Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas /holiday reading. A new inspirational book about Elwyn Richardson - New Zealand's pioneer teacher

A new book about Elwyn's inspirational ideas

In my early days, a long time ago, one book inspired a group of us to develop integrated student centred learning . The book was 'In The Early World' written by Elwyn Richardson and outlined his work with his students in an isolated North Auckland rural school in the 1950s.

Elwyn's book has been recently been reprinted by the NZCER and it remains one of the worlds most inspirational educational books

All schools should have a copy

Described by one reviewer as “possibly the best book about teaching ever written”, this book is important not only as a brilliant demonstration of the creative capacities of all children but also in its profound implications as to the nature of the learning process.

Elwyn developed his school as a community of artists and scientists - more relevant than ever.

A lifetime of creative teaching
I have recently been given notice of a new book about Elwyn's ideas written by Margaret MacDonald. A year or so ago Margaret completed a thesis on Elwyn  and  it is this thesis that Margaret has referenced as the basis for her book.
Margaret Mac Donald

The book has been published by the NZCER and is available for sale this week.

International customers: Email to place order and arrange shipping

If you want more information below are extracts from the forward  to the book written by Prof Deborah Fraser University of Waikato.
Prof Deborah Fraser

'There is no doubt that Elwyn Richardson made a hugely significant contribution to education. Margaret MacDonald peels back the layers of influence of the man and the teacher whose innovative pedagogy remains an outstanding example of teaching.

There are deeper lessons for all educators in this book that are both timely and urgent.

Do policy makers today consider the education of the whole child, or are they distracted by data entries, achievement graphs and measurement by standards?

Do we value the legacy of outstanding teachers such as Elwyn, and, if so, where is the evidence of this in contemporary schools?

Where are the arts-rich schools that integrate curriculum and capitalise on children’s natural curiosity? 
Sir David

When US president Obama met with world-renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough, Sir David argued that the question is not about how to interest children in the natural world—they are fascinated by the life they find under an ordinary rock.

The question is: How do they lose that fascination?

Schooling has an important responsibility here. Do we fan the flame of enquiry, or do we contribute to extinguishing that flame? The evidence of late suggests we are eroding children’s curiosity in our rush towards completing activities and achieving results, as measured by narrowly defined outputs.

Teachers do not intend to erode children’s curiosity; they do so by default, caught up in the incessant demands of an assessment-driven curriculum. Elwyn, like Sir David Attenborough, recognised that children are mini-scientists in the making, if only they are given the opportunity and guidance.

One of Ekwyn's student's painting
Elwyn realised education should enrich who we are and resonate with relevanceHe deliberately built the curriculum around the internal and external lives of his students. When teachers forge connections with children’s lives like this, they create a meaningful curriculum.

Screen printed cloth
Weaving this web of connection helps teachers stay alert to what really matters in education.

What matters is a curriculum that places children’s natural curiosity at the heart, so that they are encouraged to explore who they are and the world around them.

This is evident in Elwyn’s use of an integrated curriculum, focusing on intriguing questions that motivated children to pursue avenues of enquiry. He encouraged the freedom to explore, the opportunity to observe closely, and the discipline to record findings in various ways. He also upheld the value of the arts as a vivid means of expression and not secondary to other subjects. He also realised that one subject informs another; that scientific understanding is enhanced by the aesthetic, and vice versa.
Magnificent art

 His school and its surrounds reflected children’s creations, constructions and projects. For educators to claim that new furniture and devices create a high-quality learning environment misses the point. It is the quality of the teaching that takes place in any space that is the litmus test of whether an environment is conducive to learning.

John Dewey
Elwyn Richardson and the early world of creative education in New Zealand While Elwyn referred to himself more as guide than teacher in traditional terms, he, like John Dewey, did not allow just any activity to count as learning. (Elwyn) challenged children to explore, ask questions, try things out, consider alternatives, and craft and re-craft to produce high-quality work: art work worthy of exhibitions, science projects like those of real scientists, vivid poetic and other writing which the children published in their regular school magazine. This is teaching at its finest.

 Children, like adults, enjoy the feeling of being stretched and achieving something they are proud of. At Oruaiti they were afforded the dignity of being taken seriously as critics, writers, artists, scientists and thinkers.

Teacher education has much to glean from Margaret’s keen analysis.

 It is to our detriment if we perpetuate ahistorical ideas that do not acknowledge the wealth of beliefs, movements and theories that have informed education. No teacher education programme can cover everything, but we need to know about the finer aspects of our past—the people, policies
and philosophies that have shaped us and continue to shape us—in order to reveal, as Margaret does, the rich soil from which our best ideas and practices came. If not, we risk a mediocre deference to—or worse, a seduction by—whatever latest trend is marketed the hardest by those who decide what counts as fashionable, regardless of its longevity and worth.

Republished book available NZCER

We risk a superficial interpretation of complex educational ideas that have been debated over time. This book explores central tenets in education and associated debates on topics such as child-centred education, the role of the teacher, progressive education and child art..

Teacher education also needs to consider what teaching as identity- work might mean. Elwyn’s early interests and influences are readily apparent in his pedagogy. There is a seamlessness between his own interests and his teaching, particularly in his abiding curiosity for the natural
world. Teachers who share their keen interests, as he did, open a wondrous world for children—a world they may not ever experience as enticing if such a teacher did not provide both pathway and beacon.

 The thing we most recall about our favourite teachers is the passion they had for a certain field or fields, and such passion, along with an enquiring manner, is contagious. It is vitally important that teachers bring their own interests to teaching, revealing aspects of who they are and the satisfaction that comes from losing oneself in a subject; that delicious blurring of self and subject, which evokes depth of focus and appreciation. In so doing, teachers also give children licence to bring who they are and what they cherish to the table of learning.

This important book brings together the strands of influences that shaped Elwyn Richardson and, more broadly, the landscape of education in New Zealand. 

Observational rooster
We need more such stories that acknowledge the complex interface between personal identity and social, cultural and historical influences. We need this timely reminder of what is possible, as teachers feel increasingly shackled by forces beyond their control. This book is neither romantic accolade nor polemic. It is a series of inter-related stories with the theme of hope—as relevant today as at any time in the history of schooling'.

Professor Deborah Fraser
The University of Waikato

August 2015

International customers: Email to place order and arrange shipping

Making drums and playing music

Friday, December 11, 2015

Educational reflections/readings for creative teachers

Sticking to ones beliefs is never easy.

By Allan Alach

As the New Zealand school year is coming to an end, this will be the final education readings for this year. Normal service will be resumed towards the end of January.  To give you something to do until then, this week’s list will be a bit longer than usual!

Bruce and I hope you all have an enjoyable festive season with friends and family.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

No Art Left Behind: Introducing a New Series
Keep an eye on this blog series by Susan Dufresne and Anthony Cody.
“In the past 13 years of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top test-driven education policies, art has been pushed to the margins in our schools. Students have lost countless hours for creating art, music and dance that expresses themselves. But artistic expression is like the seedling that forces its way through cracks in the asphalt. This blog series will explore how students and teachers use art to express themselves.”

Tablets out, imagination in: the schools that shun technology
“But the fact that parents working for pioneering technology companies are questioning the value of computers in education begs the question – is the futuristic dream of high-tech classrooms really in the best interests of the next generation?

Classroom technology 'rarely used' by half of teachers
How well are they used?
I remember this problem from my principal days.
“Nearly half of teachers rarely use the technology in their classrooms, with a lack of trainingholding many of those surveyed back, new research suggests. Over a third of teachers in primary schools, and a similar number in secondary schools, also say they are unsure about how to integrate technology into the curriculum, leading to many items going unused on a regular basis.”

Technology makes a difference
However, on the other hand, here’s Steve Wheeler.
On the other hand!
“I have often heard the argument that there is no evidence that technology improves learning. Thisis a vacuous claim that is either a) based on ignorance of the available research literature, or b) possibly the result of a deep seated fear, mistrust or dislike of technology in general. My usual response to such a claim is that children with special educational needs are a classic example of technology improving learning.”

Reflections on Teaching: The Craft of Teaching
Posted on Save Our Schools Australia:
“In Victoria, long ago, teaching was left to teachers. It was presumed that there were people skilled in the craft and they would pass on their knowledge to others. But theory has trumped practice in recent decades. Now teaching has been overtaken by education, which deals with students and clients, rather than children, and which often has little respect for the craft of teaching. But learning begins with teaching, not data collection.”

National Academic Standards – Turning Public Education into McSchools
This is happening all over.
But look almost anywhere in the US of A, and you’ll see a strip mall with almost all of the same stores and fast food restaurants selling the same crusty burgers and fries left waiting for the consumer under a heat lamp. Somehow this has become THE model for public education, as well. Corporations have convinced our lawmakers that the disposable franchise business schematic is perfect to increase student learning.”

Can Competency Based Education Be Stopped?
I haven’t included a Peter Greene article for a while…
‘Every single thing a student does would be recorded, cataloged, tagged, bagged, and tossed into the bowels of the data mine, where computers will crunch data and spit out a "personalized" version of their pre-built educational program. Right now seems like the opportune moment for selling this program, because it can be marketed as as an alternative to the Big Standardized Tests which have been crushed near to death under the wheel of public opinion. "We'll stop giving your children these stupid tests," the reformsters declare. "Just let us monitor every single thing they do every day of the year.”’

Why teacher-powered schools are picking up momentum
In teacher-powered schools, students are at the center of every decision. Teachers secure autonomy to make the big choices about a wide array of factors, such as the learning program, school-community partnerships, and budgeting. In many such schools, teachers evaluate their colleagues with peer review processes, as is so often the case in other professions.”

‘Not a Math Person’: How to Remove Obstacles to Learning Math
Prof Jo Boalar
“Recently, a colleague’s 7-year-old came home from school and announced he didn’t like math anymore. His mom asked why and he said, math is too much answering and not enough learning.” This story demonstrates how clearly kids understand that unlike their other courses, math is a performative subject, where their job is to come up with answers quickly. Boaler says that if this approach doesn’t change, the U.S. will always have weak math education.

Contributed by
Bruce Hammonds:

Can a Truly Student-Centered Education Be Available to All?
Is the public school system scared to put students at the centre of education?
“An education which doesnt use any set curriculum and is instead directed by the childs interests, is vastly different from traditional public and private schools. While the freedom inherent
in the model excites some readers, others question whether young people educated this way will learn the important information and skills they need to become productive adults in our society. Big Picture Schools use the learner and his or her interests and passions as the organising principle of school. The focus is on each and every student, not on a standardised curriculum an idea pioneer creative New Zealand primary teachers would recognise.

Why the Greatest Minds Take Long Walks
Charles Darwin.
“Walking isnt sexy. Its not the hot new trend or the most enticing productivity hack. Even so, its probably one of the most beneficial habits you could add to your routine. But dont take my word for it. Some of the greatest minds throughout history were notorious for taking walks, from Steve Jobs to Charles Darwin, walking was a part of their routine. Heres why.

Stop, Start, Continue: Conceptual Understanding Meets Applied Problem Solving
There must be a better way!!
The end of the year is the time to ask some important questions.
“As simple as these sound, they provided us a safe, predictable set of questions that became habits of mind, a way to pause and reflect before engaging in something else. Our aim was to get better at what we were doing.What should we stop doing?What should we start doing? What should we continue doing?”

Teaching By Doing Something Meaningful
Getting away from corporate testing mad Big Educationand bringing back the magic of real teaching.
Has teaching lost its magic?
“When my head is in the world of corporate education, my heart isnt fully in my job. When I am focused on how much there is to do, I lose some of my teaching magicand unfortunately, so does my audience. There are still many abracadabra moments that take me away from the sideshow of Big Education Teaching, in its truest form, is simply inspiring other people to inspire each other, and to learn and grow together.”

A Few Ideas for Better Writing Conferences
Value student's voice
Not a new idea for creative teachers or is it? Personal writing developing each students voiceand sense of identity was once a feature in New Zealand classrooms.“That perhaps this was my chance to not lead their conferences.  To not have all of the answers, but instead be ready to listen and support.  To let them tell me what they needed rather than vice versa.  So I did, and it felt like I held my breath all day, but it worked.  It worked!  And I could not be happier with the outcome.  So what did we do?”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

End of year survey tapping the wisdom of your class/school/community
“At the end of the school year it is a good idea to gather information from the students you are passing on.Not only is this a chance for you to get some insight about your teaching but it is also a great way to value the voiceof your students.What are your studentsattitudes towards areas of learning?”

What should a parent expect from a teacher in the 21stC?
Steve Wheeler
This an extract from a blog by Steve Wheeler, Professor of Technology, University of Plymouth, UK.
“In this post I'm not going to dwell on digital skills. Instead I'm going to focus on three essential things teachers need to practice, and without which children would be poorer.The first thing parents should expect from teachers is their ability to inspire children to learn.Another allied skill we should expect from teachers is an ability to understand the child's perspective. Parents should also expect teachers to give creative freedom to children.”

Teachers' key role in fostering creativity
Essential characteristics of creative teachers,are a commitment to: deepen the understandings of the world of each learner; believe in the creative ability of all students; encourage empathy in students; value creative expression in learners; teach in ways that facilitate it; adapt the curriculum to meet students individual needs.”

The corporate takeover of society and education.
“Since the early 90s society has been reshaped by a neo liberal corporate ideology. An emphasis on
private enterprise and self-centred individualism has replaced an earlier concern for collective good of all members of society.  As a result of this ideological shift a wider gap has been created between the rich and poor causing a number of social concerns. Schools as part of this shift have been transformed from a community orientation to being part of a competitive cut throat ideology.