Thursday, February 28, 2013

Class management for creativity and Ewan McIntosh

Assisting not pre-determining
Classroom management quotes.

I was asked in a blog comment how would I arrange the day ina classroom focused on developing the gifts and talents of all students – to ensure, as it states in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, they all  become ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’; to ensure all students leave with positive ‘learning identities’.

Time to apply his advice!!
The question was in a response to the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson (‘creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy’) and GuyClaxton (‘learnacy is as important to literacy and numeracy’).
Many schools and teachers are aware of the ideas of Sir Ken and Guy Claxton ( and many other educationalists who are asking for transformation of our antiquated education system) but in contrast most school days reflect approaches that have their genesis in a past industrial age,  And worse still this over emphasis on narrow literacy and numeracy demands is being reinforced by the  reactionary political imposition of the current government’s National Standards and associated accountability demands in these areas.
Elwyn - NZ's pioneer creative teacher
To develop a more future orientated education new mind-sets are required. Well not exactly new as there have always been educationists and individual classroom teachers who could well be seen as precursors of a new education. One such teacher would be the late pioneer creative teacher Elwyn Richardson who envisaged his classroom as a community of artist and scientists.
So what to do?
The first think is to focus all ‘teaching’ on the development of every students’’ gifts and talents. This is not to throw out literacy and numeracy but to re frame them in the service of creative inquiry across the curriculum. As Guy Claxton has written students need to see the point in all they do.
I suggest teachers take educators Thomas Sergiovani’s advice to ‘build in canvas’. By this he means look as if you are doing what is expected while dramatically changing the approach to the literacy and numeracy times. The building in canvas metaphor relates to the construction of canvas tanks in the Iraq war to fool the enemy. This means introducing as much applied reading and maths as you can tied into the current inquiry study.
The key belief is to see the current inquiry topic as providing the energy and inspiration for most of what goes on in the school day and to personalise learning for each student.
An inquiry based programme is in direct conflict with the formulaic deterministic ‘best practice’ teaching that has become the norm in most schools. By the over use of such things as success criteria, intentional teaching, feed-forward ‘next step’ teaching, and a ‘we are going to learn’ model (WALTS) too much student work lacks individual creativity. Teachers who use such things need to encourage their students to ensure whatever they do expresses their individuality – except in such things as spelling and practical maths. We are talking about a personalised approach to learning rather than a standardised one.
A creative inquiry based classroom centres around students (and teachers) working together to solve what some writers called ‘messy’, ‘wild’, fertile’ or ‘generative’ topics. This exploratory or ‘emergent’ approach to learning is, as mentioned, in conflict with current approaches but it is a creative approach for both teachers and students.  To succeed teachers need to follow educationalist Jerome Bruner’s advice that ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’. Whatever students are tempted to do should be done in depth – ‘fewer things should be done well’
In creative classrooms teachers need to focus their time on developing with their students such temptations and thinking how they can infuse all the necessary literacy and numeracy skills required for students to produce quality work. There are excellent books which provide examples of how this can be done.  Obviously not all literacy and numeracy will be integrated – such areas have their own areas to explore using an inquiry approach. Most of all teachers need to ensure all students acquire the learning dispositions to develop positive attitudes.
The practice of using ability groups needs to be questioned and students helped as required, individually or in groups, and then returned to work with others. This approach is well described by educationalists David Perkins and Jo Boaler.
By such means the shape of the day retains much of what is currently seen but instead of the ‘evil twins of literacy and numeracy gobbling up the entire curriculum’ (as one UK commentator has written) they become integral to the development of the gifts and talents of all students.
Such classrooms value personalised diagnostic assistance to learners in areas of shown need so all students’ can achieve quality learning. The best evidence of learning is to be seen in what the students’ have achieved (exhibitions, wall displays, demonstrations, presentations, electronic portfolios) and but most importantly by their students’ confidence to apply skills and knowledge gained to new situations. In such classrooms both teachers and students can show how all aspects of learning, including attitudes, have improved.

Ewan McIntosh
It was suggested to me that I should listen to a video presentation given by Ewan McIntosh at a recent Thinking Conference (Jan 2013) because his ideas challenge the pre-deterministic’ best practices’ currently to be seen in classrooms. His presentation was titled ‘The Problem Finders’ and in it he explores the process creative professionals use and how they can be applied to support creative dynamicand deeper thinkers. Brilliant stuff - find time to watch
Creative people, he says, have four qualities:
 1 They know why they do what they do.
They see the whole problem and then they work on the hard parts (David Perkin’s advice). Ewan referred to Guy Claxton’s 6 pillars of learning that one learning must have (1) challenge (2) be collaborative(3) provide responsibility (4) respect learner’s ideas (5) be about real things (6) provide choices.
2 They are agent provocateurs.

Picasso - agent provocateur!
They provoke learning. Schools should not involve students in questions that can be answered by ‘Google’. Students need to discover by themselves – to transform what they know. Students need ‘messy’ learning situations to develop generative thinking that unfolds as students dig deeper. Students need to find their own problems.
3 They trust the process.
Creative people trust that new thinking will evolve through the design process. First they begin to explore the chosen area and are on the alert for ‘leads’ to occur; then they begin to define areas to research; then ideas to solve problems; from this developing ‘prototypes’ which provide feedback to improve. The first steps are divergent and then ideas converge.
Teachers, McIntosh, do too much of the planning (problem seeking) themselves. Instead they should start learning with the students. (So much for all this pre-determined learning). Give students a chance to wonder, to develop their own ‘juicy’ questions. Help students define the problem and possible solutions. Don’t assess results too early!
4 Creative people live to perform.
Preforming your learning is so important. Students need opportunities to exhibit, demonstrate, show and tell about what they have learnt. Students need opportunities to feel their work is memorable. ‘To achieve great things’ McIntosh quotes, ‘two things are needed a plan and not enough time.’ If given the opportunity children can learn by themselves.
Seems to me McIntosh is describing what creative teachers do. McIntosh is elaborating the ‘community of scientists and artists’ of Elwyn Richardson or describing how teachers can ensure that all students develop positive creative learning identities able, as the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum says, to able to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’.
With a creative mind-set teachers can transform their classrooms into personalised learning communities, and if they are clever (by ‘building in canvas’), those in authority might never notice. And, in a way, it won’t matter if students are producing amazing results. Such creative teachers will be able to gain some sort of immunity.
Creative classrooms, and better still schools, are a real alternative to the narrowing effect of  the current assessment crazy emphasis on literacy and numeracy and the deadening effect of formulaic ‘best practice’ teaching. Creative classrooms are learning organisations while 'best practice' schools are communities of ( conformist) practices.

Learning organisation quotes


Jody Hayes said...

Brilliant post Bruce! Thank you, I will reread and ponder more.

Bruce said...

Thank you Jody for putting me onto Ewan McIntosh - an excellent presentation. Got me quite enthusiastic!

Jody Hayes said...

Yes, I have been reading his blog for a long time but to hear him in person was pretty profound.
We are trying to live the creativity classroom style in my class of new entrants. Challenging work in these times but so important I think.

Bruce said...

Lets hope lots of teachers think as you do Jody - we need all the creative teachers we can get!