Friday, August 05, 2005
The search for best practices - looking in the wrong places?
There is a lot of talking about pedagogy and ‘best practices’ these days. Alongside this there is world wide emphasis on literacy and numeracy.
In the UK, their much heralded Literacy and Numeacy hours and the pressure of associated ‘targets’ have become, as one commentator has said, ‘ the evil twins that have all but gobbled up the rest of the curriculum’. This imposed pedagogy has not, according to independent researchers, been as successful as the government reports. It seems that imposed solutions can only achieve so much – compliance is a poor way to develop teachers who increasingly feel their professionalism is at risk.
This obsessive focus on literacy and numeracy in New Zealand, if not as predetermined as in the UK, is narrowing the curriculum opportunities being offered to students. Following the UK’s lead a few years ago our Ministry backed away from the idea that all aspects of the curriculum were important and, in their revised National Administration Guidelines, placed emphasis on Literacy and Numeracy and freed school to do what they could with the rest. It seemed at the time a way around the ‘overcrowded curriculum’ but it in effect narrowed the curriculum. What should have happened was for the important aspects from all the Learning Areas to be defined so that important areas of human learning (and student’s talents) were not neglected.
We now have in effect two curriculums – the Victorian imperative of the ‘three Rs’ and the rest. We might, or might not, improve student’s skills in the basic areas, but in the process we may be creating less exiting learning experiences. So far this obsession with literacy and numeracy, targets and testing, and 'evidence based learning', has done little to improve the ‘achievement tail’!
This narrowing of the curriculum is in conflict with what several reports in the UK since the 1970s have shown. These reports have confirmed that it is in the classrooms where teachers provide the widest range of experiences that student’s levels of reading and mathematics occur. It seems that you can’t read or do maths without exciting content. Or it might be that where students are engaged in a wide range of ‘rich topics’ this learning attitude, or ‘learning power’ naturally carries over to literacy and numeracy.
It is this integrated or holistic learning that underpins the teaching of creative teachers in the past and in the present. And this is the area of teacher professionalism that we need to foster, tap into, and ‘spread’ their ideas to other schools.
This is where ‘authentic pedagogy’ and ‘best practices’ are to be found
The future of education depends on innovative principals creating true learning communities so that the creativity of the teachers and students can be realized.
One day the Ministry of Education will understand that creating conditions to allow creativity to flourish is what it is all about