There have been times when I have felt that others have thought I was old fashioned.
When I was a principal in the late 80s a BOT member pushed hard for the school to buy computers , which, at great expense, we did. Ironically the BOT member never inquired as to how they were being used. We just had to be seen to have them!!
The same applies to the latest 'silver bullet' - modern school environments ( MLEs) -the latest iteration of open plan education packed full of information technology..
Even a previous 'silver bullet' of 'higher order thinking' ( HOT ), or ' twenty first century thinking' skills, both approaches that valued learning processes above content, all too often results in 'thin learning'.
|Pioneer creative teacher|
When I visit classrooms today, or view videos and photo albums of modern learning environments, I am appalled about The lack of evidence of in depth thinking and quality creative artifacts. Elwyn would despair.
I was discussing the issues above with a retired very creative teacher, recognized for the in-depth studies undertaken by his class, and a recently retired respected principal who, in schools he led. was recognized by the quality of the work the students completed.
|Power of completion|
Early in my career I learnt from the Director of Art Education, the late Gordon Tovey, of the power of the completion of something worthwhile - in any area of learning or life. That the product was just as important as the process - the process is a means to an end.
Going back to the thinking skills movement one of the important skills mentioned is the importance of effort, perseverance , 'grit' or 'stick-ability'. All too often students bring to their classwork the idea of 'first finished is best'. Classes are full of students who give up too easily, or students who have come to believe they don't have the ability to achieve or don't even try. All too often such demeaning attitudes have been created by the consequences of ability grouping or lack of focused 'catch up' help.
|All students with a 'growth mindset'|
One book that inspired me when I was a teacher was a very 'strange' ( and now out of print) book called 'The Unfolding of Artistic Ability' (1961) with, very appropriately, an introduction by John Dewey.
Although it dealt with artistic ability its message applies to any area of learning. This book, particularly through illustrations , shows the amazing artistic development of all sorts of individuals - so called 'mental defectives', borstal boys, retired people - all were able to achieve amazing artistic results.
One example, David, illustrates the unfolding of such achievement.
David was a 20 year old 'delinquent' in a reform school with an IQ of 76 lacking in self confidence and social skills.
After four weeks he was aware of his progress and was keen to make his next effort even better. The discovery that he was able to perform unexpected tasks gave him courage to continue.
After several months of improving his ability he became involved in perfecting a clay relief of a horse. This relief involved him in a lot of decision making and judgment. - he was now determined to make his own decisions. There was nothing to be seen of his previous passive and timid approach. The task kept him busy for a week.
With incremental success, and encouragement, David gained both courage, energy and self confidence - an example of the 'unfolding of natural growth of his inherent abilities'.
After seven months David achieved his last work a horse modeled in clay and cast in artificial stone. It is worth comparing this with his first efforts.
In my class, and later as an adviser and principal, I determined to apply the lessons gained from the book.
We introduced the concept of' personal best' - encouraging children to set their own future improvements in their work. This applied to all activities across all aspects of the curriculum. Seeing is believing both for the students and their parents. Room environments were seen as a 'message system' - exhibiting well displayed science, research, language and art work. Rooms reflected the quality of work seen exhibited at science, maths, technology or art fairs.
Teachers helped students 'slow the pace' of their work to avoid the 'first finished best' desire.
This slowing the pace to develop deep thinking applies also to language as well - check this link 'death of a Viking chief'.
Teachers implemented the idea of 'doing fewer things well'; focusing on in-depth student understanding. Later the Japanese idea of Kaizen was introduced - the importance of incremental improvement. Students were encouraged to reflect how is this piece of work better than their previous effort and what will they improve next time?
Quality results were only one part of the equation - the work created also need to show the 'voice', 'identity', or idiosyncrasy of the learner.
As students move through the school system their work should show greater and greater variety . All too often my classroom visits ( and viewing on my computer of modern classrooms) shows just the opposite - formulaic , so called 'best practice', conformist teaching devoid of real creativity.
Experience of excellence comes from:
'Mastering at least one thing supremely well. It can be anything – music, mechanics, motorcycle racing. If you don’t go deep into something, you don’t know what extraordinary performance is. You get satisfied with ordinary performance. And if you have never experienced it yourself, it’s hard to be a role model. Without an experience of excellence, you won’t appreciate the quality in others.’
Harry Davis University of Chicago.
Ideas rather old fashioned maybe but as relevant as ever even in a modern learning environment?
How would David fare in your school or class?