Saturday, May 26, 2007

Natural born learners

I have over the past two weeks or so had the opportunity to visit over a hundred or so classrooms, even if briefly. And to be honest all one needs, if one know what they are looking for is able to be seen in a 'blink', according to Malcolm Gladwell ( author of the book Blink).

All I can say is that what I have seen leaves me feeling disappointed.

And for this I place no blame on the teachers themselves.I believe they have been manipulated by pressures from outside of the school to focus their teaching too narrowly on literacy and numeracy.

And what is more amazing is that no one seems to have noticed the distortion of what real learning should be about - students being helped to develop their own talents, 'meanings', and value judgements. And even more amazing some of the schools I visited had just been through the official Education Review Office review system with flying colours. Is it a case of the Emperor having no clothes?

It is as if the 'evil twins of literacy and numeracy had gobbled up the whole curriculum'. This of course has been escalated by principals doing their best to focus on literacy and numeracy 'targets' to show how 'on task' their schools are. The trouble is with 'targets' is not that you achieve them but what you miss by focusing to narrowly on them.

At one school I was shown the charter of a Victorian School ( the State as well as the style!) which, by means of a computer links, gives the school pages of 'data' on maths and reading success and indicates areas needed to improve ( or else!)

Are we going mad? Is this the last ditch attempts of a scientific age, premised on measuring, graphing and reporting only on what they can measure, and in the process neglecting more important aspects?

If this is so then it is a case of 'institutional intellectual violence' or faulty 'mindshaping'. Are we so busy 'mining' a couple of 'Victorian' areas of basic learning that might have been required for a past Industrial Age we can't see the 'shadow of the future? And, by doing this, are we ignoring vast areas of human creativity; very creativity that future learners ( and countries ) will need, in what some are calling, the 'Second Renascence'?

I may be being too harsh.I did see many examples of creative work but I did not see a real focus on a 'problem centred learning environment'; one based on exploring students real concerns or questions; nor did I see rooms where students ' voice' and ideas were the dominant feature;after all it is their learning.

It was as if a narrow focus on literacy and numeracy, plus a shallow approach to other learning area were enough.

I hear a of of talk about 'personalized learning', the need to develop the creative talents of all students, and students being, 'users, seekers and creators' of their own knowledge, but so far little action. Students have instinctive drives from birth to express themselves in their own idiosyncratic ways. Teachers need to tap into these instinctive drives, passions and latent interests if they are to recognise students as 'natural born learners'.

What we need is for teachers, principals and the Ministry to recognize that developing the far harder areas to measure like talent development, deeper thinking, creativity and love of learning are the real challenges that lies ahead.

The 'evil twins', and their narrow measurement allies, might need to be somewhat controlled to allow space for such innovative creative thinking?

Afer all we are in the 21stC - or hasn't anyone noticed?


Tom Sheehan said...

I agree Bruce !

I have just begun as principal at a lovely school of 77 children. The powers that be want me to set some targets !

Please suggest some alternatives to the evil twin scenario ?

I am loving it by the way and the potential of this school is enormous.

Bruce said...

Greetings Tom

Guess you've been busy with your new job!

There is no getting away from setting 'targets' it seems and, in the main, all that is wanted is literacy and numeracy. I would devise some simple assessment procedures to gather data on the above to show progress but each year to pick something interesting to assess as well. For example after teaching students how to set key questions, and to communicate what they currently know, as well as how to research and present their work ( with due attention to content that reflects their thinking and queries as well as aesthetic design) get them to complete a small individual self chosen project with negotiated criteria and see how well they go. To make it fair assess students harder if the topic they choose is well known to them - but it is their use of the process that counts.Their success in this task will provide you with lots of 'evidence' to improve your teaching and their learning

Anonymous said...

One of the best ways to develop personalised learning would be for Bruce to ask those teachers and schools who are best at doing this to be open to mentor other teachers in the process and the monitoring of progress etc. I would think several professional development days could be well spent observing and digesting the best way to carry out child centered teaching. It would seem to me to be a huge advantage if a teacher could access information on process as well as obvervations. This would soon build a collegial network of information and support.

Bruce said...

Thank you anon ( and I can guess who you are!) for suggesting for me to begin a process of mentoring schools using personalised learning.

A good idea but one an innovative Ministry should pick up on. I would certainly like to take part but can't see the Ministry making any real use of me - they prefer their own tame 'house trained' advisers!

And anyway you could count true personalised learning schools on one hand!