Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Returning to the 'artistry' of teaching.
The power of the unplanned curriculum!
It was said in the 50s that teachers were so well organized and planned that even if a DC3 crashed in the playground the teacher would keep on working. A DC3 was a passenger plane of the day! And in many schools the windows were well above eye level to keep student’s minds on what was important. It was normal to see all the lessons for the day, written up before school, on the blackboard. It was all very teacher centred and formal.
In the past few years, if a similar event were to happen, the teacher might be too busy to stop for such an event. If they did, they would be expected by ERO to be able to show how the learning related to the appropriate objectives in the appropriate curriculums! ERO called this an ‘audit trail’!
Hopefully, with a retreat from such obsessive requirements, things are becoming more sensible. It is now being realized that preplanning all learning situations and tracking content objectives is really a waste of time, and that attitudes towards learning, and for learners to appreciate ‘how they learn’ is just as , if not, more important. All that should be kept in mind is for each class to be able to show that they have covered most of the ‘big ideas’ each year. This shouldn’t be complicated?
In the illustration above the teacher is taking advantage of a wasp nest discovered by a parent before the summer heat makes the smell unbearable. The nest provided an opportunity to develop careful observational skills, both of the nest and the different life stages of wasps, and the ensuring discussions resulted in questions that students were eager to research. As interest developed mathematical insights were explored and the social life structure of wasps considered and compared to human communities. At the end of a week or so the room reflected student’s observations, creative art, research and creative writing.
The teacher involved was Bill Guild and the event occurred in the early 80s. Teachers such as Bill believed in doing 'fewer things well'; in 'depth' learning; 'quality rather than quantity'. Not above covering, or ‘delivering’ the curriculum, but uncovering student insight and talents.
It is this spontaneity that we need to be encouraging today.
There is also no point in writing up lesson plans to cover such an event – the children’s book and chart work, and the displays of work on the walls, should demonstrate the learning achievements of the students. Any anyway, the students should be involved in planning what they want to do with the teacher.
This is the kind of work that you can still see today in creative teachers classrooms. For such teachers teaching is an art, not a pre-planned technocratic exercise. The past decades of imposed curriculum, and ‘prove it’ accountability requirements, have not made the life of such creative teachers an easy one,
If ERO can’t comprehend this then it is a sad commentary about how the ‘spirit’ of education has been lost in the futile rush to ‘prove’ student achievement.