Thursday, August 25, 2005
Focus on student creativity
Research by a 10 year old in the 1970s!
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.