Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Educational heresy

Sylvia Ashton Warner introduced the idea of developing reading from the children's own experiences in the 1950s.

A recent National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP), looking at primary science teaching, stated that the lack of science teaching in primary schools was due to so little time being available to do science along with teachers lack of knowledge about science content.

It was a predictable finding.A one UK commentator has said ' the evil twins of literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'. The same view was expressed by creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson who believes our current school system 'mines the minds' of our young children for literacy and numeracy ignoring other vital talents in the processes. Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences was developed to encourage educators to move away from an obsession with a fixed IQ focused on literacy and numeracy. Both writers see the need to develop the creative strengths of students ( or 'literacys' ) in a variety of creative areas.

A quick visit to any primary school will show that literacy and numeracy still reign supreme taking up all the morning teaching time. 'Targets' required by the Ministry to show 'evidence' of growth naturally focus on literacy and numeracy. As well schools are heavily influenced by formulaic 'best practice' literacy and numeracy contracts. Little time, or energy, is left for making the current studies selected from the other learning areas the focus of class learning. The future promises national testing in literacy and numeracy which will 'narrow' the curriculum even more.

Don't get me wrong, literacy and numeracy are important areas of learning but they ought to be seen as 'foundation skills'. All students need to achieve in these areas but where possible both should be integrated and used as learning 'tools'.

The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum provides inspiration for creative schools to develop exciting programmes based on the needs, interests and talents of their students and places the focus on 'learning how to learn' capabilities - called 'key competencies' in the curriculum.

My advice would be to assure all that students can achieve the agreed school levels in literacy and numeracy but to focus as much of the literacy programme on teaching students to apply and develop their skills in all areas of the curriculum. Students need to know how to to research, to comprehend what they read, and to express their ideas in range of formats ( involving aesthetic design and ICT skills). By this means extending time given to such areas as science. This is the intent of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

This type of integrated teaching was once well recognised as the 'New Zealand 'approach'. 'Pioneers' such as Sylvia Ashton Warner and Elwyn Richardson led the way, followed by 'developmental learning' and the 'whole language'( or 'language experience') teaching of the 60s and 70s. The work of Marie Clay, and others, continued this learning centred emphasis. The valuing of personal and environmental experiences was an important element and provided a seamless connection between reading, writing talking , reflecting, thinking, imagining and creative expression. Exciting class studies played a central motivating role in such classrooms

It is these learner centred, holistic, experience based and creative teaching approaches that we ought to look back to for inspiration.

If we were to do this then we would see content studied in depth and where individual students ideas and forms of expression were celebrated in contrast to the superficial studies currently seen or reported in the NEMP research. Such teaching develops the very 'key competencies' that the new curriculum asks of us.

The literacy programme and, to a lesser degree, the numeracy programme, needs to be seen as a diverse time to develop a range of skills and strategies to contribute to the afternoon 'content' programme.

Such ideas provided rich and challenging philosophy for teachers in the days before the imposed curriculum's of the 90s.

As UK educational Guy Claxton writes, 'learnacy is more important than literacy or numeracy! 'Learnacy' is about 'learning power' necessary if all students are to achieve the dispositions and talents to become 'life long learners'. Or, as the 'new curriculum says, 'active seekers, users,and creators' able to achieve 'personal excellence'.

All we need to do is to think hard about the place of our literacy programmes in all this.

A simple vision for literacy wold be ' to learn to read, to read to learn, and to learn read between the lines.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Bruce!

I agree with you about the literacy bit. And I’m all for anything that assists students to spend more time studying other disciplines.

These days, there are a few literacy skills that I believe should be emphasised, however - perhaps even more so than they have been in the past.

Learning to read between the lines, I agree with. But skills such as being able to use a spell-checker, and careful proof-reading of work before publishing, would go a long way to obviate the need for others to have to read between the words, or even between the letters.
Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Bruce said...

It seems until we can sort out what litaracy really is about we will never see past it and face up to other equally important issues.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Bruce.


Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Bruce said...

So much for my literacy proof reading skills!!