Wednesday, June 08, 2005

At the edge - that's where it all happens!

Just help students do quality work!! Posted by Hello

Was thinking, while working with a friend of mine who is off to Brazil to take up principals position at an International School in Brazil, that I always seem to be out of step with the latest educational fashion.

Way back when I started I become passionate about creative teaching. Teaching that tapped into student’s natural curiosity and interests by providing experiences that encouraged every student’s innate creative talents . This was in opposition to the traditional diet of the time, of fragmented subject teaching. Primary schools then had more in common with secondary teaching – it was all about teaching and testing; ‘sitting and gitting’. – ‘jugs into mugs’!

In recent years when, as part of a ‘market forces’ accountability model, a range of new curriculum Learning Areas, with their strands, levels and endless learning objectives to be covered and measured were imposed, I was against them from day one. It was however hard to do this with visits from the government’s ‘thought police’ – the Education Review Office checking up on you. At this stage I was principal struggling with all the confusion of ‘Tomorrows Schools’. And, as well, new Learning Areas were dropped on school as part of a Ministry ‘blitzkrieg’, with too little thought about implementation or long term consequences.

In the meantime schools, in response, and out of insecurity, developed a range of mostly irrelevant documentation! And this continues to this day in response to the endless Ministry CRAP (Ministry continually revising all procedures!)

The ministry, after eventfully reacting the pain and confusion they had created, revised expectations, and now are rethinking the whole area of curriculum delivery. They now amazingly have discovered the painfully obvious – that it is the quality of the teacher rather than the curriculum is the real issue!

Today I find myself am against the current quick fix of the obsession with literacy and numeracy! As important as these are, they are, at best ‘foundations’ that need to be in place to allow more exciting learning to occur. One commentator in the UK has written that: ‘the evil twins of literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the entire curriculum.’ This is the case in the USA with their new emphasis on ‘back to basics’ and obsession with phonics. In New Zealand it is not much better with Literacy Advisers rushing around imposing ‘targets’ and ‘best practices’ with the religious zeal of the ‘born again’.

Another area I am beginning to have my doubts about is the current interest in 'higher order thinking'. As great as it sounds, from what I observe, the emphasis seem to be too much on the processes/techniques and not in the quality of the depth of thinking seen in the final products. Too often it looks more like higher order thinking for thin learning!

As for me, I still think the important thing is to introduce powerful learning experiences to students to inspire learning. A learner who is passionate about an area of interest will do anything to learn what they need – they will read, measure, draw, write and use ICT, to express their need to make meaning and gain learning power.

Teachers need to focus on the image of a powerful learner and do everything to keep the desire to learn alive. So far we have not done so well – too many students are currently disengaged from their own learning. At school they are learning ‘not to do their own thing’. Everything teachers do – including literacy and numeracy, must keep alive what one writer calls ‘learnacy’. Anything else is lunacy!

It is the’ big picture’ of a successful learner we need to keep in mind not the ‘small easy measured bits’ that all too easily take up teachers time and energy. Connection and not fragmentation (and endless measuring of the bits) is what we need to focus on; inspiring student’s hearts and not just their narrow aspects of their minds.

Principals, by rushing to comply to the latest ministry ‘quick fixes’ so as to look decisive, are doing their students a disservice. They are simply getting better at a bad game!

Teachers ought to value their own common sense and face up to what they need to do to keep their students' desire and passion to learn alive. A good idea would to spend more time observing the qualities of two year old than trying to implement idea dropped on them from on high.

So I feel on the edge again. The only consolation is that the edge is the only place that real learning occurs.


Anonymous said...

Good points. It seems to me that everything is made far too complicated. At centre children have a natural desire and interest in making sense of their world. Good teaching requires an appreciation of children's interests, perspectives and concerns. This is essential if we are to take full advantage of their natural capacity to interpret and understand their own world.

Bruce said...

I agree. Who benefits from all the 'thoughtful' complexity that those 'who know best' foist on schools. As de Bono said, 'complexity creates confusion and simplicity focus.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that some schools have lost the plot - that is if they ever had one! They certainy have lost the art of listening to the 'voices' of many of their students - for 'failing students' school is becoming place where you learn 'not to do your own thing' - as you say!

Anonymous said...

Ministry 'CRAP' - sure is a lot of it. We are suffering from 'bureaucratic drag' and 'compliance complexity' in our schools. Ministry eunichs should all be stamped with a 'use by date' and be returned to the classroom every few years. That would frighten the 'CRAP' out of them!

Bruce said...

Brilliant idea - sending Ministry technocrats back to school. Bet they would learn fast how much their 'good ivory tower advice' has got in the way of teachers creativity!