Thursday, January 14, 2010

Creativity or compliance - to be or not to be that is the question.

2010 is shaping up to be year when schools have to face up to choosing between developing creative teaching beliefs or implementing imposed reactionary politically inspired ideology. The other alternative is to unthinkingly to go along to get along. If this tuns out to be the case it will be sad day for creative education and the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

As soon as primary teachers get themselves back to school in a couple of weeks they will have to face up to the issue of National Standards.

If the National Standards are accepted without even a trial then teachers will be aligning themselves with a system that will distort the education of their students. It will mean developing schools as being un-educational; a source of mis-education contributing to the growing school school failure rate.

The new government has nailed its banner to a standardised approach replacing the move towards personalisation and 21st Century thinking of the previous administration.

It is a clear choice between measurable efficiency of narrow range of targets and an education focusing on developing the attributes, talents and gifts of all students required to equip them to thrive in what will be a challenging future.

The Governments standards approach will alienate students who already find school difficult.All too often schools blame their students backgrounds as an excuse for school failure happily ignoring the role school have played in creating failure.

With an emphasis on standards the schools role in failure will become obvious. While standards focus on primary schools student alienation becomes obvious in years 7 to 10. This was the conclusion of Russell Bishop's Kotahitanga project ( University of Waikato) who, while writing about the experience of Maori students, found that school did not acknowledge student's culture and largely ignored their voice and identity. This alienation for many students begins the day school starts.

It is such students that American writer Kirsten Olsen identifies in her powerful book 'Wounded by School'. She writes that 'shouldn't the joy of learning, creativity and recognising the differences of students be more important than trying to push all students into a middle of the road mold and teaching for standardized testing?' She believes our current school system harms everyone and that there is a need to challenge the industrial age assumptions behind the institution of school that damages so many of our children.

Schooling, she writes, is itself the single most important component to destroying the joy of learning.

School that comply to the government's standardisation approach will be contributing to such wounding and neglect of student's intrinsic learning.

Simple as that.

We need to look at school failure with fresh eyes. For those who would like to gain a greater depth of understanding of the issue of school ought to visit at risk advocate Bill Pages at risk students site

Page believes that the process of failure begins when they are born into impoverished home experiences that cause initial entrance into compulsory schooling to be difficult. These multiple causes ( 'deficit theory') are well known but what is not acknowledged is that educators deny their own culpability in the failure process.

All students have an inbuilt desire to learn and all require encouragement, acceptance, achievement and satisfaction but all too often by our use of peer comparisons (ability grouping) fragile self images of such students are eroded. All students need to have their questions, queries and ideas valued but all too often such desires are replaced by the teacher's planned curriculum. All students need to have their individuality and idiosyncrasy valued but all too often , through teachers influence, students products ( art, writing , research) all illustrate blandness.

After years of such invisibility and frustration a sense of school failure results. When students experience years of not achieving school standards ( many of little interest to them) all the associated behaviour associated with failure results.

Children , writes Page, who begin school behind may never catch up. We need to develop a more creative and personalised approach. Recognizing the futility of it all they readily become kids who quit trying, learning, co-operating , following procedures, or behaving. With their 'loser' image students discover disobedience is preferable to showing stupidity.

School do everything but accept responsibility for the mismatch of students with their imposed curriculum. Educational powers that be created the problem of dysfunctional schooling and only they can solve it system wide.

The sad thing the answer to all this school induced failure is with us. Creative teachers have always known the way to ensure all students retain their joy of learning and it to such teachers we need to look to rather than imposing narrow standards.

Creative teacher know the importance of establishing a non judgemental respectful relationships with all their learners. They know the vital importance of valuing the thoughts, questions, talents and queries of all their students. They understand the importance of students culture and the importance of exploring the immediate environment as as a learning resource. They see their rooms as learning communities and their role as supporting and challenging their students to do their personal best. They appreciate for students to see the need for effort and practice. They encourage their students to do fewer things well and to, in the process, acquire the lifelong attributes and disposition the future will require. In all this they need to ensure that literacy and numeracy are developed in the context of real learning.

For many of our current schools this would turn the process of teaching upside down. Imposed 'best practice' teaching in literacy and numeracy has all but squeezed real learning out the window.

Teacher have chance to fight for creative teaching rather than selling their souls by accepting standards uncritically.

Creative teaching is worth fighting for - I for one will be happy to do my best.


Anonymous said...

Strong stuff Bruce. How would you start the year with year 1-2 or a 4-5?

Tom said...

Many of us agree with you Bruce - so what do we do?

I have not even read the standards books closely but the MOE site states:

The National Standards require teachers to make an overall teacher judgment at least twice a year and to make a judgment at that time on the standard that the student’s achievement best fits.

and later

The NAGs require twice yearly reporting of both progress and achievement, but we would expect the focus of the mid-year report to be on progress in relation to the standards, with the end-of-year report to focus on the summary of their child's progress and achievement in relation to the standards.

The Ministry will provide templates schools can use or adapt if they wish, which will include the headings below:

* the goals set for the child and a description of progress against the goals
* supporting assessment information, such as data from assessment activities
* specific ways parents can support their child's learning
* the measures a school is taking to address identified learning needs.

Find full text here:

These perhaps are the main changes in place for this year?

I'd love you to post a few ideas Bruce. We will add a mid year written report and review our goal setting system.

Andrew said...

I'm a product of the school system from many years back and have my kids going through it now. Reading this blog post it looks like the world is coming to an end, at least in terms of education.

I don't dispute the problems of failure and underachievement for some sections of society. There is clearly a problem there that needs to be addressed for the benefit of all. But has the previous system delivered great gains in achievement? I have not seen any evidence either way.

But I am reminded of my own experiences at school where it seemed that in most instances the under-achievers received most of the attention, social promotion was strongly enforced, and the SAT tests that we sat each year didn't really seem to count for anything.

When reading Tom's comments I see some really good stuff. I'm scratching my head and wondering how a lot of it departs from what might be considered best practice teaching. I note, in particular, the list of bullet points under the templates that the Ministry will make available for schools to "use or adapt as they wish". In and of themselves those four bullets summarise exactly what I would expect schools to be doing. Or, to put it another way, I would be appalled if schools were not doing this.

But my guess is that your real beef is with "standards". I put it to you that the challenge for teachers is to use the standards in a way that identifies learning needs rather than in a way that identifies student failures. And that, to me, will be a measure of whether the "teacher" is truly a teacher or is just doing a job.

Bruce said...

I am thinking about writing some thoughts for you Tom but in the meantime keep faith with your creative prgrammes and just do what you have to about standards without losing the plot.

Enjoyed your thoughts Andrew -and reading about all the energy you put into outdoor challenges on your own blog which I presume you do for intrinsic reasons ( not to meet an imposed standard - a standard that would limit you to what others think you ought to do).

The true purpose of education, to develop the gifts and talents of all students so as for them to contrbute to developing a better world, has never been realised. More rhetoric than reality.

The current systen does not 'deliver' for far too many students (and not just the 'failures'). The answer is not to look to the technocrats but to the gifted teachers who have been able to realise the gifts of all students. The trouble is that such creative teachers have always been ignored by those who presume to know best.Imposing standards will narrow teaching to what is measurable. Teachers will teach to the tests and, in the process, other exciting learning areas will be ignored. All this will simply make the current failing system even more dysfunctional.

All kids have an inbuilt desire to learning and that currenty over a fifth of all kids leave school without qualifications is a crime.

The industrial age world is coming to an end - standards are the 'last straw'. Secondary schools, in particular, are the last vestiges of industrial aged thinking.

If we want creativity and intrinsic learning we need new answers.If standards are imposed they will put off this dream for a few more decades.

The trouble is that kids from supportive homes ( like your own) by and large have litte trouble at school even if it could be far better. The real worry is about those students for whom school is simply dysfunctional. What business would thrive with a 25% failure rate?

As for your own school experience, where 'failing kids' got all the attention, this might have been the case but did they get the rewards. Remedial classes all too often compound the problem.

SAT tests? (you must be an American?)As for counting for nothing I fear the same will apply to the standards. A waste of time and energy disrupting teaching and in the process narrowing the curriculum.

'Best practice ' teaching is another illusion, all that this has achieved is a demeaning of creative teachers expertise resulting in formulaic teaching and bland standardisation.

Standards will only identify students needs in the areas that the standards identify and will ignore other areas of strengths that so called failing students love learning about. The four Minisrty bullet points you admire restrict goal setting to the standards identified. Good idea but too linited.

In an era requiring innovative and creative thinking how long can a society put up with the ongoing social problems being created, in part, by a failing school system.

Standards are the end of the world for me.

Your faith in a narrow set of measureable standards is unwarrented. It will result in teachers 'doing a job' not being creative.

And in all this no mention of the excellent New Zealand Curriculum (07).

We are in the process of losing the plot yet again.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it Bruce.This is traditional educations last stand. Anyone who supports standardisation either can't see the politics behind it all or is someone whose kids will be winners with such testing. As for creativity it will be lost.

Andrew said...

Bruce - some comments on points you raise:

I must admit that the school system that I went through was very concerned with limiting me to what I ought to do. From constraining me to not go further than I ought to given my age (maths) to forcing me to do things that I ought to do (folk dancing), and even requiring me to paint out the white space on my paper because that's what was required for that particular activity! So while I succeeded in the system there were times when I could have had a more positive experience. But I also recognise now that the subject I disliked at high school (English) has delivered some benefits.

My blog obviously covers activities that I find personally fulfilling. At times there is an element of measuring against standards, some of which might be extremely difficult (for me) to ever achieve. But I guess the difference is I get to choose when I will measure myself against those standards, rather than having it imposed!

"Best practice" is always an awkward term to use. I was not using it to mean someone who follows what the manual says they should do, but rather those who have the gift of really being able to teach.

SAT tests -- perhaps these were PAT tests?

I'm far from convinced that traditional education is not relevant to the information age (although it is somewhat less relevant if we consider ourselves to be in the entertainment age). It seems to me that there are a significant number of careers for which a traditional education will remain relevant, and if it is not provided by the state then it will be provided privately (and hence be only available to a select group in society).

I agree that a system with such a high failure rate would appear not to be working. To me it seems that the problem is at least partly structural. A generation ago (or less) people would leave secondary school, having maybe passed a few School C subjects, and would then go to Polytech to do a more practically-oriented qualification. The Polytechs all want to offer degrees now, so there's a gap in the system that schools are being forced to bridge. Perhaps there will be a reconfiguration of the system at this level with more middle schools and/or more collaboration across secondary schools to provide a wider range of choices?

Primary school is a different issue. It seems to me that the ideal is that by the end of primary school every student has reached a minimum standard in the core subject areas (reading, writing, maths), while at the same time finding school a positive and enriching place. How do you do that without ultimately, at some point, having standards to measure against?

Bruce said...

Maybe we will have to agree to disagree Andrew but read the blog from Alfie Kohn first. My last blog.

PAT test results ( Progressive Reading Tests) can be predicted by the child's socio economic circumstances; which of course will also be reflected in the new standards. Not much use. With this new system a kid will be 'tested' twice year and could be told 16 times he or she is 'below average! In the meantime their other talents will be ignored. See Sione short story blog.

Traditional schooling has been failng forever - it never was designed for all students too achieve. More about sorting out kids. The best metaphor for a traditional school is a factory - or a cross between a minimum security prison and a testing organisation.

Very few modern businesses ( and there are very few 'modern' ones ) use the fragmented anti team work approaches of a school.

As for primary schools the most important thing is to keep alive the childs' joy of learning - lose this and maths and reading mean nothing.

I just know we can do better and will have to if young people (all of them - not just the 'academics') are to thrive in world requiring new competencies ( as outlined in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum).

Actually the best model for a school would be Peter Jackson's Weta Workshops. Weta employs lots of talented young people many who didn't do well in a traditonal secondary school.

What we want is 'next practice' not 'best practice' (as defined by technocrats) - 'best practice' all too soon becomes 'fixed practices'. Visit a local secondary school and see how little they have changed the last 50 years while their students have changed dramatically.