Thursday, October 31, 2013

Howard Gardner on creativity – are schools encouraging creativity? The challenge of creativity.

Gardner writes in his book ‘Five Minds for the Future’ that he is often asked about how to nurture creativity. He quotes corporate visionary John Seely Brown who quipped that in the world of tomorrow people will say “I create therefore I am”. Brown was of course adapting French mathematician Rene Descartes 1637 statement “I think therefore I am” but it is an important difference.

Gardner says his audiences expect him to fully endorse creativity but creativity in human history was ‘neither sought after nor rewarded’.  Human societies are naturally conservative – and schools particularly so. Humans strive to maintain their current position and in schools this mitigates against educational innovation and interdisciplinary leaps

Many people we regard as great thinkers had in their day a difficult time with their ideas Galilee Galileo comes to mind but at least he wasn’t burnt at the stake but had to officially recant his ideas. People like Bach and Vincent van Gogh, Freud and Darwin were not at first appreciated.

So creative individuals are seen by society as a mixed blessing; creative teachers, past and present will attest to this. Creative individuals are all too often discouraged or ignored by those in power but Seely Brown is right, to thrive in the future organisations and individuals will have to be creative or be left behind. A number of big corporations have paid the price for not being creative and this will apply to schools as students find what is provided irrelevant and instead turn to gaining their learning from other sources.

By definition all life is creative and schools ought to be the best place to develop the creativity of all their students but this is currently not the case. Creativity, according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihali, occurs when- and only when – is recognised by the organisation as valuable and adds to the success of the organisation. In schools unfortunately the press is for consistency, conformity or compliance, with the imposition of National Standards, the situation can only get worse for creative teachers. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not a healthy environment for creative thinking. In such environment creativity is replaced by advice from ‘official experts’.

What is it that contributes to creativity?  According to Gardner 'the creator stands out in terms of temperament, personality and stance.  She is perennially dissatisfied with current work, current questions, current answers. She strikes out in unfamiliar directions and enjoys – or at least accepts – being different from the pack.’  Such an individual doesn’t worry if things don’t work out to plan and is always focussed on finding out – mistakes are a mean to the end.

To be successful creative individuals need a thick skin. Many creative people drop out of school as they do not ‘like marching to someone else’s tune (and in turn disliked their idiosyncratic marching patterns)’. And this obviously applies to teachers who need to be on the lookout for more creative schools to work in.

So creativity is not an easy option. Only a person who is willing to pick herself up and “try and try again” is likely to forge creative achievements….. A prototypical creator rarely rests on her laurels; instead, she proceeds along new untested path, fully ready to risk failure again and again in return for the opportunity to make another different mark.’ Creativity involves lots of hassles but eventual success is addictive.

Such thinking is problematic for schools. If school place too much emphasis on mastery of basic learning requirements (as asked for by a National Standards approach) this will operate against the need for students (and teachers) to be creative.

The mind of the five year old represents, in one sense, the height of creative powers’; they are playful, curious and intrigued by whatever experiences they encounter, they perpetually ask questions and persist in exploring topics that that attract them. ‘Accordingly’, continues Gardner, ‘the challenge to the educator is to keep alive the mind and sensibility of the young child. Artists and scientists have always known this.’

Schools, Gardner writes, need to ‘encourage – a regime that featured exploration, challenging problems, and the tolerance, if not active encouragement, of productive mistakes.’ This however is a long way from the superficial creativity many schools talk about – real creativity requires the honing of discipline to result in genuine creativity.

Even in an era of increasing standardisation creativity can still be encouraged by encouraging different solutions to problems, by exposing students to creative individuals, by providing rich experiences for students to explore and by recognising and amplifying gifts and talents that arise through such activities. At this point Gardner’s eight or so ‘multiple intelligences’ come to mind.

As students’ progress through school critical faculties need to be honed but at all costs the fundamentally creative approach to learning of the young needs to be retained.

Gardner writes that ‘if creativity does not infiltrate the DNA of an organisation, it is unlikely to be passed on to the next generation.Successful organisation  need to ‘fill their leadership team with individuals who are proven creators’ and that this leadership team needs to work closely with “ early adapters and ingenuous users’….’tapping their ideas’ ….and ‘giving lots of slack to those who think out of the box’. However he warns ‘that at a deep level that creativity is a chancy undertaking that can never be guaranteed – only fostered or thwarted.’ Something for leaders to think about!

Maybe leaders need to see themselves as synthesisers ( another of Gardner’s ‘five minds’)  to balance the creative individuals ‘uncertainty, surprise, continual challenge, and disequilibrium’ with ‘order , equilibrium and closure’. But he says ‘that  for the foreseeable future, those societies that know how to nurture and sustain creativity….are more likely to thrive than those that discourage creativity or those who are restricted to copying what genuine innovators have already achieved and what their successors are likely to surpass tomorrow.’

In any event, creativity goes hand in glove with disciplinary thinking. Doing whatever is selected in depth. In the absence of relevant disciplines, it is not possible to be genuinely creative. In the absence of creativity, disciplines can only be used to rehearse the status quo’.

I think it is time for schools to consider the meaning of creativity as Gardner outlines. Few schools today can really claim to be creative today – and as the National Standards agenda unrolls, with its associated narrowing of the curriculum, it is more important than ever to be so.

‘In general’, Gardner writes, ‘we look to leaders, rather than managers, for examples of creativity. The transformational leader creates a compelling narrative about the mission of her organisation….embodies that narrative in her own life, and is able, through persuasion and personal example, to change the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of those whom she seeks to lead.’

Creative leadership!

Creative schools

Friday, October 25, 2013

Educational Readings - Russell Brand's video and other subversive stuff

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at
This weeks homework!
Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming
Not purely educational but of great value all the same.
I'm going to tell you that libraries are important. I'm going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I'm going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.
The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.
The Not-So-Hidden Cause Behind the A.D.H.D. Epidemic
Fallout from GERM? Not purely educational but of great value all the same.
When Hinshaw compared the rollout of these school policies with incidences of A.D.H.D., he found that when a state passed laws punishing or rewarding schools for their standardized-test scores, A.D.H.D. diagnoses in that state would increase not long afterward. Nationwide, the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis increased by 22 percent in the first four years after No Child Left Behind was implemented.
Following on.. we really are living in a very sad world.

Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School
Weve decided as a society that its too expensive to modify the kids environment. So we have to modify the kid.
Will NewsCorp Soon Own Your Child's Student Data? Education Technology and the Murdoch-Klein Connection (via Mary Mackay, Amsterdam)
A nearly inevitable end point for the collection of data on children, not just in the USA. Big data is turning into a 21st century nightmare.
...the ability to store large amounts of student information and provide tools for analyzing the datainformation that will be available not only to educators, but also to education-technology developers who can tailor products to student and school needs. The article also explores the privacy concerns raised by the easy access that large numbers of companies will have to a vast array of information, ranging from academic achievement to disciplinary problems, for potentially tens of millions of students.

Free schools: our education system has been dismembered in pursuit of choice
Our uneven and unclear education provision now allows well-informed, persistent parents to entrench social advantage.
An article about how the English education system is being gradually dismembered. Spot the similarities with New Zealands developing education agenda.
This next item isnt educational but is well worth watching. Amazing eloquence!
Russell Brand interview.
This weeks contributions from Bruce Hammonds:
Howard Gardner developing a disciplined mind
This is a recursive link back to Bruces blog and this excellent article.
The most important reason to develop disciplined understanding is that
through achievement a desire for more is created. Once one has understood something well an appetite has been whetted for additional and deeper understanding..having eaten from the tree of understanding, he or she is likely to return their repeatedly for ever more satisfying intellectual nourishment.
How Soft Skills, Passion and Connection Can Promote Learning, Competence and Employability
Jane McGonigal is an ambitious alternate reality game designer who believes gaming has the potential to unlock solutions to world hunger, poverty, and conflicts.
Some Good News About Public Schools
Bashing the public school system, wherever, is a prerequisite to introducing school reform. This must be countered with everything weve got.
The public school system is not broken. Just like the parents of most 15-year-olds, it is overwhelmed and overworked. It is also underrated and underfunded. But still our school system is pushing the world forward. We are as responsible for our successes as for our failures.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Howard Gardner – developing a disciplined mind

The need to develop disciplined talents and gifts of all  students - the focus for the 21stC

Howard Gardner is well known to many teachers but he is the first to worry that his ideas about multiple intelligences have not always been introduced in ways that he approves. In his 2006 book ‘Five Minds for the Future’ he introduces readers to the ‘five minds’ that will be vital in the 21stC.

An earlier blog outlines Gardner’s ‘five minds’ but this blog focusses on what Gardner calls ‘the disciplined mind’ – the mind that knows how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding. ‘Without at least one discipline under his belt, the individual is destined to march to someone else’s tune.’

‘It is one thing’, he writes, ‘for students to accumulate plenty of factual knowledge, but they may have not learned to think in a disciplined manner. Gardner is not against information  but if shorn of connections, to underlying questions, to a disciplined way of constructing meaningful information, facts are simply ‘inert’ or ‘fragile’  knowledge. Students need to see information as stepping stones to more advanced understanding.

The challenge is for teachers to assist their students develop disciplined thinking in areas of interest that will eventually lead them to become productive citizens.  This relates to Gardner’s earlier work on developing eight or more differentintelligences as developing a disciplined mind ‘takes place through the identification of mutual interests and gifts’. Identifying and amplifying students’ talents ought to the focus for teachers – the number one priority for21stC schools.

Personalisation is often mentioned as the means to develop individual talents but this is problematic – how to develop disciplined thinking for everyone in the class?   David Perkins, Gardner’s colleague at the Harvard Graduate School of Education suggests
Darwin driven by his interests
one way is give students a taste – a ‘threshold experience’ – each experience calling on the various learning areas as required and in turn providing opportunities for the individual talents of students to be identified or made use of. This integrated approach has long been the way creative NewZealand teachers have worked but all too often its importance has been eclipsed by the need to focus student achievement on literacy and numeracy as part ofpolitically inspired National Standards.

Gardner is suggesting that the disciplined mind, in any area of learning, requires four steps.

1.       Identify truly important topics or concepts within the discipline (Learning Areas) that will focus both on important content to be acquired and processes of how to learn in the discipline selected.

2.      Spend a significant amount of time on this topic. If it is worth studying it is worth studying in depth.

Gardner seems to be focussing on individual learning but it would be appropriate for students to work in collaborative teams – another way to make use of individual talents.

3.      Approach the topic in a number of ways. Any lesson is more likely to be understood if it has been approached or expressed through diverse a range of activities.  It is at this point’, Gardner writes the disciplined mind, ‘encounters my theory of multiple intelligences’.  A good teacher ‘will invariably draw on several intelligences in inculcating key concepts and processes’.  The various activities   provide opportunities for individual talents to be tapped and amplified personalising learning in the process.

4.      Most important set up “performances of understanding” and give students ample opportunities to perform their understandings under a variety of conditions. Gardner emphasizes that ‘both teachers and students ought to strive to perform to perform their current understandings; much of training should consist of formative exercises, with detailed feedback on where the performance is adequate, where it falls short, why it falls short, what can be done to fine-tune the performance’. ‘The only reliable way to determine whether understanding has truly been achieved is to pose a new question or puzzle – one on which individuals could not have been coached – and see how they fare.

My suggestion would be ,once students have been given ‘training’ in how to present their understanding would be to give students – towards the end of the year – free choice complete  and present an inquiry study of their own and for this to be seen as a major assessment task.

Driven by dance

The most important reason to develop disciplined understanding is that through achievement a desire for more is created. Once one has understood something well an ‘appetite has been whetted for additional and deeper understanding…..having eaten from the tree of understanding, he or she is likely to return their repeatedly for ever more satisfying intellectual nourishment’.

Such a disciplined approach can only be achieved by individuals who have learnt to value of hard work, perseverance and through sustained and systematic practice. Being able to perform well provides the inspiration to continue learning in whatever fields of learning come to be felt important.

Disciplined individuals continue to learn – they have become lifelong learners passionate about both the area of learning that has attracted them and also the process of learning. Gardner quotes Plato who said, 'through education we need to help students find pleasure in what they have to learn’ and that disciplined learning requires both ‘mastery of a craft, and the capacity to renew that craft through regular application over the years’.

Rather than the current diversion of focusing on literacy and numeracy, with its inevitable consequence of narrowing the curriculum, schools should get back to providing Perkin’s ‘threshold experiences’ so as to develop disciplined  minds and the gifts and talents of all their students.

With such gifts firmly in place students will be equipped to make a positive contribution to whatever areas of learning/occupation that have attracted their attention.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What do your students know about Labour Day?

Samuel Parnell

New Zealand celebrated Labour Day 22 October - and schools were closed.
What do your students know about Labour Day?
Who was Samuel Parnell?
 Researching the topic would make an interesting 'mini study'.
 Ideal literacy tasks could be negotiated with your class to research.
After the study check to see how their ideas have changed?/

What conditions did working men have before Labour Day was legislated?
 What did the legislation establish?
Why did working people need unions?
New Plymouth Labour Day Celebration
Do they celebrate Labour Day in other countries?
 MP Andrew Little at Labour Party stall
Older students mike like to research the role of unions in assisting the working classes and why they are seen ambivalently by so many today.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Educational Readings - learning styles, innovation, project based learning and more. Pass on to other teachers to read


By Allan Alach
I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Set the Learning Free
Art - from mess comes creativity
Learning is messy. It does not occur in a vacuum. It is different for each individual. The structure that works for one learner may hinder the innovative approach that another needs to thrive.’
Someone get this message to the GERMers!
Teachers on strike: a struggle for the future of teaching?
Be warned…. this is a MUST READ.
‘In this article I want to set out the issues over which teachers are in dispute, and around which their action is focused.  These are issues of workload, pay and pensions, but at the heart of the conflict is the effective dismantling of a national framework of teachers’ pay and conditions of service.  On their
own, the changes currently being implemented by government represent an attack on teachers’ entitlements on an unprecedented scale. However, I want to argue that the changes being imposed are pivotal to the government’s wider objective of reconfiguring public education in England as a largely privatised system. Central to achieving this objective is the creation of a low-cost, flexible and fragmented workforce without the organisational capacity to challenge dominant policy agendas.’
Learnacy – A curriculum for the Future
 Distinguished Australian Educator Phil Cullen (13 years Director of Primary Education in the state of Queensland):
Still fighting the good fight!!
Testucators are now deliberately using their debased version of the language of learning , their pseudo-technical woo, in order to destroy schooling’s cognitive base. They use words like ‘achievement’, ‘improved performance’, ‘better outcomes’ as they universally describe the mechanical, robotically contrived, useless results from deceptively unreliable and invalid testing programs. They talk educational gibberish using PISA-style measurement bullshit. At no time in the history of GERM countries has schooling been so debased; its teachers devalued and abused by flat-earth policies, miseducated ‘experts’ and test-publishing profiteers.’

Tech Time vs. Wild Time for Kids (via Steve Mouldey)
This follows on from the article by George Mondiot in last week’s readings. While not strictly educational, this article does provide a comprehensive set of suggestions for how technology and outdoor activities can be blended together - useful when planning outdoor education programmes!
‘As a parent and educator (I make the distinction, but all parents are educators) I always struggled with finding the right balance between my son’s screen time vs other activities. While some children are deprived of ‘wild time’ connected to nature, so too are some children deprived of important ‘screen time’ to technology. Wild and screen time are often pitched against each other in a simplistic and dichotomised way, but the reality is far more complex.’

How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses
Extending ….Sugata Mitra

Beyond learning styles
This week’s sacred cow...
The scientific research on learning styles is “so weak and unconvincing,” concluded a group of distinguished psychologists in a 2008 review, that it is not possible “to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.” A 2010 article was even more blunt: “There is no credible evidence that learning styles exist…”’

Howard Gardner: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’
On the other hand…..
‘The theory became highly popular with K-12 educators around the world seeking ways to reach students who did not respond to traditional approaches, but over time, “multiple intelligences” somehow became synonymous with the concept of “learning styles.” In this important post, Gardner explains why the former is not the latter.’

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:
Elementary School Children Need More Time to Learn
Give us back our time! Elementary school children need more time to learn as scientists, social scientists and artists.
To Innovate We Must be Willing to Learn a Lot!
A vital message for all principals and teachers….
Learning new things means admitting that we are not experts in all areas and that we are willing to improve our learning agility. Yes, we all have great excuses why we don’t learn new things (if we are willing to be honest)! But, here is the reality: the rate and intensity of innovation is directly related to our agility and willingness to learn.’

George Lucas is a fan - his site Edutopia
PROJECT-BASED LEARNING:Bringing Authenticity to the Classroom
Authenticity -- we know it works! There is research to support the value of authentic reading and writing. When students are engaged in real-world problems, scenarios and challenges, they find relevance in the work and become engaged in learning important skills and content.’
PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: What Does It Take for a Project to Be "Authentic"?
‘Everyone thinks that Project-Based Learning has something to do with "authentic" learning. But not everyone agrees what this means.’

Monday, October 14, 2013

Creative teaching at Opunake Primary.Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Numberland'

I think it is very important to share ideas of creative teachers in this age of isolated self managing schools - be great if New Zealand teachers who read this blog to pass it on to any teachers who might find it interesting.

"Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with, and then the different branches of arithmetic -- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision."  Lewis Carroll

Graphics made by enlarging illustrations on the A3 and combining
"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there" Lewis Carroll
Before each term the teaching team ( 8 plus teachers) at Opunake plan a co-operative integrated theme to introduce to the students as the basis for a terms study.

.Family grouped activity
Often the ideas for studies come from students questions and concerns  whatever the origin , once selected, teachers start planning.

Teachers brainstorm their ideas( after doing some personal research) and the plan ideas to select from for their collaborative study.

Study plans are  filed along with video clips to record the progress and to celebrate success. The unit is aligned with curriculum requirements of the relevant learning area strands and key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum.

'Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland was also a well known mathematician. He incorporated many aspects of mathematics into his story.
In fact some of his researchers believed he wrote this satire because he was unhappy about the 'new maths' of the era and he was taking pot shots at some of his colleagues'. From newsletter to parents.
 "Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves" Lewis Carroll
When the students first learnt of their new study they were going to be exploring a maths topic there was initial disappointment. As the study evolved this attitude changed - this change of attitude towards maths was one of the  one of the important outcomes. Past term studies have covered the environment, Shakleton ( Antarctica) Egypt , Space, Harry Potter ( magic, science and mathematics).

Read about the Shakleton study

( Link to Egyptian Study)
The whole schools is introduced to the study by watching the Movie Alice in Wonderland .
" That's the reason they're called lessons, because they lesson from day to day"
 From this motivational experience students develop questions they have and from these teachers  with their students develop activities to answer them 

The first week or so all students are divided into mixed age 'family groups'  to  undertake introductory activities planned to introduce students to ideas in the story -  activities planned by teachers assisted by senior students.

.Fractal Maths
After the introductory activities teachers plan  cooperative activities with their own classes ideas to contribute exhibits for  the end of term display.
The study culminates in a magical display that fills two rooms . No natural light enters the rooms mimicking Alice who falls into an underground world. Exhibits cover maths, science and art exhibits combined with video clips, and data projector shows.
For two days and one evening parents, caregivers and interested adults are invited to view the students' work - guided by the students themselves. One of the original ideas behind this form of working was to involve parents in school activities along with developing a collaborative school approach.
It takes considerable time to appreciate the magical environment created by the students and their teachers and in some cases their parents.
Some impression of the final display of work.
My observation is that most of the work on display ( featuring science experiments and maths investigations)  are excellent examples of the inquiry learning process as outlined in the various Learning Areas of the New Zealand Curriculum.

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast".

"She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it)."
Life size Alice

.in"Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.