Thursday, February 28, 2008

Back to the future.

Bill Guild working with students 25 years ago.

Twenty five years after retiring Bill Guild has been invited back to his old school to share his ideas about quality teaching and learning. It is a half a century since Bill took up his appointment at the school.

As well, it turns out, Bill taught the aunt of the current principal who wants to learn about, from Bill, the ideas that first gained the school it's creative reputation. Tapping into the wisdom of the past is a powerful idea - and it turns out Bill's wisdom is very current.

Bill was part of a small group of teachers who worked hard to develop creative classrooms in the 1970s. Today the challenge is for whole schools to work together to share their expertise.

When Bill retired he gave me notes of talks he had given and, in this this blog, I share a few of his ideas to indicate the thinking of the day.

'To me the teachers' role is vastly different.No longer the font of all knowledge but rather a counsellor, adviser, partner, guide, questioner, prompter and confidant.'

'I believe that schools must be learning communities where students learn, with our assistance, the things they want to learn; when they want to learn them; how they want to learn them; and why they want to learn them; all through their own curiosity'.

'As a group we were disillusioned with the traditional pre-packaged approach ...largely adult conceived....including ability grouping.Attributes such as co-operation, understanding and sharing were largely given lip service. We believed that learning should stem from the natural but vital curiosity of children and it should centre around real experiences'.

'Skills...such as focus, concentration, craftsmanship, introspection and independent inquiry need to be introduced.' 'Presentation and display skills need extra special attention and the creative areas given new emphasis.' We felt such independent self motivated learners would be more able to cope with the future with assurance and zest.People who are responsible for their own learning, able to make relevant choices, seem to be the kinds of people best suited to cope with future society.'

'To achieve work of high quality, which gives satisfaction and a feeling of personal success, there is a need to slow down the pace of work so the enjoyment is experienced as the work progresses and the finished piece reflects, not only thought, but pride of craftsmanship.Slowing down the working pace of children and allowing them time to reflect and and saviour their discoveries and achievements.'

'The role of the teacher is to encourage and stimulate pupils to seek knowledge for themselves.'

'Carefully arranged teacher displays', are a feature, and were based on, 'environmental, language, or maths topics'.'As the topic progresses the work of children is added to the display until it becomes an amalgam of both the children and the teachers efforts.' 'It is most important to acknowledge, in a meaningful way, the value of a piece of work.' 'These displays provide a window to the world revealing the work being done in literature, individual interests, the environmental and experiences shared by the class or as individuals.'

'There is an emphasis on the immediate environment.It is the teachers role to reveal the unknown in the familiar and to help children to discover the unnoticed world within their environment.' However, the interests of the children cover a wide range from fact to fantasy.' 'The school is a base from which to explore their environment.'

'Gradually, with experience and growing confidence in their own abilities, children are given some choice within a very wide topic and finally many children may reach a stage they can be given a complete choice.'

'Questioning techniques must be suited to the needs of the learner ...and should be framed in a way as to stimulate greater powers of thought.' 'Plenty of time must be given the children to talk, discuss,disagree, argue, and revise opinions, all of this while refining and defining their solutions.'

'Teaching observation is important. I believe we look at so much and see so little.Hence my belief that if we slow down our pace and allow ourselves the gift of observation.''Without the input of looking future artistic or intellectual output is possible.' 'But drawings must go further than factual information, they are also able to convey feelings, impressions, and emotion.People who look harder, see more and understand more.' 'Drawing is a way of asking questions and drawing answers.'

Drawing involves the, 'outward eye, which is our observing eye, and an inward eye, which looks at feelings, memory, and imagination.' 'Observational drawing is not concerned with mere reproduction'... but result in, ' drawings which are uniquely yours.'

' A sense of design and beauty is an obvious need in our society and very little emphasis, and even scarcer recognition, has been placed on this area of visual education,'

Along with my colleagues I have tried to develop classroom programmes where children are exposed to a variety of ideas and situations.We have tried to take into account the backgrounds and interests of the children as well as they ways in which they learn. All children need success and we feel that this best achieved by children having confidence in themselves to select their own tasks, and through the development of necessary skills and abilities, to complete them to a deep sense of satisfaction in a task well done.'

Bill worked with group of creative classroom teachers working in different schoools. The challenge today is for whole schools and, better still, groups of creative schools working together making use of the teacher expertise in their own schools. And also, as Bill illustrates, the wisdom of past creative teachers.

The 'new' NZ curriculum provides an opportunity for the beginning of new creative era of education.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Learning styles

Classroom management and the four basic types of learners: Heart, head, hands, and the mind's eye.

In traditional teaching teachers presented their ideas to the whole class. Those who were aligned to the teacher's style managed to retain enough of whatever was presented to succeed . 'Successful' students, in such a academic environment, were those were those successful in the linguistic and logical- mathematical areas of learning.

Today, with an appreciation of the diversity of student learning styles, the idea of multiple intelligences, the modern emphasis on active learning, and the need for all students to gain success, such a simplistic pedagogy will no longer do.

Developing a 'personalised learning' approach, tailoring learning to the needs of each students ( as against the 'one size fits all'), is not as easy as it sounds. In the real world, outside of school, people make use of whatever ways of learning that do the job. For many such people school learning is of little use to them.

Developing a 'personalised approach' begs the question of, 'What do we do with the others?' Many teachers of junior classes have already solved this problem - group work - but all too often this resorts to ability grouping which goes against the premise of personalised learning. In secondary schools students are often 'streamed' to assist teachers cope with diversity but this is, all too often, at the expense of the so called 'slower' learners ( the less academic). 'Once a weka always a weka'!

By using a mixture of learning styles and group work all students can be assisted to achieve a high level of in-depth learning.

The four styles are :

1 The Interpersonal Style ( represented by a heart).This conversational style allows the teacher an opportunity to listen to the views of the students as in sharing a 'big book' with readers but it could equally be a science discussion to access 'prior idea' or learn from, and how to write up, an experiment.

2 The Thinking- Reasoning Style ( represented by the head). Students research ideas, using key question and appropriate resources, to extend their understanding -and possibly to develop further questions.

3 The Mastery Style ( represented by the hand). This group features making or doing. Practical 'hands on' tasks.

4 The Imaginative Style(represented by the minds eye).This group is involved in tasks extending the ideas imaginatively, making use of various forms of expression and media.

The above groups styles fits comfortably with the 'multiple intelligences' of Howard Gardener that many teacher make use of. Gardner believes that students need rich topics that utilize the appropriate intelligences. This idea also aligns well with an integrated approach making use of in depth knowledge from the various disciplines. The key is to do fewer things well - to study a topic in-depth.

When teachers plan their studies to cover all learning styles (and intelligences) it allows success to be a reality for all students. The four group styles are to be seen in any primary reading programme although, as mentioned, these are still ability groups.

In a class setting a topic could be introduced in week one. Students initial questions can be gained and their 'prior ideas', answering such questions, noted. Ideas for activities, and ways of communicating findings, could be discussed. Experiences could be introduced to provide background material for the students to think about.

Before the next week teachers could pull idea together and assign to the four group task for students to rotate around. This rotation might last up to two weeks making use of an hour a day; four sessions a week. Skills required in group work need to be taught prior to the tasks e.g. how to write up their research, or how to use the digital camera. Group work is not the time to teach new skills. Such skills could be taught in the language programme. Special attention needs to placed on assisting students develop design/presentation skills. Some schools develop design 'scaffolds' to assist students.

All the groups could contribute ideas to place on students completed booklet or web page etc; or they could be stand alone tasks.

By the end of the third or fourth week students would be expected to completed all tasks and then to evaluate and share negotiated tasks with others in the class, or their parents. By now the wall displays will feature the key questions and completed research tasks, art and creative language.

Such a group programme allows students a variety of opportunities to develop and share their talents. Not all students enjoy all styles but all need to experience the insight each offers.

It is best to keep group task specific and to encourage doing things well rather than rushing through task with an, 'I'm finished - first is best', attitude. Extra extension activities can be included for those 'fast finishers'.

When a group work pattern is established students will be able to apply themselves more positively and teachers will be able to find the time to interact with students to challenge, give encouragement and assess progress.

As time progress students will be able to see what their preferred styles are along with a growing awareness of the particular talents and strengths they have.

At this point 'personalisation' of learning is a real possibility.

For further ideas. Booklets 4 and 5

Friday, February 22, 2008

Developing an Inquiry Approach across the curriculum

Developing the school as a 'community of inquiry' is a theme running through the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

All learning is based on curiosity - a need to make personal meaning.It would be a great idea for schools to develop a inquiry approach across the curriculum that all teachers and students are able to articulate.

Not that there needs to be cut and tried approach ( all Learning Areas have their particular emphasis) but more that the spirit of inquiry should underpin all actions.

Some scientists prefer to call scientific thinking 'enlightened trial and error' - trying things out and keeping what works for 'next time'. Homer Simpson has the opposite point of view, 'Trying is just the first step towards failure'. In contrast basketballer Michael Jordan says, 'I've tried over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.' Effort, practice,'stick-ability', or perseverance, are all important attributes

The New Zealand Curriculum, states in it's section in the Thinking Key Competency, that students need to be seen as, 'active, seekers, users and creators of knowledge'. Learning is to be, 'constructed', driven by, 'intellectual curiosity', as the students are encouraged to ,'ask questions,and challenge the basis of their assumptions and perceptions'

Under the Managing Self competency it is stated that, students need to have a, 'can do' attitude, able to , 'establish personal goals, make plans, (and) manage projects.'

Under the English Learning Area it states that, students need to be able to, 'make meaning of ideas or information'; in the Arts area students are, 'to use their imagination to engage' in expressing their interpretations; in Mathematics, 'students are to develop the ability to think creativity, critically, strategically and logically' and to carry our procedures, 'flexibly and accurately to process and communicate information'; Science includes students, 'making observations and carrying out investigations'; while in the Social Sciences students are to: ask questions, gather information, explore and analyze, and reflect and evaluate their learning. Technology is about designing products' and states that it is better to do fewer things well in depth.

The inquiry emphasis is highlighted in the Effective Pedagogy section where teachers are asked to help their students in the ability to, 'assimilate new learning, relate it to what they already know ( their 'prior knowledge') and learn to think about their own thinking' ( 'meta cognition'). Effective teachers are to, 'stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to use or apply what they discover' by means of 'learning conversations'.

With all the above in mind it is a wonder that Inquiry Learning didn't have section of its own?

Essentially Inquiry learning follows the following process ( remembering learning is not a linear sequence and that new ideas can emerge at any stage that could alter the course of the learning.)

1 A question or challenge arises that requires action to explore.( At this early stage it is a good idea for students to express what they already know - their 'prior ideas').

2 Students sort out the key questions to research (as individuals or groups). Teachers need to gather relevant information and resources, and also to consider relevant experiences that might be useful to provide greater depth of understanding. Teachers need also to consider what 'big idea' they want their students to achieve from the study.)

3 Students to undertake observations, research possible answers to their question and to carry out activities and experiments that might offer them greater insight. Simple tests might need to set up

4 Students to draft ideas out and to then present them to others for critical evaluation.

If the essence of the inquiry approach is communicated to students at every appropriate time it will become ingrained and transferred from situation to situation. This is not to say some processes will be subject specific.

The essence of Inquiry Learning is to question everything and be open to new possibilities. A mind disciplined by inquiry considers all forms of evidence that validates new ideas and delivers deeper and more insightful understanding.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reclaiming the lost art of pedagogy

John Dewey -time to apply his pedagogical ideas.Pedagogy - the art of teaching.

Pedagogy has long been a neglected area in most countries.

In recent yea the emphasis has been on providing technocratic curriculums for teachers to follow and to be held accountable to.

Now the ‘evidence’ suggests that it is the quality of the individual teachers that makes the greatest difference to ensure students learn. It seems the ‘experts’ have been looking in the wrong place for answers the past decades overlooking, in the process, the successful ideas of creative teachers in the schools.

The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum now places emphasis on effective pedagogy and outlines conditions that support positive teaching including; creating a supportive learning environment emphasizing the importance of relationships; the need to encourage reflective thought and action in students; ensuring learning is relevant to students by tapping into the curiosity and desire to make meaning that is innate in all students; that learning is a social activity emphasizing the importance of 'learning conversations'; building on the ‘prior knowledge' students bring to any learning; to encourage connections between learning areas; and the important of giving students time to 'do fewer things well'.

Nothing really very new in all the above.

The question is why such ideas are not widespread through our schools.

The conservative nature of schools makes changing teaching practice difficult. New ideas are also opposed by even more conservative parents and the media. The impossible curriculum and accountability demands, that have been placed on teachers the past decades, have diverted teachers from placing an emphasis on pedagogy.

Assumptions about pedagogy rest on theories about how students learn. Traditional teaching is based on a transmission approach to learning – teachers know best (or rather those who design the curriculums do). At the other extreme is the belief that students best learn through their own actions. Developing a balance between the two is very important, not either or.

Ideas about teaching and learning have changed over during the 20th century.

The view of the learner as an empty vessel to be filled with useful information had moved towards encouraging the development of students’ ideas (often called ‘constructivism’). This is a movement from a ‘one size fits all’ to a ‘personalization’ of learning. This shift sees the process of learning as important as the content. Teachers, to assist their students, would still need to have an appreciation of the ‘big ideas' that students need to learn; guided discovery rather than letting students learn for themselves.

In earlier days an excess of progressive ‘students know best’, and learn through activity, resulted in less than wonderful learning. Today the role of the teacher in assisting learning is now better appreciated. The writings of Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner placed a greater interactive role of the teacher and the need for an appreciation of importance of the ‘big ideas’ involved in any learning. Such thinkers are referred to as ‘constructivists’ valuing both reflective understanding and problem solving strategies. Today teachers working alongside their students to challenge their thinking are often called ‘co-constructivists’. This is the essence of 'personalization'.

The general assumption is that students develop their abilities when they try to solve intellectual problems in any area of learning.

Another reason for lack of success of ‘new’ pedagogy is teachers having low expectations of students. When it comes to expectations teachers get what they expect. Teachers need to appreciate the importance of effort in learning (and practice) and to present learning challenges that confront children’s’ current knowledge. Teachers need to help their students ‘think about their own thinking’ (metacognition) by asking them to explain their actions and to reflect on thinking processes. Teachers assist by ‘scaffolding’ learning (providing temporary help), introducing thinking strategies, and by assisting students see patterns and connections between learning areas.

The biggest change in pedagogy is the move from concentrating on needs of classes and groups to individuals. Once again this is the essence of personalization of learning. The variation of students in any class make the use of flexible group work necessary but, to be successful, students need to be ‘taught’ to work in groups - how to listen, share and discuss things constructively. Teachers also need management skills to be able to work with individuals, or small groups, while others work independently. All too often group work results in individuals working alone in groups, or activities being completed for their own sake.

Personalization of learning is made difficult by the wide range of student abilities. Flexible grouping is required to help those in need. This is compounded by research that indicates teachers over estimate low achieving students and under estimate high attainers. A personalized pedagogy is not an easy one.

Traditional approaches make use of ‘streaming’, ‘setting’, or ability grouping, to solve the problem of student diversity. This is to miss the point – personalization requires flexible grouping which value each students learning style. This leads to the ideal of every student having their own 'individual learning plan'; one allowing them to learn at their own pace to solve their particular learning problems and to extend their talents and gifts.

This aspect of learning styles and classroom management is a difficult issue. Personalization can be taken too far and could result in teachers having no time left for teaching. The key is to develop independent learning and self managing capacities (‘key competencies’ in the NZF) from the earliest years. Secondary students ought to be capable of independent study.

Such personalized independent ideas are not made easy by the number of non self motivated students currently in our schools.

Another change in pedagogical thinking is the move from a single fixed intelligence to a growing acceptance of multiples intelligences (Howard Gardner). The traditional academic curriculum has limited student success and we need to be looking for abilities and talents in all students. This could well be the key to motivating ‘failing’ students.

These are a few reasons why introducing ‘new’ pedagogy is no easy task. It requires teachers not only to challenge their assumptions but for schools to challenge their traditional organizational structures.

Pedagogical approaches come down to the culture of the schools.

It is changing cultures – the shared beliefs that underpin all teaching – that hold the key to developing 21st century schools. New ideas are available that work if teachers know what they are doing. The 'new' cuuriculum challenges teachers to, 'inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students'

The future requires that all students leave school with positive learning identities as ‘active seekers, users, and creators’ of their own knowledge. (NZF p 4)

This is the challenge facing schools as they come to term with the implications of the ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The NZF curriculum nautilus

The shell of the nautilus is a symbol, or metaphor, for beauty and proportional perfection. First used on a New Zealand Curriculum in 1993 it has become a famliar symbol for New Zealand teachers. Or has it?

The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum introduced to schools in 2007 comes with a redesigned nautilus shell.

To introduce the ideas of the curriculum to students (and teachers) it might be worth giving thought to the reason for the selection of the image.

If it were possible to show students a nautilus shell (or a series of pictures) this might inspire some insightful thinking. We all seem to have a fascination for sea shells, most homes have a shell or two on display, and capitalizing on this fascination would result in an equally fascinating study at any level of learning.

The NZF states, on its inside cover: ‘In real life the nautilus is a marine animal with a spiral shell. The shell has as many as thirty chambers lined with nacre (mother- of- pearl).The nautilus creates a new chamber as it outgrows each existing one, the successive chambers forming what is known as a logarithmic spiral’ .This kind of spiral appears elsewhere in nature, for example, in sunflowers and cauliflowers, cyclones, and spiral galaxies.’ The nautilus (in Greek ‘sailor’) as survived relatively unchanged for 450 million years.

Even from such a brief summary creative teachers ought to be able to envisage a range of lines of inquiry covering a number of learning areas from natural history, mathematics to the development of aesthetic interpretations of shells.

The NZF continues: ‘Physician, writer, and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809- 96) saw the spiral shell of the nautilus as a symbol of intellectual and spiritual growth. He suggested that people outgrew their protective shells and discarded them as they become no longer necessary; ‘One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimension’. It is as a metaphor for growth that the nautilus is used as a symbol for the New Zealand Curriculum.’

Sensitive teachers would easily be able to evoke poetic writing and descriptions of shells from their students after an opportunity to study then closely. Older students could ‘dig’ deeper into the meaning of Wendell Holmes’s poem he called ‘The Chambered Nautilus’

Holmes imagined the nautilus shell as a symbol of evolution; that in order to begin a new stage of in our growth, we have to think ‘outside the box’. This ‘outside the box thinking’ may be the real challenge for schools and teachers in implementing the NZF as we are always in danger of claiming that the chamber we are now in is the ultimate one. The spiral shape (itself a symbol of unfolding energy) suggests the shell can grow forever and that there is no final chamber; the nautilus must keep on building new chambers as long as it lives. It cannot go back to a previous one as it would no longer fit. It has no choice but to grow and move on. It is a symbol for renewal.

An excellent metaphor for life long learner!

A shell study could start by having students complete close observation drawings of real shells, or from photos. Such an activity will spark student curiosity and will provide their minds time to think of ideas about shells and, also, to generate questions and queries they might have. Such an activity is intrinsically rewarding providing immediate feedback; the more you look, the more you see, the more you see the more interesting the object will become.

By encouraging looking carefully students will notice more nuanced details and some will become aware of interesting poetic thoughts and metaphors to share. Such close observational reflection is sound education practice and helps students construct their own knowledge.

From such ‘first’ questions and ‘prior ideas’ students could undertake individual or group research.

From observational drawing students could be encouraged to develop creative interpretations or designs based on shell ideas.

Teachers could introduce ideas from science, mathematics and literature to enrich their students' perceptions. Secondary teachers could share their individual subject knowledge to develop an integrated cross curricula study.

Such a study, not only provides an opportunity for students to make used of a range of frameworks (NZF Learning Areas, or ‘multiple intelligences’) to explore any object, but it also provides the inspiration to for students to express their interpretations using a variety of creative media.

The nautilus metaphor was a good choice.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Personal view of the New Zealand Curriculum

Schools are now beginning to focus on implementing the ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum.

I guess my first reaction is one of relief in that it is move away from the impossible demands of the previous document by drastically reducing the impossible, all but incoherent, lists of learning objectives. The technocratic nightmare imposed in the 90s has all but gone but what is in its place?

Already conservative opponents, who reside in the traditional secondary schools, are calling the ‘new ‘document ‘woolly’. They of course would want to revert to some golden age of exams and academic excellence for the few.

The ‘new’ document is clear: ‘Curriculum design should begin with the premise that all students can learn and succeed’ (p29). The vision of the document states that students need to be, ‘creative, energetic and enterprising’. Key vision words are: ‘Confident, Connected, Actively involved, and Lifelong learners’. All students are to develop positive, resilient, learning identities that reflect ‘New Zealand’s ‘unique identity’.

I particularly like the phrase is that students should be, ‘active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge’.

I would have liked an even greater emphasis in the document on identifying, affirming and amplifying the talents and gifts of all learners.

Who can argue with the desire for all students to, ‘achieve personal excellence’, and that students should be, ‘encouraged to reflect on their own learning processes and to learn how to learn’, and that defining school values are vitally important.

To achieve the vision of the NZC students need to be engaged and challenged by a range of real life and future orientated contexts. What is required is a, ‘curriculum that has meaning for students’ ; ‘connects’ to their own environment and communities; and one that ‘makes links within and across learning areas’.

Key Competencies (a term that seems to reflect a technocratic mindset) are ‘capabilities for living and lifelong learning’ and are to be seen as ‘the key to learning in every Learning Area and, along with the Learning Areas, are ‘both a means and an end’. Key competencies are to be learnt in context to become part of each students ‘learning identity’.

Students, the NZF repeats, are to be seen as competent thinkers who, ‘actively seek, use and create (their own) knowledge. To do this students need to develop a ‘metacognitive’ understanding of their own learning – being able to think and reflect about their own learning processes. ‘Managing self’ is about having a ‘can do’ attitude and being able to, ‘set personal goals, make plans, manage projects, and set high standards’. The document values working in teams and being able to relate to others empathetically.

It would have been valuable if there had been a section clearly defining the need for a basic inquiry approach to learning. A range of references to inquiry teaching are to be found in the various Learning Areas sections. Defining a basic inquiry approach across the curriculum would be a valuable exercise for schools to do

The teacher’s role is to develop their classes as learning communities, accepting and connecting to all learners – a classroom where all students develop ‘a sense of belonging and confidence’.

Providing challenging learning experiences in all area of learning is one of the main tasks of the teacher so students can ‘construct’ their own learning; ‘Intellectual curiosity is at the heart’ of powerful learning it is obviously stated.

The Learning Areas section provide guidance for the selection of authentic contexts. The emphasis on making, ‘use of natural connections that exist between learning areas’, is welcome. Advice is given that each learning area has its own language, or discipline, or perspective, and students should learn to appreciate the essence of each. Integrated programmes can all too easily neglect the importance of real content.

Selected learning contexts need to be interpreted and expressed by a range of language and creative media. Creative teachers will recognize the ideas of ‘multiple inelegances in these ideas.

Schools have the freedom to develop their own curriculums within the guidelines provided. The levels statements are problematic to me. I would’ve preferred more specific core requirements for each developmental level (early primary, primary, middle school, and early secondary) and find the repetitive statements on each level diverting.

It is the opportunity for schools to develop such creative programmes that make me so supportive of the NZF. For older teacher it is all a little bit, ‘back to the future’

The Effective Pedagogy section is most valuable but does everything but say it is based on a ‘co –constructivist’ approach. Teachers are asked to value students ‘prior learning’; to value relationship between teacher and learner; to involve students in their own learning, including self assessment; and to include ‘parents and caregivers as key partners.’ Students are also asked to reflect on new learning and relate it to what they already know – ‘to think about their own thinking’.

To achieve such progressive ideas teacher will need to involve themselves in ‘learning conversations’, so as to, ‘provide encouragement, challenge, support and feedback’, ‘building on what students know’; and to assist students ‘make connection between learning areas. Such conversations provide opportunities for realistic assessment. Assessment, the NZF suggests is, ‘an ongoing process that arises out of the interaction between teaching and learning’; ‘integral to the inquiry process’; ’much of evidence is of the moment’, and ‘takes place in the mind of the teacher’.

The suggestion to, ’cover less but cover it in greater depth’ is most welcome, as is the need for teachers to inquire into, ‘the impact of their own teaching’. This reflects the research that states that it is the quality of the individual teacher that is the key factor in student success.

The NZF gives great freedom for schools to respond to, ‘the particular needs, interests and talents of students in their classes’. By asking teacher to place students at the, ‘centre of their own learning’, the NZF is a welcome move toward a future orientated ‘personalized learning’ agenda.

I see little to stand in the way of primary schools implementing the requirements of the NZC but it will be problematic for the timetabled subject specialist secondary schools; with their genesis in a past industrial age. Such schools will need a structural and cultural change to be able to provide ‘authentic learning experiences’ and success for all their students.

The NZF is by no means a perfect document but compared to its predecessor it provides a relief from past requirements. It vindicates the ideas of creative teachers, who have had a battle the last decade or so, and, best of all, it provides a starting point to develop a truly creative 21stC education system

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Curriculum Controversy

Conservatives always look to a past golden era for answers.

The latest NZ Listener believes our students ‘deserve better’ than ‘a reliance on woolly ideas’ that they seem to believe underpins ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum. One of their main points is that accountancy seems to have been dropped!

While I agree with the editor, that change itself is nothing new, the pace of change has increased the past decades as a result of the power of modern communication technology. The Listener seems to believe that past approaches to education provided a ‘sound broad education’ and that the answer lies in the imposition of a ‘consistent’ detailed centralized curriculum.

The trouble is the disaffected and alienated youth we worry about today have never gained much from traditional schooling and, in earlier days, left to get a job as soon as they could. If such students are to able to make a full contribution to our society, becoming ‘self managing’ (which the Listener sees as a ‘woolly idea’) then our schools need to develop innovative relevant curriculums to engage such learners.

The Listener, it seems, has done little in depth research on modern educational trends and relies on conservative secondary ‘headmasters’ who worry that the ‘new’ (and the previous) curriculum focuses to much on the assumption that process, or ‘learning how to learn’, is more important than knowledge.

This of course depends on how knowledge is defined. Traditionally it has been seen ‘stuff’ to learn for an exam; all too often soon to be forgotten. Today modern thinkers see knowledge as something students ‘create’ through their own actions and, in the process, remember

The conservative Education Forum, of whom the traditional ‘headmasters’ quoted belong to , provides another commentator, an Australian, who is pushing for tightly controlled state education guidelines as seen in Singapore and Korea.

It is agreed by all that the previous New Zealand Curriculum was a disaster, the brainchild of technocratic thinkers who wanted to control what schools throughout NZ were achieving. It was a NZ version of an accountability model that had been imposed throughout the Western World to provide information to allow parent choice. It was premised on defined outcomes, prescribed levels, and an impossible list of learning objectives. A supporter of the ‘new’ curriculum Lester Flockton comments, it was a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’

Progressive educators are pleased to see it go. It made assessing and recording of achieved content an exhausting task leaving little time for teacher or student creativity.

The suggestion of the ‘new ‘curriculum to ‘do less’ to greater ‘depth’ proves the inspiration to ensure students learn both ‘process’ and meaningful content. Surely this is preferable to ‘plodding’ through an imposed traditional curriculum as the Australian ’expert’ would have us do. Ironically his Asian models are now looking to develop a more creative education system. Content is not lost in the ‘new’ curriculum as it outlines a core of learning that needs to be covered, emphasizing literacy and numeracy in the primary schools.

In a modern democracy schools need to ‘personalize’ learning experiences to suit the needs and talents of all their students. The paternalistic critics, who still believe in the transmission ‘mass production approach’ to learning find it hard to believe that students can create their own knowledge and happily ignore all that has been learnt about how the human brain is innately programmed to make sense of experience.

The quoted critics seem worried that the ‘periodic table’, ‘Shakespeare’ and Pythagoras theorem will no longer be taught. Not withstanding their secondary academic bias there is no reason why teams of creative teachers cannot devise exiting contexts that cover such areas of learning in realistic ways. Lester Flockton gives an example in the article of ecological understanding that resulted from an intensive estuary study. The article writer herself mentions an exciting learning experience of her own based on a creative teachers production of a Shakespearean play.

The ‘new ‘ curriculum provides an opportunity for creative teachers, who in the past have either been overwhelmed by the previous ‘crowded’ curriculum, or locked into their curriculum straitjackets and timetables, to be innovative.

While the quoted critics see the ‘new’ curriculum as a ‘continuation of the previous curriculum’ more future orientated educators see as it as an opportunity for a new creative era of personalized learning to evolve; one that accommodates all students, something traditional academic education has failed to do.

The design of challenging curriculum contexts that allows students to develop and contribute their individual talents, developing in the process, not only important knowledge, but the ‘competencies’ required in a modern economy.

These ideas seem beyond the critics (who seem to be hankering for some past golden age) and the writer of the article.

Lester Flockton is right to hope that the ‘new’ curriculum, ‘will free teachers to find greater depth and satisfaction’.

Teachers will have to develop their ‘pedagogy’ if they are to achieve the ambitious vision of the ‘new’ curriculum. Creative teachers, rather than imposed curriculums, are the key to the future – particularly if we are to tap the talents of all students and not just the academic few as at present.

The ‘Curriculum Stock-take’ described several factors that influence students learning including the home environment, the capacities of the students and the quality of the teaching. The latter is within the scope of the school to develop.

Trevor McIntire, a secondary principal, proves hope that not all secondary ‘headmasters’ are nostalgic for a lost past. He supports the ‘new’ curriculum and, ‘believes good education is about good relationships…Thank goodness in New Zealand we still have predominantly passionate, enthusiastic’ teachers’

The ‘new’ curriculum provides the opportunity for school to develop students who will be able to thrive in what will be an exciting and challenging future; students able to make a full contribution to our society.

My mark for the article 4/10: ‘Could do better, very poor research. Secondary biased. Next time focus on schools achieving with students who in the past have been failed by their dysfunctional industrial aged schools. Forget the ‘headmasters’ and Australian critics