Monday, March 10, 2008

A new personal focus

I started this blog to express my opinions about the faulty thinking that underpinned the previous New Zealand Curriculum and to share creative alternatives.

The previous curriculum, with all its: Learning Areas , strands, levels, and countless learning objectives, was 'a mile wide and an inch deep'. It was, from the beginning, an incoherent and impossible ask. I was surprised that so many schools even tried to implement it but, I guess, they has no choice but to comply . Some principals, it has to be said, seemed to enjoyed the managerial emphasis!

Creative schools, of course, 'colonized' it to suit themselves. This is as it should be but it has been wasted decades as far as creative education has been concerned. It is to the credit of those schools that have persevered with innovative ideas in such a time of compliance, conformity , top down control and imposed ideas.

But it hasn't been easy for creative teachers or principals in such a risk averse environment.

The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum, combined with a personalised learning agenda, provides a great opportunity to return to a more creative education.

So now I see my self appointed role as one of encouraging schools to take advantage of the new opportunities.

The trouble is that too many school have 'accepted' the previous curriculum as their 'default' position and, in particular, the development of an emphasis on a 'Victorian' literacy and numeracy curriculum. This was encouraged by a Ministry insistence on 'target setting' in these areas.

Nothing wrong with literacy and numeracy but they are, at best, 'foundation skills' required to be in place to allow students to engage in activities that have the power to develop their gifts and talents. 'Learnacy' is more important than literacy and numeracy; or the 'key competencies', in the jargon of the new curriculum.

Literacy and numeracy will never be enough to equip students for the future. For schools to spend well over half their time on these areas is to put their students futures at risk.

The future will be driven by a creative imperative and will citizens with a passion to learn things in line with their innate talents, as well as a desire to continue learning forever.

Recognising, developing and, and amplifying these talents, is the role of future orientated 'learning advisers'.This is something creative teachers have aways known -'to see things in the seed, that is genius' ( Lao Tzu).

Our 'new' curriculum re-surfaces ideas lost in the past technocratic, industrial age, 'top down' decades. A positive learning identity, based on personal strengths, now needs to be the right of all students.

Our 'new' curriculum asks teachers to see their students as, 'active seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.It asks for this a to be developed by engaging students in real life integrated learning contexts. And these, it states, need both the time to develop a depth of understanding , and a need to do fewer things well. Future students will need not just 'foundation skills' , a depth of knowledge and understanding, as well as the life long 'key competencies'.

This is sadly lacking in the schools I visit. Other than literacy and numeracy the remainder of the curriculum is, all too often, reduced to shallow studies that only give a colourful surface impression to visitors.

Future schools need to become 'communities of inquiry' where all learners are continually challenged to expand their fields of learning. There ought to be more questions than answers, and what answers there are, are ought to reflect the tentativeness of new learning, not mere 'cutting and pasting'.

My own background as adviser has given me an appreciation of the various passions that motivates the various advisers; my experience as science adviser has helped me appreciate the power of interest in learning and the importance of valuing student's own thinking; and as an art adviser I have learnt the importance of the creative process (as 'messy' as it often is) as well as the importance of completing any creative task, as well as one can, so as to gain the necessary pride of achievement to continue learning.

Our 'new' curriculum is now in line with my own thinking and with the creative teachers of the past - for those, with long memories, it is, 'back to the future'!

So far, however, I see little evidence that schools have as yet taken the creative opportunities that lie before them.
Sharing creative teachers' ideas is the only way to spread valuable ideas. Our website,this blog,and my booklets, are ways of doing this.

Of course many teachers may feel that they are already achieving the curriculum's intentions - self delusion is one way of avoiding real change.

To confirm reality look around classrooms for evidence of in-depth studies and creative expression . By now school walls, children's study books, and computer portfolios, ought to be showing improving examples of such idiosyncratic thinking .This is the real 'evidence based' teaching. Or is what to be seen formulaic and conformist?

The challenge for primary schools is to see past their literacy and numeracy programmes and to focus on creating the conditions to realise the talents of all their students. And then to assist them in developing their individual competences in ways only just beginning to be imagined.

Secondary schools have the seemingly impossible challenge to transform their entire system so to change from industrial aged academic institution to twenty first century learning communities. Their challenge is to move away from , 'one size fits all', so as to personalise learning opportunities for all their students - or be bi-passed in the process by modern information technology.

The revolution is starting but to gain a foothold in the future but to succed we need to link up with other teachers and other schools so as to take advantage of our shared strengths, and also to give us the courage to really push the boundaries.

Such changes will be hard fought. The 'status quo' has a powerful resistance to change. Developing new ideas is never easy, only exciting.

I look forward to helping as best I can

This is my 'revised' agenda.


Anonymous said...

The Ministry must be pleased to have you on their side?

Bruce said...

We are all now paddling the waka against the conservative current. If we do it badly we will be washed away yet again by reactionary cultural forces. Creativity, innovation, and the development of every students' talents, are the future, not academic success for the elite.

Anonymous said...

I have to admire your continuing enthusiasm - for a long time a voice in the wilderness but now coming back into the fold.

Bruce said...

I am not sure the Ministry will ever take me into their fold - I prefer to be ouside the tent! Be nice to be asked though!

Anonymous said...

I like the new vision Bruce. Hope to involve you in some way with Rakaia. Go well. - Mark