Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Creative education for the 21stC.

A collection of ideas for creative education - somethings old and somethings new.


As our government has it eyes firmly fixed on the past standardized ideas it is important to reflect on what could be
. And the amazing thing is that the alternative, creative teaching, is not new.

In the early 1900s writers like John Dewey were writing about that children learn from the environment they are exposed to and through worthwhile experiences they have. It was Dewey who said 'childen grow into people as they live today'.

The environment ( or culture) teachers create is vitally important. As Russell Bishop says, writing about the experiences Maori students in the Kotahitanga Project , 'culture counts'. Many students, in low decile schools, enter school ill equipped to cope with formalised impersonal education they experience - no matter how friendly it all looks. At school it is the teachers world that 'counts'.

What teachers need to do, from the earliest years, is to create an environment that captures children's interests; students need to be seen as active agents not recipients of teacher's curriculums. Students' interests, and their immediate environment, should be capitalised on. As Jerome Bruner wrote 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'. Bruner saw children as 'scientists working at the edge of their competence'. The current idea of pre-planning students activities is all too often counterproductive.

How teachers 'see' students is important.

In America Dewey's ideas were widespread but were eventually supplanted by an approach owing its genesis to scientific management -an approach being found successful in 'modern' factories as they introduced mass production. Schools today,particularly secondary schools, owe more to Henry Ford than John Dewey. Standardisation replaced potential diversity and individuality.

After World War Two in the UK and later in New Zealand child centred education regained centre stage at the primary levels. Elwyn Richardson's inspirational book, 'In the Early World ' was published during this time.In the 1970 an 'open education movement' continued the trend but eventually, by the 1980S, they were all replaced by more traditional programmes.

It seemed, with the introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum in 2007 student centred learning things were changing.

Then along came the standards and creativity once again is now at risk.

Standardisation is to replace personalisation.


Creative educators place great emphasis on assisting students to interpret their own and class experiences through their senses and their imagination and, following any experience, to express what they have discovered. The concept of valuing student's 'voice' and identity is vital - standardisation asks the opposite as students are measured against imposed standards.

Such creative teaching is already rare in our primary schools.

In creative schools students learn how to interpret any experience through a range of frameworks ( learning areas) - as in their preschool years all learning is integrated.

Literacy and numeracy are seen as important but as a means to an end. Today Primary classrooms focus almost all their energy on these two areas and the introduction of standards will just cement this bias. Any idea of multiple intelligences is bi and large ignored. Students succeed or fail on their ability in literacy and numeracy only .

How to interpret experiences using a range of frameworks - to see as an artist, a scientist, a poet, a writer , a mathematician, a musician, a dancer, a historian - all must be taught. It is such areas that students will find their passions ; area of exploration that those involved feel deeply.

By doing 'fewer things well', with the assistance of 'teachers as creative coaches', students learn the importance of effort and perseverance, the to and fro of the creative process, and the intrinsic satisfaction of 'doing things well'. Creative teachers believe that through such intrinsic success students attitudes can be transformed - with sensitive teaching all students can gain a 'feeling for' whatever they are doing.

Standards will tell teachers nothing about students' attitudes -and they are to be limited to reading, writing and mathematics. Learning cannot be limited to water tight compartments.

Creative teacher value imagination over conformity and the work on display illustrates this idiosyncrasy. Many classrooms celebrate formulaic conformity -even in such a creative area as art. All too often 'best practice ' teaching has trumped student creativity. Students are limited to working at the edge of the teachers competence. Students need to be helped to judge how successful they have been by referring to past efforts not teacher tests or standards.

This illusion of certainty is no way to equip students for an evolutionary future. Students need to develop faith in their own ideas, to value their intuition, to be spontaneous and to see possibilities, not to looking over their shoulder for teacher approval.

This dealing with uncertainty is the essence of creativity and it at odds with the misguided certainty of standards. Learners are boundary breakers.

Creative teachers see, when students are truly engaged, students inventing their learning identities through the tasks they undertake. The tasks we involve our students in must be chosen with care if we want to avoid students disengaging from their own learning and be coming part of the 'achievement tail' of lost learners.

It this vision of creative education that has inspired me over the decades. When creative teachers network with each other such creativity will become contagious. Standards may be having their turn in the sun but they are too fragile to last as they will destroy the creative spirit which is the basis of learning and life.

Each student desires to be recognised as an individual because of their own unique backgrounds and each student needs to learn how to contribute to their community - this is what teaching is all about. Or ought to be. We don't want 30 plus identical products - school are not factories.

Learning is process of discovery for both teachers and their students and it is as much about feeling and relationship as it is about thinking or knowing.

John Dewey had it right all those years ago. It time for Henry Ford and his modern day 'one size fits all' standard followers to move over. Students have amazing potential if placed in nurturing and challenging environments.

It is a respectful environment and quality experiences, not standards, that are needed, if the joy of learning is not to be crushed.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed Bruce and it is this creative educational approach that would enable us to "close the gap" with Australia more easily. The development of students who become adaptable, self motivated learners who feel able to take risks are the type of educated adults the country needs. These adults then provide the niche type of employment needed to make us a special country and they also understand the need for a society that values culture as well as market forces.

Bruce said...

We are on the same wavelength anon - unfortunately the power of the status quo combined with the pressure of standards gets in the way.

Anonymous said...

Maybe there are four main groups of teachers? Firstly the traditionalists ( who want to return to some lost 'golden age'); secondly those who just do what is expected ( the 'status quo'); thirdly those sensing new possibilities ( because things aren't working); and, finally, those creative people actively exploring new possiblities. Changing the mind of the second group is the key, or the stumbling block, to change.

The general public fits into the first two which presents a real problem.

Anonymous said...

Bruce,
cheers for the ongoing blogging and inspiration. I have just finished a book title 'Welcome to the Aquarium' which I think you may enjoy. It is about a creative teacher in the U.S who won't stand for imposed curriculum objectives or standards set by mad government officials. Instead she is determined to let the children's interests dominate what goes on in the classroom.
This book was a huge inspiration for me!
Cheers,
Struan McKenzie

richnz said...

Hi Bruce

I think that there are still creative teachers about, and even creative schools.
I think that the introduction of National Standards, in their current form is an extension of current school milestones of achievement already in place. Remember they are simply one tool in overall teacher judgement.

I totally agree that some reporting from schools was gobbledy gook, and it was poor practise displayed in schools that brought around 'plain english' reporting.

It is school leaders that need to ensure that their schools are full of classes of motivated and interested children.

School leaders need to ensure that they have motivated and interesting teachers!!!! Motivation is still the key to learning. We still have the 'new NZC'. Principals need to use it.

There is great teaching going on today in our schools. Maybe in spite of a perceived narrowing of the curriculum.

Ensuring the curriculum is not narrowed is the role of school leadership.

Bruce said...

Greetings Straun and Rich

Firstly Straun I have had the book you mention for a few months now and I agree with what you say about it.Inspirational.It shows how a courageous teacher , with a strong philosophy, has survived the onslaught of standardized 'best practice' teaching.I love it that she deliberately keeps the term langauge time rather than the technocratic literacy block.

I am going to base several blogs on the book. An excellent read for real teachers. All about the subjectivity, creativity and honesty of a real teacher. A rare example of a truly child centred teacher who based all her work on developing her students passiona and interests.

Richard - you are right there are still creative teachers out there but there could have been so many more if it wasn't for all the technocratic managerial nonsense of the past decades - and now we have National Standards - and more to come !!

It all could have been so much better. Let's hope the NZC survives all the nonsense. And, by the way, my favourite creative teachers taught in the heady 1970s.