Thursday, February 28, 2013

Class management for creativity and Ewan McIntosh

Assisting not pre-determining
Classroom management quotes.

I was asked in a blog comment how would I arrange the day ina classroom focused on developing the gifts and talents of all students – to ensure, as it states in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, they all  become ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’; to ensure all students leave with positive ‘learning identities’.

Time to apply his advice!!
The question was in a response to the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson (‘creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy’) and GuyClaxton (‘learnacy is as important to literacy and numeracy’).
Many schools and teachers are aware of the ideas of Sir Ken and Guy Claxton ( and many other educationalists who are asking for transformation of our antiquated education system) but in contrast most school days reflect approaches that have their genesis in a past industrial age,  And worse still this over emphasis on narrow literacy and numeracy demands is being reinforced by the  reactionary political imposition of the current government’s National Standards and associated accountability demands in these areas.
Elwyn - NZ's pioneer creative teacher
To develop a more future orientated education new mind-sets are required. Well not exactly new as there have always been educationists and individual classroom teachers who could well be seen as precursors of a new education. One such teacher would be the late pioneer creative teacher Elwyn Richardson who envisaged his classroom as a community of artist and scientists.
So what to do?
The first think is to focus all ‘teaching’ on the development of every students’’ gifts and talents. This is not to throw out literacy and numeracy but to re frame them in the service of creative inquiry across the curriculum. As Guy Claxton has written students need to see the point in all they do.
I suggest teachers take educators Thomas Sergiovani’s advice to ‘build in canvas’. By this he means look as if you are doing what is expected while dramatically changing the approach to the literacy and numeracy times. The building in canvas metaphor relates to the construction of canvas tanks in the Iraq war to fool the enemy. This means introducing as much applied reading and maths as you can tied into the current inquiry study.
The key belief is to see the current inquiry topic as providing the energy and inspiration for most of what goes on in the school day and to personalise learning for each student.
An inquiry based programme is in direct conflict with the formulaic deterministic ‘best practice’ teaching that has become the norm in most schools. By the over use of such things as success criteria, intentional teaching, feed-forward ‘next step’ teaching, and a ‘we are going to learn’ model (WALTS) too much student work lacks individual creativity. Teachers who use such things need to encourage their students to ensure whatever they do expresses their individuality – except in such things as spelling and practical maths. We are talking about a personalised approach to learning rather than a standardised one.
A creative inquiry based classroom centres around students (and teachers) working together to solve what some writers called ‘messy’, ‘wild’, fertile’ or ‘generative’ topics. This exploratory or ‘emergent’ approach to learning is, as mentioned, in conflict with current approaches but it is a creative approach for both teachers and students.  To succeed teachers need to follow educationalist Jerome Bruner’s advice that ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’. Whatever students are tempted to do should be done in depth – ‘fewer things should be done well’
In creative classrooms teachers need to focus their time on developing with their students such temptations and thinking how they can infuse all the necessary literacy and numeracy skills required for students to produce quality work. There are excellent books which provide examples of how this can be done.  Obviously not all literacy and numeracy will be integrated – such areas have their own areas to explore using an inquiry approach. Most of all teachers need to ensure all students acquire the learning dispositions to develop positive attitudes.
The practice of using ability groups needs to be questioned and students helped as required, individually or in groups, and then returned to work with others. This approach is well described by educationalists David Perkins and Jo Boaler.
By such means the shape of the day retains much of what is currently seen but instead of the ‘evil twins of literacy and numeracy gobbling up the entire curriculum’ (as one UK commentator has written) they become integral to the development of the gifts and talents of all students.
Such classrooms value personalised diagnostic assistance to learners in areas of shown need so all students’ can achieve quality learning. The best evidence of learning is to be seen in what the students’ have achieved (exhibitions, wall displays, demonstrations, presentations, electronic portfolios) and but most importantly by their students’ confidence to apply skills and knowledge gained to new situations. In such classrooms both teachers and students can show how all aspects of learning, including attitudes, have improved.

Ewan McIntosh
It was suggested to me that I should listen to a video presentation given by Ewan McIntosh at a recent Thinking Conference (Jan 2013) because his ideas challenge the pre-deterministic’ best practices’ currently to be seen in classrooms. His presentation was titled ‘The Problem Finders’ and in it he explores the process creative professionals use and how they can be applied to support creative dynamicand deeper thinkers. Brilliant stuff - find time to watch
Creative people, he says, have four qualities:
 1 They know why they do what they do.
They see the whole problem and then they work on the hard parts (David Perkin’s advice). Ewan referred to Guy Claxton’s 6 pillars of learning that one learning must have (1) challenge (2) be collaborative(3) provide responsibility (4) respect learner’s ideas (5) be about real things (6) provide choices.
2 They are agent provocateurs.

Picasso - agent provocateur!
They provoke learning. Schools should not involve students in questions that can be answered by ‘Google’. Students need to discover by themselves – to transform what they know. Students need ‘messy’ learning situations to develop generative thinking that unfolds as students dig deeper. Students need to find their own problems.
3 They trust the process.
Creative people trust that new thinking will evolve through the design process. First they begin to explore the chosen area and are on the alert for ‘leads’ to occur; then they begin to define areas to research; then ideas to solve problems; from this developing ‘prototypes’ which provide feedback to improve. The first steps are divergent and then ideas converge.
Teachers, McIntosh, do too much of the planning (problem seeking) themselves. Instead they should start learning with the students. (So much for all this pre-determined learning). Give students a chance to wonder, to develop their own ‘juicy’ questions. Help students define the problem and possible solutions. Don’t assess results too early!
4 Creative people live to perform.
Preforming your learning is so important. Students need opportunities to exhibit, demonstrate, show and tell about what they have learnt. Students need opportunities to feel their work is memorable. ‘To achieve great things’ McIntosh quotes, ‘two things are needed a plan and not enough time.’ If given the opportunity children can learn by themselves.
Seems to me McIntosh is describing what creative teachers do. McIntosh is elaborating the ‘community of scientists and artists’ of Elwyn Richardson or describing how teachers can ensure that all students develop positive creative learning identities able, as the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum says, to able to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’.
With a creative mind-set teachers can transform their classrooms into personalised learning communities, and if they are clever (by ‘building in canvas’), those in authority might never notice. And, in a way, it won’t matter if students are producing amazing results. Such creative teachers will be able to gain some sort of immunity.
Creative classrooms, and better still schools, are a real alternative to the narrowing effect of  the current assessment crazy emphasis on literacy and numeracy and the deadening effect of formulaic ‘best practice’ teaching. Creative classrooms are learning organisations while 'best practice' schools are communities of ( conformist) practices.

Learning organisation quotes

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Australian educator gives final broadside - lessons for New Zealand

Extinguished Guest Writer

Phil Cullen

Ex Director Primary Schools Queensland

The Janus Look

Phil's website 

I’m totally disillusioned and disappointed by the lack of interest in the effects of NAPLAN on the lives of young Australian children shown by those who should care more than they do about child development and the nasty treatment of children at school. As a consequence. I worry a great deal about the future of our great country. I’ve been around for a while, done a lot of things connected to primary schooling, so I’d like to share an overview of what I reckon has happened during my life with kids; and then predict what is likely to happen.
I took over my first classroom in May 1946. I was so proud. I had always wanted to be a primary school teacher and I had arrived! I still love primary schooling 67 years later. Love it. Love it. Love it.
I started teaching in the way that I was taught, the way that everybody seemed to teach...from the front of the classroom near a blackboard with a desk and large space all of my own, spending a lot of time yapping my head off across a demilitarised zone to the youngsters who sat still in a confined space all day facing me. It was standard practice.The techniques were based on fear. Teachers had taught this way for hundreds of years, since the Dame Schools, Charity Schools and Common Schools first tried teaching in groups. Such explicit, didactic, sermonising forms of instruction featured, as a rule, some pretty nasty bang, crash, wallop techniques. They only worked for a few easily frightened kids.  – of the birch, of endless repetitive listings, of detention and public disgrace – applied to learning. We all believed in the prevailing dogma that children would not pass any examinations unless they were roused enough to fear the consequences of failure.
When Grammar Schools wanted to judge the scholastic ability of those who might be allowed to enter their hallowed halls, written tests for applicants became favoured, so much so that governments took over their preparation, publication and distribution. In my home state, it was called the Scholarship Examination. From it, the examination bug went feral. Those that could ‘pass’ them were offered privileges; those who couldn’t were dumped. The successful continued being schooled in a new arrangement of classroom setting, based on subjects that could be tested. The rest were not wanted at school and had to educate themselves out in the big bad world at about fourteen years of age. Not the best of schooling models, but the only one we knew. All children were schooled following the premise that universities wanted only the best scholars and schools should prepare everyone for a likely academic future. Schools were not run for ‘also rans’.
This sort of toxic psychology lasted for some years and, to my eternal shame, I was a part of it. I wasted midnight oil, school time and professional gumption -- retarding children’s development by being crazily focused on testing. Then, I realised that there is nothing honourable, nor ethical, nor professional about stern blanket testing, especially the prevailing 2013 dirt-raking political kind that is endemic to standardised external blanket testing. Never has been. Never will be. It took two little Year 2 pupils to make me notice how much stress, unhealthy competition, creative dullness and missed learning opportunities I was causing. I just hadn’t given a thought to professional ethics nor to the emerging knowledge about the school conditions necessary to help people to learn with self-motivated enthusiasm....without fear. Others were learning that the 3Ls [Love, Laughter and Learning] were essentials for high performance in the 3Rs....while I was mistakenly chasing high performance through tests. Slow learner that I was, I then did a complete 180 degrees. I now hate blanket testing with origins beyond the schools with an intense hate, that I never thought I could possess.
If I had taught them learnacy, then top levels of personal numeracy and literacy achievements would have come as a natural consequence, Hells, Bells and Buggy-wheels, we have NAPLAN running our programs. The longer that Australia’s NAPLAN has the kind of control that it has, the more that reasons arise for all teachers to hate and despise Standardised Blanket Testing supplied by non-local-school personnel. It stinks to high heaven and no form of it should ever exist.
Real learning
This model of test-based schooling, well entrenched in world schooling during my early career and not much different from present-day SBTs like NAPLAN and having the same negative effect on children, lasted in all western countries until the 1960s. In my home state, the rigorous Scholarship examination held at the end of primary school was abandoned in 1962 and the most advanced, most exciting, most learning focused period in the history of education memed itself around the world during this period. It arrived in Australia with the greatest examples of thought-provoking literature in history translated into a remarkable array of learning based models of schooling. Principals started to grasp autonomy and run their schools based on professionally based readings and personal research. What decent principal has to wait for autonomy to be granted from up-high, anyhow? What level-headed authority figure can claim to ‘grant autonomy‘ to somebody else. [Fair go, Peter and your like-minded State Ministers Stop playing God.] I’d love to list those schools that engaged in innovations that each principal believed would work and did....different from each other - sure. I can’t list them all. I’d leave out too many. If you give me a call, I’ll tell you about some of those schools that proudly based their teaching on multi-aged groupings or Emotions-ABC or play-way or thinking [de Bono style] or resource-rich subject centred or mastery learning or Literature-based.... or one [but it applied to many] which displayed “Living, Learning Laboratory” outside the school. The sign should now display “Testing Factory”.
The 1960s to 1980s was the most progressive period in history. It produced the creative geniuses that have since provided us with more comfortable living and working standards far beyond the expectations of the citizens of the period. Schools and their clients were free to learn, free to innovate. The world started to become a very small oyster. Achievement became self motivating; and schools were starting to use shared and self-evaluation techniques that involved the pupil, the parent and the teacher in the pursuit of excellence. A visit to a fair-dinkum child-oriented classroom was so exciting one could almost touch the LEARNING atmosphere. You could certainly feel it.
The present encouragement of didactic modes of instruction did not have the high priority that is now promoted in the test-based atmosphere of the classroom. Indeed the teachers, moved off the stage and shared more face-to-face maieutic and group modes than had ever been tried. It was working well. During this truly Golden Age of Education [1960s-80s], children were enjoying the role of ‘pupil’ with a caring teacher: “I learn. You teach. We’ve got this contract. Treat me as a pupil, not as a student!!” Today, in 2013, they should be internalising. “Hey Teach, You’re breaking the contract. Get rid of this NAPLAN crap and get back to pupilling.” NAPLAN now rules schooling. It shouldn’t; should it?
Even the School Inspectors, once feared apostles of the testing regime and making judgements about school quality from their own backboard tests and oral questioning, changed during the 60s and 70s. Appointed from the outstanding principals of the day, they free-ranged around their schools to assist in any way they could. The knowledge that they had accumulated over extensive experiences was shared. They knew what a good school was and what a bad school was without using paper-and-pencil tests. They knew which was which within minutes of arrival.They gathered pollen from the best practices that they had experienced and better ideas blossomed. Some were working partners of the State’s curriculum development. They worked with close contact to the specialist curriculum officers and the State’s multi-representative PCC – Primary Curriculum Committee. Quality control and guidance was at its peak. Curriculum changes and their effects on classroom activities were moderated at the classroom level and discussed with all and sundry as to effectiveness. Changes were alive, accepted or rejected; a far cry from the time when curriculum changes were received in the post.
[We had learned over the years that top-down curriculum innovations originating from desk-wallahs in centralised other places, just don’t work. New Maths, Cuisenaire, Whole Word or Phonic based Reading are examples. Nothing that is not endorsed unanimously by classroom teachers will work. That’s why NAPLAN, now in charge of the curriculum, wont help anything. It’s taking longer to get rid of than most execrable impositions have taken because the business- based cum profit-making cum totalitarian political force imposing its dictatorial will on the conduct of schooling is stronger than any previous.]
Things were going well, until, in mid-1980s, befuddled academics with high level politico-bureaucratic control absorbed a special scato-meme invented by corporate managerialists from Up-over somewhere, who believed only in impersonal structural alterations just for the sake of change. In scatological terms, it came from the bottom of the pit. In my state, the Education Minister and the Director-General, both of whom had had unpleasant experiences in their short teaching careers decided to get rid of Inspectors and those sections that were concentrating on curriculum delivery, teaching and learning and teacher development and seemed to be enjoying it. The pair just didn’t like their own lack of control over effective schooling and felt inadequate. So, they blatantly manipulated fellow officers and deceitfully arranged for a ‘preferred option’ to be preferred because it was the one that they wanted. With skilful adherence to managerialism’s impersonal forms of structure, they arranged for learning activities to be ‘outsourced’, introduced ‘performance indicators’ that relied on best-written CVs and thespian skills, ‘down-sized’ the Inspectorate by summarily removing their positions, and removed the school-experience-base of primary and secondary schooling by getting rid of divisional control. Out went any semblance of an Education Department that was supposed, from time immemorial, to be school based.
They made things easy for a rookie Premier, under the influence of managerial high-flyers such as Peter Coaldrake and Kevin Rudd to confuse the public service generally...especially the caring services.
This kind of organisation model, common to all Australian states and federal governance, has devalued school experience, caring for kids, belief in teaching as a pupilling enterprise, basic humanity and belief in professional ethics...from the Australian school system. It’s been hellish for children and caring teachers. It devalues down-to-earth, hands-on experience. It stinks.
NAPLAN is the devil child of these kinds of irrelevant and irreverent changes to schooling arrangements. Efficacy hawks and testucators, quite unfamiliar with classroom practices, went wild with the blessing of Joel Klein and his Australian agent, now PM, and have had a field day supporting the destruction of learning development and belief in the human spirit. Small wonder that little useful progress of the kind that was a probable dream in the 1980s has been bastardised and that irreparable damage has been done to at least a generation of our future citizens. Australia is now committed to mediocrity. Our controllers just do not know what they are doing
[ “How Figures Show No Progress in Reducing Low Student Achievement in the Past 30 Years” ]
What a pity that we couldn’t have done what the Finns did in the 1980s? STOP and THINK ! THINK. What goes on in those classrooms, we should be asking. It’s not too late, if we are prepared to drop the stupidities completely, return the dignity of the teaching profession to its owners, trust our schools to produce the goods; and encourage a love for learning in each school child for his or her entire school life, Australia can do it. It has a teaching force, that has been the envy of the world. It needs to be trusted. It can lead the world if it tries, not fall behind as it is doing now....thanks to NAPLAN.
Principals. Stop being such gutless wonders. Reclaim your school. Reclaim your ethics. Believe in your professional ethics and exercise that belief. Stop being a party to the cruel outcomes of fear-based learning. You’ve been duped. No half-measures. You can get rid of all of the stupidity by simply saying, “No more”. Send the tests back, if your representatives have been too eichmannised to act on your behalf.
Teachers. You unfortunate pussy-cats. Your pleasant co-operative nature, part of your DNA, so necessary for the most wonderful of the caring professions, is being compromised. Your professional leaders are letting you down and your unions have deserted you. Believe in yourselves again. Things are tough for you. You can tell the parents of your pupils how you feel and advocate that they opt-out by removing their children from the May tests. It’s so easy. You are also part of an enormous, locally-influential voting bloc. You do have power if you wish to exercise it. Just talk about NAPLAN to everyone you meet.
Parents. You can help by sending a simple note to your child’s school, telling it that you opt-out. Also, you vote. So do teachers. If, together perhaps, you ask your local candidates where they stand in regard to the banning of NAPLAN with the intention of voting only for those who would ban it, there would certainly be more political thought about the pestilence.
Are schools suffering from Eichmanism?
Politicians. You can show a bit of spunk in your party meetings. Until now, you will have heard little of NAPLAN mentioned, because Peter and Christopher have you by the short and curlies. Think of what they are trying to do to your child. Think about Australia’s future. Mouthing commands, platitudes and ‘We will do it.” is all hot air without decent Aussie, fair-dinkum, experience-based care to back up their meadow mayonnaise. THINK!
In the early 1980s, I dreamed of a wonderful future of happy children at school – right through to Year 12 – bursting a boiler to get to school each day because of all the rich learning experiences that they could share. Shared evaluation of efforts to achieve at the highest level would change to self-evaluation as the pupils moved through school and would continue through life. The development of happy, exciting achievements in learning was on the way. My closer primary school colleagues of the 80s and I could feel the joys of learning in primary schools spreading, and, between us we had more experience at recognising learning improvement than most. We foresaw that the children at school at the time would love whatever they had to do and would constantly try to do better....whether it was digging a neat ditch or solving a tricky bit of space science. Learning would become a part of a happy, useful life-style. Ah well!
Then came managerialism....square pegs in charge...encouraged by a ridiculous, verging on a stupid, political take-over of school-based learning enterprises....pushing around compliant high-level pussy-cats who don’t give a rats about kids.
Dreams shattered. Truly, Today’s NAPLAN control of schooling in Australia is devastating and disgusting. The longer NAPLAN exists, the worse it will get.You can bet on it.
Poor little Treehorn. His parents, teachers and principals still ignore his problems and those of his school mates.
Hang in there, kid. One day!!! 2013 ?? Let’s pray.
We both have NO to NAPLAN stickers on our cars.
Have you?
Love you.
Phil Cullen

Friday, February 22, 2013

Educational Readings- supporting creative teachers.

By Allan Alach

A few themes in New Zealand over the last couple of weeks, all derivative of GERM 101 as practised around the world. The process to implement charter schools continues, with an emphasis on employing unqualified teacher ‘experts’ - yes that’s the expression used by a government MP. The Christchurch earthquake has been used as the justification to ‘reorganise’ schooling in Christchurch, with charter schools in the mix. Seems that schools in lower socio-economic areas have been listed as closing/merging, while schools in richer areas will continue. Government proposals for charter schools have lower socio-economic areas of Auckland and Christchurch as the preferred options for the first charter schools. Is there a rat to be smelled here or is my nose overly sensitive? Another theme, which has taken a while to arrive here, is the demonisation of teacher unions by ‘tame’ journalists and commentators - also straight out of GERM 101 handbook. Surprise, surprise.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

At Long Last, We Are Treating Doctors Like We Treat Teachers

Performance standards for doctors? At last, let’s make them accountable, as we know this will lift their performance, as has happened with teachers.

U.S. teachers’ job satisfaction craters — report

Surprise. Who would have thought it? Of course NZ and Australian teachers will be fine…… won’t they?

Zombie Ideas in Education

Some really common ones - how many do you recognise? Are you able to add to the list?

Characteristics of Highly Creative People (via Bruce Hammonds)
Creative people ( like Picasso) remain open to ideas .
This article is about adults, however it is easy to adapt to children. Look at your classroom - does it reflect these characteristics? Even more challenging - how does this interface with GERM? 

It’s Really Very Simple … The Solution to England’s Education Problem (via Ken Woolford, Australia)

And NZ and Australia and USA and ….. Guess what - not a mention of standards, testing, achievement, inputs, outcomes, performance pay and so on. 

‘...just as early years education was seen by the Victorians as little more than child-minding which came cheap, so secondary education was accepted as being specialised and expensive, and most often delivered away from the child’s local home community.  A century or more later primary education is still allocated significantly fewer funds, and far less status, than secondary (which means that classes are much larger when pupils are young, and smaller with more direct teacher involvement, when they are older).’

Inquiring Minds Really Do Want to Know

The key is assisting not determining!
“How do we go from the natural curiosity of the two-year old to the practiced detachment of the stereotypical teenager? What is it about school that teaches kids to not care about their work — and by extension, their world?


And if we want our students to really be thoughtful scholars and citizens, don’t we owe it to them to teach them how to think for themselves?

Who wants adults who can think for themselves? Why, they may start to question the status quo. Can’t have that.

The need for creative schools – schools as true learning communities.

A very important article by Bruce Hammonds. We cannot afford to lose the voices of wisdom and experience!

‘ I am almost at a point of giving up my crusade for creative education because it seems a losing battle. In Australia ex Director of Primary Education Queensland Phil Cullen has finally given up a long fight against the evils of an over emphasis on testing in basic subjects. He is disappointed that teacher and principal organisations did not have the courage to confront such politically inspired approach.’

We don't want your thought control
Yup, Bruce and Phil. I look around New Zealand and see what you mean. Much too quiet for my liking.

10 Ways To Fake A 21st Century Classroom

A light hearted article, yet has more than a grain of truth….

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creative schools – schools as true learning communities.

Let's put Sir Ken's ideas into action.

It sure isn’t a good time to be involved in education.
First there is the major distraction of the pay debacle of Novapay causing time hungry checking and recording activities and stress in almost all schools.
Worse still is the growing emphasis on the testing of literacy and numeracy in schools. Read what ex Senior Inspector of Primary schools, a long-time supporter ofholistic education, Kelvin Smythe has to say. What a potential nightmare.  And it will get worse as testing becomes more established, tied into National Standards and as , sooner or later, competitive ‘league tables' as seen in  seen in the England will result.   And as part of this will come teaching to the tests ( cheating) and the narrowing of the curriculum to tested subjects.
As a result on this growing emphasis on assessment comes with a raft of so called 'evidence based best practices’.
I am almost at a point of giving up my crusade for creative education because it seems a losing battle. In Australia ex Director of Primary Education Queensland PhilCullen has finally given up a long fight against the evils of an over emphasison testing in basic subjects. He is disappointed that teacher and principal organisations did not have the courage to confront such politically inspired approach.
So called ‘best practices’ are now well established in our primary schools spread by contractual advisers. While they may seem to offer schools a means to ensure consistency across classrooms, even some degree of quality, they, if not used carefully lead to the side-lining of creativity and individuality. It seems all class teachers now use WALTS (we are learning that), success criteria, intentional teaching, feedback and (teacher determined) feed-forward.
The trouble is that all the above ‘best practice’ techniques is that they ‘teach’ the students to replicate , or deliver, what the teacher believes to be the indications of success.
Einstein would be hard to assees?
This creative mind-set makes a real difference. Such teachers would be appalled at the clone like consistency of student work whether it is a science project, language work and even the most creative area of all art.
A ‘community of best practice’ follows the guidance of experts from outside of the school or classroom while ‘learning organisations’ value the inspiration of creative teachers.
The emphasis chosen makes a big difference.
The current government is pushing narrow ‘best practice’ approach to teaching by emphasising testing and National Standards.
 In contrast the side-lined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum encourages a ‘learning organisation’ approach where each learner is to be seen as a ‘seeker, user and creator of their own knowledge’.
I wishschools would take the advice of Sir Ken Robinson who sees the school’s main role to develop the gifts and talents of all students. He also say that ‘creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy’ a thought that echoes Guy Claxton who says ‘learnacy is as important as literacy and numeracy.
If the ideas of Sir Ken and Guy Claxton ( and many others) were to be taken seriously, along with the NZC ‘s phrase of students as seekers user and creators’ schools would be totally transformed.
At least ‘best practice’ schools could add to their criteria that whatever is undertaken the results should celebrate the individuality or creativity of every students.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Educational Readings - a focus on creativity

By Allan Alach

Times are getting interesting. There are increasing numbers of articles from Australia, USA and New Zealand that reflect a fight back against GERM. This even includes news from the well known radical state of Texas…..   

The situation in New Zealand is going from farce to farce with barely time to recover between events and we must now start to wonder if GERM in its present format will survive the year.  The present government will soon be keeping an eye on the general election at the end of 2014, especially as current polling suggests that a Labour/Green coalition will get the numbers.

Australia is heading towards an election in September this year; however given that the present Labor government introduced Naplan, it is not likely that the more conservative Liberal Party will undo this. This means that Australians have a bigger battle on their hands.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

A Complete Guide to the Corporate Reform Movement

Here’s a good activity for a staff meeting. Play’ Spot the reform jargon.”

Fundamentals of Creativity (via Bruce Hammonds)

‘Here are five fundamental insights that can guide and support educators as they endeavor to integrate student creativity into the everyday curriculum.’
Education to develop gifts and talents

Creativity can’t be mandated, nor can it be boxed into predetermined outcomes. Creativity by definition can’t be predicted or imposed through technocratic WALTs and the like. It can’t be ‘assessed’ and graded. It can’t be tested although there are those who have developed standardised testing for creativity, to decide whether creativity has increased or declined. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Pearson are developing programmes to teach creativity.

How Standardized Curriculum Short-Circuits Innovation In Education

Using Sir Ken as a starting point, this article reinforces the previous article about creativity.

“And that’s what gets lost in a standardized curricula, where the artistry is replaced by this dead language of delivery.”

While the battle against GERM dominates at the moment, we must also keep our awareness on the way ahead. GERM will be eliminated - there’s evidence that 2013 may be the turning point. However, what will the post-GERM world be like? Educators must be ready to reclaim the playing field, otherwise another imposed ideology may take over.

Are We Teaching Citizens or Automatons?

Automatons, of course. Powers that be don’t want a population who can think. Why, they may realise what is being done to them, and object. Can’t have that. Keep them in their place, hence skills based common core/national standards.

The Dehumanization of Education

A teacher’s viewpoint.

‘I am a teacher because of the love I had for school. I loved my teachers. I loved having fun while learning. I loved the interaction with my peers. I felt safe and successful at school…even when I made mistakes.’

A teacher evaluation session out of ‘Star Wars’

Seems to be a theme developing here - now for the the dehumanisation of teachers. Have you been calibrated yet?

Technology for the sake of technology: False promises, false prophets and false notions (via Bruce)

US educator Jamie McKenzie (always worth reading) making a salient point: ‘Technology is a false god, unlikely to do much for children unless schools focus on learning and make huge investments in professional development.’

Yes indeed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Schools as communities of fixed ‘best practice’ or schools as learning organisations based on the evolution of‘next practices’.

Teachers between a rock and a hard place!

A year or so ago I wrote an article for the Education Todaymagazine headed ‘Teachers in No Man’s Land’. My theme was that primary teachers are caught between implementing a student centred education and an education influenced by ‘best practice’s adapted from the business world.
Teachers, like the soldiers caught in no man’s area in World War One, were doomed no matter what direction they chose. Today teachers seem just as confused not knowing whichagenda to follow and, worse still, oblivious to the agendas being imposed – all too often exhausted just trying to implement what they are being asked to do. To extend the theme teachers are all too often ‘led’ by principals, who like World War One generals, have no idea what they are asking their teachers to do.  A s a consequence wrong decisions, influenced by Ministry compliance requirements (National Standards – and the inevitability of League Tables) and the surveillance culture created by the Education Review Office, being made
Easier it seems to do the wrong things well.
Forty year waves of change!

I read many years ago that big world-wide trends come in 40 year waves influences all in their way.  After the failure of capitalism resulting in the Great Depression and also the waste of lives in World War Two Western societies developed welfare societies in a democratic attempt to develop the potential of all citizens not just the elite power holders. In New Zealand the first Labour Government develop a range of state organisations and, as part of this, new liberal ideas about education were promulgated. Every student was too receive an education best suited to their needs.
The sixties were seen as the high point of these world-wide changes. After the austerity and need for security following World War Two the sixties, reflecting growing prosperity, was a period of great creativity challenging  traditional ideas in all areas of life. Education was no exception. Child centred educationwas encouraged by the then Director of Education, Dr Beeby, In England child centred education was officially recognised by the then government’s Plowden Report (1967). In New Zealand experimentation was also in the air. In 1964 pioneer creative teacher ElwynRichardson published his inspirational book ‘In the Early World’. Another creative teacher Sylvia Ashton Warner also published her book ‘Teacher’. The then Department of Education encouraged such developments. Junior teachers introduced developmental education, family grouping, integrated programmes and in particular the language experience /reading/writing approaches that were highly regarded worldwide. Another important influence was the work of the art and craft advisers (led by the late National Director for Art and Craft Gordon Tovey) which tapped into the creativity of teachers throughout New Zealand.
Exciting times to be a teacher.
By the 1980s economic conditions had changed for the worse and new worldwide trend  arose that was to change the direction of all aspects of society and, once again education was not to be excluded.
This Neo-Liberal ‘wave’, based on ‘market forces’,  individual responsibility, choice and the centrality of a  privatisation agenda influenced all aspects of life. The changes hit education with the introduction of Tomorrows Schools in 1986. The Education Department, regional Education Boards school inspectors and advisers were disbanded; proponents of the changes believed such bureaucracies stultified individual school creativity. The baby was to be thrown out with the bathwater! Schools were to be governed by Board of Trustees.
The market forces society!
Confusion and ambiguity reigned supreme. Schools enjoyed the greater responsibility to develop approaches that aligned with their philosophies (those that had them) but soon it became apparent that the freedom was in many ways an illusion as compliance requirements were imposed by the Ministry of Education and achievements reported on by the Education Review Office.   The imposition of the New Zealand Curriculum dictated to schools what was now to be expected.  Countless learning objectives in eight Learning Areas, arranged in arbitrary levels were to be assessed.
The revised 2007 New Zealand Curriculum briefly provided both relief and inspiration – every student to be seen as ‘a seeker, user and creator of their own knowledge.
This return to a learner centred education was to be short lived. A new conservative government set about imposing a return to a neo –liberal agenda based on business ‘bestpractices’. When ‘best practices’ are taken too seriously, as they are by far too many schools (once again reflecting a lack of real educational philosophy), creativity is crushed. As a result ‘communities of best practices may well be achieved   resulting in conformity rather than creativity. Formulaic ‘best practices’ becomes the norm.  Examples to be seen are an emphasis on teacher predetermined ‘learning intentions’, WALTs (we are learning that...); success criteria and an obsession with recording achievement in literacy and numeracy. Such ‘best practices’ do have value need to account for creative individuals otherwise sameness is reflected in classrooms.  National Standards, national testing and comparative ‘league tables’ are natural extensions of such ideas as are value added assessment leading to teacher appraisals and comparative school performance measurement.
So this brings us to the future.
Each forty year wave seems to sow the seeds for its own destruction. The freedom and creativity of the sixties finally resulted in individual selfishness the basis of neo liberal thinking. Welfare security led to a bureaucratic nightmare and middle class capture. Neo liberal thinking in education creates conformity and narrowness of thinking (teaching to the tests) requiring a new sense of creativity.
The future requireskeeping what is good from the past - reviving what has been lost and creatingconditions for new ideas to emerge. Emergence seems a key word. Someone has said ‘we need to return to the sixties but do it right this time’. Certainly in education the ideas developed by the creative teachers of earlier times such as Elwyn Richardson need revisiting.
Two educators that provide inspiration for future orientated teachers are Sir Ken Robinson and GuyClaxton – but they are only two of many innovative thinkers who are callingfor an educational transformation. Sir Ken says the ‘creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy’ and believes a future education system ought to focus on developing the gifts and talents of all students. Guy Claxton has written that ‘learnacy is as important as literacy and numeracy’. These ideas are reinforced by the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum’s (currently side-lined) phrase for teachers to see students as ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’.
Creativity as important as literacy

Currently, as one commentator has written about primary schools, ‘it is as if the evil twins of literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the entire curriculum’! ‘Best practice’ becomes ‘fixed practice’. As for secondary schools they are still locked in a traditional shape, with their timetables, subject compartmenting, streaming, bells and uniforms, determined by the factory metaphor of an industrial age.
Rather than developing schools as conformist ‘communities of best practices’ we need todevelop schools as ‘learning organisations’ – centres of ‘next practice’.
A new world wide theme is gaining strength. A world of connections. A world that needs to evolve so as to be sustainable. A new fluid organic  emerging world, continually recreating itself. The importance of ecology in both natural and human communities. The destructive ideology of market forces and individual greed is coming to an end.
A constantly evolving universe

World-wide there afew schools that are leading the way in this new educational development but, to my knowledge, few schools as yet in New Zealand.
 I would love to be proved wrong.