teachers to makes choices and judgments about their schools' future rather than meekly complying, or ‘going along to get along’ with Ministy requirements. Who wants to live in perpetual ‘no mans land’?

Finally we will have no choice. As Sir Ken Robinson reminds us, ‘changes are sweeping the world that have no historical precedents…no other period in human history could match the present one in the sheer scale, speed and global complexity the changes and changes we face’.

It will not be an easy journey and when the seas seem far too treacherous and the stars too distant to face we should remember Robert Browning’s observation that a “man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for”’

Up until now the current structures of education have all but destroyed this capacity to imagine by attempts to standardise and measure learning.
Terrance Deal, the business philosopher, has written poetically that, ‘teachers need, above all, to dream and dance and to impart their joy of learning to young people. Unless they do schools will never get better'.

We need to take Sir Ken Robinson’s advice and connect with our student’s talents and passions and develop ‘a new appreciation of the importance of nurturing human talent. Robinson visualises future schools where every person is inspired to grow creatively.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The source of school failure

From the Sydney Morning Herald Today

One in five Melbourne four-year-olds have difficulty using or understanding language, a new study has found, putting them at risk of long-term learning difficulties.

The study of 1900 children, published today in the journal Pediatrics, found that social disadvantage played a major role in the language outcomes of four-year-olds - despite having little effect at age two.

Lead researcher Professor Sheena Reilly said her team found large variation in language at two, with some children not yet speaking and others saying hundreds of words.The average vocabulary was 280 words, but one child in the study was using more than 600 words.

She said the different outcomes at two were largely explained by genetics - with girls doing better than boys, and those with a family history of speech or reading problems more likely to have problems.

'When we looked at things like socio-economic status, mothers' education and vocabulary, they didn't seem to explain what was happening in those young kids,'' she said.

'When we got to four, biology was still really important but social disadvantage suddenly became really important as well. So these two things balanced together are obviously explaining much of the outcomes at four.'

Professor Reilly, of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Melbourne University, said it was possible that disadvantage had a cumulative effect on children's language outcomes over time.

'So it was always there, but you really start to see this diverging gap between the kids who are and are not disadvantaged as they get older, and the richness of language becomes really important,' she said. 'If you're not exposed to [rich language], you're really missing out.'

Professor Reilly said some children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and whose genetics also predisposed them to language difficulties, suffered a 'double whammy'.

For four-year-olds who still have difficulties, Professor Reilly said, the study suggested that enriching language in the homes of disadvantaged children could help improve outcomes.

'In some children it might be as simple as talking to them a bit more and turning off the TV, reading books, or playing interactive games that encourage the child to use language and give them an opportunity to listen,' she said.

'Language skills are foundation skills and if they are starting school … not as prepared as the rest of the children, they're not going to be able to take off. Our fear is that this gap will get even bigger.'

Seems like common sense to me.

What all children need are rich sensory experiences in the company of caring adults. 'Before the word comes the experience'.

We need to bring back those neglected language experience programmes. We need to help chidren explore their immediate enviroment and express what they see. We also need to value their own experiences as the basis of early reading and writing.

Such ideas would be a better solution than the false promise of jolly phonics!

And, if we could develop this richness of experience from an early age, we wouldn't need the reactionary populist simplistic standards so loved by politicians and conservative parents.

Standardisation or creativity; McDonalds or Weta Workshops?

Anybody who spends time in a classroom soon appreciates that children do not arrive in standardised packages. They have similarities and differences and, as they grow, diversity should be part of the process.That is unless we want them all to be the same. Weta workshops employ a wide range of individuals many of whom may well have not done well in academic learning.Workers at McDonalds, in contrast, are trained in clone like precision. Lucky for McDonalds there are no below average potatoes to worry about.

Canadian educationalist contributed the following to an Education Today Magazine. If time visit his website

The term “standards” is particularly topical in New Zealand and thrown around very loosely everywhere else especially by the right-wing press as some panacea for everything it perceives is wrong with schools and teachers.

On the surface there is nothing wrong with articulating expectations for students.

There is a substantial research base for suggesting that effective teachers hold high expectations for all learners. Indeed one could argue to not have high expectations for all learners is inhumane.

But as anyone who has spent five minutes in a classroom will know, the parents keep sending the ‘wrong’ kids. They don’t come to us in nice little homogeneous packages ready and keen to learn whatever it is we have to offer and for whom common immutable standards are appropriate or even possible. Children differ in every way we humans can differ and yet politicians and some academics expect common outcomes.

I’m surprised that the New Zealand government with its nations long history of democratic education, its attention to minority children, and its very enlightened and progressive 2007 curriculum is prepared to risk all this in the mistaken belief that defining standards will magically eliminate underachievement in its schools.

Without rehashing the for or against arguments, the very vagueness and spin that people put on the term standards is what is of concern, because in most countries that have gone the standards route ‘standards’ have become standardized - standardized curriculum, standardized, tests, standardized teaching which contrary to American rhetoric, results in many children being ‘left behind’.

The pattern is quite universal - declare a crisis, impose standards in a big hurry to avoid debate, then impose measures to ensure compliance with the standards, declare the results of the measures unsatisfactory, blame the teachers and the schools for poor performance, label critics whiners and wimps for using poverty and endemic unemployment as crutches for their own failures.

For schools and teachers it is a ‘catch-22’. If schools refuse to play the game and resist, they are branded as malcontents and worse, or if they work hard and raise levels of student achievement, especially on standardized tests, then the critics will declare that the tests are too easy and schools are still failing. The trick is I suspect, to resist at the right time.

Once the standards-standardization train gets rolling it is impossible to resist. For New Zealand, the train hasn’t quite left the station, and working with and using standards in conjunction with an enlightened curriculum to optimize learning is still possible. At the moment, a reasonable case can be made that well developed and thought out standards as defined in terms expectations for learning can enrich the curriculum. As long as time to reach the standards is a variable, standards can work.

But once the tests come and the meaning becomes more punitive and adversarial and all children are to arrive at the same place at the same time in their learning then my advice is to fight like hell for the sake of your kids and state-supported education.

Just look at the educational ‘train-wrecks’ in the U.S. and U.K.

Sadly for those who see standards as a ‘quick and easy’ way to reform education the route to quality education remains the same - develop a well-educated, well-paid, dedicated teaching cadre, promote leaders who are leaders of learning, and ensure equitable educational opportunities for all.

Not very sexy I’m afraid but tried and true.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Time for some real inquiry

How many yellow flower per square metre? How many white flowers? Run a line across and counts numbers of flowers touched ( a line transect). Great maths. What are these flowers? Look , draw and research. Simple stuff but fun. While you are at it lie down in the lawn and write what you feel -maybe a three line poem. Get kids to explore through their senses. All too simple I guess.Could be all over in an hour or so.

The world is full of things to explore, to inquire into, or to wonder about.How come so few teachers seem to understand this simple idea. If you look around your school ( or your classroom) at this time of year you ought to see rooms full of inquiries - particularly exploring the environment. My experience, however, is that you won't see much. Just lots of literacy and numeracy and little else. Even the art is formulaic. Boy have we lost the plot over the years. So much for all this 'best practice' and an obsession with testing. Might as well go the whole hog and get into National Standards.

Term four , with the weather improving, is time to get out and about and to explore the immediate environment. And in term four all the students should have in place all the literacy ( language expressive arts), observational skills ( basis of art and science) numeracy and science skills to work independently. I, of course, realize that this is not the case! Hope I am wrong!

Here are some suggestions:

What plants grow along side the roadside, the fence line or in a waste area. Choose one to study. You don't need to know the names of the plants.Just number or invent names for them.Or take digital photos with macro lens setting. As the study progresses children will learn a few of the common and scientific names. Study one plants in depth during literacy time and later children can choose one to study for themselves. Develop some criteria to use to study e.g shape of leaves? height? spread? how common? describe flowers or seeds etc? Is it a weed -what is a weed?

Study a common flower as a class to 'scaffold' how students could study plant of their own choice in their own garden. Once again children could gain real knowledge as the study progresses. For art, after looking at some real flowers ( observational drawing), invent some magic flowers in a vase. Write a few thought poems. Forget this genre nonsense!

What plants grow in your school lawn?

Study the monarch and swan plant.

What do children know about common vegetables.Display some vegetable .Draw them. Cross sections of some plants are interesting. Research the history of common vegetables and where they originated from.

Study a tree
of note in the school grounds.

What are the common birds in the school grounds?

Once you start looking the ideas are endless -and then there are pieces of bush, swamp, and seashore to study.

Why bore kids with teacher planned lessons - there is a world of difference to explore 'just outside the window'.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A small inquiry study - and some big issues.

Teachers should always be on the alert for inquiry challenges for their students. Teaching,as Jerome Bruner says, 'is the canny art of intellectual temptation'. At this time of the years, if inquiry learning has been central to learning, students ought by now to have in place all the skills to be able to do so. This presumes that the literacy time has been made full use of to develop the NZC 'seeking, using and creating skills'. Inqury skills ought to have been introduced (and 'scaffolded') by teachers during the year. The best assessment of learning is not all the tests teachers currenty give students , often out of context, but to get students to choose and complete an independent study of their own choice.

I bet few kids can! the ability to inquire is the point of real life learning!

November is the time to take a close look at a flax plant as they are now in full flower. Most schools have a few plants in their school grounds; some even are close to flax plants growing in their natural habitat.

What do your students know about flax bushes? Do they know anything of the plant itself as a species? How many have flax in their home gardens? Do they know any thing about its place in Maori culture? Do they know anything about the place of flax in early European commerce?

If not what about a mini inquiry unit - possibly a chance to introduce some real inquiry skills before the class is given a choice of studies for a final 'authentic' assessment.

If you want some help here is a link to assist you.
And another.

While I talking about 'real' inquiry it was enlightening to read Kelvin Smythe's recent comments about developing a 'feeling for' approach to learning. He comments that most 'so called' inquiry learning is more 'finding out' about rather than developing a 'feeling for' inquiry - or if studying other cultures the people themselves.

He writes:

There is another way to the curriculum, ironically, it is our way, our holistic way, which had its antecedence in the late ‘30s, its burgeoning in the ‘40s through the ‘60s, and its embedded influence in classroom practice and decision-making until the ‘80s when New Zealand education became dominated by the managerialist and quantitative philosophy imported from America, and by such accompanying metaphors as accountability, external reviews, stakeholders, provider capture, assessment, national standards, achievement objectives, skills, and education as a science.

This other way still retains influence in many of our practices and in the hearts and minds of those who have directly experienced it and who are dismayed that education has lost its soul to a system designed by politicians, education bureaucrats and quantitative academics for ease of political and bureaucratic control.

The feeling for approach to social studies.... was one of those curriculum practices influenced by the holistic philosophy and was to become a reasonably significant expression of it, before, too, it was eclipsed by the managerialist and quantitative philosophy of the ‘80s. It was an approach to social studies which had as its purpose the developing of a feeling for the people being studied by gaining a considerable amount of information about those people in an interesting way, to powerful affective effect – which is a key characteristic of the holistic.

Those interesting ways encompassed such characteristics as using real contexts, divergent and imaginative thinking, and genuine problem solving. All this organised by a dynamic main aim which permitted considerable teaching and learning manoeuvre, supported by a few aims, with achievement objectives eschewed as objectives, but embraced as criteria for observational criteria – another key characteristic of the holistic.

As well as the main aim to tie the feeling for approach to social studies together was the idea of teaching as an art in which the teacher with a feeling for the feeling for made decisions that made it all work for children.

The feeling for basis to the curriculum is based on the affective through cognitive challenge, on children gaining knowledge and understandings that combine to have significant affective effect. The holistic nature of the feeling for basis to the curriculum is based on the integration of the affective, cognitive, and skill through an overarching main aim. This main aim is so designed to provide both considerable teaching and learning freedom and definite teaching and learning coherence. Skills being given attention to the extent they are used for gaining and using knowledge.

The label ‘feeling for’ is used because it points, in the first instance, directly to the child, not some abstract programme quality. It means considerably more than children expressing interest or enthusiasm for their learning; it is about an affective response being established that is so stable and powerful as to invoke the transformational and, on occasion, to achieve it.

The way a feeling for is established, and the nature and focus of that feeling for, will, of course, vary from curriculum area to curriculum area:

1. In social studies the focus will be on getting close to the people and human situations being considered.

2. In science, often using real-life contexts, on the spirit and adventure of finding out about the natural, physical world, and the wider universe.

3. In the arts, on sincerity of observation, effectiveness of expression, and exploration and discovery (the arts can often be presented to children as something to be done rather than something to be resolved).

4. In writing, according to purpose, writing with sincerity and clarity (expressive), with persuasiveness and clarity (argument), with logic and clarity (expository) – ‘clarity’ encompassing everything from style, to sentence and paragraph structure, to grammar, to spelling, to presentation.

5. In reading, on developing an abiding love for the act of reading (yes, the ‘I can read’ emphasis of our holistic reading philosophy had it right).

6. In maths, often using real-life contexts, on the spirit and adventure of finding out about the use of patterns and relationships in quantities, space, and time (it comes as a revelation to children that maths can about ideas, not just ‘facts’, therefore disputable).

7. In technology, often using real-life contexts, on abilities that are deeply significant to them (I am referring to practical life abilities as against systems theories – for instance, on healthy cooking in the home rather than food processing in a factory).

8. In health, often using real-life contexts, on health matters as problematic

For those who are sick of the current managerial approach to learning read his full article. And get some real insight into what lies behind National Standards.

I am not so sure how many teachers and schools are currently introducing integrated or holistic studies to their children.

Most schools I visit seem to place all their focus on literacy and numeracy- and the National Standards will continue this distorted emphasis.

Literacy and numeracy ought to be seen for what they are - vital 'foundation skills' necessary to ensure students are able to continue 'seeking, using and creating their own knowledge'; inquiry learning.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Let's have some real creativity!

Too many teachers and principals have become sidetracked by data collection and compliance requirements - some even believe in them. All this has created a surveillance risk averse culture, all about conformity, compromise and being controlled and is nothing to do with creativity. Too many principals have become unwittingly part of the problem.

Lets be honest, there never was that much creativity in our schools. They have aways been more conservative than innovative and this includes many so called child-centred primary teachers. Creativity is seen when students and teacher diversity is appreciated, experiential learning valued, and where students complete powerful personal 'products' following up their own ideas in: in depth research, poetic writing, the creative arts - including these days information technology. The 'default mode' for most primary teachers is literacy and numeracy first and others areas in the time remaining. Over the years I have worked with some truly creative teachers ( and far fewer principals ) and it their ideas I share. Nothing of any real creativity has come from recent 'delivery' orientated contracted advisers yet, in past days, such advisers were the key to creative thinking. Must be time for me to go!

Sir Ken Robinson is to give a keynote at a conference in Palmerston North late next January. He should be inspirational. As I am also to give a keynote I will be present to hear him. But I am betting that, after all is said, little will be done. The ground is just not right for creativity to catch on - hopefully I am wrong. Maybe Sir Ken will be the catalyst we need to escape current formulaic teaching?

True creativity involves an element of tension as it is always not clear as to what will be finally achieved. Decisions and choices have to made along the way , often without full understanding, which grows and evolves in the process. This is in contrast with the current, so called scientific management model which insists on predetermined goals, intentions and 'what are (we) learning today'( WALT). True science is about being comfortable about the unknown and is an area involving creativity - being both open and skeptical.

Sir Ken Robinson has written that we have a problem as worrying as the ecological strip mining of our environmental resources. There is, he writes, a crisis of the mind - we are strip mining children's brains in our focus on delivering literacy and numeracy. In this obsessive process teachers are unaware of the talents not being looked for. As a result too many students simply end up by enduring school and too many never find out what they are good at - even the so called successful achievers; few end up loving learning. The future depends on encouraging and developing the talents of all children. Until we do we will aways have an 'achievement tail'; kids who see no point in school without a home culture to support them to persist.

Most people, according to creativity expert Robert Fritz, can't cope with creativity because they want quick answers and don't like living in the realm of not knowing, the very essence of science and creativity. Such people, he says, are intolerant of these moments of confusion not appreciating that it is such confusions that are the best learning moments of all. In such times creative people (artists or scientists) discover original ideas and where people go beyond usual ways of solving problems; when Fritz says, 'creativity gets into gear'.

Fritz writes that we are frightened of discrepancies and our instincts are to solve problems and end the tension of not knowing. Creativity accepts not knowing , happy to try out unusual ideas even if they 'feel' uncomfortable. Being creative means accepting such 'feelings'

Fritz writes that many creative people are happy to leave the problem for a while, to sleep on the problem, and, as a result, new ideas often emerge. Creativity needs time. Leaving the problem unresolved provides the tension for ideas to be generated.

This perception of creativity is different from what teachers often call creativity where children are encouraged to 'be creative' and to accept whatever is given. Fritz's definition is deeper and slower not just fun and messing around. Fritz is about focusing the mind on the problem not just freeing the mind and picking from the best ideas to solve the problem on the spot. True creative people think deeply about the problem they are trying to solve without rushing in to solving it. This Fritz writes is problem solving but it is not necessarily creative.

The mind is a sucker for quick answers and theories even if little real understanding is gained. Fritz quotes Sherlock Holmes who, when asked by his poor hapless Watson, if he suspected anyone, said, "Yes. Myself.Of coming to an answer prematurely".

So let's have more creativity ( unknowability) and less data collection and premature superficial thinking. And let's help our students develop their talents - in whatever area that attracts them.

This is what marks out the few creative teachers I like ( mostly liked) to work with. Too many teachers ( and most principals) are just too busy trying to solve imposed compliance problems to understand let alone risk creativity.