Friday, December 31, 2010

A few quick New Years resolutions!

This will be short and sweet.

I don't usually make , or keep, New Years resolutions but this year will be different!
So hear goes.

This year I will pull back from working in schools. Over the years, beginning in the sixties, I have worked with countless people, influenced some but only really worked with a dozen or so like minds - and most of these people a number of years ago. I will just keep up with my reading ,blogging and writing. I still have one major presentation to make late in January and will pick my presentations in the future.

I am going to put my energy into my garden which is becoming my latest enthusiasm - I have built several bridges and walkways and planted lots of new plants. I intend to spend an hour a day in my garden.

I am going to take up painting again -well I never really took it up but this year I will make a real effort.

That should be enough to keep me busy.

All the best to every one for the New Year!

Hell I turn 70 this month - others can hold up the creative teaching flag from now on!

Jan 1 2011

PS I said 'pulling back' not giving up - putting my energy where it counts most with those inspirational creative teachers; the future leaders.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The future lies with creative teachers!

The above photos were sent to me by a very creative teacher and are the result of on tern work with a year 3/4 class.

I am more convinced than ever that real educational progress depends almost entirely on tapping the originality and innovative thinking of such teachers.

Not curriculums developed by distant experts - they need to be kept as simple frameworks for teachers to work within.

Not principals - their job is to create the conditions to encourage 'their' teachers to take learning risks and try things out within agreed frameworks . Not all this ridiculous testing and accounting for 'achievement' - measuring never made the pig fatter . And not phonics.

Not college of education advisers - they are simply educational mercenaries passing on contracted 'best practices' they never used themselves.

Certainly not Ministry technocrats - who dance to the tune of whoever pays the piper and certainly not Education Review Office bureaucrats - whose careers have been one of toeing the line and saying yes to those in power. Not the Minister - who can only sing ( badly) one limited song.The Ministries role is to create the conditions to realise the energy of principals and teacher leaders and, in turn, the gifts and talents of all students

But finally only creative teachers make real changes! And there are so few. Thanks Deborah - rooms like yours cheer me up no end and give me a glimmer of hope.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Time to stop all the standards nonsense - we are teachers not accountants.

This slide is directly from the Finland Ministry of Education.

This is from a USA teachers blog called: ( slightly abridged)
'Advice to student teachers :Hold fast to your dreams'.

I hope you remember what it’s like to be a kid because I think that’s just what we need to "make a difference."
It is all about human curiosity

Sometimes my three-year-old son, Max, complains about going to school. And I so passionately preach about how he needs to enjoy it while he can, while the scent of magic still lingers in the air. He creates without boundaries, he discovers without opinion, and he intrinsically cooperates. Most three-year-olds want to be in school. Damien Cooper, formative assessment guru, puts it like this: "Human beings come into this world innately wired to learn. We're curious. We are not innately wired to compete." But when kids advance through the grades something happens. Their natural curiosity about the world slowly shrinks and shrivels and is replaced with ( add your own words!)

A Political and business approach to education

The edge of the knife is on a direct course to core curriculum subjects like reading and writing. Math and science is all the rage nowadays. I'm sure you've heard. It seems like President Obama's pressure to improve science and math skills are outweighing language arts. Some states like New Jersey are going to extreme measures to make sure that math and science are top priority. I hope you are shaking your head -- it doesn't seem logical to me either. I do believe Albert Einstein (I think he was a scientist or something) said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Where Does This Lead Us?

Here's a quick look at the science plan: Obama will work with governors and educators to ensure that state assessments measure test inquiry and higher-order thinking skills including inference, logic, data analysis and interpretation, forming questions, and communication. Improvements to assessments will also include developing tests that call for students to design and conduct investigations, analyze and present data, and write up and defend results.

I'm sure you figured out why I bolded most of those areas of improvement. Yes, you’re catching on here. They are all constantly practiced and honed while reading and writing and imagining. Right?

Think about it.

Do you think the President really wants our youth to think critically, analyze, and interpret or does he want to graduate more engineers than China? The latter will only promote the “How do I get the most points with doing the least amount of work” attitude. Is that how we’re going to change the world? Is that going to keep kids in school? Will the true thinkers, the real reformers, value what school has to offer? Better yet, will anyone even have a chance to think? As for the magic I mentioned earlier.

The New World

This is where it gets hairy. This is what you probably didn't learn in college. I'm not your boss, your teacher, or your mom so this is going to be sugarless. I want to stir your brains a bit. I don't mean to come at you at time of blissful joy. You are about to teach. But this burden you just inherited needs to be on your plate. Your dream of teaching will now be realized in a different world. The President means well. He wants the kids of America to succeed (I really do believe this). But maybe his idea of success is different from theirs and maybe his plan is one-sided. I don’t know. This may seem like a cry for the creative soul, but then again looks are deceiving. What I'm really talking about is beyond creativity. What I'm talking about is divergent thinking. You see there's more than one way to play a note, paint a picture, and write a story. Max thinks (creatively) divergently in pre-school every day.Does it have to stop?

By the time a child is in third grade we've just about bashed divergent thinking out of their psyche. And now with music, art, reading, and creative writing waiting in the gallows, it will happen sooner. Yes, math and science makes the world go round, but art makes us human.

And if the President believes that divergent thinking will emerge in math and science without art . . . well, then I'm not sure about the future of our country. Author, Donald Murray, states that we look to art for a meaning. Not the meaning, but a meaning. Real learning needs time to simmer. I'm not talking about lowering our standards. We need solid standards and we do have them, but maybe too many? We need time to find meaning within the standards and use the one that works for us. But what we're really doing is cramming years of information into months, which only leads to one-answer-one-way-fill-in-the-bubble-educational-reform. It's mediocre at best. Testing pushes teachers into sprint-and-cover mode, which does exactly that: It sprints over the deeper understandings to cover what's on the test. Teacher and Author, Kelly Gallagher warns of the this poisonous mode in his article, "Why I Will Not Teach to the Test."

Reality Check

And here's the biggest kicker of them all. If all of the politicians, celebrities, and movie makers are so concerned about the United States being number one in the world of education, then why is the current reform movement speeding in the opposite direction of number one, Finland. Check the diagram above.

I don’t think I need to explain this slide, do I? Yes, you will face resistance and feel the shackles of the standardization of American Education. There will be bouts of compromise, tears, and loads of questions. But when you finally chew through the crunchy, bitter crust, you'll find the magical stuff in the middle. That's the good stuff. Your students will always be waiting for you in the middle. You'll also find your dream: The one you might have had in Kindergarten where you proudly shouted, "I want to be a teacher!"

There is hope. Well . . . it's you, really.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Re -integrating language teaching with reality

In an inquiry based classroom every aspect of language teaching could well relate to the current study - reading to develop understanding, writing thoughts , descriptions and theories, and lots of oral language, drama , poetry. This was once the case in many schools until literacy become so dominant and largely divorced from the rest of the curriculum.

The need to express ideas is an evolutionary ability which made posible a wide range of diverse and creative human cultures.

It is this need to comprehend and express meaning that should underpin all language experiences in classrooms. Over the past decades the language experience approach, once a feature of New Zealand classrooms, has been reduced to formulaic literacy approaches. International tests have shown that literacy levels have not improved and that there is a 'tail' of low achieving students who are losing this vital means of being successful in our schools. Successful students bring with the 'cultural capital' to take advantage of current technical and measurable approaches. This situation will be worsened with the imposition of Literacy Standards and targets.

The answer may be to return to a language experience approach based on the belief that language development can only be gained when students are placed in meaningful contexts that recognise the reality of the students lives or cultures.

I believe we are now failing the very children we set out to help and in the process we are ignoring the linguistic prior learning experiences of such children.

Learning must begin with a thought provoking curriculum - one that recognises the lived reality of all students. Students need to offered the chance to use powerful forms of talk and writing in meaningful contexts leading to meaningful reading.

The children's own lives, their cultures, the sensory experiences gained exploring their immediate environment, and challenging class studies based on their own questions, need to provide the required meaningful contexts.

These approaches are restricted with the current politically inspired literacy approaches with their focus on reading.

Communication occurs naturally when students are involved in stimulating experiences. 'Curiosity is at the heart of all learning' as it says in the revised New Zealand Curriculum; we want all students to become 'seekers, users,and creators of their own knowledge'.

The teachers role ,as Jerome Bruner has written , 'is the canny art of intellectual temptation'. Teachers need to establish their classrooms as communities of scientists and artists exploring whatever captures their attention. And to do this all aspects of learning need to be integrated. Instead we are still focusing on a isolated curriculum centred approach. Even innovative schools I visit sadly keep literacy and numeracy separate from their inquiry programme.

Worst of all current 'best practice' approaches, and Education Office Review pressure, and even internal school bureaucracy are an attack on the autonomy of teachers. Conformity or consistency is being valued over teacher enterprise and creativity. Current approaches ignore the power of transformational experiences that give students 'feeling for' whatever they are learning. Current approaches all too often disassociate literacy and language from the real lives of children.

To really develop integrated approaches we need to celebrate the artistry and creativity of teachers not just the ideas of contracted advisers most of who may never applied what they are 'delivering'. Principals need to create the conditions for teacher leaders to feel safe to develop more creative ways of teaching that respects the learning identities of all the children they teach. Approaches that see students as producers rather than reproducers; approaches that result in rooms full of examples of the diversity of children's 'voices' and creativity as seen through their written language, inquiry research and their art.

Teachers need to be responsible for negotiating with their students a unique curriculum that is sensitive to their needs. For many students ( those lumped into the 'achievement tail') recognising and building on their culture and their lived experiences are important. Pioneer New Zealand teachers such as Elwyn Richardson and Sylvia Ashton Warner knew this as did many language arts teachers up until the technocratic curriculum imposed during the late 80s sidelined them. Paulo Freire, long ago, worked with illiterate peasants in Brazil and taught them to read and write by being interested in their thoughts. As they gained confidence in sharing their ideas he helped them write down key words and phrases. From these words the peasants learnt to read and write and gained liberating power in the process. All in eight weeks. An intensive language arts programme based on real purpose!! Not unfamiliar to approaches used by creative teachers such as Elwyn and Sylvia.

If we are to develop the language capability of all students we need to re-integrate literacy with our inquiry programmes. The inquiry topics should be the source of the creative energy of the classrooms. As part of this 'reframing' it is also time to rename the literacy time the language art block.

We now need to celebrate diversity in our classrooms and help all students achieve their personal best in all they do. We need to move away from the one dimensional classrooms that result from the current conformist undemocratic 'best practice' approaches. We need to 'scaffold' our help to children with care. Both teachers and students need freedom to learn in their own ways. Knowing the rules and criteria ought not constrain individuality and creativity.

Current approaches are marginalizing our students imagination; their individual ways of seeing and interpreting their experiences. By tapping into the real world of children, by valuing their thoughts, ideas and questions students could achieve so much more - beyond what can be easily measured or achieved.

Through developing their language capability children will become more powerful as individuals and learners. Through positive language experiences students develop a powerful positive sense of self; a sense of new possibilities for themselves. Education ought to be about chances for students to find out who theyare is and who they might be.

Learners currently placed in the 'achievement tail' need to be given the power to escape such a restrictive definition by experiencing equally powerful classroom cultures that build on their own cultures and experiences.

It is time to re-integrate language with the total classroom programme so all students can become 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Real Mathemetics

Is this work by Escher art or maths? Increasingly once fixed lines between subject areas are becoming blurred.

Over the years there have many attempts to develop a more active math programme but for all this far too many students leave school with anything but a positive feeling for the subject. The introduction of the mystery of algebra finishes most of us off.

With this in mind one wonders why maths takes up so much time in the primary school day. One reason is tradition - left over from the era of the three Rs. Another is that politicians seem fixated on literacy and numeracy as the key to success. No doubt they are important but they need to be seen as foundation skills to be used in learning contexts. And of course schools simply do what they have aways done without questioning the real purpose of mathematics and the time they give to it.

Recently I read a Intermediate School Maths scheme. The introduction was brilliant -all about linking math to real life contexts ( ideas lifted from the revised NZ Curriculum) but when I turned the page the programme was just a series of traditional maths topics.

For many students maths is a 'no mans land that has never quite yielded its secrets' according to Australian educationalist Garth Boomer. He continues saying like most teachers he, 'dwelt largely on the edges of this domain, secretly envious of the very few people...who are truly mathematicians.' I know the feeling; as do too many students.

Where many teachers now make use of their language times to develop ideas and skills to be used in their inquiry programme maths remains watertight. Maths is taught as cut and dried abstracted from real life; a matter of learning the predetermined processes and steps. Many teachers and students actually like this 'right/wrong' approach.

But maths can be so much more than this and many attempts have been made over the years to introduce a more active exploratory approach but these are lost as children grow older and teachers teach mathematics as this is how you do it. Boomer calls this way of teaching catechism - 'the act of asking questions to which one usually knows the answers and where answers are unchanging'. This kind of maths is 'school, learning' and not related to real life problems. No time for exploring, discovering hidden patterns and challenging ones understandings - more like following a pre-planned tourist guide book. This sort of teaching, Boomer writes, 'does not encourage teachers to leave the beaten track' and to use maths to explore and express ideas. Mathematics teachers, he writes, are among the most conservative of teachers.

Mathematics teaching seems decades behind the the teaching of the language arts and science ( although there is not much science to be seen). No matter what suggestion are made, teachers stick to traditional expectations, no doubt reinforced by expectations of parents, politicians and even the students.

Teachers will only change if their learning theory about teaching maths changes. They will need to change from teaching maths as catechism to one where where they see knowledge as being personally constructed and applied by each learners. This is reinforced in the New Zealand Curriculum which states that learners should be their own 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

If teachers change their minds about maths students, in turn, will develop a more positive 'feeling for' mathematics. This needn't mean changing all mathematics. There will still be basic things that will need to be learnt until recall is automatic but for the rest a couple of ideas come to mind. The first is to introduce realistic maths experiences for students to explore (and where possible linked to the current inquiry study) and to do fewer things well. And, as well , if teachers do introduce an active maths programme them less time could be given to maths as it would be demanding to use all current time in such an active way. And maths will be a integral part of other curriculum areas.

One idea would be to make it clear to students the difference between 'practice maths' and 'real maths'. Mathematics is a great field to introduce inquiry learning processes. There are some excellent maths resources in schools to help teachers to begin such an active programme. Most physical science studies require mathematics to solve problems. The field of art provides wonderful areas to introduce aesthetic maths. Mathematics itself has plenty of interesting ideas to explore. Such things as number patterns, symmetry, history of zero, maths in other cultures, and so on. Every subject , once the right maths mindset has been established, involves realistic mathematics.

Such an active approach will need to involve collaborative group work. Students need to explore student questions, recording their findings, and then to share their knowledge. Some teachers might like to start with one group of 'real ' maths' while others are busy with 'practice' maths. Or maybe, now and then, a 'real ' maths study could replace the more formal programme.As such ideas are introduced the teachers role will also change. Teacher are already used to interacting with students, valuing students prior ideas and theories, in other areas.

Seymour Papert the computer educationalist has written that there should only be applied maths ( and science).Too much current maths is anything but applied and is only comprehended by students who appreciate the demands of 'pure' or abstract maths.

Another mathematician Dr Z P Dienes ( of dienes block fame) described the classroom situation when he said, 'It is suggested that we shift the emphasis from teaching to learning, from our experience to the children's, in fact, from our world to their world'.

We can't afford students who do not see maths as vital form of communication -a special but accessible language to help them make sense of their world. Currently some students gain a 'feeling for' maths the rest simply give up.

We need an education that sparks children's mathematical imaginations but first we must rekindle our own.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What is it all about? Future learning

Future learner need two attributes to soar into the future - to become the 'confident life long learners' of the New Zealand Curriculum - openness to new experiences and skepticism about whatever is presented to them. And to motivate them to fly they need their gifts and talents developed.

As the year winds up teachers and students will be facing up to leaving the communities they have established during the year. It will be both celebration of achievement and a time of sadness. And of course not all students will have committed themselves to being a full part of the class.

What will have made made positive learning communities will be based on the mutual respect developed between the teacher and each learner and the shared culture established that somehow tells each student 'what is expected around here'.

For those teachers with composite classes there will be at least some children who will bring to the next year class the shared expectations they have helped develop to sow the seeds to establish a new culture.

If teachers had taken a survey earlier in the year of their students attitudes towards the various aspects of the curriculum it would be interesting to see how their attitudes have changed during the year - hopefully students will now be more positive.

It is also interesting to ask your students to write out a note for next years students about: 'How to survive in my class next year'. Ask them to write about the kinds of things they think you are looking for, or don't like. You might ask them to write the best memories they will take with them from the class and/or the best things they did with you. This can be very enlightening, after all, they are the real experts about you as a teacher.

The big , often unasked, questions in the minds of all learners are:

Who am I ? Who do I want to be?

What do others think of me?

How am I doing? What am I good at? What do I need to do to get better?

Where am I going? What might I do in the future? What will it take to get there?

It is the answers to these questions that provide all if us with a sense of who we are - our identity. And it is the real role of any education system to help students develop positive answers to such questions.

It is also these questions that underpin the idea of a personalised inquiry based education. Education for the future will need to celebrate the uniqueness of each learner. To do this requires that schools need to recognise and uncover the special gifts and talents of all learners rather than, as at present, measuring them against some arbitrary standards and grading them as below , average, or above average, in selected areas of learning

Students need the opportunities to follow up their own questions and concerns and, with their teachers help, develop their own 'emergent' curriculum. To answer such questions they will need access to the traditional disciplines of learning. A personalised education will require new school structures and new roles for teachers as learning advisers.

Questions of identity are all about student self realisation. If students develop an unhealthy sense of identity trouble lies on the horizon.

All students need to leave your class, and eventually the school system, as positive , confident 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An inquiry based classroom

'How is your inquiry programme going?' seems to be a common question asked by principals these days.

Behind such a question seems the idea that inquiry is another programme to include in the school day along with literacy and numeracy.

Two things are wrong with this.

Firstly inquiry isn't a programme to simply be added to the daily programme rather it is a disposition ( their 'default' way of learning) that children are born with until it is 'flipped' by life experiences and by schooling.

Secondly the teachers I have admired over the years see inquiry as the basis for all learning - literacy and numeracy included. Today many teachers ( and schools) have allowed literacy and numeracy to all but 'gobble up' the entire school day. National Standards will further dissipate this missing inquiry dimension.

As the school year is drawing to a close I made the effort to make one last visit to a very creative teacher in local school to gather up a few photos.I almost arrived too late as the teacher, Deborah, was dismantling parts of her room. None the less I was able to take more photos in her room than many schools I have visited this year.

My visit reinforced three interrelated ideas that will hopefully become the alternative educational agenda for the new decade. An agenda to confront the 'big brother' top down National Standards demands of the Ministry of Education; a Ministry that has lost any educational integrity with its flip flops since the appointment of the new conservative government.

The first idea is to return to teachers the leadership role they deserve as idea developers ( not 'deliverers); the second is to to see the principals role as the creator of the conditions, the culture,and the agreed expectations for teachers to develop such ideas. The principal main role is to develop with all involved an agreed direction for the school - to define a vision and teaching beliefs for all to be accountable to.

This concept of 'parallel leadership', when combined with networking with other schools to share teacher strengths, makes the third idea. All combined the present a democratic educational agenda able to hold top down dictatorial mandates at bay.

For Deborah, the teacher I visited, there was no confusion over inquiry learning.It is just something she does. The room was full of interesting things for the class to 'inquire' into. She is a great example of what educationalist Jerome Bruner calls a teacher with the 'canny art of intellectual temptation'.

There were skeletons hanging around arising out of a study called 'Inside Out'. I just missed seeing a full size medical skeleton! Iam not sure where it came from but a body suit that children took turns to wear was popular - it had body parts velcroed for children to remove. This 'rich topic' had sparked (or 'generated') several lines of inquiry into a range of Learning Areas.I missed children exploring fish guts and the excitement of a fish eye, when cut into, squirting fluid across the room! This brings up the issue of planning. Inquiry learning is often going with the flow until study questions, or lines of inquiry, are defined. Predetermined planning and inquiry are contradictions - teacher artistry is required.

Bean plants climbed up the window wall with data being collected about rates of measurement and estimation of possible growth. Another maths display featured data about themselves. I was shown photos on the computer of the results of a study of mould that had 'emerged' and which developed into a major, if smelly, ( inquiry) study. The best inquiry classroom feature lots of 'emergent inquiries.

In the school foyer I saw clay animals that the children had created - the results of their 'inquiry' into clay . I was shown a 'wonder display' where children were encouraged to post things they were wondering about ( or 'inquiring') about . The wails were cover with art, language and science work - in particular an impressive spring display featuring - the centre piece being daffodils. There was also display based on parachute experiments following a school wide theme on transport( a helicopter had landed in the school grounds). I was also shown the results of studies arising out of a dead bird being brought to school -which encouraged a number of dead bird arriving at school.

I asked Deborah about her literacy programme and she replied that much of it related to developing ideas that contributed to the class inquiries. As for maths it was integrated where possible or there were mini math inquiry topics and she said the children also liked using text books as well.Variety, as ever, is the spice of life. The important thing, we agreed, is that children should see maths as another area to inquire into and get a 'feeling for'. Inquiry is about turning children on to learning - to ensure they become 'seekers, users,and creators of their own knowledge ' as it says in the New Zealand Curriculum. In other word 'life long learners' - or inquirers.

I am the first to admit that not all teachers are able to imitate Deborah's style but all teacher can move along a continuum toward a total inquiry based classroom. Other teacher might like more order and this is fine. Boundaries are important -even if only to break them.

Elwyn Richardson, New Zealand's pioneer creative inquiry based teacher ( he worked in the 1950s) classroom was once described as 'a community of scientists and artists' busy exploring their internal worlds and their immediate environment. Deborah continues this philosophy - integrating an electronic whiteboard and computers.

Teachers who plan one, or even two, enquiry studies a term have not really understood the concept of inquiry as a disposition. Such classrooms result in thin inquiry at best as literacy and numeracy still rule supreme. Not so with such teachers as Deborah. All the above inquiries are the result of one terms work!

Every school has 'stand out' teachers with skills to celebrate and share.

Such teachers are the real experts not the out of town consultants with PowerPoint's with step by step inquiry models to follow. We don't want our classrooms to be full of inquiry processes' and no real content which all too often seem to be the case. Nor do we want to become testers and educational accountants destroying the inquiry dispositions in our students , and ourselves, in the process.

If principals saw teacher as the key to real educational change, and if they saw their role as developing cultures to encourage such teachers, and if they were to network with other local schools we would have the beginning of a real educational transformation.

It is all about inspiring each other to become 'seekers, users and creators of our own knowledge'; for us all to be 'inquirers'.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Why is inquiry learning a problem?

I was visiting local school when a teacher of a year 3/4 class called out to me to come and see her Kowhai Study. It was motivated, she said, by a previous blog I had written. Made my day! Thanks Sheila.

Link for an inquiry lesson on flax:
(Inquiry learning)

(Links to other inquiry blogs)

At a social function yesterday I overheard a comment made between a couple of principals and a deputy principal about inquiry learning.'Where are you up to with inquiry learning?' one said.The other explained about having recently had a TOD on the subject taken by a visiting expert and how they were having her back to plan the next terms inquiry units. One school was following Kath Murdock's model.

I offered my thoughts saying, 'What was the issue? Inquiry is the way all students learn , that is, until they come to school'. Then I thought I better get back to my beer and sausage roll.

On the way home I was thinking about the issue. For most of my teaching career I had been a science adviser helping teachers develop 'inquiry' into their classrooms.Science is only another word for inquiry learning.

So what is inquiry learning problematic requiring out of town 'experts' to spend a whole day assisting teachers come to terms with it? It seems that all the great work done by teachers in the past has been forgotten? Surely this can't be the case?

We are all born with ability to discover the secrets of the universe and of our own minds, and with the drive to explore and experiment until to do.Science isn't the province of 'scientists', instead, it's continuous with the kind of learning wee all do when we are young. The advantage of this natural learning is that it allows you to find out about your particular environment. It is not that children are little scientists ( inquirers) but that scientists are big children.

So why does this natural means of learning need to be reintroduced? How come most students lose the facility to inquire?

It is all to do with the assumptions ( often hidden) teacher have about schooling and possibly this is a result of current, often imposed, expectations?

A look at how time is apportioned during the day is a clue. Today most time is given to literacy and numeracy. As well assessment is also focused on these areas. National Standards will simply continue this trend.

So the question is where does inquiry learning come in?

A little history. In the late 60s a few innovative teachers in our province of Taranaki first introduced integrated units into their classrooms. Such developments occurred throughout New Zealand mainly encouraged by art advisers. Integrating learning still hangs on on during whatever time is left over after numeracy and literacy have been catered for.

Prior to this the day was compartmentalised with every element being assigned a set time. The idea of integrating learning areas was not considered. Schools reflected the efficiencies of mass production factories.

During the exciting years of the late 60s and 70s integrated programmes became the norm and as all 'jumped on the band waggon' sometimes the content of such learning left a lot to be desired. Those who did it properly developed amazing inquiry based classrooms. Some were based on science ( mainly ecological studies) and social studies ( using a 'feeling for' other culture approach) while others focused on the language or creative arts. All together, when done properly, formed a powerful learning approach. Teachers who appreciated this way of teaching used their language arts block to develop ideas and where possible integrated aspects of mathematics.

The came Tomorrow's Schools, a new curriculum that divided Learning Areas into strands , levels, and countless learning objectives; combined with the need to assess and measure them all.It was a curriculum, designed by technocrats, a mile wide and an inch deep. Schools were flooded with contractual quickly trained advisers to confuse the issue further. A later change placed greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy which focused collective school minds even further.

Innovative teachers, with their integrated inquiry based programmes, were all but forgotten. It was not the time for creative teachers. Thankfully a few schools led by such teachers ( now principals) continued doing their best to be both creative and compliant. Most principals simply complied to managerial expectations.

Now we have the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum which stemmed the tide of previous educational nonsense. Although there is no special section on 'inquiry' an inquiry model is included in all the various Learning Areas.

Developing an inquiry approach across the curriculum ought not to be a problem. So why is it?

Well the National Standards, as mentioned, don't help.They present a pull back to the past. A distortion of the schooling experience for both teachers and students.

So maybe the inquiry ideas of earlier times have been all but forgotten overlaid by decades of imposed requirements?

To develop inquiry programmes today requires schools to take one of the key phrases from the 2007 Curriculum seriously , that all students need to ' seek, use and create their own knowledge'.

Unpacking this phrase is the key to developing innovative inquiry programmes. Guy Claxton's phrase 'learnacy ( or, as Sir Ken Robinson writes, 'creativity') is more important than literacy and numeracy'. Their role is that of vital 'foundation skills' necessary to do inquiry and creative learning. The need to develop every learners gifts and talents ought to be a priority for inquiry based schools.

Literacy and numeracy programmes need to be 're framed' to allow students to develop the skills to 'seek and use' in their current inquiry studies. This is all about 'personalising' learning and is a long way from the earlier 19thC factory model that clings on in too many teachers heads.

Inquiry learning is about developing new minds for a new millennium. It requires rethinking of what school ought to look like in the 21stC. It is about how we apportion time in our schools.

There were teachers developing such 'new minds' in earlier times but now all school need to take developing such integrated minds seriously. There are those that say we are moving into a new 'Second Renaissance ' or 'Creative Age' - exciting thoughts!

Creative schools and creative teachers need to lead this change and to do this they need to escape from past assumptions.

To do this they think back to how young children learnt before school -and scientists and artists.

The vision of the New Zealand Curriculum is for every learner to be a 'confident, life long learner'; for 'learner' replace with the word 'inquirer'.

So far we are not doing so good in achieving this vision.But then we don't even assess such an important attribute! That is why inquiry learning is so important.

We just need to change our collectively minds and get on with it.Time to leave the last centuries thinking behind.

Friday, December 03, 2010

An idea whose time has come; schools and teachers working together

'Developing Teacher Leaders' by Frank Crowther, Stephen Kaagan , Margaret Fergusson and Leone Hann, with a forward by Andy Hargreaves. The book provides evidence of the importance of redefining leadership so as to work in parallel with classroom teachers.

The book calls for acknowledging teachers as the key to lasting change and asks for a renaissance of the teaching profession
. Hargreaves's preface states that 'educational leadership is at a crossroads'.

As the focus is increasingly on student learning then developing the capacity of teachers as leaders is an imperative. Teacher creativity, not imposed standardisation, is central. Teacher creativity needs to be celebrated, recognised and shared.

Principals who can share leadership with their teachers and then with other schools will be seen as the real future leaders. Crowther calls this 'parallel leadership' - connecting principals and teachers through mutual respect. Up until now, Hargreaves states, teachers have been marginalised but we all know a school is only as good as its teachers.

This teachers and principals as leaders is an idea for principals associations working in smaller cities and rural towns to consider. There is no doubt that teacher isolation all too often makes becoming aware of new ideas difficult and this applies even more so to isolated schools. Crowther's (and others ) book 'Developing Teacher Leaders' provides an exciting means to break down this teacher and school isolation and to place the centre of new ideas firmly back in schools. Nothing of lasting note has ever been imposed on schools. All the recent Ministry contracts have proved difficult to sustain.Many have disappeared without trace - thankfully!

Three things have motivated me to share ideas of teacher , principal and school collaboration.

One is a National Radio talk I heard recently about the importance of developing collaborative networks between scientific research organizations in New Zealand for their mutual advantage. The theme of the radio discussion was: there are a lot of ideas out there; no one knows everything; and if we collaborated this would result in exponential growth of shared knowledge to advantage of all.

The other is the writings of Frank Crowther, author of ‘Developing Teacher Leaders’, about school leaders tapping into the often ignored strengths of creative classroom teachers as leaders. Obviously a school aligned behind shared beliefs (often inspired by the actions of a few teachers in the school) is ideal but the next step would be to tap into teachers in other schools and to share teacher skills from your own.

Crowther calls the combination of principal and teacher leadership parallel leadership. Crowther thinks it is important to see teachers as leaders and not just as ‘delivers’. He writes that teachers have been pushed out of the limelight the past few decades.

The third motivation goes back to the months before Tomorrows Schools .

The last District Senior Inspector in our area Taranaki, Julian Hoffman, asked all schools in Taranaki to, on a single piece of paper, write out their school beliefs and what strengths the school could offer other schools. Unfortunately the idea was lost in the competitive environment established by Tomorrows Schools. Ironically school clustering and sharing is now being encouraged by the Ministry.

Would it not be valuable for local principals associations to establish a website building on the ideas introduced by Hoffman?

Such a website could have links to individual school ‘offerings’ and these could be then used by principals to search out suitable schools for their teachers to visit (examples: a school with an excellent year one teacher; teachers with ICT expertise; environmental education; inquiry learning etc.). Teachers from other schools could be asked to visit to assist in another school. Currently no one really knows the strengths of other schools.

Possibly associations would need someone to liaise between schools and to help gathering information to post on the website; and to keep the website up to date.
Most areas have a retired principal who could do the groundwork.

This process would see teachers being seen as their own experts and would provide recognition to teachers and contribute to them developing a greater sense of their own worth.

A future possibility is for teamS of teachers from different school, working on action plans, to develop ideas for use of all ('teaching as inquiry' as in the New Zealand Curriculum).This would be an excellent opportunity to develop teacher leaders.

If such a collaborative association were to be established then it could lead to developing focused shared school professional development. Bigger Conferences could share expenses in attracting top guest speakers and make use of identified local teachers for workshops.

I know of only one are which has tentatively moved along these lines (but with no website) and that are the schools in Blenheim.

As such an arrangement is informal, and not linked to any Ministry initiative, there would be no pressure for schools to comply with anything. It is just a means to take advantage of each others expertise.

The idea aligns well with the NZC intent of every student becoming ‘their own seeker, user, and creators of their own knowledge’ as it applies the philosophy behind such statement to teachers and schools.

And as we all know real innovation comes from the edge!

Time for school and teachers to reclaim their rightful positions?

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.