Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Schools for talent development
The New Zealand Curriculum places great emphasis on ensuring all students leave school with the 'key competencies' in place but perhaps the real emphasis ought to be placed on the why students would want to use them - the inspiration to learn.
In the future we will need every kind of 'specialist' mind . Minds that excel in a few things even they may be inadequate at others. Everybody, it is now appreciated, has their own mix of talents and weaknesses. Developing strengths of individual students, and helping them compensate for weaknesses, is the role of education.
Imagine a school where all teachers dedicated to finding out what affinities,talents or gifts each student brings with them and then doing their best to value and amplify them. This has always been the dream of creative teachers throughout the ages. Such an approach would really value student individual differences and would result in the personalisation of learning.
Teachers should celebrate students strengths because such strengths provides students meaning in their lives enabling them to make worthwhile contributions to class life. For the most part adults who are leading worthy live do so by mobilizing their strengths and affinities. Teacher and parents should seek a consonance between a students education and their future career.
Providing experiences that have the potential to uncover and amplify such talents is the task for creative educators. It is not that strengths need to be seen as fixed as they will change and develop with age and experience.
Brains are extremely plastic and everyone learns in an idiosyncratic way .Many children fail to learn because traditional teaching methods are not in 'synch' with their individual needs, or simply ignore the motivating power of using students interests to learn. If students want to achieve something important to them they will often be prepared to learn whatever is necessary.
All too often those children with specialised minds are neglected as they are forced to achieve what their teachers have decided they need to learn. Education suits the well rounded academic learner at the expense of the strangely creative who in later life often prove their teachers wrong.
When students become involved in areas of strength, or personal interest, they are prepared to push themselves far beyond teacher expectations. In such purposeful situations students are often prepared to develop missing skills they once might have rejected. The best way to learn to read well is to read about something you know a lot about or want to learn more about.
Wise teachers will work with students and their parents to discover possible areas of interest. The eight intelligences defined by Howard Gardner make an excellent model to assist identification of areas of interests.
To value students strengths students need to be given time to develop their learning projects. It is important that all students do what they choose to do as well as they can and that they be given help to achieve quality learning according to particular needs.
This does not mean that every students will be following up only their personal set of interests but rather when topics are introduced into the learning environment teachers take advantage of individual students strengths to explore and express ideas. This approach aligns with teamwork in adult learning situations.
If school focus on uncovering student affinities from an early age students will find their education more relevant and will continue to remain life long learners with the possibility of ending up in occupations that match their talents.
By age eight or nine affinities should become obvious to teachers and parents and there is nothing wrong with students digging deeper in to such high personal interests are in consecutive years. This is how anyone with a deep interest progresses. Some children will become well known as school 'experts' in any number of things from spiders to computer use.
At the very least, every year after say year two, students ought to be given the opportunity to research a problem or topic that is of personal interest to them. Such a study would make an ideal way for teachers to assess whatever they count as inquiry learning competencies.
For such personalised projects students would need to plan and discuss how they are going to go about their project and what they hope to learn or find out about. They will need to consider how they intend to present, communicate, or demonstrate their learning. They will need to define their 'key questions' and consider their first steps.They then need to consider what information they will need (and where they will get it from) so as to gain some depth of insight to their chosen task. Finally they need to define who their intended audience will be.
For students to develop quality results teachers will have had to have introduced to the students, in previous class or group studies, all the information processing and expressive techniques for students to choose from.
Tapping into students affinities and talents is something that all teachers can include in their programmes. For other teachers it could well become a way of working that underpins all their teaching.
If this were the case teaching would become an artistic and creative activity a redefining education as we currently envisage it.