Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More 'Magic' of Teaching

Mid Canterbury Principals Association holds their second highly successful 'Magic of Teaching' Conference.

It was great to be asked to return to Ashburton to give a keynote and a couple of workshops at the Mid Canterbury Principals 2007 Conference.

Not only was it an opportunity to listen to the other guest keynote speakers but equally importantly an opportunity to listen to the expertise shared by local teachers.

It would seem to me that if we want to develop a creative education system, able to develop the talents of all students, then we need to listen more to those teachers who have gifts they could share with others. All too often 'we' think that all good ideas come from 'on high' but hopefully this myth is losing its power as current curriculums are being found wanting - ironically by the very people who introduced them.

The key statement in the new draft curriculum is the need for students to be users, seekers and creators of their own knowledge. The key competencies, important as they are, ought not get in the way of ensuring all students develop their own set of expanding talents.

The highlight of the conference, for me, was being able to listen to Mike Anderson, the principal of North Loburn School, talking about 'Kid Based Learning.' Mike made the point that it is the 9 to 3 interaction of students with a living teacher that makes the real difference. Teachers, he said, have to care about their students and involve them in authentic projects.

Mike outlined the development of his own thinking - a reminder to all that everyone that our beliefs are continually evolving -or ought to be.

Mike based most of his presentation around his use of information technology, making the point that if not used appropriately its misuse can restrict students learning. All too often, he said, teachers are overly impressed by the promises of technology 'snake oil salesmen'.

Mike's educational journey with computers and information processing evolved through several stages.

The first phase was one of using them for skill acquisition, which he said, had 'more than a whiff of Victorian three Rs teaching'.

The second phase led to using computers to make such things as PowerPoint's which, all too often, resulted in lots of flying captions and whizzy noises, finishing with students saying, 'thank you for watching my PowerPoint'. Little real thinking was involved as impressive as they may have looked.

Phase three was 'rubric ism'. For a while Mike was became 'rubric crazy' but all too often they ended up as 'horizontal checklists' and, as well, the emphasis was more on the final product than the thinking processes involved.

Rubrics evolved into negotiated assessment criteria for ideas about how the students can do things well. An improvement, but not one that Mike felt valued creativity or imagination. And, once again, swinging back to a focus on product.

Phase four was 'modernisation'.This involved the belief that adapting a model seen in another school would save the day. Once again, Mike felt, that this conflicts with students' individual ways of working and their creativity.

Inquiry models can never be as neat as diagrams suggest. Creative learning is often 'chaotic and messy' and it is wrong to suggest otherwise. Higher order thinking is brilliant but can never be used as a recipe. Learning is not a linear process and is more an organic thing.

Real learning involves messy challenges that involve a range of human responses including, conflict, frustration, resilience and perseverance. What is chosen to study must be seen as authentic. With reference to computers Mike quoted Seymour Papert, 'By turning computers into information and presentation machines we have destroyed 90% of there value in education.' Learning requires 'mingrinding' and intellectual grunt', Mike stated, to develop learners 'neurological pattern development'.

As for assessment ( Mike had mentioned earlier that obsess and assess seemed to be synonymous) his approach had equally evolved. Mike asks his students to mindmap what they has learnt and then to refine this to five or so most important aspects. Students need to be able show 'evidence' of their improvement in learning and thinking and if working in co-operative ventures need to explain what they have contributed as well as the other team members.

Future students will be able to assess themselves against the new 'key competencies'.

Mike was at pains to value the creative process as against the product.

For me, the distinction is never 'either or' but product developed 'via' process or vice versa. Students' need to feel pleased with both the process they have acquired that they can further apply in the future but I bet they are equally really proud of the product they have created.

The workshop was a great example of 'teacher magic'!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! It sounds like it was fantastic!

Bruce said...

Be worth making contact with North Loburn School because Mike makes a really creative use of ICT which I know you are also keen on.

It was sure great to see teachers sharing ideas and having such a great social time. Irish dancing was all the rage in the evening!

They throw a good conference in Mid Canterbury.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bruce,
I am wondering if I could use your testimonial about Mike in a flyer that I am putting together for his visit to us in Brisbane next year? Thanks,

Bruce said...

Feel free to do so - I have just got back from presenting in Sydney today!