Thursday, September 27, 2007

Some questions to ask about your school.

Rodin's thinker - time to reflect on what is happening in your school?

In the months ahead schools will be considering what changes they will have to make to introduce the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

Even a quick read will show that the emphasis being placed on 'key competencies', the importance of inquiry as the basis for learning, and the need to see all students as 'active seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge', indicates it will not just be 'business as usual'.
The 'new' curriculum offers an opportunity to 'revision', with your community, what the school stands for.

A few ideas to think about

1 How much time is currently being taken up with the mantras of 'best practice' and 'evidence based' literacy and numeracy programmes
in comparison to other equally important areas? One UK commentator believes that the 'evil twins of literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the entire curriculum'. In the USA the creative arts are at risk as school focus on improving literacy and numeracy 'targets'. The trouble with 'targets' is, that it is not what you achieve that counts, it is what you miss by focusing too hard an a narrow range of experiences.

2 How much is student inquiry, in all curriculum areas, the basis of the school's programmes?
Is the school celebrating students thinking about issues they feel is important? How much do the rooms reflect their questions, ideas and researched answers? Are the students able articulate the inquiry approach and able to self evaluate their own progress? How much does inquiry learning integrate curriculum areas and make us of skills taught in the literacy and numeracy block?

3 Can the teachers articulate the vision, values and teaching beliefs of the school? If asked, can they articulate how they see their role in the learning process and can they discuss the various agreed teaching strategies the school has agreed to implement? Can they discuss the basic inquiry process and the ideas behind 'constructivist' teaching? Are they aware of the need to do 'fewer things well' and to help students being aware of the need for personal effort and perseverance?

4 How well are students making use of higher order thinking skills to develop in depth research of real quality that reflects their own 'voice', or is it, 'higher order thinking for thin learning'? Is real content being explored by students based on topics or issues that really involve them or is is just about process?

5 How well is e-learning integrated into inquiry based teaching
as an important tool for both searching and expressing students' ideas. Information technology are a high cost items - is the school getting value for its money that could have been used elsewhere?

6 Is the school able to demonstrate that they are developing the gifts, talents and passions of all their students
- exploring the full range of intelligences as developed by Howard Gardner? Does the school see this as a priority, at least equal to literacy and numeracy and, if so, how much time is provided to develop such gifts. How much does the school reflect the concept of 'personalised learning' - customising learning around the needs of each individual learner, working towards ensuring every learning has their own individual learning plan? How much of the children's real world is celebrated in the classrooms?

7 How important are the creative arts in the classrooms allowing students, not only to develop their artistic gifts, but also to understand the demands of the creative process and the time it takes to complete work of personal excellence? Does the creative work on display, or able to be demonstrated, reflect the individuality of each student.

This list of discussion points could go on forever and no doubt reflects the ideas I holds to be important. None the less they are a starting point and schools can delete or add their own queries if the idea was felt valuable.

If a school were dedicated to developing the talents and gifts of all students it would require considerable rearrangement of most schools priorities and programmes. 'Learnacy' would need to replace literacy and numeracy as the focus of learning!


Anonymous said...

It seems schools are too busy to stop and think about what the future requires - for all the so called 'reforms' schools still reflect past requirements. And they seem impervious to change enough to ensure all students talents are developed!

Good questions to think about.

Bruce said...

There are 'powerbrokers' or self appointed 'elites' ( as assessed by wealth) in society ( and running the big traditional schools schools) that see any change as a threat to their power and status. Until the forces of fairness, and the common good, become important to all of us little will change.

Bur some of us 'whittle' away at the structures that will eventually crumble under the 'weight' of this growing unfairness!

Anonymous said...

Good questions. Much of what goes on in schools is an extension of past practices without ever challenging basic assumptions.

Bruce said...

There is much about our schools, their timetables, uniforms, how they sort out kids, hierarchical structures, age grouped classes, and even holidays, that sadly reflect their past genesis. As we enter the 21st Century everything ought to challenged and schools re-imagined so students can thrive in what will be an unpredictable and exciting future.

Anonymous said...

These are great questions that promote connecting theory with real-time practice. Though evaluating some evidence can be subjective, it is a good idea to examine if the actual is in line with the idea. I especially like the questions about how students experience inquiry. Is it process, or is it relevant?

Bruce said...

Thanks for the comment. The gap beween rhetoric and reality will always be the concern. Inquiry ought to be a disposition that underpins all school learning.