Thursday, June 30, 2005
Just liked the image above!
Seems to me it sums up how to avoid reality.
The current pre election posturing of the two main political parties seem to be presenting a debate defined by fixed positions. Both are arguing over how they can best organize the world for us. Trouble is they never seem to ask us what it is we all want. They presume to know on our behalf.
It is all, see no reality, hear no reality and speak no reality.
There is no conversation with the rest of us about what kind of country we want to become as we enter the first decades of the new millennium.
One side wants to return to less government, less taxes and a belief that all will be well. This recipe hasn’t worked in the past – either in the Victorian Era or in the 1990s. The other side wants to make all the decisions for us even though people eventually tire of being left out of being able to make their own decisions. It is 'survival of the fittest' (or greediest) versus 'one size fits all'.
So we end up with this 'either/or' argument and as a result real alternative solutions are never considered.
Traditional state welfare has created welfare dependency without empowering those receiving welfare to take responsibity for themselves. And as well it seems all the money goes to support the endless service organizations which live off the backs of the poor. Conservatives argue against this but seem unable to present an alternative and rely on 'spongy' phrases about money wasted on 'flaky' causes.
Until these fixed positions are broken down, and until politicians really start to listen to the voices of the real people, then this will be our lot.
Somewhere between the faceless state bureaucrats, determining our future with their endless rules, regulations and a compliance mentality that seem to fit no one in particular, and the dream that individuals by themselves can solve the problems themselves, if they were only given their tax money back, there must lie creative alternatives.
My bet would be on reducing the State to negotiate with us all a sense of direction, envoronmtal sustainability, and to provide the basic infrastructure and appropriate regulations ( to protect people from those who only care for their own profit or point of view).They then need to reinvent local community government to provide all the services now currently controlled by the State. We just need new rules to create a new world.
Rather than a universal 'one size fits all' mentality we should value regional diversity and participation by the people in their own destiny. If this were the case there would be lots of regional diversity but this should be seen as a strength. Some ideas will fail while other will succeed and spread to other areas. This is evolution. Most of all this creative decentralization would reinvent local social community responsibity, empower people and revitalize democratic values.
It would create a new environment and a new reality in accord with what we all value.
It would be 'messy' and would not be acceptable to the control freaks on both sides who currently are debating our future. As Shakespeare would have said, ‘a curse on both your houses’. Lets face reality - we are entering a new world.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
It's the big picture that counts.
A lot of confusion and wasted energy exists in many organizations because no body has bothered to let the workers into the ‘big picture’. The ‘big picture’ of an organization is its vision, or mission, and if one exists, it allows the alignment of the behaviors of all to achieve a shared purpose. Too often many workers are totally unaware of how their personal efforts contribute to the success of the organization and, worse still, they may even be working at cross purposes.
Schools suffer from the same problem, but often there is no urgency to clarify the purpose, possibly because no one thinks there is a need; or because schools, unlike businesses, are guaranteed an existence. Without vision, as the Bible says, people perish – in schools they simply achieve mediocrity.
It is an interesting exercise to ask your students to tell you what the purpose of their school is. Their answers will tell you what metaphor, or ‘big picture’, they have in their heads. Hopefully you would want them to say it is a place where teachers help them develop the talents and skills for them to continue as positive life long learners. More likely it will be something like a place where teachers make you learn. The difference in the two answers is important.
The same thing applies as to how they see their teachers and themselves. Are teachers ‘coaches’ or ‘tellers’; are they ‘explorers’ or ‘followers’? These hidden mindsets shape all the interactions of the school and they shouldn’t be left to chance. If one includes the parents’ views, the issue is even more important.
The purpose of schooling is not as obvious, or as simple, as you would think.
In most case the pieces gain more importance in people minds than the big picture; and all too often no one is helped to see how the pieces fit into any picture at all. Too often school experiences, for both students and teachers, are fragmented by subject and time. Current curriculums are compiled of countless objectives that need to be pulled together so students can hold them in their minds.
By defining the ‘big picture’ of the school and then, by defining and how each person contributes, a sense of shared purpose can be developed. If people work together school can be made a far more productive and creative place for all.
Big pictures are important; they provide focus and direction. The individual bits, without a 'big picture' in mind create confusion, mixed messages, and loss of direction.
What is the 'big picture' of your school? What does your school stand for? Are all the pieces part of the same puzzle? It would be a shame if everyone was trying to create a different puzzle!
Why don’t you ask them?
The 'big picture' of School culture counts!
Monday, June 27, 2005
Education leading from the heart.
Learning is about relationships. Relationships with content and with people who help us acquire it. It is about having mind changing experiences that tap into our desire to make meaning and express what we know.
To be attracted to an area of learning relates to what attracts our attention and whether or not we want to put in the energy in to learn more. Curiosity is at the basis of all learning.
All too often this emotional attraction to learning is neglected by our schools who still cling on to the idea that learning is transmitted from those who know (best) to those who don’t. And that this learning can be measured and ‘gaps’ remedied by further instruction.
Learning cannot be improved by an obsession with hard data about achievement or by an obsession with raising test scores; or by more of the same.
If schools want to improve the learning of their students they will have to change their own minds first and see learning from the perspective of their learners. To do this they will need to tap into the heartfelt hopes of their students to be competent in their learning, to develop a positive learning identity - and this is in conflict with current imposed curriculums and preset criteria.
The only way to ensure all students learn is for schools to reinvent themselves as learning communities where students feel a sense of belonging, a connectedness with their culture, and supported by others involved in the process. They need to be helped to feel that are agents in their own learning endeavors.
If schools were to see the developing of each learner’s special array of talents as their true mission then the whole concept of school would change from transmission of prescribed knowledge to personalizing teaching to assist each student construct their own learning; seeing each learner as creators of their own learning.
Learning is a passionate adventure and too easily turned off by teachers trapped in a mechanistic system that has little use for subjectivity and love of learning.
Until this fragmented mindset is changed students will continue to fall through the ever widening cracks.
It is time to put the heart back into teaching – we have been led by a cool logic that has excluded students from feeling emotionally involved in their own learning.
Teaching is more about artistry than the pseudo science we have been pretending it is.
What's this water stuff?
There is a lot of talk about creating schools as creative learning communities these days but what is not understood is that the current managerial audit culture, and the imposed growing micromanagement that has been imposed on schools, is toxic to its growth.
Leadership to change the mindsets of all involved is required rather than dull management or meek compliance!
Creating and sustaining an innovative culture is the real task of leadership. To achieve this, leaders must look at the culture of the schools so as to break through the negative power of the status quo and blind habits that limit growth.
It means developing a total integrated system where every teacher is aligned behind developing creativity, not just relying on creative individuals. It is all about valuing the power of culture
A good analogy is cleaning a dirty fish tank. You take out all the fish and send them off to professional revival centre to teach them to be creative. The course is a roaring success, the fish are returned energized ready to change the world. You pop these stimulated fish back into the same dirty water. Try as hard as they might, with their rejuvenated powers, they are beaten back by the depressing environment that hasn’t been changed in their absence. The new ideas cannot be used and the revived fish have no choice but to return to their past habits. As the fish fall back into past expectations and habits the water gets dirtier and less sustainable. The only thing to do to survive is to return to the old ways.
Leading the change is about cleaning the tank not the fish.
No one said that this would be easy; it will require courageous leadership.
Fish, they say, are last animals to discover water!
Friday, June 24, 2005
A decade or so ago, as part of ideology of ‘market forces’, the public service was transformed. The public service at the time was pictured to the public as being full of dull bureaucrats who were getting in the way of the need for quick and sensible decision making.
As a result of this public service transformation the Education Department was disbanded and some new lean and efficient new organizations were established; the Ministry and the Education Review Office. The key to the future was to lie with the new ‘self managing’ schools.
At the time it seemed by some as the rebirth of democracy. Schools were to be seen as belonging to the neighborhoods their students came from. Parents were invited to become members of school boards to run their own schools within national guidelines.
But the democratic dream of Tomorrows Schools has long since faded. The idea that schools could escape the limitations imposed by the bureaucrats and refocus on the needs of their students is, today, even more at risk
The first realization that democracy was not the true purpose came with the introduction of new centrally imposed standardized curriculums. These came with their associated impossible assessment and recording demands. To add stress to the confusion was the threat of an audit organization (ERO) whose task was, like some traveling inquisition, to visit to see the schools were doing things right. Schools, that briefly faced democratic reinvention, now were continually being bombarded with endless compliance requirements – often it seemed invented as new situations emerged.
Regional Education Boards, that once supported schools with a range of administrative and education services, had long since been disbanded meant that schools were now on their own. Rather than democratic schools, collaborating with each other, the new ‘ideology’ required competition and the survival of the fittest. Sharing was out.
Now, instead of a lean central ‘machine’ with schools able to make decision with their community, we now have BOTs, principals and teachers busy completing endless paper work to supply to the Ministry. It has come to the point that the focus on teaching and learning has almost been lost. Valuable teacher’s time and energy has being diverted from their core tasks – creating conditions for quality learning to take place; teachers are too busy reacting to continual imposed requirements
Schools and teachers have lost the opportunity to be seen as creative centres of educational excitement are now too often pale imitations of each other;and rather than quality, mediocrity is often the norm. The idea that schools could become centres of innovation has been replaced by ideas that come pre packaged, delivered by through contracts by people who often have little practical experience in what they are delivering. Even if they do the ‘weight’ of all the contracts and associated demands has created such an intensification of expectations that stress and poor health of teachers is the result.
What has happened the past decades can only be called educational malpractice.
We now ironically have more bureaucrats than ever but they are now best called ‘technocrats’, and few of them could match the wisdom and insights of those they replaced. Where once we were promised few central bureaucrats there are now more Ministry policy analysts than ever. Rather than developing capacity building, by passing true responsibity to the schools, we have soul destroying micro management. Rather than developing true professionalism teachers have been reduced to educational technocrats themselves, delivering and using idea others have thought out for them. As a result, rather than letting people make decisions, we have ‘low trust low risk’ environment.
And still students fall through the cracks.
The competitive model has all but destroyed the idea of schools working collaboratively with each other sharing ideas and encouraging teacher creativity which was once the norm. The central government, rather than liberating the energy of schools, has become even more hyper rational by increasing demands on schools to comply with the wishes of those in authority. ‘Top down thinking’, once the cause of all our problems, still remains under a new and more insidious form.
Those interested in education for democratic values need to take action. Schools need to be re-imagined as centres of community revival; as places focused on amplifying the talents of all their students. We need to reconnect school with their communities and each other and we need to focus on helping all students develop the values to enable them to make a full contribution as citizens. These are the values that have been missing the last decade or so.
Schools have had to survive an onslaught of technocratic changes that have made little difference except to demoralize teachers. In the process we have lost sight of the real purposes of education in a democratic country.
We need to get back to teaching and learning. We need leadership from our elected government, not endless dictates. We need an inclusive vision for our country that places education at the centre of communal revival. Schools, teachers, and their communities, need to be fully resourced and trusted to get on with the job. We know enough now that all students can learn if we had time to try things out and share what works with each other. We have some of the best teachers in the world but their resilience is getting thin.
We have had enough of ‘bureaucratic creep’ smothering the creativity and initiative of our schools.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
An experience of excellence
It seems these days teachers rush through tasks to ‘deliver’ or ‘cover’ the curriculum.
The idea of doing things well has been lost in this rush yet we all know that pride of achievement comes from succeeding so well at a task we even surprise ourselves.
As a result students produce little of real substance. Teachers are too busy proving what they have done to focus on the more important need to see each student does the very best work they can.
All the criteria and feedback formative assessment means little if the teachers have no idea of excellence. Some experience of excellence comes from:
'Mastering at least one thing supremely well. It can be anything – music, mechanics, motorcycle racing. If you don’t go deep into something, you don’t know what extraordinary performance is. You get satisfied with ordinary performance. And if you have never experienced it yourself, it’s hard to be a role model. Without an experience of excellence, you won’t appreciate the quality in others.’
Harry Davis University of Chicago.
Teachers would be well advised to stop ‘delivering a curriculum that is an inch deep and a mile wide’ and do fewer things well – and in this process ensure that students experience the power and pride of achieving personal excellence.
To achieve this teachers need to have the courage to throw way the current imposed standardized curriculums and instead focus of personalising their teaching to suit the talents and needs of each student.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Knowledge society -learning schools
Our latest newsletters, posted on our site, features a summary of challenging ideas from the above book.
A few quotes will give you a taste.
At a time we need to re-invent education for a knowledge society, ‘schools are becoming obsessed with imposing and micromanaging curricular conformity …. and soulless standardization’ and, as a result, teachers are becoming ‘the drones and clones of policy makers anemic ambitions.’
Teachers have been ‘sidelined and are suffering from eroded autonomy.’
The ‘knowledge society’ has replaced the ‘industrial age’ but schools are ‘still run by clocks and bells, period and classes…the regulations of factories, monasteries and self perpetrating bureaucracies provide young people with poor preparation.’
The reforms we have all been through have had no place for ‘the experience of spontaneity of joy, of lives lived in ways that are vibrant and fulfilling’…’those distant from the classroom tend to neglect emotional dimensions…no time is given to creativity, imagination, and relationships'. 'For all those things that fuel the passion to teach.’
‘Schools have become obsessed with keeping up appearances’. ‘In such energy draining climate teachers work in fear of the next capricious soulless initiative and suffer from performance anxiety’…and too often this ‘reaches into teachers’ health’.
Teachers have a choice 'to be a catalyst…or a causality of change’
Instead of ‘top down’ changes schools need to be more flexible and ‘free the talents and energy of the teachers.’
Teachers are not 'delivers of curriculums' but 'developers of learners'.
'All students should have the opportunity to reach their highest and most creative levels.'
If we don’t reinvent schools for a learning society ‘insecurity or worse will be all we have and no less than we serve’ he concludes.
Good stuff but who is listening at the Ministry?
Saturday, June 18, 2005
The beliefs we hold as teachers can either limit or magnify students learning in our classes. All too often our beliefs, or assumption about learning, remain at the tacit level and are not available even to ourselves.
It is a really worthwhile activity to spend time with yourself thinking about what it is you believe about education and, more importantly, to consider do your actions match your words in your classroom. Better still, discuss your beliefs with other teachers in your school as part of a process of defining the shared beliefs of the school and then to put into practice the shared actions and behaviors you all agree to implement.
Recent research about Maori student’s views of learning, written up as narratives, would indicate that for this group of students the majority receive negative messages from many of their teachers. If they were seem as ‘clients’ then these schools would be in trouble. It would be worthwhile for all schools to hear from their own students what teacher words and actions help or hinder them; or even for teachers to consider their own experiences of schooling.
Teachers ought to reflect on the learning beliefs that ensure all students can learn; to ensure the natural desire to make meaning and to express idea that is innate in all learners is kept alive. All to often this passion or joy of learning is lost along the way and replaced with behaviors that range from dull compliance to alienation. And to often we turn about and blame the students for their lack of enthusiasm rather than thinking about why such students are disengaged.
The way we relate to students, the words we use, the messages of hope we give are very important. As such they are the real curriculum of our classroom. For learning to occur there needs to be a positive relationship between the learner, the teacher and the content.
So to be conscious of our beliefs is a start. Powerful teachers have powerful repertoire of strategies – or ‘methods that matter’. If you cannot express what your beliefs or strategies are then you may be contributing to the failure of your students – particularly those who came from a different background to yourself.
Our words and actions do count – and sometimes do hurt as the following revision of an old saying expresses:
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me
And this I know was surely true
And truth could not desert me
But now I know it is not so
I’ve changed the latter part
For sticks and stones may break the bones
But words can break the heart
Sticks and stones may break the bones
But leave the spirit whole
But simple words can break the the heart
Or shame one to the soul’
Herb Warren 82
It pays to make your beliefs explicit and more importantly to live up to them in word and deed. Would you like to be a student in your own class?
Sunday, June 12, 2005
We need super teachers!
There is no doubt that in some situations teaching is a pretty demanding job. Certainly teaching differs greatly from school to school and even one difficult student can test the patience of even the most saintly teacher.
Teacher’s classes these are full of very diverse individuals that would be a big enough challenge even for a ‘super’ teacher. A super teacher is a teacher whose main focus is on developing the talents of all students and assisting them do work of a quality that surprises the learners themselves.
When you add on top of this collection of very diverse, often self centred, individuals the ‘frenzy’ to test every learner exhaustively for literacy and numeracy and to check to make certain you are covering all the strands the curriculum, teaching has been made a super human job! Even if the demands are now only to cover the ‘big ideas’ of the strands of the curriculums you are supposed to be ‘delivering’ it is still an impossible ask for a creative teacher. Creative teachers develop curriculums with the learners they don’t deliver them!
Not only are we obsessed with testing and proving we have covered material there are all the other exiting ‘asks’ of teachers: to introduce the latest ICT; to make use of Bloom’s taxonomy; Costa’s Intelligent Behaviors; de Bono’s hats, this inquiry model; that new approach, this new approach. Then there are portfolios – another good idea turned into a nightmare. All these things can all become 'quick fixes' unless done well. Who has the time these days to all this - teaching has intensified to the speed of light! All these things can result in teachers taking their eyes of the ball – the need to help every student develop their full range of talents and to learn to develop the ‘character’ to become a valuable member of a democratic community.
To be a ‘super’ teacher you need to have a x ray laser like vision to ensure the main thing stays the main thing and not to get caught up in all sorts of energy draining vampire like imposed agendas. To be a ‘super teacher’ you need to develop a powerful belief system and use this to judge the worth of all the things the various experts throw at you. And remember, few of these experts have been nears a real classroom for years – my self included! With a powerful philosophy, and a network of like minded friends (hopefully in the same school)you can then have the courage to do badly what is not worth doing and then do fewer important things well.
Too many teachers have had their power diminished by the ‘kryptonite’ passed down from on high. Shove in it in lead box, escape from the debilitating mundane jobs, recover your passion for teaching, and get on with jumping tall buildings. Teaching is more an act of faith than a measurable science so let’s celebrate the great things we do, share them with others and start to trust out own judgment which has been ‘stolen’ from us by the nasty Ministry technocrats. Lets place the focus back on the artistry of the teacher.
Start as, Emerson wrote, ‘dancing to the beat of your own drum’!
Thursday, June 09, 2005
We need learning schools!
This book by David Perkins is on my list of favorites. It is full of common sense about the art of teaching.
‘Dreams are where the dilemma starts ’, he writes – dreams about great schools.
‘We want our schools to deliver a great deal of knowledge and understanding to a great many people of differing talents with a great range of interests and a great variety of cultural and family backgrounds. Quite a challenge – and why aren’t we better at it.’
Some, he would say, is because ‘We don’t know enough.’
Perkins, though, thinks they’re wrong, ‘We know enough now to do a much better job’. The problem comes down to this, ‘we are not putting to work what we know.’ 'We do not have a knowledge gap – we have a monumental use – of - knowledge gap’.
Schools that use what we know he calls ‘smart schools’.
In particular Perkins’s book focuses on ‘thoughtfulness in teaching’.
He asks the reader to consider what we want from schools and says schools are currently ‘bedeviled’ by endless imposed agendas that act as ‘energy vampires’ and that ‘nothing drains energy more than doing far too many things.’
Successful schools dig more deeply into fewer topics; emphasize authentic work and value problem solving. But Perkins spells out three general goals (his Theory One) that must be in place as foundations before schools move into such exciting things as multiple intelligences, cooperative learning and constructivist teaching etc.
The three common sense goals are ones no one would argue with:
1. Students should retain what they have been taught
2. They need to understand the knowledge they have gained
3. They need to be able to use or apply the knowledge.
Knowledge includes not only factual knowledge but skills, know how, reflective- ness, ability to ask questions, and so on. And the application these common sense goals are not as common as you would think as the number of school failures would attest to.
The three goals are themselves enough, Perkins believes, to lead to ‘smart schools’.
Currently Perkins believes there are two shortfalls in educational achievement: ‘fragile knowledge’ which means students cannot remember, or understand, or use what they have been ‘taught’ and ‘Poor thinking’ which means students can not think very well with what they know. Perkins blames this on what he calls ‘a trivial pursuit theory of learning’ (trying to cover too much) and an ‘ability counts most theory of education’ (which means student think it is how smart you are, or luck, and not how hard you work that counts). In contrast Asian cultures, he points out, cultivate an effort and importance of persistence model of success.
So current education, he writes , is all about ‘knowledge missing in action’; or 'inert knowledge’ which students know but don’t use; or ‘naive knowledge’ where students hold flat earth views no matter what they have been taught; or ‘ritual knowledge’ where students use knowledge without any real understanding.
Not only is the ‘fragile knowledge syndrome’ all too real for weaker students it is all too painful - and it is these students that make up the long (lack of) achievement tail.
When everything is important for teachers students have to face up to a pandemonium of knowledge and by serving all masters we serve none.
Perkins Theory one requires the following common sense conditions:
1. Give students clear information about what is expected, goals, criteria, task descriptions – what is now called ‘intentional’ or ‘focused’ teaching.
2. Provide students with thoughtful practice by engaging with tasks actively and reflectively.
3. Provide informative feedback about performance and encourage students to consider what they might do next time.
4. Make learning rewarding or interesting or because students see that feed into other worthwhile activities that are of concern to them.
Theory One teaching is all about making clear what, why, how, when and how good is good. It is about clear explanations, demonstrations, coaching, using Socratic questioning, providing focused feedback, developing mastery, helping students reflect on what they have learnt,(often by thinking aloud to the teacher ) and helping them to see connections that they might otherwise overlook.
Beyond Theory one there are several approaches available: Constructivist teaching which see the learner as an active agent; cooperative and collaborative learning; multiple intelligences, the use of ICT and so on; but none of these things, Perkins believes, are of much use without Theory One teaching in place.
Perkins says we need describe, in broad terms, what we want students to do and then for students to be able to demonstrate what they can do .We need to think more deeply about what is worth teaching and use Theory One common sense ensure it is achieved.
These ideas are central to Perkins’ 'Smart School'
Hare Brain and Tortoise Mind - think less!
Guy Claxton is a thinker after my own heart. While everyone else is rushing around introducing rational thinking skills he is pushing the 'slower' idea of developing intuition, hence the title of his book 'Hare Brain Tortoise Mind - how to increase your intelligence by thinking less'.Claxton is about valuing patience and confusion which he believes are the precursors of real wisdom rather than the current emphasis on rigor and certainty. It is by digging into this ‘under mind’ of our unconscious that Claxton believes creativity resides.
We all know the story of the hare and the tortoise but perhaps we haven’t gained the full message. Claxton’s book reminds us that the mind works at different speeds. Some of its functions work at lightening speed – using our ‘wits’ – faster than thought - while others take a longer time to figure things out. This is the area of reason and logic that seems to be the focus of the many various 'higher order thinking skill' programmes thatare so common in our schools these days.
Other kind of thinking (the ‘tortoise brain’) cannot be rushed at all. This kind of thinking is ‘less purposeful and clear cut, more playful, leisurely or dreamy’. In this mode, Claxton writes, ‘we are ruminating or mulling things over; being contemplative or meditative.’ … ‘What we are thinking might not even make much sense’. This seemingly aimless way of thinking is not a luxury, Claxton writes, it is ‘a vital part of the cognitive armamentarium.’
Fast thinking, Claxton says is great when problems can be easily conceptualized. But life is not often so clear cut. When we aren’t certain of things we need to recourse to the ‘tortoise’ mind. And it is this kind of slow thinking which ‘is associated with what we call creativity or even wisdom’.
Claxton believes we have lost touch with the value of contemplative thinking and states that Eastern or indigenous cultures are better at using a more leisurely approach. He mentions that a ‘tribal meeting on a Maori marae can last for days until everyone has the time to assimilate the issues, to have their say, and form a consensus’.
In the Western mind time has become a commodity, all about data, and for efficiency such technical thinking is best done by experts; far beyond the comprehension of ordinary citizens!
So I am all for this more leisurely way of thinking. Digging into areas of ‘messy ill-defined learning’ in depth and in the process coming to know whatever emerges from this uncertainty. We need to stop rushing students though learning that we have preplanned for them in our rush to 'deliver' the curriculum. Let’s stop this rush and really start to enjoy learning again for its own sake – we are missing so much when we use our ‘hare brains’. Most of the important things, Claxton says, we can’t measure – so let's enjoy the process of being lost in our learning. Ignorance and confusion is the beginning of all learning so get your students used to it!
True learning, he says, is picked up as by osmosis. Have fun. Enjoy learning. Create stimulating environments to atract your student's curiosity. Let things 'flow'. Try things. Avoid premature articulation. Be careful with your advice. Take the time, with your students, to discover patterns. Be prepared to see what happens. Life is always next time.
Claxton's advice is if it is 'a nice logical puzzle use your ‘hare brain’; if it is complex or unfamiliar, or behaves unexpectedly, the ‘tortoise brain’ is the better bet.'
Study topics in depth - quality thinking!
This week I had the experience of taking a number of Otago and Southland rural principals to visit a few schools in our area to show them in reality what I had previously talked about when I worked with them last year.
I believe strongly that teachers see and feel their way into new ideas rather than have them delivered in a package. Emotional attachment is what counts, not just intellectual understanding, if changes are to stick. Visiting other classrooms, with a particular purpose in mind, and with an interpretive guide, is possibly the most valuable way to learn new ideas.
Seeing is believing. And what the teachers saw both confirmed the ideas they were all implementing about the need to make leaning intentions/goals explicit, and using feedback with their students. Common practice these days but in my opinion no guarantee of quality results. What I really wanted them to see was the result of teachers deliberately ‘doing fewer things well’ which seems counter intuitive to the current rush they all seemed tied into – cover this , plan that, assess everything, report on targets, focus on literacy and numeracy…..everything is so intensified and hyper rational
The simple idea to ‘slow the pace of work’ so as to allow the teacher to come along side the learner to provide appropriate assistance and, in turn, for students to have the time to complete work of personal pride is a valuable one. And equally important is the need for the quality research and expression that results from such focused teaching to be displayed with appropriate design skills; both to inform viewers and to celebrate student creativity. The total room environment, from the teachers’ blackboard/whiteboard programmes, to the students’ book work and the final products on the wall, all contribute to the ‘message system’ and values of the teacher and preferably the whole school.
After leaving the province the visiting teachers were all off to attend a rural teacher’s course. Out of interest they showed me the programme. It reflected the latest ‘bandwagon’ – lots of sessions on higher order thinking skills. Nothing wrong with this – who could argue about teaching thinking, but what was missing, was an emphasis on thinking for what?
Thinking is a process but it must be driven by curiosity – a desire to know – and this is what any thinking process should be tied too. If real content is not the number one reason for teaching thinking then it could result in ‘higher order thinking for thin learning’. If this happens I expect to see classrooms walls covered with de Bonos’ hats, Costa’s lists, Gardner’s Intelligences, Bloom's taxonomies, endless graphic organizers, inquiry- action planning models etc but no place for real creative thinking based on real question based on real studies.
If however all the emphasis on thinking was focused on students digging deeply into a rich study that appeals their curiosity and their need to know then I would have no complaints. If not, once again, process has replaced substance – the story of Tomorrows Schools.
Idea to help develop quality work through ‘slowing the pace’ is available on our site.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Just help students do quality work!!
Was thinking, while working with a friend of mine who is off to Brazil to take up principals position at an International School in Brazil, that I always seem to be out of step with the latest educational fashion.
Way back when I started I become passionate about creative teaching. Teaching that tapped into student’s natural curiosity and interests by providing experiences that encouraged every student’s innate creative talents . This was in opposition to the traditional diet of the time, of fragmented subject teaching. Primary schools then had more in common with secondary teaching – it was all about teaching and testing; ‘sitting and gitting’. – ‘jugs into mugs’!
In recent years when, as part of a ‘market forces’ accountability model, a range of new curriculum Learning Areas, with their strands, levels and endless learning objectives to be covered and measured were imposed, I was against them from day one. It was however hard to do this with visits from the government’s ‘thought police’ – the Education Review Office checking up on you. At this stage I was principal struggling with all the confusion of ‘Tomorrows Schools’. And, as well, new Learning Areas were dropped on school as part of a Ministry ‘blitzkrieg’, with too little thought about implementation or long term consequences.
In the meantime schools, in response, and out of insecurity, developed a range of mostly irrelevant documentation! And this continues to this day in response to the endless Ministry CRAP (Ministry continually revising all procedures!)
The ministry, after eventfully reacting the pain and confusion they had created, revised expectations, and now are rethinking the whole area of curriculum delivery. They now amazingly have discovered the painfully obvious – that it is the quality of the teacher rather than the curriculum is the real issue!
Today I find myself am against the current quick fix of the obsession with literacy and numeracy! As important as these are, they are, at best ‘foundations’ that need to be in place to allow more exciting learning to occur. One commentator in the UK has written that: ‘the evil twins of literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the entire curriculum.’ This is the case in the USA with their new emphasis on ‘back to basics’ and obsession with phonics. In New Zealand it is not much better with Literacy Advisers rushing around imposing ‘targets’ and ‘best practices’ with the religious zeal of the ‘born again’.
Another area I am beginning to have my doubts about is the current interest in 'higher order thinking'. As great as it sounds, from what I observe, the emphasis seem to be too much on the processes/techniques and not in the quality of the depth of thinking seen in the final products. Too often it looks more like higher order thinking for thin learning!
As for me, I still think the important thing is to introduce powerful learning experiences to students to inspire learning. A learner who is passionate about an area of interest will do anything to learn what they need – they will read, measure, draw, write and use ICT, to express their need to make meaning and gain learning power.
Teachers need to focus on the image of a powerful learner and do everything to keep the desire to learn alive. So far we have not done so well – too many students are currently disengaged from their own learning. At school they are learning ‘not to do their own thing’. Everything teachers do – including literacy and numeracy, must keep alive what one writer calls ‘learnacy’. Anything else is lunacy!
It is the’ big picture’ of a successful learner we need to keep in mind not the ‘small easy measured bits’ that all too easily take up teachers time and energy. Connection and not fragmentation (and endless measuring of the bits) is what we need to focus on; inspiring student’s hearts and not just their narrow aspects of their minds.
Principals, by rushing to comply to the latest ministry ‘quick fixes’ so as to look decisive, are doing their students a disservice. They are simply getting better at a bad game!
Teachers ought to value their own common sense and face up to what they need to do to keep their students' desire and passion to learn alive. A good idea would to spend more time observing the qualities of two year old than trying to implement idea dropped on them from on high.
So I feel on the edge again. The only consolation is that the edge is the only place that real learning occurs.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Rich topics to engage learners.
A number of schools are ‘experimenting’ with providing the curriculum to their students by means of a series of ‘rich topics’. This is in response to what they have found is an impossible ask, to cover all the ‘overcrowded’ curriculum requirements that have developed as a result of the imposition of too many standardized curriculums.
This seems a reasonable if not a very original idea; having been developed by creative primary teachers in the sixties and seventies. The current phrase ‘rich topics’ originated from the Queensland ‘New Basics’ programme.
The Ministry of Education, in an attempt to play ‘catch up’, have realized that school are struggling to implement and assess their impossible demands ( even if they won’t admit to their curriculums being a mistake) and are currently ‘stocktaking’ them. School now wait for the latest thinking to come down from on high – key competencies; another hardly original idea, but that another story.
In the meantime the ‘message’ is for schools to ensure they cover the ‘big idea’s, or strands, of the current documents.
I have worked with several schools to identify the main themes that contribute to the making of a ‘kiwi’ consciousness. We did this by considering all the strands in all the Learning Areas and came up with the following list. Although each topic will feature a particular area they all include relevant elements of the others. A simple check list completed at the end of each year will point out any obvious gaps – there is no need to plan more than a year ahead.
What ever is chosen it is important to select three or four main outcomes to avoid a new problem - the ‘overcrowded study’! Doing fewer things well is an important message.
Each unit should try to keep to five weeks or less to allow for individual teachers to introduce ideas of their own, or to cover emergent interests. Each study is also an opportunity to introduce relevant study skills agreed to by the school.
The themes are as follows:
1. Hau ora. A unit to begin the year. Ideas for studies could be: who are we – family histories what makes us special; our talents; school vision ad values – our beliefs; getting on with each other – team work and conflict resolution.
2. Tangata whenua. A study about local Maori history and development. Tribal stories .Maori landmarks marks – pa sites. Maori identities past and present.
3. Turanga waewae – our place and environment. Environmental studies. Ecology .Local heritage Architecture, Community facilities and government.
4. Other Cultures – to develop global awareness and cultural understanding.
5. Other Cultures in History – sense of time and similarities and diffences.
6. Science Change and Technology.
7. Creative Arts – select appropriate creative expression area to develop
8. An Independent Study – to assess how well students can apply the learning 'how to research,' or study skills and media skills, that have been taught during the year.
The next step would be for the staff to 'brainstorm' ideas, or contexts, for studies to list under each heading.
Ideas to expand these ideas are to be found on our web site.
Solves all problems!
When you are closely involved with anything it is often difficult to face up to the reality that surrounds us. As the joke goes, ‘When you are up to your backside in alligators it is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp!’
In our own lives, well mine anyway, we often ignore major issues of health and future wellbeing and prefer being sidetracked, or distracted, by the immediacy or gratification of the present.
But now and then it is important to stop and think ahead and consider possible future scenarios.
I recently went to a meeting which pointed out that the crisis of the peak production of oil is only a few years away. When it peaks oil will become increasingly more expensive to produce. This must be too difficult for governments, or individuals, to face up to to so we continue to rely on oil, not considering what will happen when it eventfully runs out or becomes too expensive. In the meantime we act as if there is no possibility of a future crisis. The same applies for a range of environmental and social issues, even though we know that historically many past cultures have paid the price for unthinkingly using up all their natural resources. Today, due to progress and technology, the world itself may be in crisis. The concept of sustainability, it also seems, is too hard to comprehend for all but a few written off as ‘greenies’
In the area of education there are a number of equally troubling realities that no one wants to consider. That our 'creaky’ system is locked into structures designed for another age seems of no concern. That we currently still fail almost third of our students worries few; the so called achievement gap attracts only minor tinkering from politicians. Then there is the lack of coordination, or coherence, between the various levels of our education ‘system’, that have grown like ‘topsy’ and work with little coordination or sharing of philosophy. Many students, as they transfer from early childhood to primary, primary to intermediate, and intermediate to secondary, must find each transition like visiting a foreign country. Research indicates that too many students cannot make the transfer, particularly as they reach the higher levels. We more have a credibility gap than an achievement gap.
What we need in education is a conversation between everyone in all communities as to what kind of world our students are entering, and what attributes they will need to thrive in what some are call a ‘learning society’. Factory models of schooling are no longer appropriate. Passing out a few computers will change little. There is a real need to replace the current transmission and fragmented model of education (seen most clearly at the higher levels)with a personalized system tailored to help every student develop the necessary skills and personal talents.
I guess this is all too hard to face up to. Peter Drucker, the business philosopher, has written that no country has as yet designed a future orientated education system and the first country to do so will be the winner in the new century.
Be great if it were NZ but I guess there is too much invested in preserving the status quo; too much shifting educational deck chairs on the Titanic; to many antiquated educational mindsets; and too many other less important things to distract us!
We are like fish, another saying goes, who were the last to discover water!
Saturday, June 04, 2005
We need new perspectives on education!
Years ago, in the 60s, John Holt wrote two great books called ‘How Children Fail’ and ‘How Children Learn’. Holt began as a writer who thought education could be changed but eventfully he gave up on the school system. Another book written at the same time was called ‘Compulsory Mis-education’ which sums up the feeling of the hopelessness of changing traditional schooling. They are still great books.
So what has changed? Schools currently fail more students than ever. Even the highly explicit imposed ‘best practice’ literacy programmes, after initial success, run out of steam turning teachers into dependent clones in the process.
What we now need are new books called ‘How Schools Fail’ and ‘How Schools Learn’. We need to look at the ‘big picture’ of education and stop patching up bits. We need to develop some new perspectives to put into practice; the fragmented factory approach never really worked when it was established and it sure doesn’t work now.
Today too many secondary schools, the area where the organizational flaws of the fragmented factory mentality are still firmly in place, just go through the motions! Such schools, steeped in tradition, are in dire need of reform and the problems are particularly acute in low poverty areas. Students learning experiences are disconnected and often irrelevant and as a result persuasive student boredom, alienation and strained relationships are the norm.
According to educator Roland Barth, ‘many of our schools seem en route to becoming a hybrid of a nineteenth century factory, a twentieth century minimal security penal colony, and a twenty first century Education Testing Service’.
Something has to be done but so far imposed current reforms are notable for their lack of success.
There are exciting possibilities for those who can give up their attachment to the past. There are schools doing their best to personalize learning by helping each student ‘one at a time’ such as the ‘Big Picture Schools’. Unfortunately too many of our current schools are so mired in traditions, or trying to put into practice badly thought out imposed curriculums, to see past their noses. The exciting developments in teaching and learning have difficulty breaking through the thick walls of habit that surround traditional schools.
The late educationalist Paulo Freire published his first book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ in 1970 and his last, called ‘Pedagogy of Indignation’, in 2004. Largely ignored by traditional educators, Paulo saw education as a means to empower learners to change and transform education and believed in the decentralization of power in all areas. The whole concept of imposed power has been largely ignored in schools who always presume to know best for their students. Freire however did not see education as neutral. He was angry about how education was being misused and how it was not really facing up to injustice and poverty in students lives. As such he was known as a ‘liberation educationalist’ - encouraging his students to challenge traditional powers. He believed you need to denounce the current inequalities and then get involved in positive social responses. He was about student rights and the need for students to struggle to achieve their dreams. Dreams, envisioning change, and struggling for liberation were Freire’s strategies; refusing to summit to current structures which endlessly reproduces themselves. Freire wrote, ‘Tomorrow is neither a necessary repetition of today, as the dominant would like it to be, nor something predetermined. Tomorrow is a possibility we need to work, and, one we must fight to build.’
There is a better world but the past will not surrender without a fight!
Schools will never change until some of the idea about power and poverty are shared by those in schools. School transformation could be the first step in social transformation.
Schools need to engage with students, teachers need to develop new roles and provide students with new perspectives and experiences, and in the process, empower them to act positively to enact changes.
Freire’s last words were, ‘I fight for a dream, for the utopia, for hope itself, in a critical pedagogical perspective. And that is not a vain struggle.’