Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Design - the basis of future success.

Aesthetics and design Posted by Hello

There is one thing that has struck me about the teachers I have admired during my long career visiting schools and it is that they all believe in doing fewer things well – in personal excellence.

This of course is in direct conflict with the pressures of today’s standardized curriculums, which as one writer says, are ‘an inch deep and a mile wide’. Coverage and ‘delivering the curriculum’ and not depth, has been the message of the last decade or so!

With this in mind it was great to read what Rod Orams, the business writer in the ‘Sunday Times’, writes about the one common ingredient Kiwi business achievements have in common - the emphasis on design.

The teachers I have always admired place creativity at the centre of their philosophy. Today there is an emphasis is on the importance of process, or in the Ministry jargon – ‘key competencies’, and the need for students to be aware of the process by which they learn. The teachers I have worked with would agree but would possibly just call it 'learning how to learn' but, as well, they would add the need for students to complete tasks up to the learners ‘personal best’. Such teachers understand the power and pride gained by doing something so well that it surprises the learner. Process and product they would believe are equally important.

Back to the importance of design in Oram’s article. He says that, ‘it is design that goes beyond the narrow sense of being good looking’, it is the ‘application of design principles’ to every aspect of the organization.

In aesthetically orientated classrooms it is felt important that what students research, write, draw, make or present in any medium, is always the best they can do - assessed against their own previous best. With this in mind the craftsmanship element is valued and personal effort applauded. Perseverance is an important aspect; too many students give up before they give themselves a chance! Teachers who understand the 'artistry' of teaching, provide their students with focused guidance and 'feedback' so they achieve results of quality.

Teaching design starts early, with the first books children use, and in such classes’ bookwork shows continual improvement from February to December; no need to create artificial portfolios! Some teachers not only teach deliberately design layout skills but, also, provide simple ‘scaffolds’ for students to innovate from.

The total school should be a model of aesthetics and design – the foyer, the buildings, the grounds and most of all every individual classroom. The classroom, in particular, is an important ‘message system’ and design clarity should be seen on the whiteboards, the class displays and student bookwork. Class displays, in particular, should both celebrate and inform by using clear headings, key questions and process information.

Well designed classroom environments should leave students with clear messages:

1 That their ‘voices’, questions, and ideas are important; that it is their role to 'construct' their own learning.

2 That they need to apply themselves so as to achieve their personal best.

3 That all their work has a design element in it if they want their work to attract the eye of their ‘audience’ . Of course the need to demonstrate in depth content is always required.

Rod Orams writes that NZ cannot compete by quantity but by excellence of design.NZ, he believes, needs to make design a core value. This design needs to represent our ‘multicultural richness, creativity, our unique society, land and location.’ It is this factor, he continues, that will differentiate NZ production in a crowded market place.

Design is being recognized by Tom Peters the business ‘guru’ as the only route to economic survival and Orams says there is an, ‘absolute economic importance of NZ being design driven if we are to stand any chance’. Successful countries are integrating the twin 'drivers' of high technology and design in all they make.

This is exactly what schools ought to be focusing on from the earliest ages; doing fewer things well; quality not quantity; in depth not surface thinking; personal excellence not fitting into preconceived standards. The age of mass education is gone, or ought to have; we are entering into a world of customized or personalized learning.

We are lucky in NZ. We have always had a committed, if small, group of innovative teachers who, if identified, could spread their creative teaching insights to all schools.

This is what our website is dedicated to.

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Anonymous said...

Good stuff.
Why have we been wasting our time trying to cover all those endless objectives and strands?
We should have known better!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's my "English teacher" mentality but I have a cautiousness about words such as "design." It seems to be the kind of word that everyone uderstands but that no two define the same. Does it mean, "plan," "organization," "aesthetic harmony," "control?" I've got more, but you get the idea. I like what you say here. It fits with my experience as a teacher. But I want to understand more of what design means.