Saturday, December 17, 2005

What sort of learner do we have in mind?

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I seem to have been thinking about the importance of making use of sensory awareness, valuing student’s curiosity, tapping into their personal concerns and their question of late.

These might not seem that important in the scheme of things but, in reality, they get down to the basis of teaching and learning. Do ‘we’ (in effect ‘experts’ who work in Wellington) decide what students should know and then ‘deliver’ what has been decided to, often unwilling, students. Or do we believe in valuing the 'voice’, talents, gifts, questions and dreams of every student, and then do our best to create the condition to realize the innate potential of every student?

This is, in effect, deciding to either continue delivering ‘mass’ education or ‘personalizing’ the system. In the business world it is akin to Henry Ford’s saying, ‘You can have any colour you like as long as it is black’, as against today’s, ‘What exact modification do you want to ‘customize’ your car to suit your needs’?

Unfortunately schools are still working with an Fordist ‘industrial aged mindset’, producing students suitable to work in Henry’s, now antiquated, factory. That is, of course, except for the students are subtly streamed out to ‘manage’ the country. As someone said, ‘Schools are OK if it were 1950’. Although the mass produced system is most easily seen in the fragmented, specialized achievement orientated, secondary schools the, ‘teacher knows best’, mentality is seen even in the youngest of classes.

Over the decades only a few creative teachers, and even fewer schools, have been brave enough to organize their classrooms to develop the gifts talents and passions of the learner.

These schools and teachers are the future.

Our students face an unknown, unpredictable, ambiguous, but potentially exciting world. Future orientated schools need to have in their minds an image of a successful future learner equipped with the appropriate attitudes and dispositions, to thrive in this new environment. Such attributes will impossible to achieve in schools with their genesis in the past century!

We need to have a 'conversation' about what kind of country we want to become and the type of citizens we will need, and then we need to consider how best the education system be transformed to make a full contribution to realizing whatever vision is developed.

Schools today produce both successful students and at the same time fail far too many – approximately 20%. For many it is, at best, a mediocre experience. Even the so called ‘successful’ may not be ideal future learners; the values of all groups are too often self- centred reflecting the ethics of the times. If, at the end of schooling, we are producing students who have not realized their creative powers then we need to change our schools.

What kinds of people do want our schools to develop? What is there in the nature of every learner which suggests his, or her, ultimate destiny? Young children are essentially creative and imaginative, combining, each in their own way: the traits of a scientist, an artist, an explorer, a thinker, and a 'carer' for others.

Education ought to focus on developing such traits in every learner.

And to do this we have to 're-imagine' a new kind of education to develop students who are: self motivated; who can see connections between the various learning areas; who appreciate doing things well; who can work with others; who have the confidence to 'give things a go'; who care for each other, their community, other cultures; and, of course, the sustainability of our fragile world.

We need a responsive education system able to 'deliver' students able to imagine and realize a better world. We can’t get there with more of the same - a 'one size fits all system'.

It is no longer possible for ‘technocrats’ to pre plan expectations from a distance - we need schools with creative teachers dedicated to encouraging students to invent themselves.

This means we have to value student’s voice, personal concerns, and help the tap into, and develop, whatever talents each learner brings.

This is ‘personalized’ learning.

Imagine schools dedicated to realizing the talents of every student!


Anonymous said...

Yes, you would think that this is what an 'education system' should be about. Many teachers enter the profession with this aspiration!
A few teachers retain the vision, often at considerable cost. But what you tend to see when you look around many schools today are various shades of mediocrity, lost direction, and lost opportunities.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Too many teachers following the idealized trails set by 'technocrats' who have long since lost contact with the reality of the classroom.

One day they will see through the spin and think for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Education has aways been about someone knowing better than the learner, or teacher - who are these grey people? And how do they get away with creating such a disaster for so many - except for the few born to rule!

Anonymous said...

Be great to identify a range of creative adults ( for example Peter Jackson) and see how they would 're-imagine' traditional schooling, and also to see how their schooling hindered or helped them in realizing their careers?

Be aslo interesting to interview those who failed to see where it all went wrong for them, and what they suggest to improve things.

Schools seem to 'belong' to those who did well in them - hardly the creative types!

Bruce Hammonds said...

The above suggestion is great but far to much like common sense for it to be given serious thought. Anyway the Ministry has all sorts of highly paid policy analysts to do such things for us! I guess we would should be thankful for such 'experts' saving us from doing our own thinking!!!