Friday, September 29, 2006

Dysfunctional schools or dysfunctional students

  Posted by Picasa Last week at the Annual Meeting of the Post Primary Teachers Association it was reported that ‘classroom violence was rife’ and ‘student behaviour shows sharp increase.’

No doubt that the worst of these schools would be found in the low decile schools found the low socio economic areas of the country but all school are having their problems. Teachers, it was reported, were ‘fed up with classroom violence’ and outlined a range of ‘horror stories’ about ‘disruptive, dangerous and negative behaviors’; a survey evidently had found at least ‘10% of teachers had been physically assaulted or had witnessed an assault’. There is no doubt that these students are ‘time bombs who threatened other students and teachers’ and that something has to be done. The teachers ‘had had enough’ and were reported as saying that they were dealing with ‘behaviors we haven’t any answers for’

Our local paper continued the story teachers saying, 'violence in our classrooms is rife’ and reported that many principals were ‘turning a blind eye’ because ‘it reflected badly on their schools’. Students interviewed, some from the so called ‘better schools’, reflected that students also were sick of the poor behaviour of some fellow students and that there needed to be ‘more respect shown for each other’. Mutual respect seemed an important suggestion by the students.

An earlier article in our paper reported the number of students ‘stood down’ for assaulting doubled over the past year (to 31). Standowns are preferred by the Ministry because ‘it was a more active way of managing student behavioral issues and causes less disruption to the students learning’. Wonderful ‘Ministry speak’. 75% of standowns involved boys and I guess a good number of these are Maori students? Add to all this that approximately 20% of all students leave with minimal qualifications to show for the time at school and we have a problem that can't be ignored or solved by more of the same.

For such a serious problem possible solutions were less forthcoming, ‘more resources, training and funding for counseling services’,all akin to ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’.

No where in all of this did the teachers' union, local principals, or students, suggest that they might be part of the problem. It seems that it is all the problem of the students themselves or a reflection of wider society problems. While not excusing the students, or downplaying society effects, there is a lot that schools could do rather than retreating into ‘deficit thinking’.

If any business showed such poor attitudes amongst their workers, or turned out faulty ‘products’, then they would go out of business. You have to wonder how bad it has to get before secondary schools take their heads out of the sand and face the reality that their own structures, teaching methods and attitudes might be as dysfunctional as the students they are quick to blame?

How many schools have taken the advice of research and good practice to actually listen to their students? How may have tried to personalize learning around the needs of their students rather than insisting students 'learn' what they obviously dislike. Bill Gates has written that American High Schools are obsolete, designed in and for a past industrial age, and need to focus on 'relationships, relevance and rigor’. How many schools have redesigned their structures to allow collaborative teaching and student teamwork? How may schools have had their teachers reflect on their teaching methods and introduce approaches that have proven, when tried, to re –engage students? How many schools give students real choices and value their ‘prior ideas’ before rushing in to teach? How many schools have integrated modern information technology so as to involve students in searching for the answers to their own questions? How many schools have reflected on the purpose of schooling in the 21stC; that it might be about ensuring all students have a need to achieve personal meaning, recognition, autonomy, a sense of belonging and appositive self image as a learner. How many have thought that by focusing on realizing the multiple talents students bring with them may be more preferable to imposing ideas passed down from on high? And how many schools have met, as equals, with their communities, particularly with the cultural groups that are currently finding schooling problematic? And wouldn’t it be great if the Ministry established some way of listening to our more creative and innovative citizen, many of whom had less than wonderful school experiences, to see how they might design a modern school to realize the talents of all students?

I know that all these ideas exist in some schools somewhre but the future is spread to thinly! It is ironic that schools are not in themselves ‘learning organizations'. Until they become ‘communities of inquiry then the problem of poorly behaved students will continue to escalate. Having visited a number of secondary classrooms I can’t say I blame students for at least being bored!

If you don’t believe me visit your local secondary school and go for a tour down the corridors and peer into classrooms – I would be surprised if it looked very different than when you were a students, or your grandparents.

What other institution is so dedicated to the past?

When there is so much we now know about people learn, and the conditions required to do so, it is all rather sad. If we listened to the pain of the very students the schools complain about we might find an answer! School need to be re-imagined so that teachers and their students can rediscover the joy of learning. At least we could establish a range of alternatives to test out some of the ideas but this would require local and national courage and leadership?

Whatever we will have to change our collective minds first before we focus on the students.

At least read David Hood’s book.

Or visit the Big Picture Website

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Personal thoughts on literacy and numeracy

  Posted by Picasa It seems almost heretical to criticize the obsessive interest schools place on their literacy and numeracy programmes. Best advice might be to let schools get on with it and to ask for teachers to work equally hard on the remainder of the curriculum. But this is just not possible. Teachers have only so much time and energy

In maths it would be sensible to decide what students should know (basic computation) when they leave primary school and to achieve this by teachers presenting as many 'rich topics' about maths they can and, where possible, to integrate maths into other learning areas. I would want learners to know the basics and to enjoy maths before leaving primary. It seems we achieve neither.

Maths is simply overdone. I have even heard University maths teachers wonder why all children need to spend so much time on it – unless they were going to be mathematicians! ‘Do less well’ would solve the problem. Brain research indicates that our brains are hard wired to ‘do’ maths, along with everything else, and that we need to build on this inclination keeping them ‘turned on’ to maths by exposing students to interesting maths experiences. Maths ‘savants’ know maths without being taught by anybody!

As for literacy this is possibly a more sensitive area; literacy being seen by many primary teachers as their number one strength or even duty. Without teachers how would students ever learn to read!

It seems many students learn to read by osmosis. They see the power in reading to engage their imagination and to find about what they want to know.

Unfortunately all too often reading has been 'subverted' into a process to be measured by endless levels of achievement. The process seems to work for the ‘literacy rich’ students but for all the emphasis we are still left with long ‘achievement tail’- a kind of ‘Mathew effect’, 'the rich get richer and the poor get poorer'. We then identify ‘students at risk’ and give them more of the same (but more focused) and no doubt improvement is achieved but it seems that it cannot be maintained. This 'plateauing' of results is now occurring in the UK after initial improvement.

Rather than giving students more of the same (even if it is more intensive) we need to think about the intrinsic process of learning that all children are born with and the conditions required to sustain and deepen this search for meaning. All young people are on a life long learning journey to answer such basic questions as: 'where did we come from? who are we?what can we do? and what will we become'? Answering these questions could well be the basis of developing 'personalized curriculums' as all students are all looking for meaning, recognition, autonomy, power and the ability to live their lives to the full.

Personal engagement is vital to any learning and this develops from having a keen sense of wonder and curiosity about all that happens, magnified by being in the company of others who share what they know, or have the skills, to be able to help us in our search.

Imagine if these ideas were to be the basis of education, that education ought to be a continual search for meaning, created through involvement rather than being 'given' to us by those who already know.

As for the development of literacy it is important to appreciate that ‘before the word comes the experience’! Students are well on the way to literacy before they come to school. They have learned to talk simply by being exposed to the need to talk. Research shows that the quality of their conversation is far richer at home than at school; that they ask more questions and feel in more control of their own learning. And all this without targets and achievement graphs! Some of young people come to school with the advantage of a richer basis for continuing their literacy learning and it is this missing experience that ought to be the real concern of teachers.

To solve this 'gap' we need to build a bridge between their real world and the book experience. Creative teachers of past eras, notably Sylvia Ashton Warner and Elwyn Richardson, have shown the way by building on the inner world of their students.

By valuing students own concerns and thoughts about personally felt experiences and explorations, by listening and talking about such experiences with respect, and when appropriate ‘scribing’ their thoughts into writing that preserves and celebrates their ‘voice’. Using these thoughts as first books allows students to see the relationship between their world and the world of books.

The preservation of each individuals sense of voice is critical to ensure a positive sense of identity is developed by all. This is what is missing in so many classrooms. We need to help students see themselves as valuable people with ideas of their own not just readers. It is important to see talking, thinking, writing and, eventually, reading as integrated forms of expression, all contributing to each child's sense of identity.

Of course all this needs to be in association with lots of being read to and wondering about the magic of the translation of sounds into marks on paper!

And behind all such developments is the thought that before the word (or the thought) is the experience. All students, but particularly those whose lives are restricted by situations beyond their control, need lots of rich environmental experiences; another area of teaching that has been lost.

Children need to be exposed to a full range of sensory experiences and each sense needs to be ‘educated’ fully so to be able to ‘see more, hear more, feel more and wonder more’. The more children notice the more questions they will ask ( solving the problem of the curriculum), the more words they will develop, and the greater the need to express what they see; not only in words but using all available means of expressions (what was once called the ‘related arts’). And when students express their thoughts creative teachers will make every effort to preserve the ‘voice’ and poetic qualities of every student.

At this point the ‘curriculum’ of the classroom will be a more focused extension of the best of ideal early learning students would have experienced. Students exposed to such learning will develop deep preoccupations with the human themes and problems for them to expressed and be recognized in their reading.

If such learning were to be achieved teachers and students will develop their classrooms as 'communities of shared inquiry' leading to personal aesthetic satisfaction and excitement for both students and teachers. And I am betting that those students in the so called ‘achievement tail’, when they realize that learning is about meaning making, would be learning with more enthusiasm – they may even have better stories to tell, write and read about!

To tap into such a reservoir of creative energy and talent, and for both students and teachers to rediscover the joy of learning, we need to rethink the purpose of our schools! Maybe the 'poor learners' are a result of our faulty assumptions?

Monday, September 25, 2006

21st Century teaching and learning.

  Posted by Picasa Visiting primary schools one thing becomes clear. They are obsessed with literacy and numeracy teaching and targets. Nothing wrong with this I guess but the downside is that little time, energy or inclination is left for other important learning attributes.

Visiting secondary schools fragmented specialist teaching is still the name of the game with teachers working in splendid isolation helping students accumulate units of unrelated achievement.

In a way nothing much has changed over the years.

Will these students who can read, do maths or accumulate atomized units be successful in the 21stCentury?

Not a chance!

And giving all students personal computers will make little neither difference nor will all the prescribed areas of learning distant experts feel is vital.

Yesterday’s schools are just not good enough for tomorrow’s students.

Tomorrow’s students will need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, team workers and effective communicators; they need to more than to be proficient in basic skills or minimal knowledge – they need to have a purpose in their lives. This means school need to focus on providing learning experiences that, as well as developing self management and interpersonal skills, uncover students’ gifts and talents - areas of potential life long interests.

To achieve such personalized 21stCentury learning is the challenge of the future; to develop student interests and love of learning, for its own sake, through integrated project based learning.

The idea is not new and can be seen in the more creative teachers’ classrooms; classrooms that celebrate students thinking, creativity and artistic expression. When visiting such classrooms it is pretty easy to see , even when the students are absent – students’ questions, theories, ideas, researched studies and artist expressions catch the eye and imagination . When the students are present the difference is even more obvious, such rooms are hives of purposeful activities with students working alone or in groups developing their ideas, making use of modern technology and areas of artistic expression as required.

Such communities of inquiry are possible at all levels of learning but not without considerable rethinking of the ideas and assumptions that underpin teaching. Teachers will have to reassign their time, energy and priorities.

In traditional classrooms (particularly at the secondary level) students typically work alone to complete teachers designed activities, rarely presenting their ideas to the class.

In ‘communities of inquiry’ students’ work in teams of students researching ‘fertile questions’ that attract their imagination and curiosity. Plans are negotiated, research undertaken and idea are finally presented to the class, or better still to the students’ parents.

Studies are chosen carefully to develop in depth thinking. Before starting a study students ‘prior ideas’ are uncovered, which may need to be challenged, and new questions will arise as the study evolves. Currently primary teachers are able to ensure that the various learning areas are integrated as appropriate but ideally both primary and secondary teachers would need to work collaboratively sharing their expertise so as to help their students think of areas that they might not otherwise consider. Most studies will require groups of students researching different areas of inquiry which makes some form of concluding demonstrations or performance important.

This is the opposite to traditional transmission teaching. In project based learning teachers and students work together to ‘co-construct’ learning. Teachers still need in-depth subject expertise but do need to work with other so as to cater for all the areas of interests of their students. To be successful students need to dig deeply into what they are studying and not to rush through the curriculum as is all too often the present situation. Teachers and students need to develop plans and success criteria, provide real time assessment, feedback and assistance as required.

Assessment of the learning can be seen in the attitudes students have towards their learning, how well they have worked with each other, how well they have been able to research, and the quality of their ideas and expressive creations. All these can be discussed with the student but the best assessment will be self appraisal or to be seen in the excitement of the students (and the teachers) to get on with their next challenge. Rooms will celebrate students’ creativity and inform visitors of what the class has been studying but most of all what is displayed will be a source of pride to the students themselves. Examples of student work can be stored in digital portfolios to share with parents and eventually with future employers. Final performances for senior student can be assessed by community experts in their field or by using experts available through information technology.

This kind of learning, as mentioned is not new, and is no more than an extension of how students learn before they come to school and will reflect what will be required when they enter the work force.

It is important not to confuse project based learning with doing ‘activities’. Problem centred teaching needs good teachers to make it work well. It is hard work helping students design appropriate activities and teachers will need to work together demonstrating all the skills and attitudes they hope to develop in their students.

I have yet to see a school make such learning central to the way they work, they do exist, but there are plenty of teachers doing wonderful work in often difficult situations.

Be great to have such collaborative learning environments based on real world projects set up in all the major cities to inspire other to make similar changes.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

School: a home for the mind

  Posted by Picasa ‘The school as a home for the mind’, is a favourite metaphor of Art Costa and many schools 'infuse’ his ‘intelligent behaviors’ into their programmes. Making our school environments ‘brain friendly’ would seem an obvious thing to do as currently far too many students are literally ‘turned off’ by the experience.

The truth is that we now know enough about how the brain ‘works’ to begin ‘Teaching with the Brain in Mind’ (Title of a book by Eric Jenson). As Rowan Gibson says, ‘The future is here; it is just that it is unevenly spread’.

Studying the brain, and how it works, would make an interesting study for children at any age. They would come up with, if asked, lots of interesting questions to research. Jenson’s book would make great start. Humans are the only animal that actually ‘grows’ its brain through experience. About 30 to 60 % of our brains are provided by hereditary (depending on the traits you’re considering) but that leaves plenty to work on and, just as the Hippocratic Oath says doctors should do their patients ‘no harm’, at least we should ‘do no damage’

The question we need to ask is whatever happened to those students who entered school so eager to learn? Lack of engagement is becoming a crisis in our schools, particularly in years 9 and 10, but for many children, the seeds of disenchantment are sown much earlier.

We need to enter into a dialogue with such students to see what is turning them off schooling? Shadowing a student around a school day might provide an answer!

Research tells us that learning is a chemical process, the brain continually chooses what to attend to, and by doing this, strengthens some neural connections and deletes others. Recent brain research suggests that present day students brains are heavily influenced by their multimedia based culture; diffrent from our adult 'book influenced' linear brains.

Today’s students are ‘programmed’ to seek out novelty and change yet many walk into secondary schools that have changed little in structure since the turn of the last century. Rather than worrying about ‘student disengagement’ teachers ought to be taking advantage of today’s stimulus hungry students.

Our students crave choices and there are many ways to provide this: choice about content to be covered, questions to study, whom to work with, processes to follow, what outcomes they will produce and how they will be assessed. Most of these ideas are common practice in junior classes.

Students have become accustomed to change but all too often they still enter classrooms with desks in straight lines where they have to sit still to receive ‘knowledge’ from the teacher. Teachers can easily alter the learning environment by providing the choices mentioned above and most all by changing who does most of the talking and by proving a range of ways of researching, using information technology, and a variety of ways for students to express their ideas. Such changes should be balanced with predictable structures because learning only takes place when people feel safe enough to take learning risks. Once again the above are ideas known by many junior teachers.

The human brain is drawn to challenges but for students to be engaged students need to have the experiential background and possess most of the skills required to succeed. And most importantly they must feel they can succeed. Students enjoy working in groups, sharing their expertise, and appreciate teachers who provide support and ‘just in time’ instruction to ensure their success. The most ‘attractive’ challenges are projects that arise, or relate to, students lives; problem that involves their need to think their way through to possible solutions.

Eric Jenson notes that ‘our whole brain is self referencing. It decides what to do based on what has just been done....almost everything in your students' world outside of school provides immediate and specific feedback.’ Most New Zealand primary teachers will be well aware of the concepts of specific and frequent ‘feedback and feed-forward’ combined with regular reflection about what has been achieved so far. This provides the ‘brain’ with the affective gratification it requires and lets students know you care about their learning.

The ‘brain’ is attracted to relevance of two sorts. The first is a connection with each student’s life experiences and the second occurs when the new learning connects with prior knowledge. Teachers who keep these ideas in mind will help their students see purpose in their learning.

Engagement is what it is all about. Students need to be engaged physically, emotionally and verbally. Learning is not just a sedentary occupation and too much sitting around causes a decrease in oxygen and blood to the brain. Our brains thrive on physical movement, acting, singing, debating, experimenting, discussing, building, drawing, demonstrating and teaching others. All these activities activate students’ senses and engage their minds.

And, if we can help students achieve results that surpass their expectations, then they will the gain pride and satisfaction to encourage them to continue their learning journey - to ‘grow their minds’.

Students need lots of opportunities to 'voice' their ideas to make sense of the world. Activities that capture students’ attention and emotions ensure retention of learning. Teachers who understand how the brain works and who love and share their passion for learning will engage their students; learning is at best infectious.

Most successful school activities contain most of the above and most have been known by creative teachers for decades. It has always been the way humans have learnt when they are provided with the appropriate conditions.

The future is here, as Gibson wrote, it is just that it is unevenly spread.

Creating brain friendly learning is not brain surgery!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The da Vinci Code

  Posted by Picasa Leonardo da Vinci is generally regarded as one of the great geniuses of all times. His gifts seem unlimited and extended into all areas of human knowledge – art, science, architecture, music, engineering, court entertainering (‘events arranger’) inventing and philosophy.

Today we ‘image’ him as an old man but in his youth he must have been an impressive individual.

What not may be known to many of us is that, because he was illegitimate, he was not permitted to go to the schools of the day. Instead he was given an apprenticeship at Florence’s most renowned workshop but he soon outshone his masters. He was happy to bi pass the current curriculum of the day, Latin and Greek, and immersed himself in observing every facet of his immediate environment and in the process escaped from and challenged the narrowness of current teachings.

Considered to be the ultimate ‘Renaissance Man’ he was capable of turning his questing mind to anything that caught his attention or imagination. We have his workbooks to prove it. He has some pretty simple idea to follow – observe and question everything, draw or record your findings, and realize ideas through modeling and making, or by using the imagination.

He was a man for his time and for our own. Indeed some people call our current era the beginning of the 'second Renaissance' – or the 'new era of ideas and creativity'.

We need to follow his example if we are to capitalize on the new understandings about learning and the immense power of information technology we now have available to us.

Imagine if we could design schools that could tap into the questing intelligences of the young people who enter our schools today so full of hope and imagination.

The trouble is that our secondary schools are locked into 'mindsets' that belong to an industrial era – ideas equivalent to Leonardo’s Latin and Greek. The industrial era has had a long run but the problem is someone forgot to tell the secondary schools where the 'factory model' is alive and well. These mental factories mass produce a narrow range of learning ( with equivalent 'waste products') in the process marginalizing the variety of individual talents and gifts of their captive students.

The current school ‘egg crate’ model is no place to prepare students for a fast changing global society they will inherit.

Imagine a school based on an updated version of da Vinci’s thinking.

Students would be working on projects that they are personally interested in, enriching their understanding by a cross pollination of ideas from every current learning areas (and some not yet even imagined). Students and their teachers (we would need a new name because many students, like Leonardo, would be in advance of their teachers) would be working be on projects at the edge of their intellectual competence, pushing their shared understandings to the full.

In this new world (for which we already have all the technology to achieve) the lines between disciplines, so persuasive in today’s schools, would be absent. The students would be involved in free flowing learning utilizing the various skills each weould bring to the learning situation rather than learning alone in mental competition with each other.

To achieve such 'free flowing' learning we would need completely new buildings to represent the new thinking. Schools would no longer look like ‘factories’ and become flexible ever changing 'communities of inquiry'. Just as it was difficult to decide if Leonardo was involved in art, science or philosophy so will the work of our future students.

Learning in modern day da Vinci school, with what we know about how students learn and with the amazing but as yet untapped power of modern information technology, will have burst through the mental barriers that created the straight lines, bells, timetables and predermined curriculums of our current outdated system.

It will not be money that limits us but imagination and courage; imagination to be able to create schools as places of intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment. Once you begin to think about how creative thinkers actually work the ‘classroom as a factory’ metaphor will be seen as a mere enforcer of obedience and conformity.

To achieve such an imaginative possibility will require us to 'change our minds first' – but no matter, if we don’t, modern creative students, like Leonardo, will simply create their own curriculum and in the process change our minds for us.

Modern day Leonardos are out there already!

Develop talents - the future advantage.

  Posted by Picasa While the world needs the creativity of all kinds of minds school act as if literacy and numeracy – important as they may be – are all that counts; or is to be measured!

The irony is that many of our most creative people were not successful at school and many that were have collectively added little to the advancement of new ideas.

If we really want all our students to do well in life then it is important to find out what they are good at and then to help then extend their strengths because it is these areas that will provide meaning in their life as interests, or careers, or both. When you look around the people who seem happiest are doing what they love and actually enjoy their work. The unhappiest are those whose lives seem to have little meaning

Education, life and work should all be part of the same journey.

The most important thing about anybody is their strengths – what attracts their attention and keeps them learning. All of us are born with strengths but too few of us have the opportunity to develop them to full potential. This ought to be the main purpose of education. If students are not put in environment full of intellectual temptations to attract their curiosity then they may never have the opportunity to realize their potential.

Creating the conditions to develop students’ full range of strengths is the challenge of schools and teachers. Currently many schools actually limit or diminish students’ creativity and love of learning. The 20% currently failing are a thin edge of the wedge.

If we were to focus on students strengths and help them with what they need to work on we could take the pressure of what we call their weaknesses. It seems as teacher we have a 'deficit theory' about our students – 'they' need what 'we' give them to become educated! In our attempt to focus on students perceived weaknesses we all too often overlook their strengths.

When students are involved with what they love little can stop them – except it seems schools!

Imagine if we focused on students’ questions, concerns, and interests from an early age and then did our best to build and extend them. Learning and teaching would be creative. Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences could inform teacher decision making and planning and many projects could be introduced to make use of the variety of talents students have.

The teachers’ focus would be to see that students’ interests and talents reached out to include all the various learning areas, always with the thought there will be students who will be single minded. In most cases student curiosity will attract them to explore a range of ways seeing and expressing any problem.

As students progress through school an expanding profile of achievement and areas of interests could be developed and posted on school websites. Teachers would need to develop sensitivity in recognizing any affinity students’ show towards areas of learning. At first these might just show up by what attracts students in class themes - areas students keep returning to.

If students do not develop affinities towards areas of learning that attract them their future will be less than wonderful. Developing a passion for an area(s) of learning is the best predicator for a successful future.

By focusing on students strengths, not only are students learning to integrate a number of other skills needed to accomplish their chosen task, they are carving out for themselves lifetime interests and possibly a fruitful career.

One of the main goals of school must be to help students figure out who they are and waht they might possibly do in the future.

The key to the future - competencies or passionate learners?

  Posted by Picasa The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum document places great emphasis on ensuring all students achieve what they call ‘key competencies’ – a clumsy mechanistic phrase in itself originating from a long winded OECD Report.

The competencies, the Ministry says, are generic capabilities needed in particular situations and for everyone to ‘lead a good life’. I have no particular argument with the hardly original competencies they have decided upon - they are all very worthy – managing self, relating to others, participating and contributing, and thinking.

I however have two concerns.

Already the Ministry is working with groups of schools to develop ideas about how to assess these competencies. It will be case of the blind leading the blind – or academics leading the contracted. I can imagine a lot of time and energy being wasted in the task and, in the process, the positive aspects could well be swamped by the attempt. We have been in this assessment dilemma before with the futile attempt to assess the more easily defined learning objectives. The key competencies, or future attributes, cannot be so easily measured – or rather so precisely measured. Why bother - must everything be measured?

My second concern is more important. Are the creative and innovative people that have the potential to change our world in any field, artistic or scientific, examples of citizens who exemplify such competencies? I think not. Such people are idiosyncratic and often lack the niceties that we might like them to have – but they have inventive qualities no society can do without.

A student with all the key competencies might make an ideal compliant citizen but missing might be the individualistic ‘spark’ to make a real difference.

What is missing in the ‘new’ curriculum is an emphasis on developing the talents, passions and interests of all students. I guess these are qualities that don’t fit into the job descriptions of the Wellington technocrats. If we are to be a creative country then such an emphasis ought to be made central to education.

Currently too many students leave school with little to show for their time while others have lost the eagerness to learn that they entered school with; their love of learning dulled by a need to achieve and consume what teachers feel they ought to acquire. The phrase ‘love of learning’, included in an earlier draft, has been excluded in the final document, yet this love, or passion to learn,is what marks out creative people in any field.

Education ought to be about helping a student craft a life not worrying about what they ought to be able to do, or, worse still, focusing on what they can’t do. We need to develop students with ‘laser like intelligences’ rather than dull well rounded individuals who happily fit in with current expectations.

In the future people will find satisfaction by using their specialized talents to develop careers and such people may well have ‘competencies’ that might actually get them into trouble in some schools.

Instead of a deficit paradigm (students being saved by our curriculums) we need to personalize education and develop every individual’s potential mix of talents and skills. If we teach to students strengths it will help students see themselves as individuals and, in the process, help them respect others for their differences.

Even within teacher designed topics students’ particular interests can be recognized and utilized but ideally studies could ‘emerge’ from students own, curiosity, questions and concerns.

If students own interests and strengths were recognized and valued, and if they were helped to extend their strengths, then current problems of engagement and behavior might well become insignificant.

We need to ensure that the special talents (and even some anti social behavior) are not overwhelmed by a desire to ensure all students develop the well rounded competencies that are a feature of the ‘new’ curriculum.

Just think about the people who have made a difference in life – and how many of them found school irrelevant.

Talent developmentshould develop competencies and not the other way around!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The power of personal writing

  A well designed example of a year 8 student's work.At this school all students develop a journal that they take home at the end of their time at school.Something to be proud of. Posted by Picasa

I have always believed that personal writing is one of the most important activities in a classroom if teachers want to develop an insight into students out of school lives.

If it is done sensitively the process allows teachers to develop open trusting relationships with each class member. If it is to be successful the teacher really needs to value the ideas of his or her students otherwise it becomes just another imposed activity which students will soon tire of.

The most important reason of all lies within the students own consciousness by developing, in their minds, a strong sense of identity and self worth – and hopefully an identity as a writer. If done well students will come to appreciate the power of writing as both a means of expressing important ideas and to gain the respect of others.

A simple process to use could be:

Ask the students to think of an event in their past (or the weekend) that made them laugh, scared, delighted – a good story. If this is new process for the class share some small event that attracted your attention and share with them. You might like to share something with the class from your own childhood or simply a small observation you might have noticed in the environment.

The point you want to make is that you want from them is a few thoughts about a small felt experience rather than another long boring story. This is a chance to develop the idea of quality or excellence in their minds.

Before writing anything get the students to list ( or 'mindmap') a few possibilities for stories and then to select the best one. Get them to think about what they were thinking, what exactly happened, when the events selected occurred. Possibly get them to share their stories orally in small groups.

This might be all you can do on day one – the ideal is to produce a finished copy by Thursday for sharing on Friday.

Before students start to write you might discuss some ideas to keep in mind (I guess called criteria today).For example: pretend you are back in the situation and to write as if you were there; start with a powerful sentence not, ‘Last week’; use words to make good 'word picture'; or think of a title for your writing before you begin that does not give the story away.

Students then draft out their ideas while the teachers go around (to students in most need first) helping students to value their own ‘voice’ by asking questions about what happened etc. Students have to learn to recognise a 'good story'.

When drafts are completed the finished copies can begin, either by hand or on the computer.

If students have been taught how to developed ‘focused’ illustrations these may be added (or even digital photos). Children can study illustrations in school journals for inspiration and also to develop page design ideas.

When finished students can share their writing in groups and the teacher might like to ask selected students to read their stories to the class. It will be important for students to know that they have the right to keep some of their more personal stories to themselves and only to be shared in confidence with the teacher. Teachers might also like to share ‘minor excellences’ that students have written that might otherwise be lost in the total story.

Teachers should select work to be read that celebrates the diversity of student 'style and voice'.

One a term, or so, students can choose work to be compiled into a class book to be sent home to share with parents. Work can also be published on the school website.

Over time a community of writers will develop and some stories will become class favourites. And the process of writing will also contribute to reading development – reading their own writing allows them to see themselves as authors. Sharing adult stories during language time is another way to provide inspiration.

Best of all the students will appreciate the power of story telling and writing.

Some students may even become writers.

The process is outlined on our website and, as well, there are themes to inspire students.

A process

For young students


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Winter day poem - and teaching beliefs

  Posted by Picasa I was interested to read in Reading Forum No 2 06 Murray Gadd's article on ‘What’s Essential in the Teaching of Reading and Writing’.

I was only concerned with the writing aspect although I agree with the author that reading and writing are a reciprocal processes. All too often writing is a poor cousin in many classrooms.

The article was centred on a piece of writing called ‘Winters Day’ by Billy, a year four student and the teachers skill in helping Billy write such a piece.

A Winters Day

‘Goosebumps went up my arm. The wind whistles a tune in my ear. Grey clouds look like beards surround me. Tired trees cling on to pinecones. All the birds flee. My hands as stiff as stone. The grass sends shiver up my spine. Blue streaks rush through the sky. Trees sway from side to side. Now that’s a winter’s day.’

I wouldn’t’ know if this was written from observation or compiled after intensive thought suggestions by the teacher. The author says Billy’s teacher was pleased because he could convey ‘a picture in words clearly and vividly’ and, ‘used some wonderful imagery’.

The author writes about how the piece of writing comes about. It arose from a year 4-6 syndicates cross curricular study of ‘The Seasons.’ I do wonder why all classes are studying the same topic but that is another issue. The best writing of this sort often arises after students have become aware of a dramatic sensory experience they have experienced.

The teacher had shared selected poems on the theme of winter and had taken the children outside to use their senses and to note all the signs of winter. In class phrases from their observations were discussed and shared writing was used to demonstrate the process. Students were then encouraged to craft and redraft their ideas to convey ‘word pictures’.

All good practice as long as it is not overdone. One would have to see the writing of all the children to see if this was the case. It does concern me that the over use of process in art and writing is losing the individual students personal voice and style.

What concerns me is the author’s insistence that the quality of the piece of writing was due to the teachers knowing the ‘relevant curriculum documents’ and what her students ‘might be able to achieve for each strand and achievement objectives.’ This teacher, he writes, has evidently ‘unpacked all levels 1-3 achievement objectives into instructional goals that can be shared with her students.’ And her classroom was filled with exemplars defining expectations.

Then we get around to intense observation and recording of what each child can do and learning goals defined for and with each learner.

Does it all have to be as complex as this?

I have known creative teachers, vitally concerned with each student expressing their own voice, achieve such quality writing without all this reference to learning objectives, strands, learning intentions, success criteria, feedback (‘dollops of’) exemplars and obsessive observation and recording. These are important but they have almost become an ideology of their own!

You get the impression little quality writing would occur if teachers weren’t up to speed with all the current Ministry of Education advice – my feeling is that many teachers are simply swamped by it all.

The advice about writing given is still worth taking. That writing, ‘should be important to them’, be about an issue that ‘students feel strongly about’, or about, ‘a topic that really interests them’, and by making use of the ‘teachable moment’. One wonders though about four classes being interested in Seasons?

There was lots of good advice in the article but much that was claimed to be part of Billy’s’ writing I would wonder about. I did agree with the need for ‘meaningful, interesting and challenging contexts’. To my mind real, rich and relevant study topics are the heart of a purposeful classroom not the literacy programme. An over concentration on literacy (and numeracy) are, according to one UK educationalist, ‘gobbling up the rest of the curriculum’.

Perceptive creative teachers have always assisted their students achieve quality learning but never at the expense of student individuality.If the ‘student’ art I see on display in many classrooms is any example then there are issues to worry about.

It is claimed that Billy’s writing was a ‘result of his enthusiasm for reading and writing’ but, would it not be better, if it were because of his sensitivity and curiosity towards his environment as a result of his teacher’s guidance.

I guess it all depends on your point of view?

Monday, September 11, 2006

The 'free' curriculum

  Posted by Picasa Creative teachers should always be on the lookout for ideas to introduce their students to.

This time of the year it almost impossible to ignore the kowhai which is now in full flower.

The kowhai is an ideal integrated study that can involve many areas of the curriculum.

So if there is a kowhai near you this is the time to take your class out to take a close look at a native tree that we often take for granted. And as well, if you are lucky, you might also see that other native icon the tui.

Introduce the tree by bringing in few flowers for students to observe closely. Using a pencil or biro and a small piece of paper encourage students to draw what they see carefully; when finished their drawing can be coloured in with coloured pencils. There is an important learning lesson to be gained in the process. Students need to take the time and regularly look at what they are drawing. This seems obvious advice but all too often children look once and then draw from what they thought they saw. Close observation is a learnt skill – ‘slowing the pace of work’ is important if students are to gain a quality result.

After drawings ask the students what questions came to mind. Drawings, questions, and later their researched answers, can be part of a growing kowhais display.

Visit the tree and sit quietly by. Get the students to think of a phrase that describes the flowers, another about the trunks and branches and a third about the fallen flowers on the ground. These can be drafted up into simple three line haiku poems to add to the display. Some children will need a little help to learn to value their own ‘voice.

When at the tree think about how you could measure the height, the ‘drip line’ ( the distance from the trunk to the outer branches) the circumference and, back in class, pull apart a flower and count the petals, the stigma and the stamens ( after you have sorted them out yourself!). Work out the function of the stamens and the stigma.

Collect up a 100 kowhai pods and in group remove the seeds noting how many seeds in each pod – leading to developing ideas about percentages.

Try germinating some seeds. Soak some for few days, burn a few pods and recover seeds, carefully chip a few seeds, and plant some just as they are. Plant 10 of each and work out percentages that germinate.

When flowers eventually lose all the petals and stamens tie a piece of cotton to the remaining stamens and measure growth over a week or so. Graph the results. You will be suprised.

If possible introduce children to other leguminous plant flowers (beans, peas, etc) and help them understand that plants are classified by their flowers and not their shape.

As the study processes students could research up information about the Maori and scientific names and whatever else they can research.

A concluding activity could be doing a larger drawing of a tui feeding on a kowhai (you will need some photos of tuis to refer to). Use pastels to colour in.

The ideas above are only suggestions but indicate all sorts of possibilities for students to use during other environmental studies.

In the process of such simple study you will have developed your children’s awareness and knowledge, used ‘real’ maths, and extended their vocabularies.

After such an experince keep your eyes open for other environmental or seasonal possibilities to introduce to your students.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Teaching in the Third World.

  Posted by Picasa Teachers seem to spend a lot of time devising intricate systems to 'deliver the curriculum’ to their students to ensure that adequate 'coverage' can be shown.

The more detailed they pre-plan such curriculum simply means that whatever the students are interested in is ignored. Teachers, to combat this, sometimes ask their students for questions they want to explore and then ‘design’ a curriculum around such concerns.

More innovative teachers ( brave enough to ignore preplanned units) have the ability to pick up on areas of student interests and are then able to extend such concerns into in depth studies. They are also intuitive enough to be able to provide experiences that they know will tempt their curious students to explore.

Some ‘experts’ say, with the explosion of knowledge, that the process of finding out is now more important that what is being learnt.

All too often these considerations are irrelevant as today many teachers are so overwhelmed implementing imposed literacy and mathematic initiatives (and assessing and recording students’ growth) that they simply have no time and energy to worry too much about the remainder of the curriculum, which is now limited to whatever time is available in the afternoon.

This is shame.

Philosopher Karl Popper talked about three worlds.

The first is the world of things; the second is the world of the inner self; and the third is the world of things created.

Too much learning today is about the second world of processing ideas. At school students process ideas about reading and maths, and other experiences, but seem to produce little lasting meaning – the third world. The walls are full of bits and pieces representing the second world (often produced by the teachers) but in my experience it is hard to find significant expressions of what students have made or created using these processes. And, where you do find it, the students work is shallow and derivatory – all too often clone like lacking creativity, due to an obsessive use of imposed criteria and teacher ‘intentions’. All to often, 'higher order thinking for thin learning'.

Whenever teachers help students develop quality work, in any area, that can be seen or discussed is an opportunity for students to gain insight from others and, most importantly, pride of recognition and achievement.

Classrooms need to be seen as ‘communities of inquiry’ – following up, what one educationalist calls, ‘fertile questions’. Rooms ought to be full of 'rich, real and relevant' studies done rigorously. Exploring ideas is serious fun and should result in all sorts of ’artifacts of the third world’; anything worth doing is doing well.

We need to see our students as: potential scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, writers and dancers etc. Teachers are, in this respect, talent scouts’, appreciating that their students have multiple talents to be discovered and extended.

And such teachers know that not only do their students need to study their questions in depth but that they need to be helped to express their ideas well. This means that choices have to be made but with a whole class involved there are plenty of minds to do the exploring and expressing. The results of this collaborative study (the 'third world') ought to be celebrated on the classroom walls, available through information media, and in their book work.

What we need are creative teachers who, while happy to assist with skills and techniques, understand the power of created meaning.

If you can’t see quality students’ poetic writing, research findings (about the questions they have selected), and inspirational art, then it is just another classroom. We are not talking about brightly 'decorated' rooms – we are talking about work that students have gained continuing meaningful satisfaction and pride of achievement from.

This is the missing aesthetics in education. Aesthetics is the merging of students’ thoughts and feelings with what they have produced. The ‘third world’ creations are tangible evidence of students’ existence.

Many students will keep their achievements forever – even if only in their minds.

Imagine if our entire school system was dedicated to discovering the strengths and talents of all students rather than limiting themselves to literacy,numeracy or learning how to learn processes.

Let’s teach in the ‘third world’.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A world to explore, study and express


When students are given the time and encouraged to notice the small scale events in their environment questions emerge to become the basis for intensive integrated studies and expression - this case art. But what is expressed must be done well - it represents the result of learning for the individual student -something to be proud of. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Before the word the experience

 Sensory awareness - the missing basicPosted by Picasa

Common threads run though my blogs about teaching and learning.

One is that teachers ought to be focusing on developing all their students as open curious learners with the attitudes and skills to follow up areas of personal interest to them.

This is in contrast to ‘delivering’ a curriculum to students because experts somewhere have decided it is good for them. I believe if teachers tapped into students’ interests and areas of concern ‘personalized’ curriculums could be ‘designed’ that would be more valuable to the learner. And when teachers ‘uncover’ areas of interest teachers and students can work together to ‘co-construct’ knowledge that is personally relevant to the students. In this way an in depth challenging curriculum ‘emerges’.

Such in depth studies would be a contrast to the superficial studies all to often seen. This superficiality is, all to often, the result of teacher time and energy ( and assessment requirements) being taken up by imposed literacy and numeracy requirements.

When ‘fertile’ questions are chosen to explore they should be studied in depth to allow students to internalize an inquiry approach and to see connections between other areas of learning.Students ought to be encouraged to express their ideas in variety of ways. Whatever is studied, or expressed, ought to push students to the limits of their understanding and perception.

Classrooms ought to reflect the results of students’ curiosity and expression; in my experience this is not the case; they all to often reflect the teachers curriculum.

Extending this idea teachers should tap into the personal life experiences of their students as the basis for oral language and personal writing and for this, in turn, to become the basis of literacy development.

Teachers need to appreciate that ‘before the word comes the experience’ and that the first books children experience ought to record and celebrate children’s own ideas and thoughts. If this were done they would come to see books an extension of the same process; work of other authors. The valuing of students life experiences develop in students minds that teachers really care for them as individuals. The valuing of students ‘voice’, or identity, is the means to develop positive learning relationships based on mutual trust and respect.

An area largely neglected in school these days, and closely related to their curiosity, is even more basic; helping students to retain their sensual curiosity about the natural world. From such sensory experiences questions for studies and ideas language and creative expression evolve.

Learning to appreciate the subtle changes and the small scale environmental changes provides the source for both scientific exploration and artistic expression. All the senses need ‘educating’ and this process will develop a powerful vocabulary and ideas for students to make use of. With the senses fully ‘educated’ a learning curriculum becomes available as students learn to notice and wonder about all they see. Motivation would not be a problem.

The challenges students face up to, in researching their own questions, developing their sense of ‘voice and identity, and developing a life long awareness of their environment through their senses and imagination, have been the basic challenges of humankind since the beginning of history.

The need to make personal meaning and to express thoughts goes back as far as cave drawings, dance, music and story telling. Learning and expressing ideas are what makes us human.

By imposing: our curriculums, ignoring their voice, cutting literacy off from student’s reality, allowing superficial thinking, and by assessing students how well they do on what others feel is relevant, may well be the reason why so many learners 'disengage' from the school learning process.

What teachers ‘deliver' simply makes little sense to many students.

Education ought to be about retaining that love of learning which the basis of a fulfilled life.

It is this passion to keep learning alive that is being lost in our industrial age school system.

The answers seem obvious. Change the schools to allow natural learning to thrive.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A process to develop a School Vision

  A vision is like a 'force field' of shared beliefs that 'atracts' people to work together particularly in times of crisis. Posted by Picasa

I was asked recently about some ideas about a process of helping schools develop a shared vision.

I think the important statement is helping the school to develop their own vision. It is all too easy to adapt one, or for the principal to impose one (after a shallow process of collaboration) but, unless all involved feel they have some stake in it, it will not really make much difference.

'Ownership' is the key thing in any learning.

The following is a simple but powerful process to 'tap the wisdom' of all involved but one that demands shared leadership, particularly by key people in the school – and of course total commitment by the principal. All involved must see the benefit of developing such a vision and be determined to see that it is reflected in the: values the school believes in (as seen by behaviors of students, teachers and parents); and the agreed teaching beliefs of the school.

The final shape of the vision, values and beliefs might not be finalized for a year or two and will only be seen to be imbedded through the actions of all concerned. As such it needs to be reviewed regularly and monitored to see how well it is being implemented.

If it is not seen as the most important aspect of the school by all it is not worth doing. Many visions, as impressive as they may look, count for little. The visions can only be seen in the actions of all involved. Developing this alignment is the role of leadership.

Vision provides direction
Values acts as a moral ‘compass’ to ensure behaviors are appropriate
Beliefs determine the action to realize the vision.

Before you start you might want to have a discussion in small groups about what future attributes will students need to thrive in an ever changing but potentially exciting future? Think back to what might have been expected when you, your parents, or your grandparents entered the workforce. After this discussion pass out the diagram on page 8 of the 2006 draft New Zealand Curriculum.

The question to ask in groups is: What ideal schools do you want to create? What is your dream school? The school you would want to teach in, attend or send your children to? Do not be limited by how schools look today. A vision should be challenging.

Appoint a group leader and a recorder and follow the process of brainstorming and 10:4 voting outlined below. This process ensures all individual have a say ( not just the outspoken ones) and that ideas are judged by their merit.

Go around the group, each person in turn to offer a statement or to say 'pass'. No discussion is to be allowed and all thoughts are written on a whiteboard. When ideas are exhausted similar thoughts can be combined but only if those who contributed them agree. Point of clarification may be asked about any points but can only be answered by the person who contributed the idea. These 'ground rules' need to be adhered to keep the focus.

At this point each group member has 10 votes they can put along side any of the suggestions. They can only use 4 votes at time (this means three rounds) and can spread their votes or place all four against the idea they like best.

After three rounds all their votes will have been used up.

This might be enough to do at one meeting. From what has been presented a group could be nominated (the group leaders?) draw the ideas together to draw up a Draft Vision. This could be later be shared with everyone who can then make suggestions as they see fit. Changes can be made but at some point the draft vision needs to be accepted and agreed actions taken to implement it. This could be part of the School Annual Development Plan or ongoing Strategic Plan. The process needs to be reviewed at a set date (before the beginning of a new year?).

The ideas suggested by the groups will provide phrases to develop a Vision Statement, ideas for School Values and also some basic Teaching and Learning Beliefs.

It is a useful idea to select out a key phase to represent the vision. This acts as a motto for the school. A Maori saying is one idea, or an idea related to the schools name, or a reference to a local geographical feature. Often a key phrase will be one of the suggestions. If not have small competition to think of one.

A group might be formed to develop a Values Statement and could review the values listed on page 10 of the Draft 2006 New Zealand Curriculum and, if felt necessary, changes made. Later on you might like to list the behaviors you want to encourage in your teachers (add to performance agreement), parents, and students (use for assessment) and to develop into charters for each

A similar group could develop a school Teaching and Learning Beliefs or Principles from idea suggested and could refer to the Principles on page 9 and the Key Competencies on page 11 and effective Pedagogy on pages 24 25.

Specific Teaching Beliefs would need to be drawn up by the teaching team to realize the vision, values and learning beliefs /principles. A brainstorming and 10: 4 voting process could be used by the teaching team as well. If possible teaching beliefs should be listed under five or so points for easy reference – one again this could be 'pulled together' by a small group to be presented back to the staff and, when agreed to, to the Board of Trustees. The beliefs then become the teacher’s performance agreement and the basis for continuing professional development.

An assessment statement could also be added by referring to page 30 of the Draft NZC

This brainstorming and voting process is an ideal means to tap into the 'shared wisdom' of all involved.

Whatever is developed ought to be seen as a 'work in action', continually being reflected on, used as a basis for decision making, and monitored as part of the normal School Review process.

When finally agreed to it ought to be professionally designed and communicated to everyone involved in the school.

There are ideas and examples of school visions to be seen on our website.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The teachers role in the creative process.

  My Cat - Student Age 6 Posted by Picasa

Authentic problems are not hard to find if you listen to your students and enter into dialogue with them. Perhaps some favourite dog or cat has died. An older brother or sister is getting married. A new baby has been born. A grandparent is very sick. Dad has bought a new car. A tree has burst into bloom. There has been a flood.

They mightn’t sound like a curriculum but they are things that really matter, they cause anxiety or delight, and need a resolution. This is the reality of the children in your classroom but how often do you see this world celebrated?

For creative teachers this is the essence of powerful language, art, science and ethical issues. They are personal and significant encounters with the real world. They are the ‘real’ curriculum and provide ready made inspiration for children to explore and express their ideas.

It is what follows that is important. To help the students identify their concerns, to expand and elaborate their ideas and to then help them express it in whatever form they choose. This process will involve dialogue between the learner and the teacher leading to student choices about which aspects to focus on and how to express the ideas generated.

For example if it involves the death of a pet then there are feeling to explore. Such a meaningful situation provides an ideal opportunity for a teacher to develop an empathic relationship with the student – and, since it is an event most children will have experienced, the whole class might also become involved.

At this expansion and idea generation stage students explore, read, and discuss the issue.

Following this comes the issue of finding the right form to express their thoughts: they might wish to write thoughts about it, or do some preliminary sketches, perhaps using a photo of their pet as reference. They might reflect on, and share, stories about their pet. All this makes public their concerns and helps then remember and develop the significance of the event.

To make the issue significant we need slow down the process of exploring and expressing so as to assist in the enrichment of whatever is being produced – a report,a piece of language, or art. Important choices will need to be made. The teacher might also introduce adult poems, or writing expressing ideas about a similar event – or show examples of art.

As part of this interaction, or dialogue, students may open up new lines of enquiry but will finally settle on what they are going to explore or create.

Once the best means to express the idea has been settled on all the ideas previously discussed, talked about, or sketched, can be focused on committing the idea chosen to realization.
The role of the teacher now shifts to helping the learner make the transition from idea to reality. Making personal statements in any art form is never easy and some children will need real support. Teachers will have to steer a fine line between eliciting but trying at all times to preserve the child’s natural imagery (or ‘voice’ if it is a poetic statement).

There is always a danger of a premature leap to execution and often the teacher needs to enter into dialogue when students seem to be stuck. Some students may need to be helped to develop the courage to ‘have a go’, to take risks, and to see their ‘mistakes’ as learning opportunities. If advice is given students still need to make the final choices. In the process of creating the teacher might help the child select and organize the imagery chosen or to help the child focus on the most powerful aspect. Teachers might also help students with using the medium chosen. In all cases the teacher needs to present an accepting non judgmental atmosphere if true creativity is to be allowed to flower.

It will possibly take several days to complete a big piece of work, particularly if it goes through a series of creative revisions. Teachers will need to become experts at reviving interest when students’ energies flag – an important lesson to be learned is that quality work is not always easy and often requires effort and persistence. Many children have learnt to quit too early and many teachers have become accomplices in developing this attitude. The reward of completion is yet to come. At some point the work will be seen as done – and at this point many ‘lessons’ will have been internalized for next time!

The hope is that all students will finally be able to present a piece of sustained creative work that will be recognized as in their style.

The culmination of the project may result in a display of a range of creative work in different media and might also include the research involved as well. The finished product has allowed the child to confront and express his or her feelings and to share them with others. This sharing is important and could involve students giving each other critical comment as fellow artists (or writers, or scientists). Evaluation has been implicit through the whole process and important values will have been quietly absorbed by the students. Teachers have also been able to note which children are risk takers, choice makers, sharers, carers, listeners, and those who are willing to discuss personal concerns.

Process and product are equally important. The children are learning important lessons at all stages from, how to focus on ideas, and then to how to present them. They will learn the importance of respecting other people different interpretations. They are also learning that if a thing is worth doing it is worth doing well. When the piece is completed they will have learnt to confront an experience, to reflect on its meaning, and report, or express, what they have learnt to their peers. The teachers’ interaction throughout will develop a model of learning (from idea generation to completion), and also builds up a positive relationship with each individual and, in turn, develop a class culture of mutual respect.

When such powerful work, from such a diverse group of talented students, is displayed on the classroom walls (and reflected in all areas of the learning) there is no doubt that there is real curriculum in action in the classroom.

And any visitor, or parent, will see a creative teacher in action who know how to help students achieve ‘their’ best work

The creative situation

  Posted by Picasa Thanks to teacher 'artist' Ray Stoddart who helped this student achieve this quality print.

Before you can be a teacher of anything you need to establish a certain kind of relationship with your students. A good relationship doesn’t result because you desire it; it grows out of what you do and especially the way you respond to what the children do.

Teachers can plan before they meet their students but if you want them to see their learning as relevant you need to involve them in this planning. Through this involvement the likelihood that you will develop positive relationships with them will emerge

Real planning with children involves real freedom for them to decide questions that are genuinely important to them. Consequently, planning with children calls for you to master a dialogic technique to uncover their needs and your professional concerns about the possible terrain that learning is to cover.

To teach anything you have to talk with children not at them. True dialogue is not random conversation; it grows out of a special kind of perception. Teachers have to listen, or look for, a spark that can be kindled. Out of the dialogue an intense awareness of something you and the learners want very much to know or do emerges.

Students, at first, might only have vague ideas, intuitions and interests but through dialogue real problems will emerge that will need resolution. Skilled teachers become experts at, what Jerome Bruner calls, ‘The canny art of intellectual temptation.’ They develop an understanding of what truly concerns their students, become aware of their students potential talents, and from such small beginnings a genuine negotiated curriculum evolves. Teachers need to think about what it is that might ‘connect’ with their students? What do their students care about now? How can their interests, concerns and questions connect with curriculum requirements?

It is easy to think you can provide a stimulating curriculum for your students but true learning can only be discovered in the process of doing thing that engage students attention. It is their learning not yours.

Whatever is chosen, teachers ought not to have in their minds what it is they want their students to achieve, except in the general sense. The current idea of teachers preplanning goals and 'learning intentions' runs counter to true creativity and individuality. Add to this an overuse of task criteria and creativity is almost certain to be lost. Powerful intentions can only be discovered in the process of creation.

If learning is developed through dialogue students discover that they have good reason to invest their creative energy. They see the problem as 'real' because it was not given to them but has grown from their concerns. This is 'ownership'.

Once a problem has been identified by an individual, or a group, or the class, there can be no cut and dried tidy sequence. Real learning is messy at best until solutions emerge and, even then, these solutions are only stepping stones for further discovery. If we worry too much about sequence, or whether we are covering the ‘right’ material, learning will suffer. The truth is that children, in the right environemt, cannot help but to be curious about the important human questions that comprise 'official' curriculums.

The key is to do what has been chosen in depth. When students are really involved teachers are fully engaged in helping their students confront and cope with the ideas they are struggling to give some shape to. True learning is a co-constructive activity – teachers and learners learning together, each challenging each other, providing feedback and advice as necessary.

The ‘artistry’ of the teacher is vital in such creative situations if all students are to produce work of personal excellence. Teachers encourage students to persevere and to learn from what might at first appearance look like ‘mistakes’. They encourage children to stop and reflect about what possibilities lie ahead and might suggest possible actions for then to consider. And they acknowledge and celebrate student creativity and insight.

How advice is given is crucial. Care must be taken to ensure students stay true to their own style. Teachers can, too easily, influence students so much that even students art become variations on a theme rather than a reflection of students creativity. When teachers over plan and over teach, true dialogue, which is a self correcting process, languishes.

Quality work (marked by student individuality in any learning area) is the product of genuine collaboration and respect for the ideas of the learner.

When students achieve work of personal excellence, powerful respectful relationships emerge. Even previously bored or disruptive students, children whose learning capacities have been damaged, will respond when they see what they can achieve.Involved students, busy trying to solve problem that they themselves have defined, are too busy to waste their time in destructive or attention seeking activities.

Developing such relationships, by tapping into the personal felt concerns and questions of students, and by providing challenges that are owned' are the key to personalized learning.

Learning must come from within, but it is only through dialogue, and by being in a respectful learning environment, that it can be realized.

Everybody only gets good at what they are good at. Expanding the range of areas to gain personal respect and pride of achievement is the challenge of creative teachers.

A 'love of learning' remains intact in such creative situations.