Sunday, March 13, 2005
Personalised learning - exciting but not new!
The best book ever on student creativity!
Perhaps the person who most influenced my own teaching philosophy was Elwyn Richardson.
Elwyn taught in a small rural school in New Zealand the 195Os and later in schools in Auckland.
In the 60s in New Zealand creative teaching ideas began to spread throughout New Zealand influenced, in particular, by the work of the then Art and Craft advisers, under the leadership of the National Director of Art and Craft Gordon Tovey.
There has always been progressive idea in education but after World War Two the idea of a more democratic creative form of education began to spread. The NZ Labour Government of the times developed a liberal philosophy of education system to develop all individuals no matter where they lived. The Director of Education, Dr Beeby, was a seminal influence and was later to be blamed by conservative critics as introducing the ‘play way’ method of teaching.
The establishment of the school advisory service was part of this movement.
Under the leadership of Gordon Tovey a small group of ‘native’ schools were given permission and help from advisers to develop creative teaching ideas. Elwyn Richardson, although not included in this group, became associated with the ideas. Permission was needed because schools in the 1950s were a very traditional.
In later years most innovative ideas were to be found in isolated rural school supported by school advisers .The advisers set up an unofficial network of creative teachers and I was lucky enough to tap into the excitement created by the ideas when I began my teaching career.
Elwyn Richardson stood out as a most important figure. In the 60s he published his book ‘In the Early World’ which become on inspiration to us all.
We again seem to be in a similar situation to one Elwyn faced in the 50s. The past 15 years has imposed on teachers a technocratic ‘standardized’ curriculum which has all but crushed the initiative of creative teachers. Now around the world there are signs that we need to return to a more personalized style of teaching so as to ‘customize’ education to develop the talents of all and, in particular, the students who keep falling through the cracks, no matter how obsessive schools and the Ministry get about assessment
Elwyn’s book is as relevant as ever and has been reprinted by the NZER. Creative teachers would be well advised to acquire a copy. A greater contrast to current curriculum documents could not be found! Written in personal narrative style it is full of creative examples of students language and art.
This remarkable book is all about ‘integrated curriculums, values education, the arts, inquiry learning, philosophy and creative thinking’. ‘It is a story about teaching told by a teacher who believed passionately that creative thinking and intellectual growth are inexorably intertwined.’
‘It is timely in the 21stC to recapture teaching as an art. ‘In The Early World’ inspires teachers to take risks, to contemplate values and philosophies as central to the teaching learning process and to adapt prescribed curriculum to the children’s own desire to explore, inquire and create'.
Just as all the technocrat curriculums have exhausted creative teachers we now being asked to consider what is being called personalized learning. Personalized learning is capturing the imagination of teachers, particularly in the UK, but as exciting as it is it certainly not new.
‘It has the potential to make very young persons learning experience creative, fun and successful. It means shaping teaching around the very different ways students learn and it means taking the time to nurture the talents of every pupil.’ For further information download this UK pamphlet.
If the Ministry were to have the courage they would identify groups of schools throughout NZ who are already trying out personalized learning, as was done in the 1950s. They would also have to give such schools give the some for of protection; excusing them from having to comply with many of the current distractions.
I the 50s it began with creative individual in small schools. Today it needs to be established in networks of school of all sizes.
We have the creative teachers; we just need to create creative conditions for their ideas to grow and spread.
(Some of the ideas on our site that owe much to the work of Elwyn Richardson are: developing writing; personal writing; and environmental studies.)