Saturday, March 21, 2009
Not all learning is able to be measured and graphed to prove achievement. This simplistic scientific approach has all but killed, or ignored, the innate creativity of many of our students, creating unnecessary problems of 'disengagement' or 'behaviour' in the process. To study a bridge there are a range of 'frameworks' available to explore and interpret such an experience -many well beyond measurement of learning. First of all you have to find the time to introduce students to such an experience.
Elliot Eisner is a highly respected educator who champions the role of the arts and creativity in education.
What follows are some of his ideas presented at a John Dewey Memorial Address; ideas that have greatly influenced my own beliefs about teaching and learning.
Eliot Eisner is a critic of the primacy of current narrow view of literacy and numeracy that dominates learning today and argues for a more generous view of literacy, one that goes beyond verbal and numerical skills.
Eisner's more generous view is all about the power to encode and decode meaning through any forms humans use to represent what they know and how they know; a view that reflects the many faces of intelligence.
Our job as teachers, he writes, is to help all our student's extract meaning from their experiences.He believes we have neglected the senses as a means for students to extract ideas from their environment and to make sense of their personal felt experiences.
Unfortunately this creative approach does not lend itself to the current pre-occupation with objective measurement which has been a limiting factor the past decades.What has been ignored is the power of transformational experiences ; the emotional power that comes from being involved doing something really well. Valuing the quality involvement of any experience for its own sake has been missing.Ignoring the 'personal stirrings and strivings of self discovery...the involvement of learning with personal emotion and meaning' means missing out on what really changes individuals.
This is the creative learning Eisner wants us to return to. 'Currently achievement rather than inquiry has been triumphant'. Our current distraction of measuring learning has diminished the mind rather than expanding it.We, he writes, have been limited by an overly cognitive view of the mind. We need, he says,and eduction grounded in a view of how human extract meaning from their experience.
Today in our primary classrooms selected important subjects take up the 'prime time'. A wider view of learning is required to integrate inquiry and creative expression into literacy and numeracy and in turn to feed into the afternoon inquiry expressive arts programmes.
Sensory and emotional learning is part of all subjects - how people feel about their learning effects what they come to learn. Each sensory system provides its own unique contribution and cannot be left to chance as it currently is now.
For example a class studying bridges is a theme that can appreciated through poetry, interpreted through science, maths, technology and engineering, and recorded and expressed through the various visual arts and photography. Each way of interpreting the bridge provides different 'framework' to understand and express ideas.It involves all the senses, attracts curiosity, and motivates various forms of expression.
This is, Eisner writes, how we are programmed to learn from birth. We learn through experiences that cannot be fragmented to suit teacher's thinking. Language does not exhaust the possibilities of expression. The ability to explore the multiplicity of any environmental experience is what teachers should be aiming for. Even a simple topic like Autumn , or an Anzac Study, have a multiplicity of ways available to interpret.
What we interpret depends on the 'nets we cast' but all forms of expression are private until they are shared. A wide range of means of expression are available - sounds and music, words, number, dance and the like. And every form of expression is open to endless variety, all requiring personal decision making and skills. Our 'nets' determine the kinds of 'fish', or meanings, we catch and our skills the extent we can express what we want to say. To complicate matters the process of realizing one's ideas in any medium evolve through the editing process in ways that are not predicable.
The education Eisner is talking about is afar cry from the current determinist intentional teaching, or 'best practices' that comply with pre-conceived expectations and criteria; learning where the teachers control processes and determine and measure appropriate answers.
Eisner is arguing for a wider conception of learning well beyond the current narrowly conceived literacy and numeracy focuses. Teachers, he believes, need to free themselves from this technocratic and traditional view of teaching as it excludes too many creative individuals.
To be able to write, Eisner says, 'the writer must have something to write about. To have something write about the writer must be able to "read" the environment. The writer starts with vision but ends up with words.The reader begins with words and ends up with the vision'.
We need, he continues, to create learning environments that invite students to explore their experiences in whatever ways that make sense to them and in ways they can share with others. Surely this is the essence of personalised learning?
The eduction Eisner is encouraging teachers to think about would create an environment which would realize the full potential of all students to be actualized.
Such an education would have the potential to 're-engage' learners and to solve the current 'disengaged' learners and behavioral problems.
In the meantime our current government is trying to solve current problems by more of the same by returning to the false potential of standardized testing. This is Einstein's definition of insanity.
When you add Eisner's ideas to those of Howard Gardner ( we are all intelligent in a range of ways) and Sir Ken Robinson ( creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy) how is it that we want to return to past failed initiatives?
However, for me, the 'best evidence' of the power of Eisner's ideas are the creative teachers, past and present, that have shown, through their example, that it is all possible.
It is to such creative teachers we need to look to develop a truly creative education system able to 'invite' all students to develop whatever gifts and talents they might have.