Thursday, August 23, 2007

Learning is about consructing meaning.

Marie Clay - more than just about reading.

In most teachers mind mention Marie Clay and they think of Reading Recovery. To me, I attribute to her the remark that, 'if a child hasn't learnt to learn something we haven't yet found the way to help him or her' or that, 'all children will learn with the right task, the right help and enough time'.

Marie Clay was 'constructivist' or more accurately a 'co-constructivist' believing, like such researchers as Jerome Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky that students create their own meanings and that this is best achieved by sensitive teacher interaction, always leaving the responsibility of learning in the child's hands. Holdaway (79)calls this need to make meaning a 'semantic drive' - one that it put at risk by insenstive teachers who do not value student creativity as the source for all learning.

I was pleased, many years ago, to read an article by Marie Clay in which she wrote about the importance of the creative arts in the learning process. All too often, as soon as children enter school, early attempts to write and draw are subsumed by an sect like obsession with literacy.

It may be time to redress the balance? In earlier, more creative times, it was common to see 'language experience' and 'related arts' approaches to learning.

According to Marie Clay many students enter schooling with skills of drawing and beginning attempts to write in place. As they draw things that caught their attention ( environmental experiences or personal events) they at least added their names. As children drew they formulate , with teacher support, ideas they want to add to their drawing, creating in the process their first reading books. Such books were first created by Sylvia Ashton Warner in the 50s and by Paulo Friere, working with illiterate peasants in Brazil. Creative teachers made sure that these often poetic and imaginative thoughts, when scribed, were not translated by teachers into neutral 'readingese'; in the process losing their sense of 'voice'.

Drawing can be seen as a creative activity in their own right, according to Marie Clay, or as 'aide memoire' to develop their ideas in their mind while they struggle with the message they want to express.

Such writings and drawings, and the conversation that go with them, imply that children bring with them their own ideas ( 'prior knowledge') to any learning situation . These ideas need to be respected by teacher. To develop vibrant integrated language arts programmes teachers need to develop their rooms as stimulating environments that acknowledge and build on the felt experiences students bring with them, as well as exposing students to rich environmental experiences and art media.

Marie Clay notes that many children would go unnoticed if it were not for the power of their poetic language and art.
Children she says, quoting from 'Wally's Stories' Paley 81, write 'delightfully and wisely for themselves'. Paley continues the teachers role is , ; to keep the inquiry open long enough for the consequence of their ideas to become apparent to them ...my goal ...is to give children practice in exposition as to improve their stories'.

This Marie writes is the approach used so successfully by Elwyn Richardson.Marie Clay was aware of the creative teaching of this pioneer New Zealand whom she quotes widely in the article as evidence of want we would now call a 'personalised' approach.

Richardson , Clay notes, values the culture of the child as a starting point rather than an imposed preplanned curriculum. It is an approach that values equally art forms, craft activities, movement, music, drama, as much as language expression. Local stories, oral story telling, and history are seen as valuable resources along with a full use of the local environment. The curriculum is there to be taken, for free; 'emerging' from students own lives, questions and concerns. Such a curriculum is non linear and recursive, revisiting issues of importance according to need.

Such a creative curriculum needs creative teachers confident and free enough to attend to the ideas and needs of their students.

Today few schools encourage such creativity.

If a co- constructive approach is not taken seriously by all schools little else will work and students will continue to fail.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, very much an interactive style of teaching and learning also highlighted by the Waikato Learning In Science Project. Involves focusing on real and natural learning process, a pity there were not more teachers using such an approach.

Bruce said...

You are so right. The ideas of the LISP Project were lost in the change to 'Tomorrows Schools'; now 'yesterdays schools' as the Ministry is moving away from 'their' faulty ideology of the day.

As we move back to focussing on teaching and learning it is a case of 'back to the future' - with those with memories to know what teaching was like in those days!

Bruce said...

You are so right. The ideas of the LISP Project were lost in the change to 'Tomorrows Schools'; now 'yesterdays schools' as the Ministry is moving away from 'their' faulty ideology of the day.

As we move back to focussing on teaching and learning it is a case of 'back to the future' - with those with memories to know what teaching was like in those days!

Bruce said...

Oops -seem to be repeating myself!
Marie Clay could be said to be one the first to 'personalise' learning assistance to students.

Anonymous said...

Reading is overdone! Developing literacy through students own writing about their own lives and experiences is neglected. Perceiving, sensing, wondering, talking, writing, then reading ones thoughts is the obvious process.