Monday, May 12, 2008
A little bit of deja vue
It is all too easy to think what currently passes for new ideas are really new - just another version of ideas often lost when top down 'experts' ignore the reality of true learning.
Recently educationalist Dean Fink wrote that the new models of education are 'deju vue all over again'. He writes, 'as a veteran educator, I find the advocacy of new models of schooling reminiscent of the discussions of the 1960s and 1970s'. He comments that those ideas 'floundered on bureaucratic inertia, political timidity, community nostalgia and teacher resistance'. I would agree but would add that 'official approval' of such learning was the 'kiss of death' as every teacher jumped on the bandwagon without true understanding of the creativity involved .
Perhaps we are in the same position again? The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum states that students should be seen as 'seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge'.
To translate this to reality would mean dramatic changes even in the most liberal primary classroom - most classrooms have a long way to go to establish 'personalised learning'.
By accident I happened to pick up and read some writings of Henry Pluckrose.Henry was a figure of great importance to those who pioneered a creative arts approach in the 70s. Most importantly he was a school principal who wrote from his own experiences. Check out his writings work on google -all based on practical classroom activities. Who is the modern equivalent of Henry?
In 1969 he wrote that , 'We must begin by examining the needs, interests and abilities of the children we teach.' That, 'creative work can only come from where the teaching situation takes the child's needs aptitudes and interests fully into account i.e. we should begin with the child and build the curriculum round him rather than take a curriculum and fit the child to it.'
Henry describes the child as a workman, 'an embryo scientist, an explorer, an investigator with a great desire to touch and to see, to experience, to understand'. A learner with a 'naturally inquiring mind backed by vast quantities of energy, a love of words , both spoken and written and a vivid imagination for which model making, writing, art and drama provide a natural outlet'.
'Our aim', he writes, 'should be to make the classroom a place which is interesting, provocative, child centred.' Creativity should, 'flow through the entire curriculum, enriching the writing of poetry and prose, from music and movement to the way in which a child arrives at solutions to problems and presents his ideas.'
To achieve, what we now call a 'learning community', a school he writes, needs to be, 'united by common ideals, purposes and philosophy'
Henry believed in an integrated day , one in which the curriculum is not needlessly broken down into quite unrelated subjects.' 'A day in which teacher and child do not live apart on different planes in the same world, a day which provides outlets for the whole child - emotionally, creatively, intellectually and spiritually.The school should of course be orderly, for children need a pattern of living which they understand and can follow.'
The implications of such a philosophy says Henry, 'means the classrooms become exciting places where children learn to read and write, to record, to experiment, to discuss, to search out, to question, to ,manipulate, to play. Sometimes the whole class will work together, sometimes small groups will be the most satisfactory unit, more often it will be the individual child who will require help, encouragement and advice.'
'Creativity- invention with spontaneity and imagination- flourishes in an environment where the needs and aptitudes of the child are regarded as of paramount importance.'
Perhaps this is what is meant by seeing students as 'seekers, users and creators of the own knowledge'?
It may not be new but it is still difficult.
I visited Henry's school in London all those years ago and was shown around by a very insightful five year old. I was impressed with what I observed then and still am today.
Maybe one day we will have our own Henry Pluckrose in New Zealand? One thing is certain, no one at the Ministry really know what to do. It will be over to schools, preferably working together sharing ideas, to achieve such a vision.