Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Criteria for a quality Classroom.

This wall display, seen in a year one room, indicates to visitors that the teacher values student's questions, their 'prior ideas' and doing art work to a high standard - simple stuff but effective.

The following was a 'list' I prepared a few years ago to define quality teaching. I have seen a number of schools that include it their 'best practice' books so I thought it was worth sharing.

Looking at it it seems to sum up the ideas that I feel are important and I am sure many teachers will agree with all, or most, of the points. I have added a few recent comments.

A quality classroom, or school, is one:

1 Where students are expected to set and achieve their own goals and who are able to show continual quality improvement in all their work.

2 Where teachers negotiate with their students what is expected and 'illustrate' those expectations by 'scaffolding' , modelling, demonstrating and 'thinking aloud'. I would add today that this must not be at the expense of individual student creativity which makes teaching an artistic endeavour.

3 Where students understand that quality is more important than quantity and where the need to do do their 'personal best' has been internalised.

4 Where students study topics in depth
to ensure understanding rather than trying to cover too many things superficially. Studies are best focused on achieving fewer things done well.

5 Where both teachers and students are aware of the strategies involved in any activity and students can express, not only what they are are doing, but why and how. Today this would be called meta cognition.

6 Where teachers negotiate criteria with students so they can self assess their own quality improvement
and set new goals as necessary. I would add, today, that it is important to ensure the criteria are open enough to allow student individuality and creativity.

7 Where classrooms are well organised so as to allow both intensive teacher interaction and independent student activity
. Paradoxically creativity thrives best in emotionally safe and predictable rooms where risk taking is encouraged.

8 Where room environments not only illustrate quality student thinking and creativity across the curriculum but also show the processes involved
. The classroom walls express the 'message system' of the class

9 Where class/school values are clear and the norms for communal behaviour owned by all. The concept of making the 'best choice' in any situation and then to consider possible future actions 'next time' is an important understanding.

10 Where the school and teachers ( and the students themselves) selectively monitor student progress using agreed indicators. Care must be taken to ensure that data collection does not eat up the time and energy necessary for creative teaching.

11 Where the expectation is for all staff members to review themselves against agreed school expectations to ensure teacher professional development is in line with the schools vision and goals.Once again individual teacher creativity must always be valued as much as is possible.

12 Where the expectations and values of the school are not only shared by teachers and students but equally importantly by the parents and the wider community. Real strength would be realized if groups of schools were to agree to work together, to share expertise and ideas, but to still value the individual creativity of each school. Harmonious diversity.

For Action plans to achieve the above.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Learning is about consructing meaning.

Marie Clay - more than just about reading.

In most teachers mind mention Marie Clay and they think of Reading Recovery. To me, I attribute to her the remark that, 'if a child hasn't learnt to learn something we haven't yet found the way to help him or her' or that, 'all children will learn with the right task, the right help and enough time'.

Marie Clay was 'constructivist' or more accurately a 'co-constructivist' believing, like such researchers as Jerome Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky that students create their own meanings and that this is best achieved by sensitive teacher interaction, always leaving the responsibility of learning in the child's hands. Holdaway (79)calls this need to make meaning a 'semantic drive' - one that it put at risk by insenstive teachers who do not value student creativity as the source for all learning.

I was pleased, many years ago, to read an article by Marie Clay in which she wrote about the importance of the creative arts in the learning process. All too often, as soon as children enter school, early attempts to write and draw are subsumed by an sect like obsession with literacy.

It may be time to redress the balance? In earlier, more creative times, it was common to see 'language experience' and 'related arts' approaches to learning.

According to Marie Clay many students enter schooling with skills of drawing and beginning attempts to write in place. As they draw things that caught their attention ( environmental experiences or personal events) they at least added their names. As children drew they formulate , with teacher support, ideas they want to add to their drawing, creating in the process their first reading books. Such books were first created by Sylvia Ashton Warner in the 50s and by Paulo Friere, working with illiterate peasants in Brazil. Creative teachers made sure that these often poetic and imaginative thoughts, when scribed, were not translated by teachers into neutral 'readingese'; in the process losing their sense of 'voice'.

Drawing can be seen as a creative activity in their own right, according to Marie Clay, or as 'aide memoire' to develop their ideas in their mind while they struggle with the message they want to express.

Such writings and drawings, and the conversation that go with them, imply that children bring with them their own ideas ( 'prior knowledge') to any learning situation . These ideas need to be respected by teacher. To develop vibrant integrated language arts programmes teachers need to develop their rooms as stimulating environments that acknowledge and build on the felt experiences students bring with them, as well as exposing students to rich environmental experiences and art media.

Marie Clay notes that many children would go unnoticed if it were not for the power of their poetic language and art.
Children she says, quoting from 'Wally's Stories' Paley 81, write 'delightfully and wisely for themselves'. Paley continues the teachers role is , ; to keep the inquiry open long enough for the consequence of their ideas to become apparent to them ...my goal ...is to give children practice in exposition as to improve their stories'.

This Marie writes is the approach used so successfully by Elwyn Richardson.Marie Clay was aware of the creative teaching of this pioneer New Zealand whom she quotes widely in the article as evidence of want we would now call a 'personalised' approach.

Richardson , Clay notes, values the culture of the child as a starting point rather than an imposed preplanned curriculum. It is an approach that values equally art forms, craft activities, movement, music, drama, as much as language expression. Local stories, oral story telling, and history are seen as valuable resources along with a full use of the local environment. The curriculum is there to be taken, for free; 'emerging' from students own lives, questions and concerns. Such a curriculum is non linear and recursive, revisiting issues of importance according to need.

Such a creative curriculum needs creative teachers confident and free enough to attend to the ideas and needs of their students.

Today few schools encourage such creativity.

If a co- constructive approach is not taken seriously by all schools little else will work and students will continue to fail.

Missing out on valuable learning experiences?

Close observation( a learnt skill ) results in quality thinking and expression.

A visit to many classroom will show that the students do not seem to be encouraged take advantage of their immediate environment as they might.

This is a shame for all sorts of reasons. Opportunities to develop environmental awareness and, in turn to uncover latent students interests, are missed. Teachers seem unaware of the possibilities their environment offers for exciting studies their attention and energy diverted by literacy, numeracy and the demands of ICT. The virtual world seems to have replaced the real!

An environmental trip, even if a quick visit to see a seasonal event, if used wisely, results in excellent language and other expressive work .

To take advantage of such experiences students need to be well prepared.
In class they need to be 'taught' to look closely at natural things brought into the classrooms. Photos are also very useful. They will need to be taught to 'slow the pace' of their work so as to learn to look carefully so as to notice patterns, shapes and colours. At the same time they can be asked to think what thing they are drawing reminds them of ( similies and metaphors in context) or what it makes them think about.During this process questions will emerge that may well become the basis for serious studies. The more students learn to see the more they will begin to think and the greater their vocabulary will be.

Slow observation drawing is an excellent activity for all ages, as it helps students focus their attention, notice details and to develop reflective thinking, all of which will be useful when the class leaves the room to observe outside. Teachers will need, at first, to encourage students to look harder and to invent marks to represent their observations. It is such interventions that result in important 'learning conversations' and eventually quality work

Many teachers complain that their students enter their classrooms with 'language deficits'
.Focused environmental experiences are surely one way to remedy this situation. Students of all ages an be encouraged to write and draw what they see. If students have trouble with writing ( because they are not developmentally ready or, all to often, 'turned off') their thoughts can be 'scribed' for later reading.

All students should be encouraged to explore and, in the process, learn to identify with their natural and man made environment.

Classrooms should display observations, thoughts, drawings , imaginative art and creative language based on environmental experiences. Classrooms should celebrate both students 'voice' and 'identity' and a sense of 'place' with their environment. It is from such experiences that later ideas of the importance of environmental sustainability will emerge.

Not only are such experiences the basis of class studies they contribute and enliven teachers planned language and mathematics programmes.

Most importunity they provide the opportunity for students to develop what may at this stage may only be latent interest and talents.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Back to basics - amplifying the desire to learn.

'Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science.' E.P Hubble Scientist .

'Youth is wholly experimental.' R.L.Stevenson Writer.

'It is our sacred responsibility to unfold and develop each individuals creative ability, as dim as the spark may be, and kindle it to whatever flame it may conceivably develop.' Victor Lowenfield Art Educator.

Humans are born with a desire to explore and make meaning of their experiences. They have an inbuilt desire to discover who they are and who they might become. With this in mind it is hard to understand why we have made education so difficult and in the process fail so many. Even those who 'succeed' often leave without ever finding their medium. Only if they are lucky will students ever realize the talents and gifts with which they were born.

At an early age they learn language, possibly the most complex learning achievement of all. This linguistic skill unfolds through a mix of innate ability, the need to communicate with others and the need to make sense of their experiences.

To encourage and amplify this desire to learn ought to be the focus of all teaching. It is all about about, what Guy Claxton calls, developing 'learning power' or 'learnacy'. This natural desire to learn can all too easily be frustrated, or subverted, by well meaning adults and, ironically, this subversion starts with vengeance when children enter school! At this point their 'voice', their questions, their concerns, their interests, their desires, become secondary to the planned curriculum experiences teachers 'deliver' to 'encourage' them to learn.

Over time teachers begin to believe that students cannot learn without the aid of a teacher or a school. To make things worse the whole school education experience is taken too seriously along with the associated need to plan, assess and record student progress. If teacher once believed in students natural desire to learn it is soon lost by the heavy hand the the imposed paternalistic education system. At an early age literacy and numeracy become all important. One writer says, 'the evil twins of literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'. What is lost in this cannibalistic process is 'learnacy', or agency, as students begin their long and often boring journey towards inevitable disengagement or at best acceptable achievement.

Just imagine a school that trusted students to learn. That saw teaching as capitalizing on the questions, concerns and interests that students bring with them to their classrooms. Imagine teachers who believed that all students were creative in their own particular ways and that their innate need to learn, and to make sense of things, was matched by an equal desire to express what captures their attention and imagination in a range of creative ways.

If this were the case then assisting students continue to 'educate' their senses, to see more , to hear more, to feel more, to imagine more, and to question more would be vitally important. In this process students would naturally to extend their verbal vocabulary and, where appropriate, write down their ideas. They would begin to read their own ideas and to involve mathematical expression as part of such a natural process. Learning was always integrated and inter-connected!

The teacher's role would be more vital (and creative) than ever to ensure students learn as much as they can from any experience. Teachers would need to encourage their students to focus on experiences, to think hard and to find words ( or drawings, dance, or maths) to express what they notice.

Teachers as Jerome Bruner writes, 'Would need to practice the canny art of intellectual temptation', and would, above all, need to respect the 'voices', ideas, talents and expressions of their students.

This would be return to the 'real basics' before schools, with their genesis in a now outworn industrial age, replaced this natural desire to learn with conformity, obedience and, today, measurable achievement.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Points of view from Mount Eden School

I was really interested to hear about how Mt Eden School had implemented aspects of the 'new New Zealand Curriculum ( see earlier blog) from principal John Faire and team leader Janet Moyle at a conference held in my home town of New Plymouth.

John introduced their sessions by saying, 'it is what happens in the classroom that count'! A good start to two very informative sessions. And his advice, re the 'new' curriculum was, not to rush, to take it easy, that we have three years to come to terms with it. Schools, he said, have 'three choices' - to 'bolt it on', to 'rewire the school', or to 'redesign the school', favouring the third approach.

With regard to the 'new' curriculum John said that for many it is a bit 'back to the future' and that the curriculum statements and accountability demands imposed since the early 90s had all but 'squashed out the creativity' that was to be seen in the 70s and 80s. I couldn't agree more! It is now he said, quoting from Stoll and Fink , 'about teaching and about time.' The front half of the 'new' curriculum he said approvingly is 'future focused' but the 'second half' is the 'same old same old'. John hopes that the more creative future focus is not lost by the continuing emphasis on specific learning objectives.

When it comes to the 'key competencies' John recommends that they need to be thought of of as attributes a graduate at year six might work towards. At Mt Eden they are displayed in every class as 'touchstones' to remind teachers and students of what future learners will need to have in place and to realize their school's vision of, 'every student to be wide eyed and enthusiastic about learning'.

The school sees the key competencies as a 'constellation of dispositions' appreciated by their 'net effect'. But, however they are implemented, they must not be seen, said John, 'as business as usual'. For secondary schools they would signal a revolution! It would be a shame , it was said, if the key competencies were to be atomized and then individually assessed - they are best 'caught not taught' and that this is best achieved if they are to be kept in mind during all teaching. It was recommended that teachers did not put then in a planning box to be ticked off while teaching!

For the 'new' curriculum to be successful it is easier if schools are convinced of their worth. And if schools are to develop successfully they must 'keep the main thing the main thing' and not get diverted by distracting demands. Professional development must focus on realizing school defined needs.

Mount Eden has set of 'generics' that underpin all they do.

1 The school has divided the curriculum into Foundation and Contextual Areas with health and PE, possibly art kept apart.

2 'Co-constructivism' is the way to go. Both Janet and John referred to the wonderful, but sadly neglected, ideas of the Waikato University Learning in Science Project (LISP). This is an approach where students' questions and 'prior ideas' are valued and where it is the teachers role is to interact to challenge students ideas.

3 Developing inquiry across the curriculum. Inquiry, it was suggested, is not a 'linear' process but a 'recursive' one as students continually reconsider their ideas. Inquiry learning includes the recent emphasis on teaching thinking but emphasizes both in depth content as well as processes. Teachers have to become skilled in helping students learn to ask and follow up their own questions and to value their own thoughts. 'Thinking' ( and multiple intelligences/learning styles etc) cannot be seen as a 'bolt on' - it must be linked to assisting students realize important learning.

Janet emphasized that inquiry learning needs to underpin maths tasks as well. Students need to see maths as a means of exploring relationships, seeing connections and, most of all, to think deeply. To do this teachers need to be 'comfortable' with maths content, at least two years ahead.

Inquiry, at Mount Eden is to be seen as a 'state of mind' as the school evolves into an 'inquiry community'.

4 Contextual studies are entirely open to each teacher's choice to determine. But such topic choices need to be made with explicit criteria in mind:, they need to be 'attractive' to the students, 'future focused', planned with a co-constructivist approach ( students as active partners), to value students thinking, to cover selected 'big ideas', developed with the key competencies in mind and assessed 'in situ'. 'Rich, relevant and rigorous' comes to mind or, as the speakers said, 'doing fewer things well, in depth' ( which does not, Janet and John emphasized, mean long 'woolly' units).

Students need to know their goals, feel 'confident about being a learner' see 'mistakes' as a natural part of learning and have the skills to communicate their ideas.

It is this depth of thinking about important ideas, with a balance between knowledge and strategies, that is all too often missing in schools today.

5 All studies are reviewed and reported on. Assessment is to be seen as integral to all aspects of a study and ought not to result in a greater workload. 'Slimline assessment' was discussed. As for learning objectives 'coverage' only team leaders checked on these. I did like the idea of 'drizzle' assessment, a little done each day based on focused observation. Assessment in literacy and numeracy are against agreed school benchmarks set for each level.

To conclude specific practical examples of in depth studies were outlined. Fascinating accounts were given of studies involving students research and presentation of ideas about their local mountain; studying the insides of our bodies; and human cells. Teachers were also encouraged to take advantage of any 'teachable moments' that arise.

For me it was 'back to the future'. This was the approach that was common before the technocrats imposed all the strands, level and learning objectives!

Janet and John sessions were all all about students 'grappling with real ideas and in the process having their attitudes and thinking challenged'.

Quoting Garth Boomer, John said, 'that principal ought to be the learning conscience of the school,'

Excellent stuff!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The 'new' curriculum and where to from here?

By the end of the year schools will have the final copy of the New Zealand Curriculum. Most schools will be enthusiastic but it is definitely a 'game of two halves'; beware of the fine print - the second half contains a few concerns.

I attended the New Plymouth Principals Conference last week.It was a great chance to hear the state of the game about the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum from 'those who know'.

There was no doubt it was a highly successful conference in every respect and those who attended gained a good picture of what lies ahead -and it mostly looks good. Below are some of ideas I picked up.

Mary Chamberlain from the Ministry ( responsible for overseeing the redevelopment of the NZ Curriculum) opened the ' learning conversation'. For Mary it was a return to her 'turangawaewae'. Born under the mountain she completed much of her teaching in the province. Mary acknowledged the reputation that Taranaki schools have for quality teaching and learning - one that goes back to innovative work of creative teachers in the 70s and 80s. She continued to talk about what motivates a learner to 'engage' them and encouraged us to build on students 'feelings, interests, experiences and personal lives'.

Quality 'messages' ought to be a feature of schools from the moment they hit the school gate. For many teachers the focal point of the 'new' curriculum, the Key Competencies, are 'not new but more so'. Key competencies remain unchanged but all will requite a 'stretch' to enable all students to develop 'self regulating strategies'. As for assessment Mary gave good advice, saying that assessment should be embedded in in realistic learning contexts and that we should avoid the temptation to develop a checklist approaches.

We need to focus on the 'dreams and passions of our students to ensure they have a 'happy and fulfilled lives.' We need to capitalize on those 'teaching moments' and provide students with the competencies and strategies to do so. Quoting Terry Crooks, she said we , 'need to trigger kids personal desire to learn so as to carry them through disappointments on the way'.

Students need to be seen as 'co-creators' in their own learning and be involved through 'learning conversations'. Changes to the NZC strengthen an inquiry model and make more explicit the learning objectives requirements ( the 'second half'). More about this later!

The Minister of Education challenged all educationalists to 'step up' and take a lead in the educational debate. Too many principals, he said, have been 'gun shy' the past (and whose fault is this!) Teachers need to see themselves as 'authorities on learning', to work towards 'educating their communities', and to focus on creating the conditions to develop challenging learning opportunities for all students.

Responding to criticism about the NCEA being seen as 'dumbing down' the curriculum he made the point that all students are gifted and and the NCEA allows schools to develop innovative programmes to challenge all students. It is a shame he can't convince either the general public or most secondary schools! The 'shift', he emphasized, is for all students and demand a new style of pedagogy to 'engage' creative students who, he said, all too often leave without being catered for.

I believe, if we want relevant and engaging education for both the creative and those who are currently disengaged ( approximately 20%), then the problem ought to be placed firmly in the secondary school court. Schools who seem only too happy to remain locked in their 19thC thinking and structures! - as do their conservative parents. The 'gap' between progressive primary and reactionary secondary educational teaching styles, it seems, is never to be mentioned!

The new curriculum , the Minister said, signals the need for a 'seismic shift'. In some secondary schools it will akin to 'teaching the dinosaurs to dance'!

The NZ Curriculum, he believes, is a 'future orientated' curriculum for changing times. The curriculum is to be at the 'heart' and learning is not, as it has been the past decades, to be driven by assessment. We are shifting towards 'personalised learning' which will dramatically change the styles of teaching, assessment and curriculum 'design'. The Minister acknowledged, that for many NZ teachers, this is not new but doing it well it is vital if we want to develop 'innovative, creative, self starting students'.In answer to a question the phrase 'personalised learning' will not be seen in the new curriculum! This seems a poor decision.

The Minister left us with a challenge as well
. As educational leaders we are not just leading in our schools but we need to be seen as leading the debate in our communities. To 'talk up' the development of the 'lifelong learning competencies' and to see education as the key to the success of NZ if we are to become a 'future oriented, caring and creative country'

Realism was provided by sessions from John Faire and Janet Moyle from Mt Eden School Auckland. To give Janet and John ( that sounds familiar) full credit for their inspiring and practical sessions I need to dedicate a separate blog to their contributions.

I did like their vision for their students 'to be wide eyed and enthusiastic about learning'. Mt Eden has developed the Key Competences as 'touchstones' that underpin all their teaching. They have developed a statement from the competences that they want all their students to achieve by year 6. They see the key competencies as a 'constellation of disposition's' best seen as a 'net effect'.

John mentioned that he thought the NZ Curriculum was a bit 'back to the future' and that developments since the 90s had all but 'squashed the creativity out of too many teachers' but he also emphasised the NZC did not mean 'business as usual'. John liked the 'future focused first half but said that it was 'the same old same old' at the back! He hoped that the 'front does not get lost by the lists of learning objectives at the back'! You have been warned! More of this from Lester Flockton.

I liked the Mount Eden emphasis on in depth inquiry studies to develop real student understanding. I see to few such studies when I visit schools -all too often all I see is 'evidence' that teachers use endless 'higher order thinking' processes which seems to result in 'thin learning'.

With regard to assessing the key competencies we were warned not to 'atomize' and assess all the bits. They are to be seen as 'pervasive' and, John believes, they should be 'caught and not taught.' I liked his 'assess in situ' as teacher 'co-create' learning with their students. 'Inquiry ought to be a 'state of mind' and set in a 'rich community of inquiry' across the curriculum. The school however needs to be able to articulate how their teaching is making a difference but this ought not be endless checklists.

John reminded us, as had Mary, that there is no need to rush the NZC .We have time to accommodate all the ideas as we gain confidence. This was to be further emphasized by Lester Flockton.

Lester Flockton ( who had been involved in the development of the NZC revision to contribute, I would think, a challenging 'voice') added to the realism provided by Janet and John.

Teachers should lead the profession and that 'best evidence' can only tell you so much. Be 'informed' by it but not necessarily led'. Lester believes in the self manging school concept but that to work it needs strong leadership. Leadership that can balance the all the often conflicting demands asked of schools. This requires, of leaders, informed professional judgement.

He believes we need to 'temper our enthusiasm' and to be careful of imposed 'learning packages'. 'Ownership' will be vital to the success of the new curriculum. To do so leaders need to take an informed responsibility. And we need to be informed as much by the excesses of the past as the promise of the future. All students need to be literate, able to relate to others and able to solve problems. Seemed like a good summary of the new requirements.

Schools need, Lester said, to develop their own visions within the NZC and to 'localize their curriculum's' as 'Janet and John' had demonstrated to us. To do this they will have to think hard about what is learning? How do students learn? What is the role of the school in learning? Learners learn all their waking hours and, he reminded us, that schools cannot overcome 'deep deficits'. Quoting James Popham he said, some kids are just lucky in their gene pool, their environment, their parents etc. It is a case of 'nature via nurture'. All students need to be 'ready, willing and able' to learn. All students need 'time care and respect'.'All students have talents to develop'.

Lester said there little to worry about in the 'first half' of the NZC except to avoid becoming an 'assessment junkie' re the competencies. With regard to they Learning Objectives however- the 'second half' - Lester firmly reminded us they 'are not going away'. Some of them are still nonsense but it seems politicians, and those who believe learning must be defined, have had their say. Schools, however may 'choose' their own objectives. Lets hope, like any 'appendix', they will be removed - but of course they won't. We will just have to be creative!

In full flight Lester gave us all a inspirational 'lecture' what it is to be educated: the need to develop 'spirit' in all students; to develop in all learners a sense of the aesthetic, saying that he disliked seeing the arts relegated to the edge as they were fundamental to human expression contributing to the richness of the human soul.

The ultimate realization of life 'is to achieve happiness' and this , he said, was not to be confused with instant gratification. Happiness does not require material richness but the 'realisation of ones aspirations, dream and gifts'. It is a continual and critical search for truth requiring ethical toughness and courage in world it seems in moral collapse. Teachers will need: 'vitality, courage, sensitivity, intelligence; they must love their students above all ( focusing on the child not the system); have 'know how, good relationships, high expectations; an openness to experience and considerable wisdom'.

Wow! Worth the entry money.

All in all a great conference! Well done New Plymouth.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Creative teaching

Elwyn Richardson - Pioneer creative teacher.

Author of 'In The Early World ' republished by NZCER

In the mid seventies Elwyn visited Taranaki to meet up with teachers who were interested in his ideas about creative teaching. I have just come across some notes I made during a talk he gave in 1976. His ideas still seem as relevant as ever.

Our latest 'new' NZ Curriculum sees students as, 'active seekers, users and creators' of their own knowledge. Our Minister likes talking about the 'latest' idea coming from abroad - 'personalised' learning. Sooner or later the emphasis will be placed on developing the full range of talents and intelligences of all students if we really want to be an innovative and creative country.

None of these 'new' ideas are indeed new. More old wine in new bottles. Below are my 'interpretation' of Elwyn's ideas, written at the time, but you will get the 'message'. My advice is to buy his book -and to imagine what he could have achieved with modern information media. I visit numbers of classes with lots of ICT 'bling' and 'higher order thinking skills' but with few products of genuine creative teaching to be seen.

Back to Elwyn's ideas.

'Normal' teaching, Elwyn believes, results in a loose commitment to teacher tasks and, as a result, many students develop a low level of achievement and personal satisfaction.

A 'good' classroom should develop in students a personal commitment to their learning. Teachers can do this through: talking, discussion, focusing students' attention, helping them look closely at things,by taking trips into the immediate environment, and by tapping their personal experiences. From such activities students develop ideas to research and share and emotional feeling to express through words, poems, paintings and other art media.

Such classrooms create a 'creative outlook' that values students ideas across all learning areas. Teachers in such an environment develop a 'master/apprenticeship' relationship with their students and do all they can to help them to plan their own activities. Teachers need to learn to value the experiences that students bring with them to school and to make use of such areas of interest in personal writing, literacy, art and, possibly, to develop studies around.

Teacher expectation is important. Students pick up feelings about what teachers value and what they expect; they are expert at reading the 'emotional atmosphere' of the room. True learning is learning how you feel about things and how to control, develop, or express your feelings appropriately. The best experiences are the student's own experiences. All too often these are ignored as teachers impose the own topics or subjects.

In some parts of the world some teachers have gone too far and make little contribution to helping their students develop their ideas. Elwyn believes there is a time for the teacher to contribute and that students need the security of a loose timetable with some fixed points. Too much freedom can lead to brand of anarchy.

(Today the problem is too much teacher input with : exemplars, criteria, objectives, testing, imposed 'intentions! and formulaic teaching, leading to well done but hardy creative products.The teachers role has become benignly oppressive.)

Elwyn believes strongly that students need to be helped to identify with their natural environment. To do this teachers need to collect natural things of interest and introduce them into their classrooms. By encouraging students to look closely at such things, taking advantage of their natural curiosity, students learn to make use of their senses, develop visual observational skills and become pattern conscious. Drawings and poetic thoughts will capture such ideas and will in turn lead to enriching students vocabulary and language facility generally. With such skills in place trips to the immediate environment become far more productive, children able to notice grass movements, patterns at the beach or bush, tyre marks and shells and to respond to them creatively.

( These is the experiences that far too any of our 'modern students miss out on.)

Elwyn expressed concern that due to learning becoming over intellectualized ( and therefore available to be assessed), that intuitive thought was in danger of being neglected. There was, he felt, a danger of learning becoming too conceptualized and that this would result in damaging students' intuition and creativity. That it would result in the neglect or downplaying of the creative arts.

(Which has happened)

Returning to the teachers role Elwyn said that creativity is not about letting students 'rip into things' Creativity , he said, has to be engendered - it is a way of resolving things; a kind of release. He mentioned a quote that said, 'We have no art we do every thing as well as we can'. About year three, he believes, children begin to identify with excellence and to learn from other children. We, as teachers, need to help students develop a sense of personal excellence.Teachers ought not be too good a judge.Talk about their art, or language, but be careful not to take decisions away from the students. Help them makes their own choices and to consider what they might do differently 'next time'. But, equally, don't be too weak a judge. Be positive, joyful,even jealous of their talents; allow yourself to speak. Our own education, Elwyn said, all too often has dammed our own aesthetic values.

Use the classroom environment to provide positive reinforcement of excellence. Display the best of each students work on the classroom walls. Publish their work. Be respectful of their thoughts. Talk with the about their work , get them to share it with others. Enjoy their creativity.

We need to help our students see beauty everywhere.We need to get our students out into their environment but, to do this, we have to be aware as teachers ourselves.

Elwyn concluded with a few things to do:

Read poems -enjoy the imagery
Read 'powerful' pieces from books
Be consistent.Stick to your ideas.Give children consistent experiences rather than to 'dabble' in activities. 'Do fewer things well' otherwise there is no growth.
Provide students with challenging problems across the curriculum to think about.
Intensify their observations by directing their attention to: line, shape, colour, texture to feed the imagination .We need to develop students perception.
Listen to the students - help them develop their own abstractions.
Reinforce personal excellence, pray for miracles and be grateful for small mercies.
Encourage students intuition.
Trust children - be broadly accepting.Have an open mind. Students will contribute and share their experiences if we give them 'permission' and they feel you are open to their ideas.

Too many of our students have been mis -educated, we need to help them find themselves through their own creativity.

( The challenge remains)

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The power of a different perspective.

Sometimes it is important to rise above day to day actions and to take a look from a different viewpoint. New patterns of thinking, of understanding and points of view just might emerge.

When things get urgent ( usually well after actions ought to have been taken) we are forced to change whether we like it or not. The secret to success is having the foresight to change before it is forced upon you. But this is always easier said than done.

In our biggest city, Auckland, after years of not facing up to the all too obvious growing pains, a Royal Commission has been set up to consider possible solutions.

Perhaps a bigger more urgent issue is to face up to the 'growing problems' of New Zealand? Evidence of dysfunction in our institutions, designed for an industrial age, are painfully seen in all aspects of our life. Designed for an age of 'experts know best' and 'top down thinking' they are simply unable to respond to current needs. All is obviously not well but until a sense of urgency forces change we will continue to 'patch up' problems with 'quick fix' solutions all to akin to 'moving the deck chairs on the Titanic'!

If there were to be a Royal Commission to consider possible future scenarios for New Zealand then all current organisations might have to consider how they would need to change to be able contribute to whatever is decided. One things is obvious,organisation developed to serve an industrial world will not be able to contribute to, what some are calling, 'An Age Of Creativity' or 'The Second Renascence'.

We are, it seems, in the middle of a dramatic shift in human thinking equivalent to discovering the world is no longer flat. The trouble is, so far, few people have risen above the clouds of their own actions to see the bigger view. 'The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear', a quote from Herbert Ager, Pulitzer winning author.

To develop an innovative and creative country education would need to be totally re-imagined to be able to pay a key role in such a transformation.
As Einstein said a problem cannot be solved by the thinking that created it. New thinking is required.

What beliefs would underpin schools dedicated to develop both caring and creative citizens?

We need an education system premised on the idea that learners construct their own sense of identity and that our role as educators is to create the conditions for them to be able to develop their talents, dreams and passions. It is the 'sad triumph of traditional schooling' that only a small number of both teachers and students can envision a better way of doing things. We only see what we have been taught to see and those who see differently pay the price for their idiosyncratic creativity.

Creative educational ideas ( as against traditional 'transmission' of knowledge) have been around for a long time but they have mostly been ignored. Ivan Illich, in 1971, wrote,'A good education system should have three purposes.It should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to learn to share what they know, to find people who want to learn it from them; and finally furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their knowledge known.'

Mind you Illich saw no place for schools as we know them. He was for 'de-schooing' - turning the community into a school. The Internet is realizing his vision!

Recently an old idea is getting new mileage - 'personalised learning' which, at it best, would prove every learner with their own individual learning pathway until they enter the workforce, or, in a more limited view, 'customising current education provision for each learner.

Such thinking, according to the late Graham Nuttal ( Cant. University), takes teachers into the 'hitherto hidden world of the learner...the world of the students own private world and experiences'. He writes that it is 'clear that just because a teacher is teaching it doesn't mean students are learning.' Teachers must know this but they seem unable to act on this well researched information. Better to do the wrong things well, it seems, than risk doing the right thing badly.

Another important realisation is that it is the total school culture that creates the most powerful 'curriculum'
. The 'messages' the school infuses into, often unwittingly, into all the experiences it offers, provides the material for the 'myths' that underpin every students actions - all too often for the worse! 'Culture Counts' as Russell Bishop titled his book about the experiences of Maori learners.

Learning occurs when students interests are tapped, amplified,extended and deepened. In such situations students will apply themselves with a determination that would surprise many teachers. Education at best is all about realizing the 'essence of the creative spirit' in every learner.

The teachers role in creative education is vital. Their relationship with their students will make or break their effectiveness.

They will have to become expert in helping their students dig deeply into topics that are of interest to their students and then to provide information and guidance to see that their students gain the satisfaction of creating something of personal worth. Teachers depth of content knowledge, combined with their repertoire of teaching and learning strategies, will be valuable to their students as they create their own understandings.

The curriculum will 'emerge' from the issues, concerns and areas of interests of their students. Students, of all ages, are driven by curiosity, challenge and the need to make personal meaning. When a topic 'emerges' it will be the teachers responsibility to build up the background knowledge of their students as they 'sink their teeth' into whatever excites them. Creative teachers will have to practice Jerome's Bruner's, 'canny art of intellectual temptation', to attract students to areas they feel is too important not to be covered. Teachers will have to work in teams, sited in flexible spaces, so as to access and share each others knowledge with their students. Information technology will be at a premium to explore areas of interest and to express what has been discovered, as will access to a full range of the creative arts.

The above ideas have moved away from much of what is currently seen in our schools but it is possible to see elements of all the ideas in practice in schools somewhere in New Zealand - and many are not new - they have just never been really applied.

Our new New Zealand Curriculum sees learners as, 'users, seekers and creators of their own knowledge'

Add to this the ideas of 'personalisation' and the need to focus on developing the talents of all students and the scene is set for dramatic change - only tine will tell.

A Hebrew proverb wisely says, 'Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born to a different time'.
Time to take a new perspective?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A school on the move!

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Woodleigh is another school where it is hard to choose photos to make a collage. A growing sense of pride and quality are features of Woodleigh - a school well on the way to becoming a quality school.

It was great to be able to visit Woodleigh School recently, taking with me visitors, to see what the teachers there had been achieving. We visited to see quality room environments and weren't disappointed.

Woodleigh is school that has had a new Principal for five terms. It was obvious that the new principal had ideas he would want to share but he is quick to state that the school was in great heart and any ideas he is introducing would be to 'add value' to current achievements. Having observed the 'new' principal as class teacher over the years his expertise would , when implemented with agreement of the staff and BOT , be of great value.

After spending most of his time taking stock of where the school was at, and reviewing school strengths and weaknesses with the staff, BOT and community, a new Charter was written to reflect a focus on, 'Creating a Quality Learning Environment'. Job and appraisal descriptions are aligned to reflect these new agreements.

The principal believes it will take the school 5 to 6 years to achieve the 'Master Plan' and, until it is achieved, the school will resist pressure to try involve itself in ideas imposed from outside of the school.

The agreed five point development plan is as follows:

1 It would be a whole school development.This to be based on strengthening teamwork to ensure consistency of direction, methods and goals. Creativity, risk taking and innovation would also be encouraged.

2 Focused teaching. Focused goals would be negotiated for individual students, by classes and for the whole school. These goals to be displayed and reviewed with students.

'Foundation skills' of literacy and numeracy would be defined - building on previous contracts the school had been involved in. Advanced problem solving thinking skills, emphasizing strategies, would be taught by 'scaffolding' assistance to develop students as 'responsible and independent learners'.

'Scaffolding' teaching introduces students to process steps until students can use them independently.

Classrooms would also emphasize enriched studies ( 'quality learning/authentic experiences') where the emphasis was to 'doing less but doing it well' - students studying 'rich' topics in depth.

Students would be taught to reflect on how well they were achieving the goals and tasks. Teachers to begin and end the day with a reflective period to share and review goals, highlights and achievements.

3 School wide standards. A consistent approach to discipline introduced to develop positive attitudes and values based on helping students learn to make the 'right choices'. Students to learn to reflect and to consider what they might do 'next time'.

Blackboards and whiteboards to be used so they can be actively used by students to aid their learning by displaying current learning intentions, daily timetables and group tasks. Student book design/presentation to be developed covering setting out, presentation and content. Quality work tables to be developed to display quality student bookwork to encourage 'personal excellence'.

4 Information and Communication Technology. This an area the school needs to build on. Ideally it is to be integrated into students research and presentation tasks as a natural part of current studies.

5 Quality room environments. High quality displays based on current studies and other area of the curriculum to be a feature to celebrate and demonstrate student creativity. Qualify displays of student generated work across the curriculum and displays to include headings, explanation of the process, learning intentions and 'next steps'.

The 'master plan' outlines agreed school wide initiatives.

Already the teachers have risen to the challenge and a sense of quality is beginning to pervade the school. Professional development is to be targeted to achieving the 'master plan', including visits to other schools. The emphasis is to 'unclutter the curriculum' and to 'work smarter not harder'.

Expectation of what students can do is to be continually challenged.

The staff have been told 'don't panic' - the intention is to work away at the 'plan' in 'manageable servings!'

The focus has been placed on teaching and learning and on the future capabilities the school wants their students to achieve.

The emphasis on focused classroom practice is helping teacher 'works smarter' by the greater sharing of agreed ideas with each other.
Many of the ideas in themselves, may seem unremarkable but when implemented, in a unified and integrated way, the results speak for themselves.

The BOT staff must be well pleased with the progress the school is making.

I look forward to future visits to admire the schools progress on it 'quality learning journey'.