Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Personalised learning - the reality

  Posted by Picasa If you want to learn about personalized teaching visit a classroom of a creative teacher.

In the book written by my friend Bill he begins by writing:

‘Any classroom programme to be truly successful must value and respect the ideas viewpoints and interests of its students. Similarly the best of learning and its true reward for the learner is always found simply in the context of doing something of interest and doing it well.’

He continues, ‘When children are genuinely engaged in their learning and pursuing things that are of interest or of importance to them the way they will respond will be unique’.

Bill values the idea of developing students ‘voice’. He writes, ‘that if learning is sufficiently personalized not only will unique styles of writing be evident but also unique perceptions and perspectives will be conveyed and unique learning direction will be explored and developed.’

‘What is at stake is crucial to the extent that it may determine whether or not the learner will be able to develop as an independent and creative thinking individual in control of their own identity and their chosen path in life.’

‘It is crucial that a supportive environment is developed: that is, an environment that respects, values and encourages individual thought and expression. However it is important that this environment challenges and enriches, and taps into children’s natural curiosity about their world’

Bill is very much a co-constructivist teacher learning along side the children he teachers to ensure they develop personally meaningful ideas. He quotes NZ’s inspirational pioneer teacher Elwyn Richardson who wrote, ‘They are my teachers as much as I was theirs and the basis of our relationship was sincerity without which I am convinced there can be no creative education.’

If we want to explore the concept of personalized teaching we need to search out such teachers as Bill in our schools and share their insights with others. This is the best way to spread ideas, far preferable to having them imposed by contacted advisers.

Far too much creative work in school is distorted by trying to implement imposed curriculums, an over use of preplanned teacher intentions and pre-set criteria, resulting in work that while it may look impressive lacks the idiosyncratic ‘voice’ and style of students.

It would be a shame if the uniqueness of each individual was lost – if personalized teaching recognize this it would be a positives move.

There is nothing new about personalized learning! It has always underpinned curative teachers approach to learning.

Passionate teaching

  Posted by Picasa Personalized learning values the relationships between the teacher and the students.

It recognizes that teaching is emotional work and is infused with pleasure, passion, creativity, challenge and joy (Hargreaves 95).

It is, as Robert Fried writes, a passionate vocation.

Such an appreciation has been neglected the past 15 or so years as teachers have struggled in implement and assess impossibly incoherent curriculums.

Primary teachers, when asked about their jobs, see it in terms of care and affection, even love. ‘Creative teachers’ (Woods and Jeffery 96) try to generate relationships that create ‘interests, enthusiasm, inquiry, excitement, discovery, risk taking and fun.’ Their assistance given to learners (‘scaffolding’ to use an ‘in’ word) is ‘held together by bonds of emotion.’

This is the essence of personalized learning and we have seen little of it being encouraged the last decades – quite the opposite - it has all been objective measurements of criteria and targets.

The reforms that have been imposed have been all about efficiency rather than effectiveness; cognition above care. As a result important things get marginalized as too hard to measure and learning becomes depersonalized.

For all this technocratic pressure most teachers don’t plan in a linear way but start with their knowledge and feeling about their students and what will interest them – using their intuition to gauge what will engage the learners. Only after this is done do they refer to the official curriculum outcomes to ensure they have an ‘audit trail’ for others to check off. They know it is the teachers enthusiasm and passion that ‘flows’ over to students.

Teaching is a creative act – a personal act held together by respectful relationships. True teaching cannot be preplanned and whatever is introduced only ‘sticks’ if it connects with the students purposes or needs.

As Jerome Bruner wrote, 'Teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.'

Personalized teaching is passionate teaching – it about creating positive emotional relationships. It is far more than students gaining achievement or specific knowledge. Such teaching is an art form informed by professional understanding gained from experience, other teachers and readings.

As one wise old principal used to say, ‘Teaching is about 30 plus kids, a good relationship, and doing neat things well.’

If personalized learning get back to such wisdom then it will be great!

I guess the ‘experts’ will tell us what it is – after all they read all the books!

Monday, June 26, 2006

What is this thing called 'Personalised Learning'

  Posted by Picasa The Minister of Education is going to introduce the idea of ‘personalization of learning’ to the annual gathering of Primary School Principal at Napier next week.

What exactly does it mean?

The dream that has underpinned Western society for the last century was 'mass' education for all students up until the age of 15. This has been achieved but for far too many students it has become a 'mass nightmare' with up to 20% of our students still leaving with little to show for their compulsory attendance.

The trouble relates to mindsets.

Early education, for all ages, was built on a simple concept of transmission of ideas from the old to the young – and for many years it only involved the three ‘Rs’ – reading , 'riting and 'rithmetic ( a fourth could’ve been regurgitation). Only the wealthy gained a more ‘well rounded’ education. For most it was simply ‘training’ to fit into jobs required by an industrial society; and for those who failed school manual labor was readily available. Schools, particularly secondary schools, were modeled on industrial factories and run efficiently with bells, timetables, separate subjects and punishment. As a result many tudents today, according to an industrial aged metaphor, are ‘disengaged’.

The introduction of NCEA has softened the failure concept but so far has not changed the industrial structures or 'mindsets'. In many cases it has simply futher fragmented learning but there is potential to be realized.

Progressive thinking, representing a more personalized approach, slowly entered the early years of learning but so far has made little impression on the secondary system. Even in the more 'child centred' primary schools the idea of developing, for each learner, their own curriculums based on their interests and concerns is rarely found. Teachers, and ‘their’ curriculums, still shape the learning of the children in primary schpols and the ‘three Rs’ still reign supreme.

Our Minister, talking about personalization, says the system must become learner centred and that we need to put the learner at the heart of all that is done. This, he believes, is a 'radical' proposal, one that will assist in transforming our (industrial aged) society. He continues, to develop a 21stC culture of continuous inquiry, innovation, risk taking and entrepreneurship, schools need to lead the change.

Personalization, no matter how you dress it up,basically means adapting the school to the unique needs of the students, rather that current practice of making students conform to school requirements - like a modern day 'Procrustean bed' - 'one size must fit all'.

There was a time in the 70 s when this dream shone brightly but it was extinguished by the power of the ‘status quo’ and a lack of appropriate conditions.

Perhaps now, as we enter the Information Age where the new ‘capital’ is the human talent, the time is right. And, as our fragmented Industrial Aged institutions are patently not coping (including secondary schools), personalization is urgent. Added to this is the failure of a 'market forces' approach which has eroded valuable human capital in the name of competition and efficiency. To add to the problem the technocratic top down curriculums, imposed in the 90s, are now seen as failing.

Personalization offers us a chance to throw off the shackles of conformity, control and compliance and to imagine, create, innovate and to do something exciting; a chance to develop the unique talents of all students.

This will require new ‘mindsets’. ‘Mindsets’ that focus on creating condition to assist all students realize their own special mix of talents, passions, and dreams

The concept of personalization will be rather scary for those brought up in an environment of ‘top down’ authority and control. It will require a belief in people, given the right conditions, to do appropriate things and to continually improve. Life in this new environment is always ‘next time’.

It is pretty obvious that some people (both teachers and parents) will find this hard to accept or to cope with.

I guess there will need to be a transition period. At first teachers could listen to their students ‘voices’ and begin to value their questions and current understandings. Such teachers will 'evolve' into learning advisers, or ‘coaches’ and come along side their students to help each learner ‘co-construct’ their own meanings.

It will become obvious that both teachers and students will need to work in teams sharing their creative intelligences and that school structures will need to change to allow this collaborative approach to happen. When modern information technology is added to this mix learning will be 'amplified'.

True personalization will only occur when each student is assisted to develop their own curriculum – their own 'individualized learning plan'. This does not mean students will work alone but that they will balance individual inquiry with group or team projects. It does mean that students need to study topics of interest in depth and express, or communicate, their ideas in range of creative ways to a wider audience.

Curriculum and tasks will ‘emerge’ from student’s questions, concerns and queries. Teachers and students, utilizing community resources and expertise, will become the norm as school turn themselves into democratic ‘learning communities’.

There are schools, at all levels, that are already doing this. It is tapping into, and sharing their expertise ,that will be the key to transformation, not ideas imposed from the top.

This would be ‘radical’ transformation. Let’s hope 'personalization' captures our imagination. It is a chance to help each learner be the best they can be. It would make both teaching and learning ‘stretching’ and fun.

It would require leadership and courage at all levels – none the least the Ministers.

You heard it first on Bruce's Blog!

The Minister to give a major speech on Personalised Learning at the Primary Principals Conference this weekend!

All I can say it is about time for a new 'direction' - or is it a 'blast from the past' - a case for creative teachers of 'deju vu'. If it is 'back to the future' this time we need to do it properly. And this time it needs to reach the secondary schools! It was at best a 'half finished revolution' in the 60s and 70s!

After years of neglect the Minister is going to dig up the 1939 vision of Peter Fraser and Dr Beeby and give it a fresh take. Yippee!

Time to dump all those silly current curriculums with all their idiotic levels and learning objectives. Down with the technocrats! At last the Ministry ( or their researchers) have caught up with what real learning was always all about!

What is this thing called learning?

 It seems simple enough. So why do so many 'learners' fail at school? Dysfunctional schools or dysfunctional learners? Posted by Picasa

Children go to school to learn.

It seems simple enough.

However when they enter school children find what they and their parents have experienced as learning does not always match what the teachers think

At home learning is shaped by responses to experience often mediated through conversation. The responses are shaped by the queries and questions about things that surprise the young child, or don’t seem to ‘fit’ what they have come to expect.

At school ‘learning’ is organized and shaped by the teacher who in turn is influenced by curriculums devised by others outside of the classroom. What happens in school should enhance student’s capacities to learn. If this happens, and students feel the ‘power’ of success, then they are on their way to becoming ‘life long learners’.

When it does not, students pay a personal and social price.

So learning is not as simple as it seems.

Many teachers draw on their experience, common sense, and professional knowledge as the basis for their teaching. What is sometimes missing is a ‘shared language’ of what learning is across a school so teachers can, talk to each other, their student’s parents, and also to hold themselves accountable.

This must be the ‘heart’, or the ‘art’, of teaching.

So ‘learning’ can mean many things.

Some teachers see ‘learning’ as transmitting knowledge or skills to students for them to memorize, or use, while other teachers spend time finding out what students bring to the learning situation and then build on and challenge their ideas. Some teachers determine what students ought to know and plan accordingly while other value students personal ‘voice’ and concerns as the beginning of learning.

The teachers ‘stance’ makes a difference!

And then there are those who see ‘learning’ as ‘achieving targets’ in literacy and numeracy, happily leaving to one side other important attributes, or subjects like the arts, that are harder to measure.

At a time when ‘experts’ now say that the individual teachers skill is the vital variable in child learning (up to 60%) it would be important for a school to clarify the core beliefs about teaching that all teachers should share –and that these beliefs should be mix of successful teacher practice and what research tells us about how students learn.

So it is not just about ‘learning’ (something) it is also learning ‘how to learn’ and also being ‘aware of how one learns’ – called metacognition.

Teachers need to be able to articulate what their beliefs are about teaching and learning and to be continually expanding their repertoire of teaching and learning strategies.

So ‘learning’ is a process that involves both teachers and students. When all members of the school are engrossed in learning then you have ‘learning community’.

Not all schools are ‘learning communities’ because too many students are failing..

Next time you see a teacher ask them what beliefs they base their teaching on?

You can’t take it for granted that all teachers will be able to answer the question.

See Te Ara Vision on our site for five core beliefs.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More from Mr Beane! Democratic Schools

  Posted by Picasa A bit more from Mr. Beane!

Beane is interested in what a curriculum would look like that transcends the current standardized ones – you know the ones with all those strands, levels and learning objectives.

He wants to know what a democratic curriculum would look like – one that provides ‘common good’ to all students; one that sees students as creators rather than ‘consumers’ or ‘customers’ – and most of all one that treats teachers as professionals.

Beane believes students need to be brought together to develop their own curriculum by combining their concerns and self interest with 'common good' in a collaborative and democratic way. For such a curriculum to be worthwhile he believes it must both address significant issues and engage students in an active and meaningful way.

After the two key questions have been asked (1. ‘What question or concerns do you have about yourself?’ and 2.‘What questions or concerns you have about the world?’) students gather in groups to discuss the questions and then work with their teachers to help them group common concerns into themes.

This would also allow the current curriculums ‘big ideas’, or strands, to be covered if this was felt important. The themes that the student's develop also cover over time the main strands that are included in the 'official' curriculums.

For example a set of questions framed a theme called’ Living in the Future’ which included, health issues, aging, planning healthy life styles, environmental concerns, study trends and graphs, looking at past trends ,the role of technology, future problems, and the need to get along and live with different cultures.

Another theme that was developed was ‘Show Me the Money’ arising out of questions about where money came from, history of money, ancient civilizations and money, budgeting, wealth distribution, poverty, and so on.

Other themes developed from students questions were: ‘Conflict and Violence’, ‘Outer Space’, ‘Isms and Prejudice’ - the possibilities are infinite.

After the theme has been selected students research their own questions, share and debate findings, prepare reports, interview community members and develop a parent evening presentation night to share findings with the wider community.

A full range of information technology and creative arts are naturally integrated into the learning experience as are a full range of appropriate thinking strategies – anything that allows the student to inquire deeply and express their ideas with imagination. It is essentially a problem solving approach.

The themes involve real work by the students often with no correct answers. Students have to come to consensus, handle differences, respect each other views, make decisions, contribute to group tasks, and find resources ( although teachers assist in this).

All this activity demands more time and intellectual energy that is usually expected. Students in this rigorous process pick extensive meaningful content knowledge as well as using higher order thinking skills- all qualities that will be useful if they are to live and contribute to a democratic society.

At the school I visit, which uses this approach across all children from year 1 to 8, the parent sharing evening have become a major highlight attracting a large number of enthusiastic parents.

It is important, according to Beane, not to ask the children simply what they are interested in and what they want to study. The broader based questions asked are concerns about themselves and the wider world and relate the studies to the 'common good'. Broader questions usually raise questions of wider social and worldwide issues .It has been found that students in widely different communities raise similar issues.

Perhaps the simpler questions might be the basis for work in the younger classes?

The deeper themes developed often involve issues of race, gender, class and wider society issues that encourage students to tackle more meaningful ideas.

Although the entire class decides on the theme the school I visits involves the entire school in this theme development using cooperative learning strategies – the older working with younger children. As the theme develops there is time for small groups, or individuals, to follow topics they feel important and that need not concern the whole group. If the whole school is involved the theme moves from family group to the class and individual levels but everyone contributes to the school wide presentation day.

Such a learning approach creates the school as a true 'learning community' where all work together to create what individuality they could not do alone, and where every persons individuals creativity is valued if it adds to the total picture of learning.

At the school I visit it has made a real difference, not only to the students, but their teachers who now work together for a common cause, and to the parents and the wider community who are as exited as the childrenare with what is being achieved.

Exciting stuff!

Developing a democratic curriculum.

  Posted by Picasa Education and Democracy: James Beane

I visit a wonderful school that makes use of an integrated learning approach based on the ideas of James Beane.

Beane's (and others) ideas fits into current talk of personalizing learning but within an environment based on democratic ideals.

Relating back to the ideas of John Dewey he believes that if people are to live democratic lives they must have the opportunity to learn what that way of life means. His ideas are based on the ability of students to participate in their own education. Democratic schools share a child centred approach but their larger goal is to change the undemocratic conditions of school themselves and in turn to reach out to the wider community.

Beane believes that teachers have an obligation to help young people seek out a range of ideas and to ‘voice’ their own. Beane believes that imposed standardized curriculums actually ‘deskill’ teachers as they are forced to follow approaches imposed on the school.

In Beane’s school teachers live with the creative tension of continually seeking a more significant education for their students while still attending to the knowledge and skills that will require continuing learning.

I believe it is an approach that has real relevance for teachers and students in the middle school where fragmented specialists teaching seems unable to cater for all students. At this level there is a real need to develop more coherent, and engaging learning challenges. This is all the more important for students who are currently failing school – or in Beane’s philosophy where schools are failing their students.

Beane defines several approaches to integrated learning to replace traditional separate subject teaching. Multi-disciplinary where two or more subjects are organized around a theme – in this approach subjects can still retain their separate time slots. Curriculum Integration without regard to subject areas lines. This project based education can involve students selecting/negotiating their own tasks and content.

Beane however takes integration one step further.

In this variation teachers and students plan together through a carefully guided process to create thematic curriculum based on questions and concerns students have about themselves and their world. Student questions are clustered into themes and teachers collaboratively plan activities which are designed for students to take a greater responsibility for their own learning in the context of democratic community.

In this way a school, with student input, develops its own curriculum based on two question asked at the beginning of the year.

What questions or concerns do you have about yourself?

What questions do you have about yourself?

Beane calls this a democratic curriculum. Although the class, team, or even the whole school decides on the themes there is plenty of time for small groups and individuals to create their own projects around the themes.

It is works wonderfully at the school I visit - more about that school later!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Personalising learning and the 'new' curriculum

  Posted by Picasa Reading the latest speech from the Minister of Education Mr. Maharey it seems that new directions are being introduced in education that will, in his words, ‘re-orientate the system to put the learner at the heart.’
For student centred teachers this is nothing new but for others, as the Minister says, ‘it will mean ‘looking hard at how we teach, what we teach, and how we assess’.

There will be a strong focus on classroom teachers as it seems research indicates that up to 59% of the variance in student achievement can be explained by effective teaching. It probably sounds mean but I wonder what this measure of achievement is – love of learning or marks for literacy and numeracy?

The Ministry now realizes that the best way to ensure quality learning is to engage students in their own learning. It is great that this idea has emerged after years of believing Ministry imposed curriculums would do the trick. No matter it is a good idea.

Along with the above there is the realization that high expectation of teachers is also a key variable. Isn’t research wonderful?

Following the ‘successful primary and numeracy initiatives', they are being extended into secondary schools. I would’ve liked to have seen a ‘learnacy initiative’ developed but that would be too much to hope for! 'Secondary school teachers need to see all students as successful learners and acknowledge that a better understanding of student’s lives outside school, their aspirations and what they bring to the classroom is vital', the Minister says. This would make a change from the rampant ‘deficit theory’ thinking that is held by many secondary teachers of too many failing students. The Ministers emphasis on personalization will challenge this demeaning point of view.

He says that if these ideas were achieved it would certainly make a difference to the chances of students currently exclude and that ICT, combined with a personalized approach, has the power to transform teaching. Currently ICT is over-promised and under delivered; 21stC tools trying to fit into 19thC structures.

As for what we teach the Minister says, ‘we need to provide every student with the key skills for learning and life. Skills we hope will enable them to reach their full potential as individuals.’

The current NZ Curriculum has been revised and simplified and will allow schools the freedom flexibility to focus on individual learners. The curriculum will:

• Combine the seven Learning Areas into one document
• Focus on effective teaching as the most important thing to cater for the needs of all students
• Strengthen school ownership of curriculum
• Encourage home and school cooperation and communication.

Assessment will be focused on providing high quality information to parents, students and teachers. Sounds like there could well be a few ‘fishhooks’ hidden in this simple statement?

As for the future the Minister says the Government has two developments:

1. The School Strategy which focuses on effective teaching and engaging families and whanau informed by ‘evidence based teaching’. Let’s just hope that not too much of this evidence has to be on paper. It is what the learner can do, perform, and demonstrate that ought to count. I prefer ‘evidence informed’.

2. Secondary School Futures to encourage debate about the purpose of secondary education twenty years from now. All a bit late I would have thought. We already know enough about learning organizations and teaching and learning for all students to succeed – why wait so long. A bit like Nero fiddling while Rome burns!

The first of the two is obvious the second urgent. If we want to ‘retain’ and ‘engage’ learners we can’t make the 21st C with schools designed in the 19th.

Let’s hope these changes are made by the Ministry supporting and sharing the ideas, expertise and wisdom currently in the schools and not through the idealistic eyes of distant researchers. ‘Best research informed practice’ is preferable to ‘research led’ change.

All these changes will become increasingly difficult to achieve the further up the school system one goes. They are already in place in many junior rooms!

It will take some courage by all involved – none the least the Minister and the Ministry to combat the entrenched power of the so called 'successful' secondary schools with their self centred middle class parents who might think they might have to lose or share some of their ‘social capital’ and power!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Minister Maharey's Agenda

A week or so ago our Minister of Education Steve Maharey presented his future agenda at a Middle School Principals meeting.

It signals the direction the government intends to take in education the next few years – well at least to the next election!

His eight points make interesting reading and possibly signs of better times for teachers and principals who have had to sufer the technocratic incoherent curriculums of the past decades?

His points were (with a few comments from me):

1. An emphasis on effective teaching based on NZ research (‘best practices’). I think I would prefer based on effective teaching taking place in our schools informed by current research. It is great that it has been ‘discovered’ that the teacher is the most important influence in any classroom along with high expectations.

2. An emphasis on developing leadership in schools (and within and between schools I would hope). This will be a change from all the managerial compliance requirements of the past years – imposed by his own bureaucrats. Many principals have been too busy with paper work to focus on leadership.

3. The provision of resources to schools .This could well be the Ministry's main role along with creating networks to spread the good ideas being developed in schools. The Minister needs to develop a ‘high trust’ rather than a 'low trust' audit culture – now that would be something.

4. A focus on behavior issues. Student behavior is a symptom of wider society issues but schools have not been able to provide challenging enough programmes to ensure students are gaining attention through positive actions. An emphasis on ‘designing’ programmes to suit individuals, rather than ‘delivering’ ‘one size fits all’ programmes, may be the real solution.

5. Retaining students until 16.This links in with all the above. It is pretty easy to work out witch students are not being retained (or ‘engaged’) and it wouldn’t be brain surgery to do something about it except for dysfunctional industrial aged secondary schools.

6. Reviewing Secondary education and teaching. Now there is a real challenge and one that has within it the seeds of success for all students. We know enough now that all students can gain success but we suffer from a ‘knowing action’ gap.

7. Engaging families and whanau. This of course means ‘inviting’ the very families that have had bad experience themselves when at school. The old pass/fail School Certificate ensures that this includes 50% of parents. A lot of ‘mindsets’ to change here both within and outside schools.

8. Ensuring sound foundations of literacy and numeracy. No argument here but lets see them as ‘foundations’ to ensure that the interests, passions, talents and dreams of all students are the number one priority! Schools are too often ‘dream killer’ not ‘dream weavers’. ‘Learnacy’ is more important than either literacy or numeracy.

His final challenge to the Middle School principals was to ‘personalized the learning for the children in front of you’ and for them to ‘lead the debate’.

Personalization will be the word we will all be talking about the next decade as the 'mass' education 'dream' has turned into a 'nightmare' for too many student (and teachers).

Nothing new in personalization, it has just taken along time to reach the heady heights of the Ministry officials in their distant ivory towers,

School to need to be treated personally as well - that will be the Ministry's challenge!

21stC: Personalised Learning!

The Minister of Education recently gave what I consider to be an important address about the future of education called from ‘Hope to Reality: Making a Difference for All Learners’.

The full address can be found on the NZ Labour Party website.

In his address Minister Maharey referred back to a past dramatic turning point, the 1939 Peter Frazer vision ; a speech written in part by the then Director of Education Dr Clarence Beeby. This was the beginning of mass education up until the age of 15 for all students – each learner was to receive and education ‘suited to the fullest extent of his powers’. In its day this was seen by many as controversial, particularly business groups, who felt that certain children would not benefit from the opportunity!

By 1980 it had become obvious that this vision was not delivering – especially for Maori, girls, and working class students. This ‘failing system’ was fair game for ‘market forces’ thinking of the 80s which believed schools ought to be more efficient, accountable and competitive. Introduced,under ironically a Labour Government, a 'market forces ideology' turned education into a private commodity rather than a public good; students to be seen as 'customers'; and schools were to compete with each other. The 'free market' was seen as the best way to provide services and contracts were put out to tender for those who won them to ‘deliver’!

Maharey now believes that the ‘high tide of free markets has now passed’ and that the ‘market model made things worse’. Today, he believes that, ‘the Beeby /Fraser vision is still alive and relevant’.

He has to thank creative teachers for keeping the spirit of the vision alive in an ‘audit low trust compliance culture’ ; such teachers, and schools, have been through hard times at the hand of Government authorities.

Discussing, ‘where we need to go from here’, Maharey stated that the Beeby/Fraser, ‘vision did not meet the needs of all learners’ – it was not really, ‘focused on the needs of the individual’. Instead it succeeded in giving students an ‘opportunity’ but it was, ‘delivered in away similar to mass production –standardization, central control, large scale organizational hierarchy.’

‘In other words’, he continues, ‘the student had to fit in with the system. In the light if what we now know such an education was unlikely to meet the needs of many learners, never mind the Maori, the working class and woman.’

The answer he believes ‘lies in another reorientation of the system’ This time, ‘the system will become learner –centered. Our aim now must be to provide personalized learning’.

This he says will, ‘demand a change in our approach’, and that, ‘we need to re-orient the system so that the leaner is at the heart of it’. Personalization is, ‘the approach that Labour is following’.

Concluding Maharey stated:

1. ‘The Beeby/Fraser represents an educational tradition that continues to serve us well’.
2. ‘The market argument is now dead’
3. ‘Placing the learners at the centre of the system (personalization) is as radical a notion as that conceived by Beeby/Fraser’.

‘Transforming our society requires transforming our education system.’ ‘It will require a culture of continuous inquiry, innovation and improvement, risk taking and entrepreneurship. This can only come from the education system.’

This, Maharey states, (and I have to agree) is a, ‘radical vision. If it is to work it will take real leadership.’ Principals, he says, need an, ‘optimistic view of what NZers can achieve, and make a difference for all students.’

‘We stand now at a beginning of a new century seeking to transform our nation. The power of education to drive that transformation is as potent as ever. But it can only exercise that power if education itself is transformed’

It seems we have a vision for our country at last; a just and equitable creative country dependent on the new ‘capital’ of the future – the curiosity, intellectual power and inventiveness of all its citizens – and with education its centre.

And as for ‘personalization of learning’ there are those among us who never lost the dream of it being achieved. Up until recently our politicians have been transfixed by the false promise of ‘market forces’. Maharey’s words offer hope for those who kept the Beeby vision of creative education alive these past decades.

For information on personalization of education.

Monday, June 12, 2006

We all need interests

  Posted by Picasa It was great to read an interview with Joy Cullen, Professor of Early Years at Massey University College, in which she said:

‘I think we all need interests. We need to be encouraged to pursue our interests. We need people who are interested in us. We need faith in ourselves that we can do things. And all learners, be they gifted and talented, or children with major disabilities, need the support that helps them to have some sort of understanding of themselves as learners.’

She goes on to say she believes in people, the power of learning and that central to her learning is the ability to tackle new challenges and as a teacher to pave the way for others.

What she wants for young learners is for them to develop a love of learning and the ability to pursue their interests. As educators she wants uS to ensure that all learners can get a sense of themselves and a belief That they can learn.

Joy has previously studied ‘learned helplessness’.

Talking about her childhood she said she was encouraged to show initiative, to be reflective, and to enjoy the outdoor environment, and to have aesthetic interests. It was all about learning resiliency and self sufficiency.

To Joy, the learner is central to the learning process and the issue is about how teachers can support learning for the child and that it is important not to give up on any child.

She goes on to say that she has learnt that:

‘Everyone one can learn something at whatever level. So, you don’t give up on children. We work with children with the skills and competencies they bring, and yes, it is worthwhile to do that in itself.’

Teachers, she says:

‘They’re looking at what has captured the child’s interests…what happening here? Then they’re looking at their own strategies and what is the next step from there.’

There are two ways of looking at children’s interest. One, in which you’re really working and extending them into developing projects, and the teacher is involved in that co-constructivist style of learning. Or there is a much softer sense, if you like, of children’s interests where children are just able to choose what they do. The old fashioned free choice, self section sort of programme. That type of programme…can be very low-level play and its not extending anyone.’

In the 1960s this was called creative expression and it is still important. The sixties were:

‘A great era of creative expression in primary schools. It was at that time when Elwyn Richardson had published his book ‘In the Early World’. It was very influential particularly in the junior primary classrooms,’

‘I was a wonderful era when era for people who were interested in working with young children because there were not the same constraints in terms of what you had to fit into the curriculum. You could use large blocks of the day allowing children to explore and create’

‘I can remember going for walks up the road and picking blackberries, coming back to make Blackberry jam..not very successfully! But doing wonderful paintings about the blackberries, looking at the colours…and it was an era, the 60s, that promoted that sort of creativity'.

It is this sort of experiential learning that we need to recover in this new creative era and we need to develop personalized programmes to uncover and develop the talents of every learner. Every student needs their own curriculum – their own Individual Learning Plan.

Joy concludes her interview with:

If as educators we don’t believe that we can make a difference, why are we here?

Lots of ideas to use the environment and to develop students interests on our site.

Slow learning needed for fast times!

  Posted by Picasa

Dean Fink and Andy Hargreaves, in their 2006 book ‘Sustainable Leadership’ introduce the important idea of ‘slow learning’. They draw on the ideas in psychologist Guy Claxton’s books ‘Hare Brain Tortoise Mind'; and ‘Wise Up’. Claxton is concerned with developing students 'learning power'.

Slow learning they believe is essential for our lives and learning by giving depth to our experiences and providing insight for creativity and ingenuity. All too often, in contrast, students are rushed through learning to cover curriculum material. First finished is best seems to be the order of the day!

As a result ‘slow learning’ is neglected in schools.

Those who appreciate ‘slow learning’ develop important future attributes:

• They are tolerant of fleeting and ambiguous ideas
• Are relaxed, leisurely and playful
• Are willing to explore without knowing what they are looking for.
• See ignorance and confusion as the beginning of learning
• Are receptive to spontaneous ideas
• Treat ideas that come ‘out of the blue’ seriously.

This is in contrast with recent suggestion to use precision ‘intentional teaching’ and achieving pre-set goals. When students are 'hurried' by teachers not enough time is allowed for ideas to incubate, or develop serendipitous connections with other areas of learning.

Claxton believes that an emphasis on current problem solving may be OK for problems that have answers but of little use with difficult problem with no clear answers. Such 'wicked' or 'messy' problems need time and often result in unforeseen solutions. Slow learning values intuition and imagination and avoids rushing into 'premature judgments'. Schools in contrast currently place a premium on rational criteria based thinking.

Ironically the other kind of thinking that is neglected is 'very quick' thinking. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in his book ‘Blink’, many important decision are made in the 'blink of an eye' without time to gather information to consider. To be able to use such insightful, or intuitive thinking, deep prior experience is required. For example a fireman knows in a ‘flash’ what to do as does an expert teacher helping a learner. Both call on wisdom slowly accumulated from hard earned previous experiences.

It seems creative thinking is paradoxical. Some of the best thinking is really slow while in other situation acting quickly is vital. Quick and slow thinking depend on each other.

The trouble is, it seems, is that schools use neither. All too often school learning is about producing something and is neither deep nor better just faster. Real learning is more than achieving teacher designed intentions or achievement targets.

Another author, Maurice Holt, is an advocate for the ‘slow school’ movement saying, ‘you can’t go on force feeding pupils and expect to get foie gras.’ Less, it seems done well, is definitely more.

The message for schools from all this is to 'do fewer things well'. To study topics in depth. Slower schooling means deep rigorous learning to challenge learners prior ideas and assumptions. Some learning, of course, needs to be fast and snappy but not all of it.

As Mae West put it best, ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly’.

Good advice. Let’s slow down learning, do it in depth, and enjoy the experience.

On our site we have lots of good ideas to develop such quality learning.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Principals suffering from HAS Syndrome?

  HAS - Hyper Active Superficial Syndrome Thanks to Jackson Pollock for the painting. Posted by Picasa

For the past fifteen years or so schools have been flooded with endless curriculum, assessment, and compliance requirements and as a result many principals are under pressure to know exactly what is it that is expected of them. No wonder many are feeling somewhat stressed even if the macho and stoic amongst them pretend all is well.

During this time of trying to guess what is expected of them many principals suffer from, what change management expert Eric Abrahamson calls, 'RCS' – Repetitive Change Syndrome. He also says when organisations are asked to implement more change initiatives than they can reasonably handle 'Change related Chaos’ occurs.Other writers call it an 'implementation dip'. One business writer calls the problem ‘corrosion of character’ because in the attempt to guess what is expected of them ‘leaders’ lose sight of what it is that is important to them causing depresssion and feelings of lack of integrity.

School now suffer from the label they give to their their students 'ADD' – 'Attention Deficit Disorder' unable to focus on what is important to them – or, more importantly, what is important to the wider community if we want to develop a sustainable creative country. All too often schools have become inward looking and competitive, turning themselves in to ‘Christmas Tree – look at me schools' with fancy brochures and doubtful narrow success achievement graphs.

Worse still, after years of being in this low trust audit culture, principals start to believe that what they have been asked to comply with is actually the 'right thing' to do and, as a result, ‘schools become over-managed and under led’.

For far too long schools have put up with Ministry‘CRAP’. This stands for the Ministry 'Continually Changing All Procedures’! No wonder many teachers and principals are suffering from degrees of stress, burnout and cynicism.

A good friend of mine used to say that, ‘Teachers have two important things they must protect at all costs – their energy and their time .If they waste it on bullshit they will have no time to teach’. We are at this point now!

Now, as the world wide ‘market forces’ public choice efficiency approach falters, there is a move towards placing greater trust in the collective wisdom within organizations and communities .

The Ministry, obviously aware of this trend, has moved away from its technocratic curriculums and a 'new' Curriculum Framework will soon offer schools the freedom and flexibility that is long overdue. Ironically schools will now have to throw out, or unlearn, what they have had to develop to take advantage of this change of direction.

'New' answers are for schools to 'transform' themselves into ‘professional learning communities’ based on shared visions and values. And now schools are being asked to work together to share their collective expertise. Teachers expertise is now seen the key factor rather than the distant ‘experts’ curriculums. High teacher expectations and ‘learning how to learn’ (‘key competencies) now 'trump' learning objectives. The new draft even exhumes an old, but important, word pedagogy – the ‘art of teaching’ and even goes as far to state that developing a ‘love of learning ‘is important.

This is a real change of direction.

The new ‘curriculum’ will be ‘Deju vu’ for long suffering creative teachers and principals but it least will be a welcome antidote to all the nonsense that has passed for education the past decades. Principals will now need a good dose of 'ODD' – ‘Opposition Defiance Disorder’ so as to place a greater emphasis on what they, and their communities, think important. Innovative principals have always had the courage to say no to ensure what is valuable is protected and done well.

As we enter an age of creativity schools need to focus on ensuring that all students have the opportunity to develop all their talents and not just be restricted to a narrow diet of literacy and numeracy; we now need ‘new basics’ and ‘new literacies’ for this new ‘post modern’ world.

One needs to ask why we have had to wait so long for those in power to face up to the obvious, that things have not been working and are beyond ‘tinkering’. There must be a syndrome which covers being blinded by ones own outdated views? Lack of reality ‘gap’ or the ability to self delude come to mind.

At least we all now know the Emperor has no clothes; the ‘Emperor Has No Clothes Syndrome’ - EHNCS ?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A new Era of Creativity for schools.

  Posted by Picasa A dramatic world wide change is now occurring as the world slides out of the Industrial Age into what some call a ‘post modern’ era .Others call it the ‘Information Age’ (led by new technology) or the Age of Ideas or even the ‘Second Renaissance’.

Whatever it is called thing are going to change – and quickly. The question is, can societies and their institutions, with their genesis in the Industrial or Modern age, change quickly enough, or will new forms emerge or evolve. The latter has been the story of history.

By 2020 will we recognize our world?

The trouble with change it is like being caught in the rain without enough information to see the weather .To see patterns this you need the distance of space or time, or at least an understanding of the ‘big picture’.

The future survival of any country, in this new dynamic evolutionary era, will require their citizens to be creative risk takers with a ‘can do’ attitude able to make decisions with partial information. And, if they are wise, they will see that education is the key to their future prosperity and survival.

A short history of the patterns of the last half century both indicates hopefulness and despair in regard to education.

Following the massive industrialization during and after World War Two Western societies settled into a conservative and security conscious decade. In schools it was the ‘Three Rs’ and straight rows and teachers ‘transmitted’ agreed prescribed knowledge to learners. There were pioneer teachers with alternative ideas but they acted as ‘sleepers’ for future change; the time was definitely not right!

Almost without warning the sixties introduced freedom and experimentation and 'love was in the air' as was disrespect for traditional values and institutions. It is said, 'if you remember the sixties you weren’t there'! By the seventies the world had changed – or so it seemed. Schools changed dramatically ( well perhaps only primary schools - secondary schools were and remain far more impervious to change). ‘Child centred' activity methods were introduced- out went the straight rows (and the strap) and in came group work and developmental programmes. Teachers in this period gained a high degree of autonomy and discretion. A ‘1000 flowers bloomed’ but not all were to last.

By the late 70s, after it seemed all teacher had ‘jumped onto the bandwagon’, things were not well and the time was right for more changes. As well, in this era of social conscience, all sorts of programmes were dropped on school to solve. All of a sudden teacher autonomy was replaced by imposed curriculums and only the dedicated few creative teachers remained true to their child centred principles.

By the 80s the time was right worldwide for a dramatic change of direction – the ideology of ‘market forces’. Competition, individuality, efficiency, accountability and choice were the new buzz words. And eventually this reached down to schools where in NZ ‘Tomorrows Schools’ were made ‘self managing’ and competitive. Ironically schools could manage everything (like a ‘business’) except the curriculum which was imposed and to which all schools had to comply with and be held accountable to. The curriculums, with their endless strands, levels and learning objectives, turned teachers in to ‘deliverers’ of other people ideas. Technocratic ‘mindsets’ were in control.

These were difficult times for creative teachers or leaders in this era of ‘managerialism’ and measured outcomes. Schools became ( and still are) ‘over managed and under led’. The 'market forces' ideology led to 'winner and loser' school that matched the growing gap between the ‘have and have nots’ of the wider society. This was to be the Industrial, or Modern Efficiency Age, at its worst.

But thingS are changing world wide once again and, once again, new patterns of thought will reach down to the schools. This time, with leadership, schools could lead the changes and not simply respond to idea 'delivered from on high' by people who have little understanding of the realities of the classroom.

The ‘new’ cuuricum, due in June, fits in well with this new conception or ‘mindset’. Schools will at last be given greater freedom and flexibility to ‘design’ (not ‘deliver’) programmes according to local needs. The now incoherent so called rational curriculums have now been reduced to essentials that will still provide the necessary unity and consistency within, and between, schools. ‘How to learn’ is now more important but this needs to be as a result of in-depth integrated learning. Pedagogy has been ‘dug up, dusted down’ and is now to be central.

Schools will now be able to develop themselves as ‘professional learning communities’ and will need to focus on creating the conditions to tap into the creativity and shared wisdom of their teachers so as to develop the citizens of the future on whose creativity we will depend on.

For many creative teachers who have had to keep their heads down the last decade or so, this will be affirmation of their beliefs and for those who taught in the 60s a case of ‘deju vu’.

I wonder if we still have the leaders to lead such a change?

In 1986 the then Minister of Education introduced an ‘Education Review’. This was nation wide conversation based around key questions to do with the future of education. Perhaps the time is right again for another nation wide dialogue to tap into the wisdom of all.

At the very least this is a conversation that every school ought to have with its community.