Thursday, May 29, 2008

Learning is the thing!

I happened to read Mary Chamberlain's speaking notes of a presentation she gave to the 2008 Rotorua Learning@School Conference. Mary is the Ministry Curriculum Manager, or some similar grand title.

I have listened to Mary myself and she has a personable style that appeals to teachers so I was interested to read what she was currently saying to teachers in relation to the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

Essentially it was an opportunity for her to share how vital the key competencies are as they relate to realizing the intent of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

What makes each of us 'open the door to learning', quoting her mother, is 'how successful we are at learning and how well we have developed the competencies outlined in the curriculum'. I dislike the term 'key competence's as it reminds me of the industrial age but they certainly aren't anything new, no matter how much the Ministry would like us to think they are.

Acquiring these competencies, she believes, 'influence who we become'.

I think this is nonsense. Who we become is influenced by the talents, gifts and passion we develop that drive us to learn more - the competencies are a means to an end. We are driven by an evolutionary curiosity to make meaning of our experiences. As we explore we focus on the things that really interest us us, and as our interest grows we get better at whatever it is we like doing.

Helping each learner discover and amplify their innate talents is the role of the teacher. Obviously process and product are both important but learning is driven by interests and curiosity and it must result in being able to do something ( performing), knowing and understanding.

Creative schools ought to spend their time working out how that can develop an 'attractive' provocative curriculum that will challenge students and give then the opportunity to develop whatever talents they have - and at the same time the key competencies that will be required. The most creative school will develop learning environments that encourages students to ask their own questions and research areas of interest that appeal to them. Innovative teachers can easily ensure that 'official' requirements are covered!

'Teaching', wrote Jerome Bruner,'is the canny art of intellectual temptation. An 'emergent' curriculum, arising from students concerns and interests, is rich, real and relevant and solves the problem of engagement.

This approach represented the best of creative New Zealand teaching that has been all but lost with the imposition of the incoherent standardised curriculum with all their levels, strand and learning objectives. It is worth keeping in mind this incoherent mess was foisted on us by the same Ministry of Education!

Don't get me wrong the New Zealand Curriculum is giant step forwards - or backwards, from the previous technocratic accountability model. The idea that 'schools have the flexibility to design their own curriculum with their own students at heart' should be taken advantage of but it once what we all believed in.

The 'reinvention' of pedagogy is also welcome, even if the co-constructivist model is only implicit. No matter. I like what Mary says about, ' at heart the teachers role is about learning that expands possibilities students see for themselves and expanding their emotional and intellectual resources so they can live life to the full.' Mary feels the key competencies will do this. I feel it will be providing rich, real and relevant studies to inspire students and to develop whatever talents students have. Competencies are nothing new and are implicit in any worthwhile learning challenge. Later she does say that learning areas are as important as competencies but I think not.

Mary placed great emphasis on the traditional values of effort and perseverance. Ironically the rush to cover the past Ministry curriculums that were 'an inch deep and mile wide' has pushed these important values out of teachers minds. Anyone who understands creativity knows it aways involves such values.

I have to agree with Mary than 'we need to go beyond brain gym, mind maps, learning styles and thinking hats' but I part company with her when she includes multiple intelligences. Developing students talents and gifts is the heart of real learning. When I visit classrooms to see examples of what some call, 'higher learning teaching' (HOTS), all see is 'thin learning; real content being lost in the emphasis on process. And learning is more than setting goals, to persist, to work with others etc it must be about something worthwhile. But knowing what to do when you don't know what to do is obviously a very important 'mindset' - 'can do kids'. But we all know this - or used to.

Mary sends a long time taking about the role of the teachers as a diagnostic learning coach providing focused feedback. But once again creative teachers know this, but is good advice.

It is almost as if the Ministry had 'rediscovered' learning after having diverted themselves, and schools, with less educational goals
. There must have been some value for them from their 'best evidence' research - it has uncovered the obvious.

It is also great to see that Mary has listened to Guy Claxton with his idea of 'learning power', 'learning conversations', resilience, resourcefulness,relationships and reflection - that 'learnacy' is more important that literacy and numeracy ( or use of computers). His ideas are compatible with the creative teaching New Zealand was once recognised for.

I guess I am just reminding teachers that developing fascinating learning projects, that are in tune with student's developmental needs, are as important as the key competencies, or learning how to learn. As Elwyn Richardson used to say, 'a study without real content is a study at risk'; or runs the risk of being 'anti intellectual' according to Kelvin Smythe.

I don't think Mary would disagree. Her challenge is to ensure we are all as excited about key competencies as the Ministry is. She will have hard job convincing me.

I did like her quoting, from Margaret Carr and Guy Claxton, that classroom environments can range from 'prohibitive' to student learning, to 'inviting' and, better still, 'potentiating', ones where learning is both appealing and challenging. Classrooms where teachers use 'split screen thinking', one one hand stretching students capacity to learn at the same time as they are developing deeper understanding of important content

It is, as Mary concludes, all about developing an openness and a capacity to learn.

And I agree with Mary, that 'mindsets' will have to change if this is to be realized
so that all students leave with their innate learning dispositions still intact able to thrive in a complex world of excitement and uncertainty.

If this does then then the intent of the new New Zealand Curriculum will have been realized.

The exciting area to explore new mindsets will be in secondary schools. When they are transformed from their industrial aged structures and cultures the revolution will have begun.

It began a long time ago with creative teacher in primary schools.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The kiwi way?

What we need us some creative alternatives to current school models.We need courageous leadership to help students to escape the boxes we school them in!

I just had to read 'Kiwi Leadership for Principals' after reading Kelvins Smythe's critical comment on it that it, 'should never have reached the light of day'. Our, so called 'unique system' , even with the addition of a few Maori phrases, is not doing too well , and the Ministry leadership document won't help much.

After reading it who would ever care. Some committee has cobbled together all the latest ideas about transformational leadership without really saying why it is even needed. The simple fact is that our current system is hopelessly failing far too many of our students is not mentioned . The 'one size fits all' mass production academic model developed in, and for, an industrial age is simply past it's 'use by date'.

This is never mentioned honestly in the Ministry document. Little is presented of what a 21st century school might even look like. Whatever, it must certainly be far different that what is currently struggling to survive. Secondary schools, in particular, were never designed for many of the students who are now forced to stay there until they are 16! Compulsory mis- education!

Courageous leadership will be required to set new directions. New leaders will need to have 'respect' if others are to follow them into this continually evolving creative world. Such leaders are able to 'tap' a 'feeling' in others that there has to be a better way. Can't see 'evidence based leadership' inspiring anyone!

The Ministry paper is all just too bland and academic and seems to think that if 'evidence based research' is mentioned often enough all will be well. I can see principals in the future busy documenting classroom observations and gathering endless 'evidence'. There are lots of words about: trusting relationships, lead learners, developing capacity, learning communities, distributed leadership, meeting the needs of all students, developing partnerships with parents and the community and school culture. And, of course, education needs to be 'personalised', and that we have to move away from 'traditional views of knowledge and learning'. They don't mention coping with Ministry compliance demands!

Managing change , the document writes, is the principals key role.

The history of imposed school change and reform is dismal. Read Dean Finks article on Leadspace to get a taste of reality. Changing schools is easy to write about but hard to do - and reality is something those who live in their well paid ivory towers would know little about.

And all this as if it were anything new.

Researchers must be the last to discover anything - I guess it takes time ( that we don't have ) to gather up all this 'evidence'. As Einstein said, 'If we knew what we were doing we wouldn't call it research'. Life is about enlightened trial and error - do something and keep what works! Life, as they say, is next time not a rehearsal.

The Ministry's vision that all students should be, 'creative, energetic and enterprising' and that teachers need to use 'pedagogy that meet all student's needs' are fine words. And, of course the 'key competencies'; now there is a phrase from the industrial age1 These competencies have been presented as if the Ministry' had discovered the 'Holy Grail'.

I would've loved to have seen a vision where all students are given the opportunity to realize and amplify all their potential talents, gifts and passions. The desire to realize a talent creates the desire to learn (and to develop key competencies) and results in old fashioned stuff called knowledge and understanding. Education ought to about developing passionate learners driven by their innate curiosity - an education ensuring all students retain a joy of learning. One phrase in the 'new' NZ Curriculum, that needs to be highlighted, is that all students should be their own 'seekers, users, and creators' of knowledge. This has aways been the premise of creative educators.

That so many students leave without a positive learning identity is the real problem we have to face up to.

Back to Kelvin.

He believes that if principals are not able to fulfil their roles as curriculum leaders this is because of all the compliance and curricula accountability that has been imposed on them by the Ministry. If the Ministry spent more time working out how to reduce this compliance load this would free principals to get with being creative leaders, able to focus on teaching and learning.

Tomorrows Schools - or the curriculum that followed, and the 'naming and shaming' of the School Review Office ( even if it now 'assess and assist') has established a 'big brother effect' in our system. Devolving responsibility to schools, while at the same time creating a 'low trust' culture has led, to what one writer calls a a 'corrosion of character' - principals aways trying to double guess what is required of them by others. This leads to a 'anticipatory dread' settling on a school and with the news of an ERO visit an outbreak of folders outlining all the 'evidence based data' around school 'targets'!

It is this bureaucracy that is blocking creative leadership.

Most of all Kelvin makes the point that, with all curriculum imposition, accountability and regulatory requirements, we have lost the real 'kiwi' approach to learning that began with the work of Ashton Warner, Elwyn Richardson and other such creative teachers.

He mentions such things as: developmental teaching, the NZ balanced reading system, the wonderful work in the related arts and in environmental education, and constructivist thinking in science and social studies. These were all in place before Tomorrow's Schools. Much has been lost. We once had an environment, Kelvin says, where teachers had the freedom to pursue children's interests freely and imaginatively. He also bemoans the replacement of a passionate long tern advisory service with 'contracted deliverers' of Ministry 'messages'.

Kelvin warned us about the danger of losing our creativity, our sense of agency, way back in the mid eighties, but few were willing to listen . Everyone was too busy getting to grips with the new requirements. He, however, has been proved right.

This is why we need new leadership thinking now . Ironically principals are to be 'saved' by the very people who led them down the wrong trail!

It is great that Kelvin has had the moral courage to continue presenting his ideas; ideas I am in full agreement with.

The call for 'personalised' teaching and a focus on pedagogy is all 'back to the future' for creative teachers. New Zealand primary teachers have been leaders in 'personalised learning' for decades.

We must not believe that the Ministry has discovered new ideas to help us; 'best practice' comes from real teachers not 'evidence' gathered, and claimed, by researchers.

The Ministry is playing 'catch up'. Principals, teacher organisations and teachers must learn to lead. If there has been something wrong the past decades it has been with a Ministry that continually revises all procedures ( Ministry C.R.A.P.)keeping all schools in state of confusion. It all boils own who feels empowered - it certainly hasn't been teachers the past years!

Kelvin encourages teachers to challenge the bureaucracies. He makes the point that pedagogy is an art not a science - every school and teacher has to creatively face up to the special mix of circumstances only they can ever know.

At least, Kelvin says, the curriculum has once again been placed as the responsibility of the school.

The 'new' curriculum provides an opportunity for principals and teachers to once again take centre stage in the educational debate.

As Dean Fink writes,'it is about teaching and it is about time

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Environmental education - the real basics?

After experiencing a spring on the mountain, as part of an intensive study of a river from source to sea, a student expresses her version of a powerful remembered experience. Such students learn, through activity and expression, to appreciate the importance of their natural environment. Such learning, and creativity, takes time and sensitive teaching.

‘..without intimacy with nature we can confuse crimes against the Earth with technological progress’ David Suzuki Naturalist.

Issues of global climate change, and other threats to the planet, are making us all more aware of environmental issues. Increasingly educators are feeling the need to take action. The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum has responded to the challenge by introducing ‘issues of sustainability’ as a value, along with ‘ecological sustainability’, and the need to develop ‘a care for the environment’.

All too little and too late some might think?

A real appreciation of the natural world needs to be part of a child’s life from the earliest age and integral to all school learning
. Some might call it the real ‘basics’ of being human as young children learn through their senses driven by an innate evolutionary curiosity to make sense of their world. Making sense of the world means using the senses and to do this schools need to focus on sensory education.

In our classrooms today our young people are all to often diverted from being involved in environmental experiences by an exposure to technology based learning. An over emphasis on literacy and numeracy above, what educationalist Guy Claxton calls, ‘learnacy’ doesn't allow much time for environmental studies.

An environmental approach to learning links education to an engagement with the real world and has the potential to develop a love of learning about, and a responsibility for, the environment. As well such an approach provides the opportunity for students to develop language facility, an enriched vocabulary and the development of students' thinking, and problem solving skills.

Children, who have learnt to make full use of their senses through exposure to their intimate environment, are in a position to respond both poetically and scientifically to their experiences.This leads to sensitive oral and written expression (and from this reading their own and others thoughts), observational and creative art work, and for them to be in a position to want to learn more about what has captured their attention. As the New Zealand Curriculum states, ‘intellectual curiosity is at the heart of the thinking competency’ (p12).

I have aways enjoyed this quote from art educator Elliot Eisner:

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

Such a language/environmental /related arts approach was once a feature of New Zealand classrooms and was widely admired worldwide. There are still teachers who hold true to such beliefs but recent standardized curriculums, and accountability and assessment requirements, have not made such teachers lives easy in recent years. The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum provides a more progressive environment for teacher creativity.

Such a creative and personalized approach to teaching would contribute to the development of a positive sense of self gained through the valuing of their poetic ‘voice’ and for their scientific and artistic accomplishments. Such individual achievements develop, in students, a sense of control over their own lives.

The suggestion, in the New Zealand Curriculum, for teachers to make use of ‘the natural connections that exist between learning areas’ and the powerful idea of seeing students as ‘active seekers, users and creators of knowledge’ (p8) provides inspiration for teachers to develop integrated studies. The suggestion to ‘cover less but to cover it in depth’, is excellent advice to avoid possibilities of superficial learning.

The Curriculum suggests that schools and teachers , ‘respond to the particular needs, interests, and talents of individuals and groups of students in their classes’
(p37) This, with the welcome severe ‘pruning’ of the learning objectives of the earlier curriculums, allows considerable freedom for schools to develop ‘emergent’ programmes based on students need and concerns.

By developing a curriculum based around student needs, interests and concerns, an attitude of care and appreciation of their environment could well develop. If environmental topics chosen are studied in depth this allows students to have time to think and wonder and then to express their thoughts, making use of whatever talents and gifts they have.

If such an approach to education had been in place the past decades, valuing appreciation and sustenance of the environment, environmental issues might have been appreciated earlier. It is never to late to place a greater emphasis on developing an environmental awareness and ‘ecological sustainability’.

It was the late Rachel Carson, in her book ‘The Silent Spring’ published in the 1950s, who first introduced the vulnerability of our planet. Later she wrote in ‘A Sense of Wonder’:

Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of being reflective to what lies around you. It is learning to see with your eyes, ears, nostrils and finger tips, opening up the disused channels and sensory impressions.’

This desire to learn through the senses is an evolutionary drive, or predisposition, that no child should lose. Children are driven by an intense curiosity enhanced by focused experiences of the natural world. Exploring this real world, as a basis for learning, is preferable to passively experience the world mediated through virtual imagery – and less expensive.

Schools ought to face up to environmental challenges that face future generations by helping all students develop a hopeful future for themselves and their planet. We need to start this imaginings early so as to develop an appreciation of the wonder and mystery of the natural world.

The ‘new’ curriculum gives us such an opportunity

Monday, May 19, 2008

A critical view of the New Zealand Curriculum.

Kelvin Smythe has long been a critic of an imposed technocratic ideology and is a passionate supporter of a liberal humanistic progressive creative approach to teaching. Check out his website. Older teachers will remember his Network Magazine.

Teachers , Kelvin advises, before they move to make something of the new curriculum, should look at it clear eyed and not be beguiled by those who devised and presented it.

Compared with its predecessor, Smythe believes, the new curriculum is heading in the right direction but the developers, he writes have fumbled an opportunity to produce a cohesive, powerful and inspiring document.

As such he sees it is a lost opportunity and that teachers will have to step up to correct significant omissions . This he presents as a challenge for teachers to realise.

This is as it should be. Creative teachers are the only ones in a position to appreciate the subtle reality of classroom relationships.

Kelvins verdict on the 07 curriculum is a long read. What follows is my interpretation of Kelvin's views, with a few of my own thrown in for good measure.

If curriculums are to inspire and challenge this curriculum, he believes, only occasionally meets these aspirations.

The problem is , he writes, is that the 'new' curriculum has been shaped to reduce criticism from a range of 'interested' groups while at the same time trying to focus on developing students thinking as a key area. As a result of trying to please all, the resulting document is somewhat flawed.

The various attempts to clarify values has resulted in a 'values morass' and begs the question of which values are most to be most valued. This is challenge for individual schools to negotiate with their communities.

The curriculum, as another writer has suggested, is 'a game of two halves'. Primary teacher are advised by Kelvin, to 'colonise' the parts that appeal to them ( as they have aways done) while finding ways to work around problematic areas'. Kelvin fears that the professional development that will accompany this document will have the 'opacity of an education sandstorm'.

The substantive issues that schools will have to face up to, once the 'guff' has been read, are implementing the key competencies, the learning area statements, and the achievement objectives. Much of the 'guff at the front of the curriculum , Kelvin writes, is far from new.

As far as the key competencies go Kelvin is mildly supportive of them; two, he says are passable ( thinking and language), while the other three are a mess. His main concern about the competencies is the pressure that will come from the Review Office as to how they are being implemented and the professional development time that will wasted on clarifying them. Another of his concerns is the implication that the competences are even new or fresh but he is certain they will become a bureaucratic battleground for schools with the Review Office.

Kelvin is concerned, as I am, that the competencies will be seen as more important than knowledge attitudes and values involved in learning and, as such, will result in anti intellectualism in our schools.

The real debate about about the curriculum will be about the purpose, soundness and practicability of the competences - as well as if they really represent anything new.

Kelvin believes, as I do, that if teachers are teaching well based teaching units all the elements of the competencies will be attended to and, he adds, the 'learning' will result in subtle and incremental learning not easy to 'tick off', or demonstrate, to Review Officers.

Overall , Kelvin writes, he 'cannot take the key competencies seriously

The effective pedagogy section, Kelvin sees, as an example of both the strengths and weaknesses of the new curriculum. The explanations, he writes, under the various learning area headings are 'never less than very good'. He does have concerns about the press for curriculum integration and inquiry learning which could result in content with little intellectual challenge. Learning is about 'what' as well as 'how', as anyone involved in any area of learning would appreciate. Kelvin is strongly in the camp of understanding, attitude and values as against skills and processes. The suggestion to do fewer things well in depth is good advice.

Unfortunately, in my experience, shallow learning is a feature of many class studies ; the process of learning being seen as more important than in depth understanding of the content involved. All sorts of 'higher order thinking' (HOT) programmes are being implemented, all too often resulting in some very 'thin learning'. As well Kelvin is critical of simplistic inquiry based models that many schools use. Kelvin thinks that the developers could well have developed a more generic inquiry model that would apply, with adaptations, to all areas of learning. Inquiry learning, he says, 'is making students curious, getting them thinking, and helping them to develop new and valid understandings'.

The use of computers comes in for some valid criticism from Kelvin ; computer use being seen as a an end in itself and rarely resulting in adding real depth to students understanding. And, I would add, diverting students from studying in-depth environmental studies where sensible use of computers would be a real advantage. The arts,Kelvin believes, have not been accorded the importance they deserve in comparison to computer education; the computers are the 'new arts'?

Kelvin is supportive of the section om assessment while still preferring the tern evaluation. Assessment, he believes, links to an accountability and a surveillance culture which has dominated schools the past decades. This culture has led to a, 'stifling of creativity and individuality, making teaching less attractive to those of a more adventurous mindset'. Accountability also leads to the fantasy that that teachers can predetermine exactly what students should learn and then be able to present 'proof' to others - this was the ideology underlying the previous curriculum. Teacher are still being asked to be able to recognise, measure, discuss and chart the progress of their students - this will cause some soul searching to keep in perspective.

Couldn't agree more.

The prose description of the learning areas are seen by Kelvin as a far better way to comprehend the various learning areas than the 'pull out' pages. These , although containing far less learning objectives, still retain the same faulty thinking of the previous curriculum . Creative teacher are encouraged to select appropriate learning objectives to suit chosen studies although teachers still have to have evidence of covering all the strand over two years!

Kelvin is supportive of the suggestion for schools to use the document flexibly according to the student's' needs and the assessment sections which focuses on improving student learning and teachers teaching.

Kelvin's final verdict is that it is a mixed document. 'It is amiable, generous, mainly non ideological, ingratiating , rambling, confused, flawed and ultimately disappointing.' 'The document continues some of the faults of the past , nevertheless, is heading in a more productive direction'.

The question remains, Kevin writes, is 'will the curriculum provide impetus for transforming any particular parts of New Zealand education. Secondary teachers, he says, will see it as a non event, easily lost in the various subject departments, but they will find that key competencies will give them pause for thought, as it will primary teachers. Primary teachers will find its implementation less of a challenge and it may encourage them to value the 'voice' of their students more. Their real challenge is to involve their students in sustained in depth thinking and understanding.

One phrase that I like, that Kelvin neglects to mention, is the phrase that students should be seen as 'their own seekers, users and creators of knowledge'. And he makes little mention of the need to develop the talents, gifts and dream of all students, which I see as a priority as we enter, what some call, a new creative age, an age equivalent to the first Renaissance.

It may be worthwhile for schools to tale a clear eyed look at the 'new ' curriculum now that it has been in schools for a year?

The 'experts' always get it wrong!

Bruce's view on the 'new' curriculum
John Faire's view on the draft
Assessing competencies.
Inquiry approach and the NZC

Monday, May 12, 2008

A little bit of deja vue

It is all too easy to think what currently passes for new ideas are really new - just another version of ideas often lost when top down 'experts' ignore the reality of true learning.

Recently educationalist Dean Fink wrote that the new models of education are 'deju vue all over again'. He writes, 'as a veteran educator, I find the advocacy of new models of schooling reminiscent of the discussions of the 1960s and 1970s'. He comments that those ideas 'floundered on bureaucratic inertia, political timidity, community nostalgia and teacher resistance'. I would agree but would add that 'official approval' of such learning was the 'kiss of death' as every teacher jumped on the bandwagon without true understanding of the creativity involved .

Perhaps we are in the same position again? The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum states that students should be seen as 'seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge'.

To translate this to reality would mean dramatic changes even in the most liberal primary classroom - most classrooms have a long way to go to establish 'personalised learning'.

By accident I happened to pick up and read some writings of Henry Pluckrose.Henry was a figure of great importance to those who pioneered a creative arts approach in the 70s. Most importantly he was a school principal who wrote from his own experiences. Check out his writings work on google -all based on practical classroom activities. Who is the modern equivalent of Henry?

In 1969 he wrote that
, 'We must begin by examining the needs, interests and abilities of the children we teach.' That, 'creative work can only come from where the teaching situation takes the child's needs aptitudes and interests fully into account i.e. we should begin with the child and build the curriculum round him rather than take a curriculum and fit the child to it.'

Henry describes the child as a workman, 'an embryo scientist, an explorer, an investigator with a great desire to touch and to see, to experience, to understand'. A learner with a 'naturally inquiring mind backed by vast quantities of energy, a love of words , both spoken and written and a vivid imagination for which model making, writing, art and drama provide a natural outlet'.

'Our aim', he writes, 'should be to make the classroom a place which is interesting, provocative, child centred.' Creativity should, 'flow through the entire curriculum, enriching the writing of poetry and prose, from music and movement to the way in which a child arrives at solutions to problems and presents his ideas.'

To achieve, what we now call a 'learning community', a school he writes, needs to be, 'united by common ideals, purposes and philosophy'

Henry believed in an integrated day , one in which the curriculum is not needlessly broken down into quite unrelated subjects.' 'A day in which teacher and child do not live apart on different planes in the same world, a day which provides outlets for the whole child - emotionally, creatively, intellectually and spiritually.The school should of course be orderly, for children need a pattern of living which they understand and can follow.'

The implications of such a philosophy says Henry, 'means the classrooms become exciting places where children learn to read and write, to record, to experiment, to discuss, to search out, to question, to ,manipulate, to play. Sometimes the whole class will work together, sometimes small groups will be the most satisfactory unit, more often it will be the individual child who will require help, encouragement and advice.'

'Creativity- invention with spontaneity and imagination- flourishes in an environment where the needs and aptitudes of the child are regarded as of paramount importance.'

Perhaps this is what is meant by seeing students as 'seekers, users and creators of the own knowledge'?

It may not be new but it is still difficult.

I visited Henry's school in London all those years ago and was shown around by a very insightful five year old. I was impressed with what I observed then and still am today.

Maybe one day we will have our own Henry Pluckrose in New Zealand? One thing is certain, no one at the Ministry really know what to do. It will be over to schools, preferably working together sharing ideas, to achieve such a vision.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The artisty of the teacher

The grave of a Viking Chief buried with his horse and other valuables. Imagine the scene at the time!

It is not that common to see students writing that really deeply expresses their emotions and thoughts about events that may have happened in distant time or place.

All too often what is seen is matter of fact information written out without any real depth of thought.

Many years ago I was impressed with a book on children's language written by Harold and Connie Rosen, 'The Language of Primary School Children'. Such books are not so common these days which is a shame as there is a real need for teachers to help their students think deeply and to express their 'voice' with sincerity and feeling. When emotion and sensory impressions are are involved in any learning it will 'stick' forever. This is how the brain works.

Teacher artistry and sensitivity is required to enter into dialogue with the individual learners to help them develop in-depth thought. Lack of depth and understanding is all too commonly seen today in students' observational or scientific writing as well.

In the example below students have researched deeply and have been exposed to a range of resources about Viking life. An image that caught their attention, imagination, or sense of horror, was the thought of the killing the dead chief's horse.

The teacher appreciating the power involved in such a situation asked the students to write their thought about this event about this distant culture. The teacher was well aware of the the power of the theme of death and dying - a theme all too often ignored by schooling.

The thing to note is how the teacher helped the student 'forge through dialogue and revision' a powerful piece of writing.

The child's first attempt resulted in:

'The chieftain's two saddle horse and hound is killed by a dagger then put in with the chieftain.'

The child, after discussion, was then asked to imagine what it would be like to kill a horse.

The first revision resulted in the following:

'The chieftains saddle horse was killed and his dogs are held by a Viking then one of the other Viking gets the dagger and puts it one by one into the chieftain's animals, then a group of very strong vikings take over by lifting the animals and carrying them to the boat, then they are put into the front part of the ship and they remain in there.'

The teacher, after further discussion, asked what the vikings looked like, and to think about how big horses are, and the sounds they might have heard at the scene if they were there.

'The Viking did not lift the horse easily and clenched their teeth together half toppling over. It strained them but they were used to it. When the dagger killed the animals they lept and screamed loudly with pain and then the sound went suddenly and it died with its last cry.'

The student, now totally involved in the situation, made a final revision and called the piece 'the Horse Sacrifice'.

'It lay there dead, its skin pierced. Blood stained the clay, its legs rested, its eyes closed.It moved not once, its tail layed on its mighty legs. It was good horse, it ran fast, it obeyed every word.Its mighty legs ran swiftly on the on the soft earth. Then a group of very strong vikings lifted the horse to the ship and put it in the front part of the ship. A day of sadness had come, his great life was extinguished.'

Not bad for a nine year old.

As one teacher I used to work with used to say, 'It is about defining and refining'. Another believed strongly in, 'tapping into felt experiences'.

By slowing the pace of work and by encouraging reflective thought the learner has time to develop new associations and by means of this process to move away from cliche thoughts. And as a bonus the student gained a real insight into the creative process.

I once had young student who wrote, after half an hour, 'In the weekend my dad and I killed two pigs'. After reading the viking story above I knew my teaching task had just begun.

The power of teacher dialogue, to explore and deepen the thoughts of students, applies to all areas of learning. It only works however if teacher really value the unique 'voice' of their students. This is the key to the developing true personalised learning

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A quick visit to Aussie

An image by artist Ken Done of the New South Wales coastline. Pandanus trees, and sunshine, are a feature.

It has been a while since I last added a blog.

It is just that I have been working with some schools in Coffs Harbour, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. This was a follow up from my presentation at the NSW Principals Association Annual Conference last November.

It was a wonderful experience, especially as it was an opportunity to escape the beginning of winter in New Zealand. For punishment I returned to New Plymouth on the coldest day so far this year and found that my home had been flooded. None the less it was all worth it.

It is always interesting to meet up with teachers from another country and the chance to visit classrooms of a couple of the schools was great. Teaching is both the same and different in every country one visits. I hope the ideas I shared were of value to the teachers I presented to; but , as I said, I enjoyed the experience.

As for my presentation - really three presentations, I shared my thoughts about quality learning and teaching in the content areas that seem to be neglected in both counties. An emphasis on literacy and numeracy, in both our counties, has diverted teacher energy from inquiry learning in the content areas and also the importance of the creativity in the expressive arts. This 'diversion' has taken the emphasis away from the centrality of the need to develop of every learners' unique talents, gifts and creativity. As one UK commentator has said, 'it is as if literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'. Educationalist Guy Claxton has written that more important than literacy and numeracy is 'learnacy'.

The first of my three presentations covered the big idea that we are in a major 'shift' in human consciousness equivalent to that experienced in the first Renaissance - some are calling this 'shift' the New Age of Creativity or the Second Renaissance. The trouble is, as we a leave the Industrial Age, our schools systems are artifacts of a past age.

New thinking is required; we need 'new minds for a new millennium.

Just as the 'round world' view of human kind created new perceptions and knowledge (aided by the printing press), so the idea of an 'evolutionary' world, aided by the world wide web, creating new, very different, ways of understandings.

Defining the future attributes required by future learners, and focusing all teaching toward realizing such attributes, is the challenge of today's schools. These attributes are defined as 'key competencies' ( a phrase uncomfortably linked to an Industrial Age) in the New Zealand Curriculum.

My second presentation covered what I call the 'artistry of the teacher'. We covered a series of activities to illustrate how teachers can value the 'voice', questions, ideas and opinions of their students. This 'personalization' of learning is a natural replacement of the previous uniformity of the 'mass' education established in an Industrial Age. We covered learning styles, the importance of perception and observation, multiple intelligences, co-constructivist teaching and the use of 'scaffolds' to develop student confidence. The key to quality is to do 'fewer things well' so as to ensure students' 'personal best'.

The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum sees students as, 'active seekers users and creators of their own knowledge'.

My final session was about class organisation, or what to do with others' while teachers are working with groups or individuals who need specific help. A rotation group system similar to one used by teachers for reading was suggested. We also covered the idea of an 'emergent curriculum' based on students questions, integrated learning, assessment through performance, and the creation of celebratory and informative classrooms. One important idea was the need to do 'fewer topics in greater depth' - this is in conflict with current NSW Curriculum requirements.

My visits to classrooms the next day illustrated to me that many of the above ideas were already part of many teachers repertoire. My ideas affirmed what many teachers were currently doing or, in some cases, what they used to do! From discussions with the principals and teachers a number of ideas presented did provide new perspectives that would 'add value' to their school programmes.

All in all a worthwhile experience for myself and a chance to experience some great hospitality and sunshine.

Be great to go back!!

For information on practical details of my presentations see my set of action plan booklets.