Thursday, August 25, 2005

Focus on student creativity


Research by a 10 year old in the 1970s! Posted by Picasa

Above is a piece of work completed by a ten year old. The student was lucky enough to be taught by a gifted teacher whose philosophy was challenge his students to do the best work they could, and in the process, to develop in all students their own identity as self motivated learners.

The piece of work was done in the late 60s and 70s at a time when most classrooms reflected the traditional teacher dominated classrooms that were the norm in the 1950s/60s.

This dramatic change in teaching philosophy that this piece of work represents was led by individual creative teachers supported mainly by departmental art advisers who appreciated the value of creativity in education.

They were exciting times and heralded the biggest changes that had ever happened in primary education to this day. I was lucky enough to be a part of such a revolution and the amazing thing was that all the teachers involved believed in their own professionalism for inspiration and courage. They learnt collegially from each other.

Recently I had the occasion to visit every classroom in a half dozen school and I left the experience somewhat depressed. Rather than in-depth and individualistic quality art, language and research, being a feature, the rooms seem to celebrate imposed ideas from distant 'experts' and their local 'evangelists'.

Walls that should've celebrated student thinking and creativity were covered with ‘de Bonos hats’, diagrams of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Art Costa's Intelligent Behaviours lists, Graphic Oranisers , endless teacher written out ‘learning intentions’ and Blooms’ taxonomy. And of course we now have learning competencies not to mention values.

'Higher Order Thinking', and the importance of process, have sure caught on. The trouble is, when you mentally remove all this impressive material, there is not the quality work to be seen – and even if there were there wouldn’t be the space! Higher order thinking for 'thin learning'!

The best place for all this valuable information might be best recorded is an student learning strategies book?

The teacher, who helped the student achieve the quality study on Sioux Indians in the 70 illustrated above, knew nothing of Multiple Intelligences, but his students explored all studies in an integrated approach using a range of viewpoints. He knew nothing of ‘learning styles’ but he worked with students as individuals noting their strengths and weaknesses and helped them accordingly. He knew nothing about Intelligent Behaviors, or Bloom’s question levels, but he worked alongside learners to ensure their question required deep thinking and their answers reflected thoughtful and personal responses. And, of course, he would have simply called 'learning competencies' learning 'how to learn'. Had he known about all these exciting discoveries he would have been thrilled to have had his personal philosophy affirmed, and he would have used their ideas, but he would not have celebrated the process they articulated so blatantly.

All these 'experts', reflected in the classrooms I visited, have equally confirmed my own philosophy, but they should be seen as a means to an end. Students, as Gardner himself would say, need to be able to demonstrate, display, or perform, what it is they now can do with real depth, expertise and understanding.

Process and product are both important but for the learner the challenge is to develop new ideas or learning beyond what they had previously been able to do. The true test of their learning is, as all the ‘experts’ above would say, is if they can articulate the process and use this learning independently in another setting.

Creativity, or learning, is both a process and a product; and whatever is produced is the launching pad for the next page, piece of work, poem, art or research project. The true test of learning is always the ‘next time’.

But all is not lost.

Today I visited every classroom at Highlands Intermediate School in my home town. All the classrooms are worthy modern versions of the classrooms I visited in the 1970s and 80s. The principal, Eric Shaw, as he walked me around the school expressed the view that all the Higher Order Thinking ideas were important to him but only as they are used in the service of teachers to ensuring students can achieve quality work.

I left reassured.

Education is about ensuring the passion to learn, which is each learner’s birthright, is kept alive and it is a worry when we currently have a problem of ‘disengaged’ learners.

I was more inspired by the work of the teachers at Highlands than the eye catching but diverting wall displays of de Bono’s hats! Education is about celebrating student creativity and not the process, no matter how valuable, as elaborated by distant experts.

I don’t know if anyone out there shares my concerns but if we are not careful we might begin to celebrate the process and forget about the substance.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

It what is evident in children's work that counts! De bono hats and charts etc are simply teacher products which may or may not be used in a very superficial way. The important thing is that children have a voice in their own learning and that their perspective and abilty to think for themselves is respected and encouraged. It currently seems that more essential aspects of learning, such as children's natural curiosity, sense of wonder, and capacity to make sense of their world, are sadly undervalued.

Bruce said...

You are so right. Student's voice and identity is what it is all about. Even the recent emphasis on literacy and numeracy is to help student's understanding of these areas rather than as sources of expression ad communication based on each student's needs. Developing the individuals desire to learn ('learnacy') by valuing their talents ought to be the only focus of education.

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Bruce said...

Teaching is about doing fewer things well and in depth. As important as thinking skills are they must be used with purpose - and almost automatically.

We seem to have replaced the 'overcrowded curriculum' with the 'overcowded thinking processes'. And many things are often discovered without rational thought - creative people often make connections through insight that even suprise themselves!

richnz said...

Just a thought about rooms and their environments... Now we have so much quality work which is developed digitally. Movies, powerpoints, and web pages.... These cannot be displayed on the wall and therefore may be invisible to the walk through..

Couldn't agree more with the current crisis of celebrating the thinking process with teacher created advertising!

Cheers Bruce

richnz said...

Just a thought about rooms and their environments... Now we have so much quality work which is developed digitally. Movies, powerpoints, and web pages.... These cannot be displayed on the wall and therefore may be invisible to the walk through..

Couldn't agree more with the current crisis of celebrating the thinking process with teacehr created advertising!

Cheers Bruce

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Bruce said...

G'day Rich

I take your point but a selection of ideas printed out and displayed makes what kids can do really obvious - and then others can go to school websites, or the computers, to see the depth only reflected by the displays.

And clear folder, with both hand and computer material, can be created to show students, and their parents, how much they have improved.

PS do you have repeat button rather than a delete button!