Sunday, December 31, 2006

Last thoughts for 2006

I haven't had the opportunity to post a blog since before Christmas.

And as well I have lost a bit of motivation to do so.

I usually enjoy writing blogs as often as I can, more for my own benefit than anyone elses who may happen to read it - although it is always a thrill to get a response from someone. And I really enjoy replying to anyone who does take the time to comment.

More often than not I hear from people I meet that they enjoy my blogs and that they often make use of them for professional reading. For all this I guess I write them for my own benefit to clarify my thoughts but I do enjoy seeing them posted. It is really a modern form of public diary writing that once you start you feel you need to keep going!

I selected the starfish illustration because it reminds me of a story you often hear presenters use to indicate that even small efforts contribute in some way. The story, for those who haven't heard it, is about a man walking along a beach who notices in the distance another man throwing back into the waves stranded starfish baking in the morning sun. The first man asks the other why he bothers to throw them back because there are so many stranded starfish it hardly matters. The man replies, picking up another starfish and throwing it into the waves, ' it matters to this one'.

I guess I hope that what I write matters to someone but , more importantly, it means to me that I haven't given up hope of making a small difference.

As the year draws to an end I will have to decide whether or not to carry on but it is really no decision. I still remain fascinated by the world of ideas, particularly in education, but generally in contributing ( in very small way) to a better world. And every year I appreciate that education is too important to be left to schools; too many of which are locked into a conservative 'mindset' formed in a past century.

I have believed for years that we are on the verge of a new ecological 'world view' that will transform all our current organisations that have been shaped by outdated industrial aged thinking. Sooner or later a major shift of consciousness will happen and a new creative era will emerge forcing all failing organisations to transform themselves. A kind of second Renaissance.

I can't wait until this happens but I guess I will have to.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A shared language of teaching and learning.

Pedagogy to cross the primary secondary gap!

It is only when you work in a school that spans the year 8 and 9 age groups that you really appreciate that there is world of difference between teaching approaches of primary and secondary schools and that this difference makes learning too difficult for many students.

For all this it seems it is an issue that is all too often sidestepped by educationalist who happily talk about a ‘seamless’ curriculum on the grounds that all curriculum documents are developed to cover students from 5 to school leaving. As for teachers, or school themselves, they are so busy developing, or ‘delivering’, curriculums that they seem blind to the problem. Primary teachers often quietly despair about the lack of pedagogy of their secondary colleagues while secondary teachers often grumble to themselves about what their students can’t do when they reach their area.

As for students, they either accept differences in teaching and learning as how it is and always has been and, if they can’t cope with the change, then any difficulties must lie within themselves.

The truth is that for many students entering secondary schools must be like visiting a foreign country where their learning, once taught by one teacher and often in integrated way, is now taught by a range of separate teachers. Teachers who have no idea about what each other are teaching or the teaching strategies they each use.

What is required as we enter the 21stC is the development of a common language of teaching and learning to cover all ages. A few years ago, the then Minister of Education, announced that his researchers had informed him was the classroom teacher that made the difference! More recently the current Minister of Education stated that ‘since 1989 we have moved to a focus on teaching and learning based on a growing body of evidence about what works best’. His ‘new manta’ is the need to personalize learning!

It is as if common sense had finally permeated the walls of the ivory towers.

The truth is that the revolution in teaching and learning that reaches back to John Dewey (and even earlier educational philosophers) has had trouble finding a place in the specialists secondary schools whose genesis lies within a mass education ‘one size fits all’ 19thC, industrial aged, ‘mindset’.

It is as if there are two competing narratives about teaching – the ‘old story’ where learning is seen as a form of cultural transmission to often passive learners; where students are taught by s subject teachers, tested and sorted. Teaching in this narrative is about ‘covering’ or ‘delivering’ the curriculum by specialist teachers and successful student are those who can remember the ‘stuff’ they are taught. The metaphor that comes to mind is that of a factory and the production line, complete with waste products. Many teachers blame their students for any failure (‘deficit theory’), or poor earlier teaching, when, all too often, it is the school itself that is ‘learning disabled!

The ‘new story’ sees schools as ‘learning organizations’ based on the belief that with the right tasks, help, and time, all students can learn. An important element in this narrative is the relationship between the student and the teacher. In this ‘story’ learning is co-created through the actions of both, but led by the interests, question, queries and concerns of the learner. Through realistic problem solving tasks, meaningful to their students, teachers do their best to develop whatever talents their students may have so as to develop a positive learning identity in all their students. This is where the ‘new’ idea of ‘personalized learning’ comes in but such an approach brings into question the whole concept of a preplanned curriculum; learning in this 'story’ is a process of students actively creating their own ‘knowledge’. Our ‘revised’ New Zealand curriculum represents these ideas and, if put into practice, it would challenge many current secondary practices.

The problem is that is all too easy to fall into ‘either /or’ camps and for opponents to harden their positions.

The solution is to combine the best of current primary and secondary approaches. In schools that include students from year 7 to 9 there is a great opportunity to do just this and in the process escape, what some writers call, the ‘muddle in the middle.’ Such schools have an opportunity to lead educational transformation by developing this ‘best of both worlds approach’. These schools, by combining the strong relationship and integrated learning of primary teaching with the rigor and depth of subject disciplines of secondary teaching, could become centres of new educational thought.

Our own site was developed with just this challenge of developing a ‘More Informed Vision’ inclusive of all age groups – a vision that if put into practice would have the potential to develop the learning power and creative talents of all students. The new ‘capital’ for any country, in what some are calling the ‘Creative Era’, will be the innovation and creativity of all students.

This blend, of the best elements of ‘child centred learning’ and ‘subject centered teaching’ needs to be founded on interplay of student inquiry, problem solving and an increased depth of knowledge and understanding as provided by subject specialists. It would also require teachers to ‘do fewer things well’ and for them to ‘design’ studies with their students. Most of all it will require teachers to see themselves as ‘creative learning coaches’ practicing high kevels of ‘pedagogy’ or ‘artistry’ of teaching.

Such teaching will be seen as ‘co-constructivist’, representing Vygotsky’s idea of ‘scaffolding’; ‘What a child can do by with help today she can do by herself tomorrow’.

This ‘learning centred approach’ avoids the false dichotomies which persist in education to the detriment of the learners. Learning, for some students particularly for students whose backgrounds impose limits on their success, need not be as if finding yourself in foreign country.

Creating this unified pedagogy, and common educational language, by combining primary pedagogies and secondary subject expertise combines ‘the sage on the stage with the guide on the side’. It will create a ‘seamless’ and ‘personalized’ educational experience for all learners – and, as well, provide an exciting creative challenge for teachers.

Such a ‘best of both worlds’ approach has the power to bring learning to life for all concerned; all we need to do is change our collective minds and let the future emerge through our joint actions!
Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rip van Winkle and schools

Posted by Picasa A recent Time Magazine lead story begins with what it calls ‘a dark little joke exchanged by teachers with a dissident streak: Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred year snooze and is of course utterly bewildered by what he sees’. ‘Every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when finally he walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school”, he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906”’

American schools, the article says, ‘aren’t exactly frozen in time, but considering the pace of change in other areas of life, our public schools tend to feel like throwbacks. Kids spend much of their day as their great-grandparents once did.’ ‘A yawning chasm (with an emphasis on yawning) separates the world inside the school house from the word outside.’

In New Zealand Rip would find primary school very different. He would be confused by children working independently, or in groups, on projects with teachers assisting as and when necessary. However in New Zealand secondary schools he would feel at home.

The Time article believes that we should move away from the current national conversation on literacy and numeracy and closing the achievement gaps .What is required, they say, is a ‘big conversation’ about what students will need to thrive in the 21st century. Such a conversation is important to ensure an, ‘entire generation of our children will not make it in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad, or speak another language other than English.’

Evidently there is to be a ‘high powered’ report to be published in the US this month which outlines a ‘blueprint for rethinking American education from pre-K to 12 and beyond to better prepare students to thrive in the global economy.’ In a remarkable consensus this report reaches a key conclusion:‘We need to bring what we teach and how we teach it into the 21st century.’

As in New Zealand, the US is aiming too low with its current emphasis on literacy and numeracy. The mission of the NZ Ministry of Education is currently to 'reduce the disparity in students' – or to close the literacy numeracy gap. As important as these are, the articles says , they are but ‘foundation skills’ - a meager minimum –utterly necessary but by themselves insufficient.

Today’s economy demand not only high level competence in traditional academic disciplines but also what might be called 21st century skills. Here’s what they are’, according to the article:

Knowing more about the world. Kids are global citizens now ...and they must learn to act that way’. If this applies to small town America it is more important to geographically isolated New Zealand! ‘Students need to be sensitive to foreign cultures.’

Thinking outside the box’. Increasingly new jobs put an ‘enormous pressure on being creative and innovative skills, seeing patterns where other people see only chaos.’ It is reported that American schools have become ‘less daring during the (current) back to basics climate’…’kids must learn to think across disciplines, since this is where most breakthroughs are made’. ‘It’s interdisciplinary combinations –design and technology, mathematics and art.’

'Becoming smarter about new sources of information in an age of overflowing information and proliferating media, kids need to rapidly process what’s coming at them and distinguish between what’s reliable and what isn’t'. Students, it is quoted, need to know how to manage it (information), interpret it, validate it, and how to act on it.’

Developing people skills EQ, or emotional intelligence, is as important as IQ for success in today’s workplace.’ ‘Most innovations involve large teams of people’. Another quoted expert in the article says, ‘we have to emphasize communication skills, the ability to work in teams and with people from different cultures.’

The question the article asks is can our schools ‘originally designed to educate workers for agrarian life and industrial-age factories, make the necessary shifts?’ The upcoming report mentioned above will argue that, ‘it is only possible if we add new depth and rigor to our curriculum’ and…’if we reshape the teaching force.’

Too much of current education is ‘old school memorizing’ which now ‘seem faintly absurd’ even if Rip would find them reassuring. Much of this information is now available at a key stroke. The focus must be on ‘the most powerful and generative ideas’ rather than ‘rushing through a mind numbing stream of topics and subtopics in attempt to address a vast range of stare standards.’

Depth over breadth and the ability to leap across disciplines are exactly what teachers aim for’ in a school seen as a positive future oriented example. Students working on projects that naturally integrate concepts from a range of learning areas, it is suggested, is a means to achieve future learning attitudes and skills. Teachers are to be seen as ‘project managers’ infusing content from a range of subject areas into the student activities. By this process students ‘learn to apply to apply academic principles to the real world, think strategically and solve problems.’

Many New Zealand primary teachers, long used to integrated ‘project based learning’, doing fewer things well, will find this reassuring but it may inspire secondary teachers to think hard about the ways they work with their students. Through such projects the ‘goal is to teach kids to be discerning consumers of information and to research, formulate and defend their own views’. Such schools teach key aspects of information literacy.

The article warns that we ‘assume this generation was so comfortable with technology that they know how to use it for research and deeper thinking but if they’re not taught these skills, they don’t necessarily pick them up.’ A read through students projects soon shows that much of student so called research is ‘cut and paste’ courtesy of google!

Used wisely, the article continues, there are a great range on line resources for teachers and students to call upon. In the 21st to become ‘life long learners, students will, for many, be dependent on their ability to access and benefit from online learning’

‘Teachers’, the article concludes, ’need not fear that they will be made obsolete. They will however, feel increasing pressure to bring their methods – along with the curriculum- into line with the way the modern world works. That means putting a greater emphasis on teaching kids to collaborate and solve problems and apply what they have learned in the real world. Besides research shows that kids learn better that way than with the old chalk and talk approach.’

And through such learning students learn ‘to show respect for others as well as being punctual, responsible and work well in teams.

These are some things old Rip would recognize.

As for us in New Zealand the ‘new’ revised draft curriculum could, if implemented, ensure New Zealand students are well on the way to becoming future citizens.

Interesting to note that the phrase ‘key competencies’ were not mentioned once in the article?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Whose learning is it?

Posted by Picasa I have just returned from a farewell function for a retiring principal, and other staff members, of a local school.

The school is low decile school and it was interesting to sit at the front of the school hall during the function, surrounded by well presented children’s art, to observe all the, mainly brown, cheerful faces singing Maori songs in between the speeches.

The energy, vitality and sense of creative potential of the students, was obvious for all to see. 'Potential' is the appropriate word because, looking at all the faces, the thought that came to my mind was what would their fate be in the school system as they grow older? Listening to the mass singing and haka and, in particular, one young Maori girl who sang a solo, it was an impressive experience. The farewells, and associated gifts, added to the heightened emotion of the situation. And I noted those who spoke in te reo ( Maori) seemed far more at home with their thoughts than when speaking in English. Culture does make a difference to confidence; and confidence is at the heart of any future learning.

Afterwards, over a ‘cuppa’ tea and kai, a group of current and retired principals were discussing the fate of such children. It was agreed that many of the delightful faces, so full of promise, might end up in a few years disillusioned with what their schools might provide. One ‘semi retired’ principal, now visiting adolescent students who no longer go to secondary school and are on correspondence, said he often talks to them about how they see school. It seems they all thought secondary school ‘sucked’ but they enjoyed the ‘neat’ things they did at primary school. The value of education to such students , it seems, is all but lost

So what goes wrong! It all too easy to blame the students themselves, or their parents, or whatever .This is counterproductive – we need to think hard about how we can keep such students engaged in their own learning.

This business of engagement is the key. Preschoolers ‘work’ on their own curriculum’ driven by their insatiable curiosity, a need to communicate, to make sense of things and, in this process develop a sense of personal agency or power.

The problem of 'disengagement' begins for many of the students, whose faces in todays audience exuded such a wonderful sense of possibility, when ‘their’ curriculum is replaced by a curriculum devised by others who profess to know better. For some students, whose backgrounds are aligned with the school, this is no great problem but for other students school soon becomes a ‘foreign country’.

The answer, to me, would be to devise a curriculum based on the environment, culture, interests, dreams, questions, concerns, issues and queries of the students themselves.

This is not a new idea and there are schools, at all level, that do just this with great success.

The question is ,whose learning is it? Schools ought to make it their prime role to ensure the dreams, talents and sense of personal power of any learner is never placed at risk. This love of learning (one writer calls it 'learnacy') is what school ought to be all about.

Perhaps we need to be creative as a society and 're-imagine' our schools to ensure all students learn. There is no doubt we know enough about how students learn to achieve this if we had the wit and imagination as a society to do so. Any system that ends up with 20% of student achieving little in the way of qualifications and, instead, has students leaving with poor attitudes towards themselves and society, is surely a waste of talent and creativity, and too high a price for society to pay.

It all depends on the pupose of education and whose learning it is, and whether we are facing a past indusrial 'mass' education age or a future age of personal creativity.

Once we sort out the purpose of education in this new creative era we are entering can we ensure all students remain open, postive, and enthusiastic about 'their' learning.

This would be more fun, and creative, for both teachers and learners - at any level.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Developing a creative country

Posted by Picasa Richard Florida was the author of the groundbreaking ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’ makes it clear in his latest book that we are entering, what he calls ,the beginning of the 'Creative Era' – an era based on the need to develop the talent and imagination of all citizens. Roughly a quarter of all new jobs are in, what he calls, the 'creative industries' and the country that can realize and harness the talent of all it’s citizens, or attract others from anywhere in the world, will take the lead in the next century.

His new book begins by talking about how Peter Jackson attracted a diverse range of creative talents to Wellington, New Zealand, to create the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. The point Florida is making to Americans is that the films were not produced in Hollywood and that there is now a global competition for talent.

And, he writes, it is not good enough to develop the 30% of creative people – all people must be helped to develop creative dimension to their jobs otherwise we will create a class divide that will have consequences for us all.

Future success for any country will depend on 'mining' the creative capital of its citizens and education systems will have to be transformed to focus on developing the talents and love of learning of all its students. Every human being needs to be seen as creative and we need to value creativity above all else.

How can we attract creative people to our cities as Peter Jackson has done? Creativity is not driven by greed but by challenge and opportunity. The opportunity to apply imagination is the key to future success.

Schools hold a central place to develop the talent of all students required for a creative era and although America once was the creative centre of the West its past success has created complacency, and the effects of closing immigration and declining tolerance following 9/11 no longer guarantees its place at centre stage as talent finds new more accommodating, open, tolerant environments to gravitate to as Peter Jackson has shown.

The 'creative age 'focuses on cities rather than countries, Florida writes, with some cities becoming more ‘attractive’ than others. Cities that develop ways and means to educate attract and house creative people are wining the talent wars.

Countries and cities that appreciate the importance of attracting creative people will have the future advantage. Political parties that appreciate these new ideas and begin to articulate the advantages of becoming a creative county, and then to outline ways to develop attractive creative environments for all its citizens, will tap into rich veins.

As mentioned schools will need to be transformed to develop the creativity of all students and not just the current 30% - currently no country has developed such a system. Most are still stuck in an industrialized ‘mindset’, all too often counter productive to realizing creativity of even its so called successful students. Student are being educated for a world that no longer exists.

Creative countries need to:

1 Tap the full creative capabilities of everyone

2 Invest in creative infrastructure which means investing in creative education faculties for all students. Human creativity is the new capital.

3 Develop universities as talent magnets – they need to lead creative societies rather than serve narrow economic ends.

4 Educate all people for a creative age – to develop creativity in whatever occupation they choose. Our future depends on smart creative kids.

5 Develop the competitive ‘attractiveness’ of our cities to draw in creative talent.

6 Develop a truly open, welcoming, secure and tolerant society that values the difference and diversity of a range of people.

7 Attract creative people from around the world.

Countries that will thrive in such an era will be open, caring, risk taking environments ,valuing entrepreneurship and experimentation.

New Zealand is well placed to take advantage of these ideas with the right leadership. We need more than a new creative class (this will only create class division) we need to create an inclusive creative country.

The creative era requires, writes Richard Florida, nothing more than a change of world view.’ Creativity’, he writes, ‘is not a tangible asset… we must think of creativity as a common good like liberty or security. It is something essential that belongs to all of us and must be always be nourished, renewed, and maintained – or it will slip away’

Monday, December 11, 2006

Last words on the draft NZ Curriculum

Posted by Picasa The competencies hold the key!

By now all the comments, from all and sundry, will have been sent into the Ministry about the draft New Zealand Curriculum.

It will be interesting to see what eventuates but three things I hope will be included in any revision. Lets hope the 'personalisation of learning', so often mentioned by the Minister, makes it in as the phrase marks a distinct move away from the mass 'one size fits all' education of the 1950s. I also hope that there is greater appreciation of the importance of developing the gifts, talents and interests of all students as a more important element of the vision. As we leave the industrial age and enter a new creative era this would seem vital. The third thing is to put back the phrase 'to develop a love of learning' included in an earlier draft as this is what must be preserved at all costs.

It will take more than the introduction of a new curriculum to change the basic 'mindsets' of our schools - particularly at the senior levels but the document has the right intentions and if implemented to the letter it could transform schools as we know it. It is far more than 'tinkering' and cannot be dismissed by those who say we are already doing what it asks.

The overview diagram ( page7) indicates what evolves from the vision and the key is the need to develop all students as 'confident', 'connected', 'actively involved', 'self managing', 'life long', 'thoughtful' learners. A 'love of learning' encapsulates it all; nothing must be allowed to destroy this for any learner!

No one would argue with the need to develop democratic values, respect, tolerance, a sense of excellence, care for the environment ( this might need greater emphasis?) etc but I see few schools, if any, that are models of democratic values; at best they are benevolent dictatorships. 'Personalised learning' would be one way to pass authority and power down to the students themselves.

The 'key competencies' seem to be the 'Trojan Horse' of the draft curriculum. Although not fully explained in the draft they represent a major shift in thinking.The draft indicates that it is these 'capabilities', rather than content objectives , are to be the outcomes of any learning experience. I am uncertain about the phrase 'key competency', feeling that it is a concept being pushed down from the tertiary level ( and a major OECD Report). Perhaps a more learner ( and parent) 'friendly' less technocratic term will eventate?

If schools were to focus on developing the competencies then selecting relevent ( to the learners) integrated contextual studies will be the means. The idea that 'learning how to learn' is more important than content, held by many primary teachers, is a myth. Learning has to be about something and needs to result in all learners developing their own personal mix of things they want to learn about. Knowledge is still vitally important but as means to develop both process ( competencies) and quality learning achievements ( content.)

For me a key phrase in the draft is the need to develop students 'who have well developed problem solving skills, are active seekers, users and creators of knowledge.' Achieving such creative students is the real challenge that the curriculum presents.

I can see, and already have seen, futile attempts to assess the competencies and, if teachers are pressurized to assess individual competencies in any learning task, then it could become a nightmare. Already there are those, responding to the current 'mantra' of 'evidence based teaching' developing complex rubrics to assess each competency - competencies can only be assessed against the quality of the task completed or they will focus teachers on the 'cart rather than the horse'. We have only just 'escaped' from assessing endless learning objectives - surely we have learnt our lesson in all this? No way can they ever be 'ticked' of as done! They are more dispositions to develop powerful learners; generic qualities dependent on meaningful contexts. If this 'lesson' is forgotten we will be in trouble. Competencies will , in the final analysis, depend on teachers professional judgement

Over assessing competencies will risk the loss of teacher creativity, fun and excitement. The Ministry advisers ( long removed from classroom reality) must be careful that they do not 'kill the goose that laid the golden egg' in an effort to prove a point to those whose 19thC minds can't see past graphs.

I wish there was greater emphasis on the need to develop problem centred contextual learning experiences but already subject specialists will feel somewhat threatened wilh the pressure leave their outdated isolated specialist teaching 'mindsets' to enter the 21stC. What is required of students is the opportunity to feel and act like scientists, artists, musicians, mathematicians , historians , geographers ,and multi media experts etc as they call on various subject matter to research and express their problems and thoughts.

A positive aspect of the draft is the emphasis on effective teacher pedagogy to create a supportive learning environment that identifies students needs and works in partnership with the students and their parents. Maybe there is a need to make a 'co- constructivist' philosophy clearer but such a philosophy is implicit in what is written in the draft . Schools will have to think long and hard to make explicit their teaching , learning and assessment approaches clear to all and to hold all teachers accountable for implementing them. If all this is realized then true learning communities based on inquiry will be established.

Most of the ideas in the draft do indicate a real need to transform our education system so as to create truly 21stC learning environments. That schools are to be encouraged to 'design' rather than 'deliver' a curriculum marks a dramatic shift of thinking at the Ministry ; one I am entirely supportive of.

I think the appendixes of 'learning areas' and levels ( a fob to subject specialists) is the weakest aspect of the document - a close look at some of the objectives defined will soon illustrate the problem of trying to define what students should learn. Still it is dramatically reduced from the previous almost incoherent Learning Area Statements. We should be thankful for small mercies!

Perhaps the next 'edition' will create a more unified document - shaking loose of the past is aways difficult but it has to be done. The previous curriculum statements all but destroyed the creativity of our most creative teachers.

Whatever is finally presented must value and keep the classroom teachers enthusiasm alive and well.

When all is said and done whatever happens only happens as a result of the intimate mutual relationship between the students and their teacher(s). It is all to easy for those who live in the higher echelons to forget this.

I would be interested in your comments about the draft curriculum or any of the views expressed above.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Schools need to change a lot faster

Posted by Picasa I nave been lucky enough over the years to attend several presentations by Ruth Sutton an international educational consultant from the UK.

Ruth is appreciated by all for her intellectual honesty and insight about the purpose of schools in the 21stC. She pulls no punches and this makes is a refreshing change from advisers who work on contract to the Ministry.

By chance I recently came across Ruth's views about the challenge of schools to prepare their students for the 21stC.

Students leaving school this year, Ruth writes, will find a world very different from when they started school in the early 90s. Back then hardly anyone had heard of the Internet and mobile phones were just expensive status symbols. In just over a decade their world has been transformed but is education, Ruth asks, changing fast enough to equip students with the right skills?

Ruth's opinion is that schools will need to change a lot faster if they are to meet the needs of their students. Ruth is very critical of moves towards national testing as all this creates are schools teaching students to become test takers and, as well, any short term gains soon flatten out. Such imposed testing, she believes, is to the detriment of good teaching. 'At the end of day',she says, ' it's only the child or the teacher who can make anything happen... if the child does not know what to do next then there isn't going to be an improvement.'

If you want 21stC attributes for a new work environment, Ruth believes, you need different kinds of teaching and learning .You need, she says, ' open minds not convergent minds and you need open teaching not convergent teaching.'

White Ruth thinks primary teachers are doing a good job preparing learners for the the future she is less enamored in what she sees at the secondary level,' I think there's a huge divide within the secondary education community....between people who are actually very interested in the 21stC skills ...and people who are nostalgic for 19thC skills'. ' Some people are drawn', Ruth says, ' to the tradition of kids in rows, three hour exams, the "rigour" and isolation of it, the competitive edge particularly appeals to boy's schools. And it obviously fits with their model of what is a good education.It is very hard to square that with what learners in the 21stC , both young learners and adult learners, will need to focus on.'

Ironically, Ruth believes, older teachers may be able to adapt to new styles of teaching than young teachers whose experience has only been of accountability pressures and the requirements of complying to complicated national curriculums. Such teachers have known nothing else and the 'mindsets' they have gained in the process will be hard to break.

'To say to such teachers' , Ruth comments, 'now is the time to bring the adventure back into teaching - well that is fine but hard to change when you have been grinding through the programme for twenty years.You've lost the habit somehow; you've got to get it back.'

Teachers who taught in the 70s , Ruth says, weren't so constrained and could be quite adventurous involving often 'outrageous' things to designed to engage kids or make them laugh or involve them.

What we need is some courageous leadership to encourage teachers to take the 'risks' necessary to change their approaches ; it will take courage, particularly at the secondary level, but it promises more exciting teaching and learning.

Lets hope this is the intent of the new draft curriculum.

Friday, December 08, 2006

John Holt

John Holt was regarded by many of us, in the late 60s and early 70s, as the most perceptive writer about teaching and learning. Two of his better known books were, 'Why Children Fail' and 'How Children Learn'.

If you can get hold of any of his writings they are as insightful today as they ever were. Holt eventually gave up on schools ever being able to change and he would not be surprised to see how little they have changed today. Holt died in 1985 at 62.

In his later years he threw his energy behind the home schooling movement and started a magazine 'Growing Up Without Schooling.' His influence can still be seen in the works of contemporary educational writers and he is certainly an influence in my own thoughts. I now join him in believing that traditional schooling has outgrown its 'mass' education purpose and that we need to re imagine schooling to provide a 'personalised education pathway' designed for each individual student.

This is entirely possible if teachers were to change their 'mindsets' and, in particular, the idea that one can construct a curriculum from a distance that will fit all learners.

Below are a few words from his book, 'Escape From Childhood:'

'Young people should have the right to control and direct their own learning, that is decide what they want to learn, and when, where, how much, how fast, and with what help they want to learn it.

To be still more specific , I want them to have the right to decide, when, how much, and by whom they want to be taught and the right to decide whether they want to learn in a school and if so which one and for how much of the time.

No human right, except for the right to life itself, is more fundamental than this. A persons freedom of learning is part of this freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech.

If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us'.
It is worth considering that this concept of choice underpins the first years of life and early schooling until 'the curriculum' takes over. As a result many so called 'successful' students leave our schools never knowing their real interests and talents are.

No wonder many of our most curious and talented students can't wait to leave and get back to real world learning.

In a world where talent will be the most important factor, for an individual, an organisation, or a country's success, we can't afford such a waste.

A site about John Holt Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A must read........

Posted by Picasa
My most valuable learning experience this year was being able to listen to Jane Gilbert present at a Auckland school cluster group that met on Waiheke Island earlier this term.

I had been asked, along with Jane , to present my ideas about how to ensure students achieve quality in depth learning.The organiser of the cluster group had had a term off to investigate the use of ICT in primary schools but during his research had come to the conclusion that there was a lack of in-depth content study work to be seen - and,as well, ICT was not being used to the degree he had thought it might be.

I guess Jane and I come from different ends of the education spectrum - Jane is the chief researcher at the New Zealand Council for Education Research (NZCER) and I , in contrast, could at best be called a 'rugged amateur ' with a long experience in primary schools. It was reassuring however to find that our 'messages', or 'stories', were so complimentary. My 'message' was simple - teachers should select studies to extend students talents, value their creativity and to do fewer things well. Jane, in contrast, had spent several months researching the 'know edge wave ' concept and its application to education.

In Jane's well researched opinion the 'knowledge wave' has yet to hit schools with real force and when it does it will, like a tsunami, change the educational landscape forever. Schools , currently locked into an 19thC 'industrial aged mindset', focusing on ensuring students memorize content, will have to transform themselves into 21stC 'learning organisations' where students are able to create their own knowledge through action.

For primary schools the challenge will be to escape from being dominated by the 'Victorian' literacy and numeracy focus ( important but not enough) and a philosophy that says it is all about process rather than knowledge. Secondary schools , in contrast, will have to add 'process' to their approach to allow their students to create their own learning, making use of specialist knowledge as required. Jane sees knowledge not as a noun, or 'stuff to memorize and for teachers to transmit, but as a 'verb' - a process allowing each student to personalize learning.

If schools were to take her work seriously - and they should - they would transform themselves into 21stCorganisations ensuring that all students have their talents and passions developed. And, more importantly, schools would become centres of society transformation , contributing to New Zealand becoming a centre of innovation and creativity.

The other alternative is to for schools to become sidelined as students vote with their feet ( or rather with their web connected minds) to do their learning elsewhere.

The creative ones, Jane writes, already have.

All this is in line with the new thought behind the new draft NZ Curriculum. The centrality of the 'key competencies', in this document, and seeing students as active creators of their own knowledge - if understood properly, is about transforming schools as we know them. It certainly isn't just a bit of 'tinkering, or fine tuning' , that many schools I visit seem to think it is.

As I say - 'a must read book' if 'we' don't want to be washed over and lost in the knowledge wave.

I would suggest every educator ought to acquire Jane's book for holiday reading. Her book if it were a film , it says on the back cover, it would rate a 'M' with a 'caution that some readers may be disturbed by some scenes'.

I am re-reading mine!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The World IS flat!!!!

When the world was proved to be flat by Christopher Columbus it marked the beginning of a change of 'mindset' that forever changed the world. Columbus was aware ( although his crew weren't)of the theories of Galileo who used his telescope to prove ideas thought out earlier by Copernicus.

This new 'mindset' , or 'world view', unleashed the creative scientific and artistic energy we now call the Renaissance. An important aspect was the spreading of ideas due to Gutenberg's invention of the printing press ;which in turn, shifted power away from the Church.

In his book, 'The World is Flat' , Thomas Friedman shares how the convergence and explosion of new communication technologies and globalisation has 'flattened' the world allowing anybody, anywhere, to be connected anytime, with growing efficiency and speed. Others have called this convergence the beginning of the 'Second Renaissance' while others call it the 'Age Of Creativity or Talent'.

The world has moved into what Friedman calls 'Globalisation 3' - globalization that provides new power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally. The new technologies are a new equalizer and as a result new countries are now competing for centre stage , China and increasingly India , are 'racing to the top'.

For the western world to thrive it will need to compete on creativity, uniqueness and difference as most services can be provided more cheaply in other parts of the world. Today students no longer compete for jobs with their classmates but with the best of students from such populated and ambitious countries as China and India.

Most of these changes have happened in the last few years! The last 25 year have been 'a warm up' Friedman writes - 'the real IT revolution has just begun'. For example Friedman's book is a second edition - the first was published in 2005 and in his second edition Friedman includes new ideas about education.

Countries who want to compete need to part of the next creative wave and they can only do this by creating conditions and an education system to tap into the talent of all their students.Friedman writes that, 'natural talent trumps geography' .'The only limiting factor, he writes, 'will be human imagination'.

This is both a change an an opportunity for such a country as New Zealand. This ideas underpins our 'new' draft New Zealand Curriculum with it's emphasis on Key Competencies, or attributes, all citizens will need to be able to create their own knowledge. Education, Friedman writes, will have to change dramatically as our schools are still locked into earlier Industrial Aged assumptions. We now need to encourage collaboration, creativity and innovation and an education 'customised' to suit each learners particular talent mix.

In flattened world' you do not want to be mediocre ( as an individual or a country), or lack passion, in what you do - the future will belong to the best, the smartest,  the most distinctive and productive.

Friedman outlines future job skills to be successful.They provide a general list of what sort of things people need to do that jobs will grow out of.

Successful people will have to be:

1 Great collaborators and orchestrators who can mobilize and inspire diverse groups of people.

2 Great explainers who can synthesize complexity to assist people sort out their processes and systems

3 Great leveragers .People who can see a problem and fix and then redesign it so it can be applied by others. There are people who can see the 'big picture' - how things work from beginning to end.

4 Great adapters. These people Friedman calls 'versatilists' who are capable of constantly adapting, learning and growing. They combine the skills of 'narrow specialists' and 'shallow generalists' both of who will find the future problematic. Friedman compares then to Swiss Army knives - prepared for any eventuality.

5 Green people. There will be a lot of jobs ( a 'biological Renaissance') to ensure world environmental sustainability and the development of renewable resources

6 The passionate personalizers who can survive by doing ordinary jobs in passionate way - providing the personal touch particularly as success in providing services will depend on differentiation.

7 Great localizers. With new technology small businesses can cut costs and do more innovation and tailor them to local needs customizing serves to particular clients and employing people in the process.

The above are all broad categories but they provide an indication of the 'competencies ' people will need.

In the future, Friedman writes, 'how we educate our students may prove to be more important than how much we educate them'. Most important, he writes, is to 'learn how to learn'. To constantly absorb and teach yourself new ways of doing things. Friedman believes in the CQ+PQ+IQ ( Curiosity quotient plus Passion quotient plus Intelligence quotient). Successful students will be passionate to learn - 'nobody', Friedman writes, 'works harder than a
curious kid.'

His advice to students is to do what you love - this is the best survival strategy.

The Information Age is giving away to the Talent AgePosted by Picasa

Friday, November 24, 2006

A great little study: The Flax bush

The New Zealand flax ,or Harakeke, is an iconic plant of our country. There are few schools do not have flax bushes in their school grounds - or , if not ,they ought to.

November is an ideal time for a class to study them as they are in full flower.

A good idea is for teachers to learn with their class as 'co-explorers' and the easiest way to begin is to simply visit a plant and observe through the senses. Such a first visit might end up with a small three line 'thought poem' ( a simple haiku).

After talking about the shapes, colours and patterns the students can see, the movements they notice, the flower heads ( in flower now), the students could sit quietly and write: one thought about the leaves; one thought about the movement of the plant in the breeze; and one thought about the flower heads. If the class is lucky a tui might be available to add a bit of excitement. Encourage the use of metaphor - what do the leaves remind them of? A digital camera is ideal to collect visual information for use back in class.

Back in class the students could be encouraged to carefully draw a flower ( previously picked by the teacher). This is a good opportunity to encourage them to look carefully as they draw and to take their time. Biros make a good drawing tool but only if the paper is the appropriate size ( a half A4 would be ideal) . Drawings could be coloured in and a background of leaves added.

While drawing encourage question about the flax that come to the students minds.They might notice that not all flax bushes are the same, or that the flowers on some plants are different. They might be interested in how the Maori made use of this plant - and the early colonists. As they draw they might wonder about the parts of the flower they can see and what their purpose are. They also might wonder about what animals cut holes in the leaves. They might also be curious about the vein patterns.

It would be ideal if teachers could access part of a clump of flax to observe the leaf arrangement and root structure.

Students ( with teachers help) can select good questions to research. It is a good idea to ask the what their answers are to their question first to see what 'prior' knowledge they have. Groups of students might research different aspects to contribute to a final class display. This research could include information about the types of environments flax bushes thrive in.

Their research might include a description of the flax bush including various measurements they could make.If there are any old flower stalks about they could estimate how many seeds on a flax stalk and estimate the number on a plant. This will involve opening old pods to count.

Depending on time students could involve themselves with same basic Maori weaving. If so admire pictures of articles made from flax . See if you can find any Maori sayings/proverbs about flax and ,if so , whatt do they mean.

Old stalks are ideal to make into small boats or rafts for floating experiments?

If some of the above activities were to be done then there would be enough visual material for an impressive wall display to celebrate their findings and to share with parents and visitors.

To conclude ask students to write and.or draw all they now know compared to the beginning of the study.By doing this they will appreciate all that they have learnt and, as well, have the strategies to use on any other plant they might want to study.

Future shapers!

During a recent interview with Paul Torrance (2000) ,one of the pioneers in creative research, he talked about his 30 year study of what he referred to as 'beyonders' - 'those individuals whose creative achievement was remarkable in a particular domain'.

The characteristics of these individuals he shared were:

A delight in deep thinking, a tolerance for mistakes,a passion for their work, a clear sense of purpose and mission, an acceptance of being different, a level of comfort in being a minority of one and a tendency to ignore admonition
about being 'well rounded'.

Based on his research, Torrance advised, children to pursue their interests, work to their strengths, learn to self evaluate, seek out mentors and teachers, and learn to be independent.

Such advice is suggestive of the type of changes that need to be made in schools and programmes to make them places in which creative thought can grow.

An environment of creativity would go against the grain of prevailing ideas about schooling.

It is a challenge to educators to look beyond what is customary or conventional if the potential for creativity within every child is to be realized.

These are not questions of curriculum but about new purpose and vision for a school system set in a new age of creativity. Industrial aged models will no longer do, based as they are on different assumptions about schooling, more suitable for an age which has long been swept away.

Creative societies need creative people.

We need a more enlightened view of education based on imagination, creative thought and an enhanced opportunities for creative expression.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Teachers' key role in fostering creativity.

It is
It is worth thinking about the dispositions and pedagogical skills that make a creative teacher.
The key attitude is a desire to help every individual student develop his ,or her, own particular set of interests and talents rather than simply 'delivering' the curriculum in an innovative way. The curriculum need to 'emerge' from the students' felt concerns
Essential characteristics of creative teachers, according to one US researcher,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.These are all in line with recent ideas of 'personalising' learning - developing with learners, and their parents, 'individual learning plans'.
These are a mix of attitudes and teaching skills - the 'art and craft' of teaching - a long was from the 'delivering' of imposed curriculums. Teachers will need the sensitivity to balance teaching skills with leaving their students free to get on with things; an appropriate mix of structure and freedom. The criteria teachers need to keep in mind is to always enlarge their students vision and allow them to expand their imagination.
The creative teachers focus must be on the learner by developing a problem solving approach to curriculum promoting and valuing creative thinking and diversity of opinion; mixing a blend of high support and high expectations that students can solve their own problems. To develop real creativity students need the freedom to pursue question that concern them. 'Creativity killers' are inflexible timetables, intense competition,compartmentalized subject teaching and imposed curriculum assessment practices.
It is important for students to learn to appreciate that not all creativity is easily achieved, more the opposite . Most creative individuals have had to persevere and apply themselves over long periods of time - and for some this involves intense practice. Creative individuals are challenged by ambiguity and comfortable with seeing things from a range of perspectives - using what some scientists call enlightened trial and error; or in the art world constant improvisation.
Creative teaching is no easy option but an exciting experience in itself with all the risks and wrong turnings of any creative activity. It requires a faith in young people , given the right conditions, to take a growing responsibility to develop their own personal meanings. Not a career for those with tidy minds who feel it important to measure and pre-plan everything.
It all boils down to a belief in teachers of a child's right to an identity based creative thought and personal expression. Creative teachers, to survive, need an enlightened vision of education that appreciates the importance of developing every learners interests talents, gifts and dreams and, most of all, an openness in all learners to new learning.
Our future society needs all the 'creative capital' it can get.
Schools have an obligation to ensure every student develops his ,or her, particular mix of talents.
'All of us have do not have equal talent but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents'.
John F Kennedy

Creating an environment to nurture creativity.

Students need to experience a wide range of interesting activities to discover their creative talents.
Creative thinking, or talent development, ought not to be the exclusive province of of special programmes; nor can it be reduced to a curricular 'frill' if there is time; or restricted to 'enrichment' activities for those who complete their 'normal' classwork.
Creativity is a capacity of every learner that ought to be recognised, valued and extended across all learning stages.
All students have the right to have their interests and talents affirmed and nurtured as an important aspect of their learning identity. Every teacher ought to see and nurture 'genius' in every learner. Creative thinking where students engage in, 'what if' and 'I wonder what will happen next', are important dispositions for all learners to develop - or rather not to lose when they enter school!
For this to happen certain misconceptions need to be redefined. Creativity is just not about encouraging free spirits - true creativity requires rigor, courage, personal effort and a sense of personal quality. Creative results do often come easily to learners but more often requires complex reasoning processes , where learners compare, deduce, abstract, make decisions , investigate, problem solve and continually change their minds. Most creative individual have worked hard to develop what now might seem to be an obvious solution.
Most of us see creativity as an individual achievement but other cultures pursue creativity for the good of the group through dance, song, and shared craft activities This is as true in the world of science where it is common, almost vital, for scientists to share their knowledge with each other.This applies to all other human endeavours and is seen at its best in times of natural disasters when people demonstrate talents they never realized they had.
To develop student creativity demands that schools develop opportunities for students to make connections across learning areas. When students research and express their ideas around an important felt concern many aspects of their work will involve their creativity and in the process uncover students talents and gifts.
Gifted-ness has progressed from being a single measurable trait to one that relies on such things as: interest, motivation, persistence, leadership, self confidence, and self esteem.
Everybody has a range of gifts to develop. Education can enhance or limit each student potential; being creative can be taught
Stunning creative thought or expression does not simply appear. Rather it is the product of years of learning, preparation and , if all students are to be creative, it takes encouragement, the provision of a conducive learning environment and sensitive teaching.
History is replete with examples of creative people who were not highly regarded by their teachers who have never the less made monumental contributions to our society. In a creative era we can longer afford to risk losing the creative energy of those who are not able to see beyond the opinions given to them by their school experience.
To be a life long learner is to be creative - to continually ask 'I wonder why', and ,'what if'.
To develop talents of all students is the number one task of teachers in a creative age.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The students' right to creativity

It would be great if schools focused on developing every ounce of every student's creativity from the very moment they entered school.
Our communities need to develop as many resourceful, imaginative, inventive and ethical problem solvers who are able to make as significant a contribution, as is possible.
Creative individuals are able to tolerate ambiguity and pick up on ideas others may not notice. If creativity is developed early, young people will grow into adults who remain open to ideas; able to respond to situations in non-stereotypical ways. Pablo Picasso observed that it had taken him a lifetime to learn draw as a child and that every child is an artist.The problem, Picasso said, was how to remain an artist once grown up. Like wise, every students is a potential scientist until they learn not to question. Far too many adults, as a result of imposed judgements, have been discouraged from the risk taking that is necessary to both learn and to be creative. All too often the focus and intensity, observed in young people who are involved in following their curiosity in early years , is lost
Creativity will not emerge unless students are placed into an environment where it is socially supported and collaboratively achieved. Student creativity, in any field,will not be developed unless they are assisted to gain the ability to execute their particular talent well.
Parents must insist that school respects their hopes and dreams for their children and insist that, whatever talents and gifts their children have, they need to be given every opportunity to having them developed. If this were to eventuate then we would need to redefine teaching and confront misconceptions about creativity.
If schools placed their emphasis on capitalizing on the wonderment, curiosity and playfulness of their young students this would allow students creative talents to be developed.All too often, in our schools ,children's' thoughts and art are stereotyped and trivialized to fit in with teacher intentions.
Teachers are in a unique position to to influence student creativity in whatever form it may take. It is too valuable a resource to be neglected or wasted. Many adults must look back and wonder where the excitement they once felt for learning went.
Every child has the right to have their individuality, creativity and talents developed.
What could be more important?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A future Vision for Education

A vision for a future school.

The NCER published a booklet (2006) ‘Key Competencies: Repacking the old or Creating the New.’ It is well worth a read for those who are thinking about implementing the draft NZ Curriculum .The writers make the case that the ‘key competencies’, in particular , ‘push us beyond simply refining or incrementally attempting to improve what currently we have.’

We need, the introduction states, to move beyond, ‘correcting past mistakes and attempting to improve the quality and productivity of a quasi industrial form of production in which children come in one end, are worked on by professionals and then exit at the other end with the requisite skills and qualifications’.

If it only worked for all students there would not be any urgency to change but it is becoming obvious that too many students fail –and even those that ‘succeed’ leave without all their talents appreciated.

Schools now have the opportunity to take up the challenge to ‘develop priority forms of learning and teaching in ways that deliberately integrate the key dimensions of successful delivery- curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, learner orientation and context’.

‘There is another very challenging issue to consider as well and that is the what the future might look like if the implementation of the key competencies is to lead to genuine transformation, not just the old clothes dressed up differently'.
'Could the future be as Charles Leadbeater, a Demos associate from the UK describes in, ‘The Shape of Things to Come: Personalized Learning Through Collaboration’ (2005)’:

‘Imagine a school where every child would see themselves as an investor in their own learning. Older children would frequently coach and mentor younger children. Those who were more advanced in a subject would help those lagging behind. Children would help teachers design learning programmes, their parents would be parties to these discussions .The children would see it as their responsibility to learn in their own time, often using online tools provided by the school .Although every child would have a personalized learning plan, most learning would be practiced in groups but these would not be organized into rigid year groups, class membership would be in part determined by aptitude and appetite. Instead of a rigid timetable and lessons lasting about fifty minutes, the school schedule might resemble something like a marketplace or an airport. Instead of lessons devoted to a single subject –History, then French, then Maths – more lessons would encourage children to learn multiple skills, to mix insights from different disciplines. These lessons would be led by teachers who would combine skills from different disciplines and backgrounds. The school itself would be open from early and well into the evening; it would be located with other facilities – perhaps in a shopping centre, the cultural district, or in office park. It might resemble a cafĂ© more than a school. Opportunities to would be ubiquitous, any time, anywhere, using personal tablet computers and mobile phones. Learning would not just happen at special times, in special places- schools, with special people – teachers. A national curriculum setting out what everybody should learn would be too clumsy for a world in which new ideas and information would emerge the whole time via Google. Teachers would have a critical role in searching for new learning materials and guiding children to these opportunities. They would have to amend and create curriculum, not slavishly following it. Instead of exams at the end of the educational pipeline to assessing what children had learned, most assessment would take place during the course to help children learn more effectively.’

So what competencies, attributes, dispositions would we have to ensure are in place for students when they ‘graduate’ to thrive in what will be an ever changing but potentially exiting future?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

John Dewey an educator for the 21stC

John Dewey 1859-1952

I am a John Dewey fan from way back although I have only read one of his books thoroughly, ‘Experience and Education’. Published in 1936, essentially written in light of criticisms and misconceptions his ideas had received.

Progressive ideas were under attack by traditional critics. Dewey felt the need to clarify his position, writing that he believed there needed to be a movement to build on the best of the ‘old’( traditional ) and the ‘new’ ( progressive). The same division remains with us today – between those who see education as a means of transmitting ‘agreed wisdom’ on one side, and those who place an emphasis on a process of ‘learning how to learn on the other.

Dewey, credited with being a key figure in the Progressive Movement, was concerned that his ideas had been misunderstood.

Dewey placed a premium on student meaningful activity in learning and participation in classroom democracy. His belief that students must be ‘invested’ in what they are learning echoing calls today for school to present ‘rich, real and relevant learning’ to combat growing student disengagement.

As for democracy few school, to this day, have begun to implement his ideas but there is a growing demand to return schools to their communities as people lose faith in distant 'experts' to solve their problems. Secondary schools, in particular, remain impervious to democratic ideals to this day. Dewey did not see education as a rehearsal for life writing that, ‘How a child lives today so will he live tomorrow’. Today we would say that ‘culture counts’; we are all shaped by the not so ‘hidden curriculum’ of schooling.

Schools, according to Dewey, ought to be seen as an, ‘Embryonic community, active with types of occupations that reflect the life of the larger society and permeated throughout with the spirit of art, history and science. When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a community saturating him with the spirit of service, and planning him with instruments of effective self direction, we shall have the best guarantee of a larger society that is worthy and harmonious.’

This would make a worthy introduction to a new national curriculum or school vision. For Dewey education and democracy are intimately intertwined and he would be appalled to see education distorted to the service of economic needs.

The clash between traditional and progressive is alive and well today – on the one hand, relatively structured, disciplined, ordered didactic traditional schooling v relatively unstructured, free student directed progressive approaches; or primary v secondary with middle schools being ‘muddle in the middle.’ It is as ‘inconvenient truth’ that few seem concerned that the primary and secondary school are worlds apart and as a result too many students either ‘fall between the cracks’ or enter secondary schools to experience it as a ‘different country speaking a different language’.

Dewey wanted to move beyond the either/ or mentality (or, as referred today, ‘mindsets’) and believed in learning through experience; experience that was to be judged by the effect it has on the learner. Dewey criticized traditional education for lacking a holistic understanding of students’ lived experience, focusing on content rather than content and process. On the other hand, he argued, progressive education takes a too free approach without involving students in in-depth learning.

Dewey wanted to move away from this ‘ether/or’ mentality. This dichotomy remains the challenge to this day and is felt most strongly in the few schools that include the full range of age groups.

Dewey believed in learning through quality experiences that had the power to develop a new consciousness in student's minds . Any experience would not do – some he believed were counter productive. Experiences must be judged by the effect it had on the learner. He did not believe in students following up any old interest (leading to a form of mindless ‘trivial pursuits’). Education, he believed, needed to take into account students previous experiences and then provide them with further experiences to help them deepen their understanding. The teacher’s role was vital to design challenging learning experiences, to interact with the learners, and to provide a series of liberating experiences; all to ensure quality learning emerged. Those who follow a ‘co-constructivist’ approach today will recognized the challenge Dewey was suggesting. This was a long way from the ‘free play’ of the critics.

Dewey’s’ idea excite to this day. His challenge to transform education to develop both democratic ideals and powerful learners remain with us and are even more important as we enter, what some call, ‘the age of idea and creativity’.

For too long an industrial age model of mass education has constrained the creativity of both students and learners. It time for the followers of Henry Ford (‘you can have any colour want you like as long as it is black’) to remove their legacy of, timetables, bells, disconnected learning, and production line mentality.

John Dewey would recognize those who are calling for an educational transformation to 'personalize' learning so as to realize the talents and creativity of all students.

He was once asked for the easiest way to transform schools. He replied it would take ten thousand angels from heaven to change schools, but the miracle, he continued, would be for teachers to do it for themselves.

Nothing has changed but the new draft is a begining, Dewey would be in full agreement with the statement that all, students should be, ‘active seekers, users and creators of knowledge.’

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What's new about 'Key Competencies'?

  Posted by PicasaKey competencies’ is a phrase that teachers will have to come to terms with the next decade or so.

At first I thought, so what, but now I am changing my mind. Not that I agree with the use of the phrase ‘key competency’ – a concept that enters education from the business and tertiary areas. I now see that, when implemented, the idea behind the phrase will be a real challenge to traditional transmission, subject based teaching. It is a case of the 'knowledge era' ideas replacing 'industrial age' thinking. And the biggest challenge of all will be at the secondary level where many teacher’s identify is so linked to their speciaclist subject expertise that they may be loath to change.

And while they may sound ‘so what’ to primary schools they have deeper educational implications that a first read might not have indicated.

I think I prefer the less technocratic name of future capabilities, or dispositions, than competencies but competencies it will be! From what I have read the interpretation of competencies has been broadened in the draft to move away from more technocratic beginnings to include personal capabilities.

The key to their importance is that they are to be developed in meaningful contexts.

A key phrase, in the draft, is that we need to develop students, ‘who have well developed thinking and problem solving skills are active seeker, users and creators of knowledge.’ Although ‘thinking’ is seen as a separate competency they all have elements of: social, emotional and cognitive ‘thinking’ within each of them.

I feel that there is a bit of 'putting the horse before the cart' because a student must have a powerful desire to want to do something to then make use of the mix of competencies. The whole area of the importance of extending and developing, students talents, as the number one priority of any society that wants to thrive in what some futurists call ‘the creative era', is downplayed in the current draft. Think, for example, what drove Peter Jackson (‘Lord of the Rings’) to develop his particular set of competencies? Passion! desire! and love of learning don't quite make it in the present draft - 'love of learning' however was in an earlier draft!

The challenge, for teachers, will be to ensure that their students ‘dig deeply’ into any learning when the are exploring a question, or issue of interest that attracts their curiosity. When they 'dig deeply' into an area that concerns them they 'use' knowledge, as one writer says, as a ‘verb’ to create new meaning for themselves . The draft says that, ‘the competencies are both a means and an end and the challenge will be for teachers to take students on from where they are'. If the competencies are marginalized in favour of keeping traditional subjects their transformational effect will be lost.

To introduce them, as intended, will provide teachers with the ‘pedagogical challenge’ to collaborate with others to develop integrated learning experiences that develop both the competencies and ‘new’ learning (for the students). Simple transmission will no longer suffice. Competencies, one writer believes, might be the, 'Trojan horse that will destroy the current subject hierarchy'. Let’s hope so! The point is subject knowledge will still be valuable but will need to be used in a new way; this is vital if we are to avoid shallow or trivial learning. Context is very important and ‘designing’ (not ‘delivering’) exciting learning situations with students will provide a real professional, and exciting, challenge for teachers.

There are issues to sort out about competencies, one being assessment. The draft says they should be assessed in the contexts of tasks. This is all very well but no doubt people will want to put them into levels, or to assess them separately. This ‘atomization’, or fragmentation, is against the holistic principle of integrating competencies. If this is done it will consume teachers energy and time for little effect. Learning can never be reduced to ticking things off and making a graph! A learner should never be able to say, ‘I am at level two for thinking, what are you?' If this fragmentation eventuates it will be another a case of, ‘killing the goose that laid the golden egg’. Teacher energy would be better employed doing fewer ‘authentic’ things well. It is important that all students gain feelings of success and, in the process,are able to see the point of the competencies. ‘Authentic’ refers to being personally meaningful to the student.

Not withstanding, the introduction of the key competencies will have the power to transform the nature of the educational experience as we currently know it, particularly at the secondary level.At this level the competencies need to transcend subject boundaries and encourage ‘cross curricular’ studies based on 'rich, real and relevant' experiences. To achieve this cross curricular conversations will have to become the norm. At the primary level the competencies will encourage teachers to see past their current obsession with literacy and numeracy which is becoming in many schools, like any imposed initiative, counter productive. As one UK commentator has written, ‘The evil twins of literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the entire curriculum.’ In New Zealand they certainly have gobbled up all the time! If there are two important attributes that mark out competent people they would be resilience and the valuing of effort or perseverance, as old fashioned habits as they might sound.

The focus of the new draft, particularly through the competencies, is to develop positive 'learning identities' for every student so they can all become ‘life long learners’. Developing a full range of competencies (and I would add to this, ‘passions, talents and dreams') is an implicit aspect of any individuals identity. Through them students learn who they are, what they can do, and get a feeling of what they might become. Future teachers will need to place greater focus on what interests their students have that they can build on. Having interests, research indicates, is a mark of a competent learners. All learners need to feel enjoyment and to gain success at suitably difficult and absorbing tasks so as to feel, what Guy Claxton calls, ‘learning power’; a phrase that sums up well the point of developing competencies in the first place.

Relationship between teachers and learners will underpin the success of implementing the key competences. As for assessment, referred to earlier, good advice from Cathy Wylie (of the 'Competent Children – Competent Learner Project') is to put the ideas into action first before you get involved in assessing what you have not yet implemented. It is more important to utilize valuable teacher energy ensuring that opportunities are being given to students to actually develop the competencies.

You will soon see if you are developing successful future learners in your class, or school, by their actions and by what they can create individually or in groups.

One easy way to assess successful implemation would be to set up the class and leave for half an hour, then to return unnoticed, to observe the competencies in action – you will soon tell how succesful you have been in developing 'self managing' learners!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

L.I.S.P. New Zealand's lost research!

  L.I.S.P. The Learning in Science Project. Posted by Picasa

In the early 80s a major New Zealand project was developed at the University Waikato called the Learning In Science Project known as 'LISP'.

With the introduction of a range of new curriculums (based on learning areas, strands, levels and learning objectives) the LISP project was sidelined. Ironically, today, as the ‘new’ curriculums have been found less than wonderful the ideas behind the LISP programme are again relevant and implicit in the pedagogy of the ‘new’ draft curriculum. The ideas behind LISP are probably better known to many as ‘constructivist teaching’.

The key to constructivism is that meaning is an active meaning making process of creating rather than acquiring knowledge. Dr Roger Osborne, of the Physics Department at Waikato University, became involved because he was concerned about his students who were not able to apply physics ideas in his lab. He presumed that they had not been 'taught' at secondary school but he found that they had, but not in a way that the 'learning' was retained as part of the students’ real knowledge base. This paradox led to his leadership of the Learning in Science Project.

Research showed that the ‘prior ideas’ a student brings to any learning situation , if not aligned with the teachers concepts, remains the view the learner holds, even if they know the ‘right answer’ to give back in a test.

This has dramatic implications for teachers and teaching and explains why so mush of what is taught is soon forgotten or fragile at best. As David Ausabel (68) the educational psychologist wisely wrote, ‘The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows; ascertain this and teach accordingly’. Teachers of early literacy and numeracy will be well aware of this approach.

A constructivist approach mirrors the idiosyncratic personalized way humans learn best. Constructivist approaches value both the process and the product. It requires the support of a sensitive teacher to ensure their students' views are acknowledged and challenged while, at the same time, they must accept that what the students finally believe must make sense to learner. This is the process we use to all expand our knowledge – a life long process of ‘changing our minds’. What we know can only be assessed by what we can apply not by what we can simply remember.

Possibly the approach is better called ‘co-constructivist’ as meaning is negotiated through both experience and dialogue with others. The Russian Vygotsky believes that learning is first learnt socially then individually and his saying is pertinent to teachers, ‘What a child can do with help today she can do by herself tomorrow.’ Primary teachers, who are aware of Marie Clay's work in reading, will see connections, as will those who make use of explicit ‘feedback’ and ‘feed-forward’. Creative teachers, who have always believed in valuing students’ questions and ‘voice’, will be reassured.

Those who still believe in a transmission model of teaching will have to change their minds if they want to connect with their students. Students can find their teachers own language and knowledge a barrier. It is as difficult for teachers to change (reconstruct) their model of teaching as it is for students to change ideas that seem to work well!

A simple format for a constructive approach would be as follows. In reality it is just another version of inquiry teaching – but one that places more emphasis on the prior ideas students bring with them to any learning situation.

Present a challenge to the students (or build on student questions or areas of interest).

Discover the range of students’ ‘prior’ ideas (preliminary understandings) about the question(s) through dialogue, writing or drawing. These can be recorded or displayed so students can assess their growth of understanding at end of study.

Where there are apposing views plan with students way to research to clarify ideas. Student may need to be grouped into teams to research and present their findings. Teachers will need to assist student gather appropriate resources and to interact, as required, to keep individuals or groups focused. Students challenging each others ideas are an important part of such an approach.

Idea are presented to the class or displayed and discussions entered into to discuss changed in views that have occurred. Teachers will have to appreciate that student prior views may be hard to change but at least such students will be aware that alternatives exist. Student only retain what makes sense to them!

New questions, or queries, may well ‘emerge’, leading into further inquiries.

Research has shown that students (and many adults) hold views that have long been rejected by the scientific world but as they seem to make sense they are retained.

An advantage of this approach is that teachers can learn alongside the students as co- researchers illustrating that ‘ignorance’ and curiosity are the beginnings of all learning. A constructivist approach is the basis of learning for the very young child and the scientist – both are working at the edge of their competence challenged by not knowing. We are all scientists of a sorts all our lives.

Teachers, if they want to engage students in their learning, need to ensure students see purpose in what they are asked to do; have access to ways to research possible answers; be helped to draw sensible conclusions from their learning; and link their understanding, as best they can, to acceptable scientific viewpoints

Learners must actively construct, or generate, meaning for themselves from their own experiences. No one can do it for them. Knowledge is constructed from within. Learners must take a major responsibility for his/her own learning behaviour. Without some appreciation of the learners existing framework of ideas successful teaching becomes difficult.

If we insist that students learn what we believe they need, or 'just in case they will need it in the future', it may be at the expense of their own enthusiasm, self confidence and learning identity.

Without a constructivist 'mindset' students will continue to be excluded from valuing their own ‘learning power’.

A link to an excellent resource on constructivist teaching

Secondary School wins Enterprise Awards

  Posted by Picasa Sometimes I feel a little guilty about criticizing secondary schools.

To be honest it is more the system than the individuals within it that concerns me. As Edward Deming, the revered Management ‘guru’ (who has been credited with the development of the Japanese Quality revolution after WW2) once said, ‘Good people poor system’.

People can also become trapped within the system, not able to see alternatives; it becomes all they know and, when threatened by new ideas, they rush to defend it. The trouble is the system; with its genesis in an Industrial Era can no longer caters for all the students that enter the school gate. And, as well, their students will leave school to enter an ‘Information Age’ workforce requiring ‘competencies (to use the new ‘buzz’ word) that current schools are not able to provide. That is, unless they change dramatically.

All is not lost.

Our local paper featured a photograph of students from one of our secondary schools who had won awards in the Young Enterprises Scheme. This is a scheme where students work together, combining their skills, developing a plan to market a worthwhile innovative product. Such activities provide a real clue about the future shape of education for secondary school students. As well, such an approach is in line with the new requirements of the draft New Zealand Curriculum.

There are a number of other similar real life projects that students get involved with in secondary schools that require collaborative action: smoke free challenges involving music and dance /drama; wearable arts projects; musical and artistic productions; and science and math fair exhibits. Other schools become equally involved in researching environmental or social issues. One school I know of designed, financed, built and decorated a house in co-operation with the local rotary group for a worthy cause

Even within individual subjects there are innovative teachers who ‘design’ the curriculums around student question and concerns and use inquiry or action based learning approaches. Such teachers appreciate the need for students to be active meaning makers constructing their own learning with the expert help of their teachers.

More creative schools arrange for teams of teachers to look after groups of students allowing for project work to naturally integrate knowledge from traditional disciplines while other schools, feeling their way encourage teachers to integrate one or two subjects even if they still keep to their own rooms. Some schools, in attempt to make learning relevant, have developed the idea of ‘academies’ where students, with particular talents, learn other curriculum areas as required to develop their passions. Such schools, using active learning approaches, find modern information technology works best when it is naturally integrated. There are even schools considering developing personalized education plans for every student.

These exciting and innovative ideas take schools a long way from their Industrial Age mass education heritage.

The shame is they are not as widespread as they could be even though there has been encouragement for schools to move in these directions. Secondary schools are essentially conservative organizations resistant to change – many still function as they were designed in the last century.

Most of the examples mentioned above are extra curricula activities but slowly the thinking behind such realistic challenges is entering the mainstream of school life. The ideas are not new but their development is constrained by subject boundaries.

To cater for the full range of students, and to equip them to thrive in an ever changing environment, requires learning to shift towards such integrated ‘contextual’ tasks rather than learning through compartmentalized and disconnected subjects.

Involvement in such activities as the Youth Enterprise Scheme indicates how appealing innovative approaches are to students who relish the opportunity to develop real life skills (‘key competencies’) in areas that attract them and that utilize their talents and skills. Rich , real, relevant and rigorous learning is required - doing fewer things really well, as some educators are encouraging.

This is the type of learning that will feature increasingly in the creative schools of tomorrow as school move towards becoming ' communities of inquiry'.

Every student has a range of talents to be developed and every student should have an opportunity to have that talent developed and to gain a positive learning identity as they strive for excellence.

There ought to be no failures – that is a concept that belongs to an Industrial Age. We now know enough that no student need fail but only if we change our collective minds first.