Thursday, January 21, 2016

Beginning a new school year - seven great teaching ideas( plus one on the Treaty of Waitangi )to think about

Pass on to interested teachers.

Beginning a school year is a challenge to all teachers - even the most experienced. In teaching, it seems, there is no shallow end!

Check out the links below the seven ideas below - you might find some of them useful to you.

Business 'guru' Steven Covey advice is to 'begin with the end in mind'. A good idea ( for an individual teacher or staff) is to define the attributes of a great learner that you would like all students to achieve by the end of the year. 

This is equally a good idea to discuss with a new class at the beginning of the year.  They could be posted in the classroom for reference. In New Zealand they could be part of a class treaty linking the idea to the Treaty of Waitangi if so this might define positive teacher behaviours as well.

Once such attributes/ competencies have been defined then when  seen in action students could be given praise. See ideas 6 and 7

Here is what educator John Holt hoped all schools would achieve - it reminds us of how the very young learn before school.

In 1970 he was asked:

‘If American schools were to take one giant step forward this year towards a better tomorrow what should it be?’

John Holt - a perceptive educationalist

‘It would be to let every child be the planner, director of his own education, to allow and encourage him with the inspiration and guidance of more experienced and expert people, and as much help as he asked for, to decide what he has to learn, when he is to learn it, how he is to learn it, and how well he is learning it. It would make our schools,..... a resource for free and independent learning, which everyone in the community, of whatever age, could use as much or as little as he wanted.’

Idea number one : what attitudes do students bring with them?

In a few days teachers and students return to school to begin a new year.

One excellent idea is to gather data about students current views on a range of
school activities. Ideally this would be best as a whole school activity and the information gained used to suggest area for teachers to improve attitudes. Student poor attitudes interferes with their achievement levels

For some ideas click on this link.

 Number two:The power of personal experience/writing

A good idea is to prepare a small presentation about yourself - students will be extremely curious about their new teacher!

Value the 'voice' of your students

Give the a potted history of your life experience and tell them that over the year you will get to know all about them.

To read more click on this link

 Idea three:  developing a 'growth mindset' through a simple portrait( the research of  Carol Dweck)

With strategies we can all dr

What are your students' views about their artistic ability?

Do they believe that only some students are born with the ability to draw or that everyone is  an artist?

For further information click on this link.

Ideas Four:Observation is an important skill in all areas of learning - all too often students look but don't see. 

Close observation encourages a slower pace of work which assists student memory.

Once the skill of observation is in place it can be used throughout the year in all learning areas.

 Ideas Five: what talents do your students bring to your class?

All individuals whose talents weren't recognized at school.

With the current press in schooling focusing on achievement in literacy and numeracy it is all too easy to overlook the unique talents that students haveAn education focused on developing all students talents and gifts also provides students the opportunity to become literate and numerate in meaningful contexts

Link to further ideas to consider

 Idea six:-how do we learn?

How did you get better at firing arrows?

Did  your students learn something new during their long holidays - or get better at something during this time?

Idea seven:Developing a 'stance' as a teacher - ideas of Robert Fried and William Glasser

Socrates's 'stance' was clear -is yours?
It seems students quickly pick up on the stance of their teachers so it is worth thinking about what's the 'stance' about teaching you want them to pick up? Now is time to think about how you want to come across to your students and fellow teachers.

Robert Fried, in his excellent book 'The Passionate Teacher',  writes about how teachers need to create an atmosphere that makes the students want to be their rooms.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Elwyn Richardson a creative voice from the past and a challenge for schools today

The other day an old friend of mine brought me a tape cassette from a seminar we had been involved in in 1976. 

The keynote talk at the seminar was given by Elwyn Richardson who we all regarded as the most important creative educator in NewZealand. Elwyn had developed his ideas about teaching in the
Elwyn Richardson
1950s and in the late 60s authored his inspirational book 'In the Early World' which has beenrecently reprinted

Once we found a cassette tape recorder a group of us (all who had been influenced by Elwyn) sat down to listen. My old friend and I were both recorded on the tape and we were interested to hear what we all said in 1976.

One thing stood out. We were all focused on tapping into the child inner world and helping them explore and express ideas about what was of interest to them.

And at the end of our listening we all agreed that this emphasis has been lost in classrooms today and that schooling, by demeaning the personal world of the learner, had failed too many students. Until children enter formal schooling their interests dictated their learning but on entering school it is the school’s curriculum that determine learning and those than can't cope with teacher determined curriculum begin their unfortunate road to alienation from education.
Imagine technology 40 years ahead

Only a creative education, such as one demonstrated by Elwyn, can provide an environment where all students can realize their innate potential.

 A creative education needs to reproduce the environment young children are exposed to before formal schooling and this is all  the more important for students whose early life experiences has not provided whose early life experience has not provided such a  positive learning environment The kindergarten ( child's garden) movement was established to do just this.
One of Elwyn's students artwork

Elwyn's presentation was all about contrasting the child centred curriculum he followed with school curriculum. Elwyn expressed concern about teacher determined learning objectives. He would be appalled by current standardised approaches to learning with  the emphasis on such things as  learning intentions, success criteria 

 Any experience a child has ( and this includes teacher presented ideas aimed at capturing student curiosity), he said, can be expressed through words, talk, writing, drawing , art , movement, drama and clay. A look at any current classroom, particularly the art work, shows how much children’s creativity has been massaged by the heavy hand of the teacher.

New book about Elwyn
The language arts are at the core of all learning said Elwyn but that the teacher has a responsibility to ensure whatever is expressed exhibits personal growth. Teachers need to come alongside the learner to help then refine and define what they are trying to say. Without such refinement student work can be ‘undisciplined squads of emotion’ Elwyn, I think, was trying to distance himself from those who believed teachers just need to motivate students and then leave it up to them to do whatever they like. Helping students to achieve work of quality is in itself a form of art and depends on the experience, confidence and skill of the learner. Respecting the ‘voice’ and identity of each learner is the essence of ‘personalised learning’. One example given was the tendency for junior teachers when scribing children’s thoughts to rewrite it to make it more acceptable and in the process devolve it of imagination and vitality. Children, he said , soon learn to comply to teachers expectations; for some this is the beginning of the end..

Elwyn made the point that when the year begins creative teachers will inherit students who have been mismanaged. Advice Elwyn gave was to focus on a few students at first to help them achieve quality results and to see what can be achieved. To get children to be more expressive encourage them to go back and reconsider some of their ideas and to resist giving ‘false praise’. In writing, for example, give credit to ‘minor excellences’.  When student achieve work beyond their expectations in any area of learning the work said Elwyn quoting Jerome Bruner ‘startles’ – it is this ‘surprise’ that expresses creativity.

Take advantage of such things as a child bringing a dead bird to class – Elwyn made reference to a set of very different drawings of a kingfisher on display. With such an experience what are the children’s questions and responses. Some might want to write thoughts, some might want to draw or paint while
Republished by NCER
other might want to research about kingfishers.  As the year progresses a curriculum will 'emerge' but this does not preclude ideas being introduced as challenges by the teacher.   Our own project in Taranaki in the 70/80S introduced studies by means of motivating displays that, as the studies progressed, were complimented by students expressive and research work and classroom walls were used to display finished work.

An important point made by Elwyn was that   if learning is not ‘felt’ by students it is not really learnt and not seen in action. He was particularly critical of much of is imposed on learners. All learning, if it is to be successful, requires affective and sensory dimensions.

After listening we all agreed that so much has been lost in past decades and that the problem of students being disengaged in learning stems from their voices, ideas and questions being ignore and this is not helped by school curriculums that fragment learning or place undue emphasis on such things as narrowing effect of  National Standards and the destructive use of ability grouping on the sense of self of the very children who need to develop positive learning identities..
Abnormal teaching!

The remainder of the tape outlined a simple but innovative class unit on snail starting with a display of sea shells and covered students questions, current and researched ideas, observational drawings, maths based on spirals and science experiments involving snails pulling weighted carts. Such a unit was in line with Elwyn’s point of making use of the rich immediate environment and for students to be seen as artists and scientists.

Quality work Taranaki 76
The tape concluded with teachers attending expressing how difficult it is to develop such creative curriculums in their own schools – a problem that is even more difficult today.  Those presenting (including myself as I had been central to establishing group of teachers to implement such programmes) suggested solutions. Teachers trying out new ideas need to be encouraged and to be able to learn through trial and error – the scientific method in practice. It is important to support each other to combat the conformist climate of most schools. Many teachers felt the pressure from senior teachers to conform – a problem that is even more the case today. Teachers mentioned that inspectors visiting failed to even notice the quality work on display and focused on administrative requirements.; imposed conformity of ‘best practices’ is worse today.

The thought of selected ‘best’ principals and teachers to work collaboratively with clusters of schools is fraught with problems. The collaboration we experienced in the 70s often went against current school ‘best practices’ and those in authority from within and without the school.

Elwyn's students making drums
Elwyn developed his philosophy in an isolated school in Northland and was given ‘permission’ to experiment. He also had access to visiting art advisers who played vital role in developing and sharing ideas about creative and integrated education.  There were other teachers, all in rural schools away from authority, developing similar programmes but Elwyn’s work remains the most important and, due the publication of his book, still available to teachers today.

The developments we established in our own province still can be seen in local schools today and were in past times times recognised by those in authority.  In contrast to Elwyn’s isolated approach we developed whole school approaches.

That was until the educational reforms known as ‘Tomorrows Schools’ in the 80s when collaborative approaches were replaced by schools competing with each other.
Taranaki work 1976

The creative ideas Elwyn was central in developing based on valuing the students’ interests and personal ideas, and ensuring all students achieve work of quality, are more relevant than ever.

Snail art Taranaki 1976
If schools suppress or ignore individual student creativity then many students ( those without appropriate backgrounds or ‘cultural capital’  that school cater for reasonably well) are swallowed up in our conformist school system. Students who lose their sense of creativity or self-worth will end up by making their mark on society all too often in a destructive way. We need all schools to ensure all students ( and not just the academic)  gain pride in and confidence from personal achievement and rewarding accomplishment.

Anything else is simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to get a better view!
John Holt

In 1970 he was asked:

‘If American schools were to take one giant step forward this year towards a better tomorrow what should it be?’

‘It would be to let every child be the planner, director of his own education, to allow and encourage him with the inspiration and guidance of more experienced and expert people, and as much help as he asked for, to decide what he has to learn, when he is to learn it, how he is to learn it, and how well he is learning it. It would make our schools, instead of what they are, which is jails fort children, into a resource for free and independent learning, which everyone in the community, of whatever age, could use as much or as little as he wanted.’

‘True learning- learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent actions and further learning- can only arise out of the experience, interests, and concerns of the learner.’
Tested to oblivion!!

‘Education is something a person gets for himself, not that which someone else gives him or does to him.’

It was thoughts like the above that underpinned the work of Elwyn and our local group that followed on from Elwyn’s work.

An education that creates the conditions and provides the necessary help and resources to develop the gifts and talents of all students should be the purpose of a twenty-first education system.

We have a long way to go. The answers are there. All we need is the wit and imagination to put them into practice. We need to ask how something that begins so well can end so badly for far too many students resulting in too many students ill equipped for life in our society.

Elwyn’s taped talk give us an insight to possible solutions  And in our times Sir Ken Robinsons book ‘Creative Schools’  echoes and elaborates the need to transform our education from the bottom up.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Education - a new year - a time to reflect

Mount Taranaki reflected in mountain lake

It is a long time since I posted a blog.

The last was to share a new book written about pioneer educationalist Elwyn Richardson.. Elwyn developed his creative teaching philosophy in the 1950s a time not noted for innovative ideas but changes were in the air following World War Two.

Elwyn's book is worth a read as it represents the importance of valuing the views of classroom teachers - more relevant than ever in today's increasingly standardised teaching environment.

Educationalist John Dewey once commented that it is all too easy to forget to take advantage of  retiring experienced teachers . Sharing creative classroom teachers' ideas , past and present, is what this blog is all about - and it is, as mentioned, more important than ever as top down solutions are imposed on schools.

So ,before I lose the habit of blogging, I thought I would contribute a few personal  reflections I have had over the holidays.

I have   been reflecting on the need to continue with the blog as my own teaching experiences fade into the distance.  At heart I believe it is important for everyone to have something worthwhile to contribute and, as one gets older , more important than ever to still feel relevant. Learning is a lifelong
 adventure and I am always impressed with my older friends who continue to learn and be involved in worthwhile things. In particular I admire the small group of retired educationalists who continue to fight for a creative education system - one that values the voice and experience of teachers and students  rather than distant 'experts' or, worse still, populist politicians.

So blogging is my way to express my own thoughts and hopefully be of some use to those who read the blog.  I believe it is important to provide an outsiders point of view because it is all too easy for busy teachers to come to accept as 'normal' current expectations.

 I like the idea of being a 'critical friend' whose role is to ask questions; to ask does it have to be this way; and , what would happen if we tried new ways of doing things? Sometimes it seems that many teachers, overwhelmed with imposed requirements, find it a lot easier not to face up to alternatives to current practice or to  simply take on board imposed directions without question. It is always easier to 'go along to get along'! Unfortunately  this results in many teachers  becoming oblivious to alternatives. I have always liked the phrase that 'fish are the last to discover water'. It seems it is all too easy to become blind to the obvious.
Avoid 'silo' thinking

Teachers at all levels are trapped in 'silo thinking'  more so at the secondary level with fragmented subject thinking but primary teachers an't see past the unquestioned use of ability grouping.

At the end of last term the current local principals always invite retired principals to join them for breakfast. At this breakfast a newly appointed secondary principal talked to us. His appointment ( coming from the business world) had been a bit controversial and he was keen share with us his views and to emphasize that most of his 'business'  experience had been with non profit organisations. He made the point that schools like his have to ensure that they have the responsibility to ensure all students leave positive about  and equipped for their  future lives. Schools he said should  not just to focus and celebrate those who go on to university. He also thought that students working with multi disciplinary teams of teachers worth trying.
Out of the box thinking

Mind you I am well aware that catering for all students rather than just the 'academic' is the current directive from the Ministry

I left the breakfast feeling his appointment was a positive move. Maybe too many current principals have been captured by the status quo and appointments outside of teaching may provide fresh thinking?

At this breakfast meeting it was  enlightening to be told by the chairperson   that some of the innovative ideas being currently considered had been implemented by some of us older  members years ago and were only now being revisited! Consider, for example, the 'new' idea of Modern Learning Environment (MLEs) which simply are a return to the the open plan schools of the 70/80s. They will only be successful if underpinned by a strong student centred educational philosophy, positive relationships between all involved and well informed and skilled teachers..

While holidaying in Melbourne during December I met a young Australian  secondary school teachers who told me that she had resigned from her position working for the Victorian Education Department.  Her role had been to help teachers implement the Australian testing system ( NAPLAN) but  as she felt uncomfortable assisting teachers implemente a system she didn't believe in she had to resign.  She felt that her job was to make teachers conform. I would've like to have learnt more.

Testing isn't learning
I attended  ( as a guest) a Ministry social function in December and  briefly was critical of current education, particularly secondary education. In my opinion, I said too many students still leave alienated from learning.  This was refuted by those whose job is to assist schools develop pathways to employment. Thought it best to focus on small talk! Maybe this was an example of rhetoric not matching reality? Something I would like to learn more about - maybe things are changing?

I was  also interested to read about a local entrepreneur who had just opened a new hotel in town. In an article about the opening  the developer said that he had found school irrelevant but that he had still done well. My thought was that he obviously had the skills and attitude to get on with
Schools don't suit all brains
life's challenges. Maybe this is a clue for those who want to transform our current education system?

I recently had an interesting conversation with a young teacher on holiday from a position in an international school. International schools follow an American curriculum which does not allow the intellectual freedom she was used to when teaching in NZ.I have had considerable experience presenting at international school conferences and appreciated her situation. It would be shame if we were to go any further down the standardised  test orientated American approach.
Passion, effort and skill

My most recent thought comes from watching artists at the local stone carving symposium held on our cities  coastal walkway. I really admire the passion the artists show and the range of skills required to complete such a difficult task. It will take the artists several days of hard dusty work to complete one piece.

When people do what they love they are prepared to put in the hard work required. I also reflected that with practice artists over the years get better at what they do. Reminds me of educationalist Jerome Bruner saying, many years ago,  that 'people get good at what they get good at'.

I had the thought that if schools spent more time identifying and amplifying the innate talents of their students and then set up opportunities for every student to work towards achieving their potential then all students would leave ready for whatever the future holds for them. Such a personalisation of learning would change the roles both both teachers and students.

This personalised creative approach to learning  was the philosophy that Elwyn Richardson implemented in his small rural school in the 1950s and what has driven all my work since I became aware of such teachers as Elwyn all those years ago. Elwyn saw his students as 'a community of artists and scientists exploring their environment'.

Once you think about the requirements for a 21stC education the answers seem obvious.
This means we need to transform schools