Saturday, January 28, 2006

New year messages

 Posted by Picasa Next Monday I visit a school to run a Teachers Only Day and another on the Friday.

I’ve been thinking about the messages I want to leave with the teachers, appreciating that whatever they think I will have said will be determined as much as by what they bring to the day as what I say.

This dilemma of communication will be faced by them when they face their own students the next week.

All we can do as teachers is to provide experiences and opportunities for the students to think about and, if the students feel the ideas are important, they will change their own minds. No one can make another person learn.

If we think education is about transmission, no matter how well we plan, and record the results, we are fooling ourselves. What students remember when they have moved on are the feelings and attitudes they get from being in your class and the experiences that add to whatever ‘they’ feel are important.

The teacher’s role, in many respects, is one of an artist or a creative coach
who, as Jerome Bruner wrote, ‘practices the canny art of intellectual temptation.’

So what are the ideas I want to ‘temp’ the teachers with next week?

I want them to forget all the cumbersome curriculum statements and focus on ‘personalizing’ learning to suit the needs of every learner in their class– I want them to see themselves as curriculum ‘designers’; designing tasks with their students, and not curriculum ‘deliverers’ as is the case now

I want them to do everything they can to see that every child develops an image or metaphor of themselves as a creative explorer, are able to take a growing responsibility for their own learning. It is all so easy to turn students from active learners to dependent ones.

I want them to appreciate that the students have only three main concerns: Who am I? What can I do now? And what might I be able to do in the future? We must do everything that keeps their positive sense of possibility and hopefulness alive and well.

If we narrow our teaching by focusing on ‘achieving’ set ‘targets’ in literacy and numeacy it will matter little in the long run if ‘learning power’ or ‘learnacy’ is neglected

I want the teachers to focus on developing in every learner a strong sense of identity or self
based on what they can archive through applying effort to what they do – to value ‘stick- ability’, perseverance and resiliency. Learning can only occur if students are prepared to ‘give things a go’, and more so, when they do not know what to do.

This means we must value the personal world of the learners above any planned curriculum. It means we must value their questions and concerns and use these as the basis for developing an ‘emergent curriculum’. I would expect the walls and bookwork to reflect the ‘voice’ of the students. Creative teachers can easily align such a curriculum with ‘official’ requirements.

I would hope that all teachers understand the process of how students learn by having their current understandings valued and then challenged and for them to ‘construct’ new ideas only if they make sense to them. Students must be their own ‘meaning makers’.

To develop understanding whatever is studied needs to be done in depth. I would want teachers to appreciate the need to do ‘fewer things well’ and not to rush in a futile attempt to cover the curriculum. There is no rush – too many students produce inferior work in a rush to finish first.

I would want students to appreciate that what they will need in the future is a willingness to learn from ‘enlightened trial and error’ and that the ‘force’ that will drives them throughout ther lives will be their own particular ‘grab bag’ of talents, passions and interests. To personalize learning teachers need to have an appreciation of the individual learning preferences of every learner and an understanding of the ideas of multiple intelligences to uncover all their talents. The result of a meaningful education is for every student to leave with their talents, passions and dreams expanded and intact.

Most of all I want teachers to appreciate that it is their role to ensure every students develops the qualities of being both a good team player and an interesting individual able to make the best choices they can and are able to live with whatever the consequences. Students need to appreciate the important of reflection so they can improve whatever they have done next time. To a learner life is always next time!

And I would like the teachers to understand that doing something to the best of ones ability is the best motivation of all; true pride comes from achieving beyond what is expected. They also need to know learning requires courage because new learning is not always easy, often messy and usually confusing until it falls into place. Doing something new well – the ‘artistry’ of learning – is the fuel for further learning; helping every student achieve such ‘learning highs’ depends on the ‘artistry’ of the teacher.

These are some of the ideas I want to share with teachers next week .Nothing will be new for many of them – there is nothing wring with affirmation. The trouble is that too many of these great ideas have been lost in the desire for teachers to comply with curriculum written by those who know little about the real students in ther class.

Perhaps this is main message: learn to trust your intuition and value the expertise of your more creative colleagues. Model with your students the attributes of learners you want them to acquire. Teaching and learning is all about respectful, relationships. Learn by doing as you go along and don’t be frightened to ask questions. Most of all respect each student as an important individual.

Personalization of teaching is not new but up until now it hasn’t been the reality for many students.

It offers an exciting challenge for creative teachers.

Beginning teaching or another year another class

A new class of very different individuals

I was talking to a young person the other day who said she was beginning her first year of teaching next month. I think she was worying about how it would go and I didn't help by saying, 'In teaching there is no shallow end, you get thrown into your class and just have to do your best!'

It is great when schools provide beginning teachers with information well before school starts but all too often all most beginning teachers get is a day with the staff before school starts.

Beginning teachers might like to download the following three articles about the first few days.

Beginning teaching (1)
Beginning teaching (2)
Great Expectations.

For more help:

Henry Wongs ideas
More from Henry Wong

If anybody has any other ideas let's know. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Creating a learning epidemic

 Posted by Picasa
There are times when something beyond our comprehension emerges with the power to spread and change the world; whether we like it or not.

Central planners can plan away happily only to find all their best work undone by new ideas that simply emerge as part of stress on the environment or even in response stifling conditions imposed by the ‘central experts’ themselves.

This is happening at the present as we ‘morph’ into a post modern world of ideas and creativity leaving behind the conformity of an industrial age. Few though seem to have noticed the ‘winds of change’ – too busy complying with the current top down directives!

In education the language is changing from ‘top down’ educational reform to total educational transformation affecting and arising from all levels. When this is eventfully realized it will result in dramatic changes of direction.

For the innovative in any area it will a time of real excitement – for most a period of stress, confusion or the fighting of rear guard battles to preserve the past

In education antiquated educational cultures and structures are increasingly being found wanting and becoming part of the problem. And any new change can no longer rely on central educational architects with some master ideology or plan to provide roadmap into the future. The belief in top down change has reached its limit – even the much vaunted imposed UK literacy and numeracy projects, after initial success, have now plateaued and are trending down.

The new ‘educational epidemic’ (M Hargreaves’ term) invites all practitioners and schools to engage in trying out new ideas and then sharing ones that work; a form of enlightened trial and error.

But to achieve these schools will need ‘permission to innovate’ – and this provides a clue for new a role for central bureaucrats. Schools will need to be helped to develop the ‘capacity’ to develop and share ideas and to be aware of others ‘best practices’

When this is realized it will result in the development of a transformed total learning system and as part of this a new relationship for schools with central government and with other schools – even within schools. No longer will centrally imposed ‘directives be of any use.

Schools will need to develop, and value, the ‘intellectual capital’ within the school – teacher’s knowledge will be the new ‘invisible assets’. ‘Social capital’ will also be important – the amount of trust between staff members and between schools and with central government. Schools will need to develop new flexible collaborative structures open to ‘boosting’ their ‘intellectual capital’ from any source. For schools currently based on hierarchical power structures, competition, specialization of subjects and isolation of teachers, this will be a real challenge.

Every school and teacher will need to develop the ‘capacity’ to innovate and share; teachers will need to ‘work smarter not harder’ by sharing ‘best practices’.

The key to all this depends on the transforming of central bureaucracy. They have an important role to set an example of trust and empowerment for all – and provide the resources necessary. There will be no role for bureaucrats with fixed positions – or for anybody involved in education; the ‘new millennium will require new minds’.

The future requires everyone to continue learning – and to be a part of an organic learning community. Schools will be vital part of this transformation.

When realized it will be as if there had been a ‘learning epidemic’ – ideas will spread and mutate as if a benign virus.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

It is about time we valued student's voices!

 Posted by Picasa I read awhile a go of researchers who followed successful, average and problematic students around their school day to observe and later question them as to their impressions.

The findings illustrated a lot of dead time and bored students and this was the case even for the students who were identified as ‘good learners’!

This suggests that it is time we started to listen to students voices as a strategy to reform our schools and in particular to gain the ideas about how to improve both teaching and learning. After all who knows better than the students! And if their views and opinions were valued their view could actually address some of the pressing problems schools face.

It is no coincidence that at the same time as we ignore the voice of students a growing number of students are becoming alienated.

Those who have bothered to ask students about their views report that students say their schools rarely listen to their views nor do they involve students in important decisions affecting their own learning. Many students describe their school experience as on of anonymity and powerlessness;these are the very aspects that lead to disengagement.

We need to make student’s voices an important aspects of school change.

Learning research indicates clearly that student learn more effectively if they are involved in planning their own learning – and that they learn best of all if both the teacher and student are involved in 'co-creating' learning. Relationships between teachers, learners and students are vital.

We need to personalize learning and to take into account the individuality of each learner. This is not easy in a traditional school system predicated on ‘delivering’ knowledge to the students.

Schools that begin to listen to student’s voices will find it a real catalyst for change. Students possess unique perspectives about their school that adults cannot provide and we ignore it at our peril. Student's voices can raise issues that tend to get swept away by teachers and principals who would rather do any thing to avoid controversy in this ‘market driven’ educational environment.

Far easier for the school to place the blame on the students themselves than face up to issues of a poor school culture, teaching, or organization.

When students ‘voice’ is valued students involve themselves more positively and as a result develop a greater sense of self agency. This is particularly so when they are involved in planning their own learning around what they see as relevant issues. And as a result they learn to attribute their own success to their own efforts and, as well, they gain a greater appreciation of how they learn. These are important future attributes for all learners.

Enlightened teachers are beginning to appreciate the importance of relationship and that learning is as much a social experience as an individual one. A growing sense of ownership and a positive collective identity are also bi- products of this relationship centred teaching and, as well, students learn by helping each other.

When students are actively involved in their learning they develop closer and more intimate relationships with their teachers.

Learning is enhanced when the three ‘A’s of ‘agency’, belonging’ and ‘competence’ are in place. Students who realize these factors succeed in school and in their lives overall.

All school ought to start listening carefully.

Such listening has the power to make both teaching and learning more fun.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Personalizing learning for the 21stC

 Posted by Picasa I have been asked how personalized learning would be different from traditional teaching.

This is more an essay than a blog!!!

Personalizing learning would change totally how students experience school and would require rethinking at all levels. The most dramatic changes would occur at the senior levels of learning where basic power structures and buildings have changed little the last century.

Personalization is about fitting the curriculum to the needs of each individual learner and in the process empowering students to take a responsibity for their own learning. This in turn requires a changed role for teachers and asks them to focus on ensuring students identity, culture and concerns are paramount rather than ‘delivering’ a one size fits all’ curriculum. The underlying philosophy is a ‘constructivist’ one where each person is helped to ‘construct’ his or her own learning. This does not preclude a positive input by specialist multi skilled teachers whose role is to challenge student’s understandings and expose them to a range of possibilities to explore; in effect teacher and learners ‘co-construct’ learning.

In the early educational years this would not be such a difficult concept to implements as elements of personalized learning, introduced in the late 60 and early 70s are already present in most classrooms. For creative teachers it has always been the way they have worked. For many others it would be a welcome return to earlier learner-centred principles that have been all but lost in the implementation of the current confusing demands of a standardized curriculum with the associated assessment pressures.

At a ‘junior’ level student’s learning could easily be based around an ‘emergent’, or ‘negotiated’, curriculum. Such a curriculum could be built around student’s questions, interests and concerns and it will be over to the skills of the teachers to ‘temp’ students to explore areas they might at first not be interested in. It would also be easy to ensure the ‘big ideas’ of current curriculums are experienced in this process. Whatever is chosen, whether an individual or a collaborative task, needs to be an in-depth experience and students need to be encouraged to study fewer thing well so as to produce quality results. ‘Foundation skills’ of numeracy and literacy would be still important but would be integrated in realistic settings.

Students with identified learning problems would be given one to one tuition by teachers with diagnostic expertise to catch up. All students would be the appropriate ‘learning how to learn’ attributes in context and assessment will be based on what students can do, demonstrate or perform. All teachers would be trained in diagnostic coaching to provide appropriate help and feedback.

Teachers would see themselves as learning coaches able to use of a wide range of teaching strategies to ensure all students achieve success and gain in ‘learning power’.

With secondary students where teaching becomes more formal it would become more difficult to implement personalized learning. At this level and subject specialization and associated timetabling is the norm and specific curriculum requirements are ‘delivered’ by teachers in isolation from each other.

Although there have been superficial changes at the secondary level most adults would find that what their children experience differs little from their own time at school. The basic hierarchal power structure has changed little and students experience a school day based on control and conformity.

The possibility of personalizing learning to students needs is in conflict with secondary school culture, structures and timetables and the need for standardized assessment procedures. Such schools reflect the industrial era they were designed for and would require dramatic changes in mindsets of teachers, students and parents to be able to provide personalized learning.

This will not be easy but with 20% of our student failing we have no choice to begin the journey by establishing a network of small school resourced to develop new ideas to share with others.

Alternative approaches exist based on extending the student centred philosophy of earlier years but the demands of older students needs considerable thought. And in a ‘post modern’ era there can be no ‘one size fits all’ model. But this does not preclude some minimum national requirement to be implemented.

Each school will need to continually evolve or ‘construct’ their own education journey but by networking with other schools they can share expertise and ideas worldwide

I imagine a student in such a new school entering an environment totally different from the imposing structures of current secondary schools. Students would be ‘family’ or ‘whanau’ grouped years 7 to 10 and years 11 to13. Each ‘whanau’ would be staffed to plan learning experiences by a team of multi skilled teachers who would work together to plan integrated learning experiences. Within this groups of 15 or so students would meet daily with one teacher for the time that they are in the ‘family’. As well each student would have a individual learning tutor who will act as a ‘learning coach’ for the entire time and would plan out with each students their learning programme for the day, week, term or year, and how it is to be assessed. Positive relationships are vital.

As with the earlier years the vision of the school is to assist each learner develop their own particular mix of strengths and talents giving them as much choice and responsibity as they can manage. The student’s individual tutor will assist in all aspects, and arrange courses, activities and any remedial work the student might need.

Students will work either in groups or as an individual on self chosen tasks. The tasks will be negotiated with the tutor who will negotiate specialist courses or activities that will help the student achieve goals they have established.

Specialist teachers (preferably multi-skilled) will provide the learners with in depth content and work in coordination with the learning tutors. Specialist teachers would also work collaboratively with other to provide students with a ‘menu’ of options to select from, possibly different for various year groups. These options/ courses would integrate a range of content areas.

The learning tutor would help the student’s record their achievements (from wherever source) on their individual portfolio files on the school website. The various units from the current National Certificate of Achievement will be integrated. Many of the students studies will be based on real life tasks that they feel deeply about and their tutors will have to negotiate with people with expertise in the wider community to assist students.

Accredited community experts will be used to assess student work if required or student can be assessed using information technology if local expertise is not available.

Personalizing learning requires respectful relationship between all involved and will require a democratic collaborative school culture. Such relation ship based teaching will be more challenging to introduce in amore content based secondary school but it would make teaching more fun for the teacher and the learners.
Personalized teaching changes the roles for both teachers and learners. Teacher’s role would be to design open ended learning experiences for students to explore rather than deliver pre-planned units while students would take a growing responsibity for their own learning.

Learning tutors would not only negotiate with each student to plan their studies, ensure students are exposed to a full range of experiences, how their work is to be assessed, arrange for help to from specialist teachers, and negotiate studios or worship spaces. They would also need to ensure students have appropriate learning how to learn strategies and assist with presentation of their work to assessors and parents.

I their final year every student focuses on a personal inquiry project as a major task to be assessed by independent assessors. This, along with earlier project work (kept on electronic portfolios) demonstrates what learning has been completed.

In a personalized environment our students will have experienced a very different experience from that received in a traditional setting. In such an environment every students will have achieved their full potential. No students should leave disengaged as is currently the situation.

The world has moved from a hierarchical industrial era to one valuing community, connections, individuality and creativity. Personalized learning aligns schools with this shift and, if implemented, would transform education and the lives of both teachers and students and would ensure all students are able to contribute to a more dynamic society.

A government would be wise to establish such schools in all centres – even if only to look after the students that have little affection for what is being currently being provided.

There are no shortages of resources to assist – all that is needed is the wit an imagination to encourage such innovative but hardly new ideas.


International Baccalaureate
U K Departmnt of Education and Science
Big Picture Schools
Coalition of Essential Schools

Monday, January 16, 2006

Fancy this - Mr Fancy!

'Our Secondary Schools Don't Work Anymore' by David Hood.

Let's stop pretending they do! Posted by Picasa

Howard Fancy Secretary of Education – New Zealand’s top Education technocrat ( ex Treasury!)

As part of a PRO 'spin' on how well we are doing in education Howard Fancy referred to the pride we all feel when New Zealanders do well – such people as Peter Jackson and Michael Campbell.

Somehow that links with how well we are doing in education but I wonder how such people attributed their success to their time at school? The link between entrepreneurial success and school is at best tenuous except, for academic type careers. It would be great to ask such entrepreurial people how they would 're-shape' the system to develop the talents of all students.

Fancy, in his article, is at pains to point out recent successes we have had in education but fails to mention that we still fail about 20% of all students. For such students school continues to be compulsory miss-education!

There is mention of the ‘achievement gap’ which relates in the main to the children whose backgrounds do not match the traditional school structures – Maori and Pacifika students. Fancy suggests ‘we’ need to develop and support new ways of teaching to help students into learning and that we need a shift away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Well he is in the best position to ensure that this happens but he needs to get rid of all the bureaucratic nonsense that gets in the way of creative schools, and he needs to look closely at this technocratic desire to ensure standardization across schools of results. This is an idea more suited to the factory mentality of the past century and one that eats up too much energy in trying to comply too. We need and environment of minimum standardization and maximum diversity and creativity.

The philosophy of the International Baccalaureate is worth considering. I am sure with Ministry approval to modify the NCEA it could be a means to personalize learning

Although Fancy says, ‘we cannot imagine what is in store for the next generation’ we can be pretty certain the antiquated specialized structures of our secondary school do not help. The Ministry could lead the way by encouraging a variety of innovative approaches.

If, as he says, 'we want a more flexible school curriculum that can be adapted to the different abilities and learning needs of students' he needs to reframe the National Certificate of Achievement ( NCEA) so that it focuses on developing each students personal mix of talents, interests and abilities. Every student needs a personal learning tutor to help negotiate an individual pathway and access to whatever specialties teachers may have he or she needs.

He is right to say that secondary school are giving students a more diversified learning options but it is too little too late and difficult to achieve in structures still orientated to traditional transmission of learning. It is not possible to tinker our way into the future, not when we are failing 20% of all our students.

He does want students to leave with a ‘love of learning and the confidence to manage themselves’, equipped with, ‘high level thinking skills’, in particular, ‘problem solving and creative and information skills and the practical skills to apply them’. And, he says, 'secondary schools need to transform themselves and quickly'. If he really believes this than it is urgent for the Ministry to research what exactly is holding schools back – and maybe he will find that the Ministry compliance requirements and NCEA confusion are the blocks to change!

Fancy has some fine words to say about recent innovations but it is all too easy to ‘cherry pick’ a few ‘add on’ ideas and ignore the real issues of transformation.

Commendable ideas he mentions in his article are the ‘Extending High Standards Across School Initiative’. This however has a ideological fault in that it requires ‘winner’ schools to help the less fortunate. It would have been more enlightened, educational, and democratic to simply encourage clusters of school to develop their own means of improving by calling upon expertise within their groups.

He mentions also the ‘Young Enterprise Scheme’ as a move in the right direction, a scheme where students are taught business enterprise skills, and also the ‘Gateway’ and ‘Star’ Projects which aim at helping students move into employment and, of course, the various ICT ventures.

As good as they might be they are they are just trying to prop up a failing system. A system with it’s genesis in a 19thCentury mass education mentality. The underlying cultures of our secondary schools are archaic in organizational terms and are essentially cultures of accountability and control. They resemble classical bureaucracies with their lack of flexibility and adaptability – vital future qualities for all organizations and citizens. Such schools will become increasingly dysfunctional unless there is a fundamental reorientation.

What we need, as we enter the first decades of an age on imagination and creativity, is a system able to personalize education so as to release the talents, passions and dreams of all students. We now have the technology to be able to do this.

Personalization of education is something worth fighting for!

Too much of what we have seen so far is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Learning is easy - schooling is hard!


How children learn. Posted by Picasa

John Holt Was our favourite writer in the 70s.

If you can find any of his books (‘How Children Learn’ 1967 and ‘How Children Fail) they are well worth a read. They are even more relevant in our standardized ‘education’ environment.

Holt wrote his ideas after observing how children are born to learn and how this natural desire to make sense can either be encouraged or ‘turned off’ by interactions with the adults in their lives. Learning, he believes, depends on trusting and respectful relationships.

In ‘How Children Learn’ Holt talks about a natural way of learning based on each childs innate sense of curiosity and desire to make senses out of their experiences. The emphasis is on ‘their’ experiences.

Natural learners, writes Holt, want to gain personal competence and are open to new experience, observe carefully, learn through all their senses taking everything in, unconcerned about making mistakes. When involved they are patient, happy to tolerate uncertainty and confusion until sensible patterns (for them) emerge. They decide for themselves what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, how well it has been done and what to do next. Young children soon become experts in their fields of interests.

School he says does not give much time for this kind of exploratory learning but it could. Too often, quoting Jimmy Durante, Holt says at school 'everybody wants to get into the act' and in the process the child’s voice and point of view is overwhelmed. Children still continue to learn but, as Holt has written elsewhere, they learn to be stupid and many fail.

When children want to know they will learn and what they learn they will remember. And what they love doing they will do well with total concentration and in the process developing a sense of craftsmanship and pride in their work.

Trying to record what it is each learner knows, Holt believes, is futile particularly if the teacher is assessing material of little interest to the learner. The human mind, he says, is a mystery and we must give up this delusion that we can know, measure, and control what goes on in children’s minds. Knowing what is in your own mind, he says, is difficult enough!

In reply to the query about how can we tell what the children are learning Holt believes the answer is simple. We can’t tell. We can’t be sure.

Learning at heart rests on belief. Holt concludes his book:

'Call it faith. This faith is man is by nature a learning animal. Birds fly, fish swim; man thinks and learns. Therefore we do not need to motivate children into learning…..What we need to do, is bring as much of the world as we can into the school and the classroom; give children as much help and guidance as they need and ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.’

Perhaps the current 20% failing ‘achievement tail’ (focused narrowly on literacy and numeracy rather than ‘learnacy’) is more a reflection of failing schools and policies than failing students?

Learning to read - easy when you want to.

 Posted by Picasa

Reading has been made one of the most complicated and contested areas of teaching.

When the experts get hold of something a natural process becomes a war between apposing methods with traditional phonic approaches lined up against 'whole language' when of course both ‘methods’ are used by a reader.

In China, as reported by the UNESCO Education Today magazine (Jan 2006), a programme designed to help rural middle aged woman with minimal education to learn to read is based on a simple premise: if readers see the purpose and power of reading they will learn.

A range of purpose designed booklets with captivating drawings and easy to read text provide the woman with effective learning material. The topics of the booklets are about what they want to learn about to improve their lives Stories, produced by local authors and artists, are based about people like themselves who have used reading to help their families improve economically.

The programme is based on the ‘Educate to Empower Model’ and has been used with success by UNESCO across the world. The success of the programme causes a ripple effect that changes the lives of the woman and gives them a louder voice in their own destiny. Reading is a political act.

None of this would be new for creative teachers who base their reading programmes on the lives and concerns of their students. In the 1950s Sylvia Ashton Warner ‘invented’ a reading approach with her rural Maori children based on each child’s ‘key words’ and later the Education Department developed a set of New Zealand readers focused on the real lives and interests of students to replace the stilted imported series.

Children reading their own writing about their own felt concerns were a vital part of this process and their writing was seen as a precursor to real books. Today students’ writing about their own lives is often neglected and reading in such situations loses its connection with reality for some children. This is not helped by an obsession to improve literacy scores which all too often results in teachers making use of approaches such as phonics which divorces the process from the learners own reality.

When education loses touch with the learners own reality failure sets in for children whose life experiences are not ‘middle class’. Rather than an obsession with phonics ‘failing’ students (of all ages) need to be helped see the point and power of reading and writing so as to reclaim their own sense voice and identity.

All of this was said by Brazilian teacher Paulo Freire who wrote in the 60s that any adult can read when the words read are charged with personal and political meaning. Freire trained his teachers to move into villages and discover what words designate current important political meaning. In the evening villagers discussed the meaning of these ‘key’ words which were written on blackboards. The villagers saw the connection between words and their own reality and became empowered to take action through this realization

Such ideas are the key to reconnecting with failing readers in our schools but those who are enlightened enough to use such an approach would have to appreciate that with such empowerment things would have to change in our schools.

This dilemma captures the conflict between true education and schooling; between the current ‘standardization’ (expertly designed ‘one size fits all approach’) and the need to personalize learning to suit the needs of every learner.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

We need a change of view point.

 Posted by Picasa

I have just read a publicity blurb from Howard Fancy the New Zealand Secretary for Education about our education system and it seems all is well. No mention made of the 20% of students who leave with little to show for their time at school. And for such students it must seem like serving time!

I guess it all depends on you perspective as to whether the system is one of a spectrum of creative diversity or a 'one colour fits all'. Fancy ‘cherry picks’ from his elite position some exciting developments to indicate all is well but closer to the ground it is apparent that this is not the case.

From my perspective there is a lot that those on high could do to create the conditions to encourage the creativity and diversity that we need. The NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) does, as Fancy suggests, provide opportunity to tailor learning to individual students needs but few school have so far done this. It would mean breaking down the fragmented teaching to allow teachers to design personalized courses for students with their parents. And this is made more impossible by the desire to ensure all schools are standardized resulting in problems of moderation beween school and years.

You can’t have creativity and conformity at the same time but that is not to say there ought not to be some common expectations. Minimal requirements and maximum flexibility – this seems the recipe for the more successful country of Finland. The International Baccalaureate might have been a better option for us but it is not too late to develop personalized programmes using the NCEA – but only if certain changes are made.

The key is to develop ‘rich, real and relevant ‘projects that inspire learning – these were what Fancy was talking about in his article. Such projects might make use of several learning areas and call upon the assistance of a range of subject teachers. This is not easy to do in building ( and some teacher's minds) designed more in line with Henry Ford’s mass production factories. Students (and their teachers) are too often distracted achieving set criteria in achievement tasks than on focusing on real holistic integrated tasks – the examples quoted by Fancy.

The standards based education is both being heralded as a success or a problem depending on ones point of view in the USA.

According to Ronald Wolk, chairman of the board that produces Education Week, the USA has placed its bet on an all-or-nothing strategy of standards based reforms. And this pressure for conformity has been raised by the ‘No Child Left Behind’ Act which requires schools to focus on improving the literacy and numeracy gap. In the UK there are targets to achieve (and for schools to be compared) and we are moving in a similar direction in NZ.

Wolk believes betting everything on standards based reform was neither wise nor necessary. If the strategy doesn’t succeed it will be a waste of resources and teacher energy leaving the system riddled with failure.

Wolk wants policy makers to hedge their bets and open a second front by promoting a policy to create new schools to accommodate growth and replace low performing middle and high schools. New schools should be innovative and different from traditional schools and open to all students.

This he says is not a radical policy and I presume Fancy would say that is already the NZ policy? Wolk believes the US needs a range of alternative schools, as in the 60 s and 70s, the current ‘magnet schools’ (increasing every year in range of states) and schools sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ( over a1000 school so far) and others.

Schools have to be encouraged and supported to be different. Such schools need to be relatively autonomous and able to make use of the freedom offered. They are likely to be student centred and committed to personalized learning using approaches that creative teachers and educationalists have discovered the past thirty years about how students learn.

Critics, says Wolk, might be alarmed at such a gamble on diversity but as the current system is failing so many students the current standardized strategy is already gambling…. and losing.

Wolk himself was an early advocate of standard based reform but now believes that they have failed in a number of ways. More money ought to have been spent on providing opportunities to learn for those in difficult areas. Standards ought to have focused on relatively few ideas and concepts and allow considerable latitude for local school to develop appropriate curricula, and students ought to be assessed using multiple measures based on their work, performance, and habits of mind and behavior. And schools needed to be redesigned to allow students to be responsible for their own learning using teachers as advisers – shifting the emphasis from content coverage to thinking and solving problems and capitalizing on new technology.

Perhaps Fancy would say this is where we are heading in New Zealand – if we are then it is just too slow. For a quarter of a century we (the US) have been trying to ‘reverse the tide of mediocrity’ by making schools better without really changing them or the traditional organizational arrangements. The same applies in NZ.

Wolk believes we owe it to future generations of kids, and to the larger society, to seriously consider a second strategy of designing new schools for a new century.

This is an ideal task for the Third Labour Government and Howard Fancy! The best thing they could do is to simplify things, define a few important requirements, and then to get out of creative schools way.

But one thing is certain standardization is out in an age of ideas, imagination and creativity.

Designing vital communities

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Re-imagining our cities.

I found an article the other day about urbanism that was really interesting as it seems to be something that all growing communities have to face up to.

Having just driven through old and modern developments in Auckland the article provided some thoughts for the future. Love Titirangi - hate 'new' Howick.

In earlier days governments have encouraged the development of mass housing for low income people often without thought to the human needs of those involved. Years ago I visited an old man in the UK relocated from his ‘slum’ home to a high rise block. He had great view but in the process he had lost contact with the people he used to know and his local pub. No doubt the ‘modernistic’ planners thought it efficient!

The article I found was written by the highly respected architect Zaha Hadid, born in Baghdad and now working in London, who won the Pritzker Prize in 2004 architect’s highest award in 2004.

In her article she discuses the role of architecture in a era of rapid evolution of technology and social expectations and how this relates to urban design and to the development of our society as a whole.

How we design our cities effects how we think and live. As we shape our cities they in turn shape us. This is too important to leave to developers and local politicians with their vested interests.

The redevelopment of city centres in recent times has illustrated this need to consider human needs rather just economic efficiency. Traditional cities once evolved organically but with the advent of the motorway developments are sprawling over the country side.

Modernistic planning based on efficiency still calls the tune but Zaha writes that one of the great challenges of contemporary urbanism and architecture is the need to move away from what she calls the ‘Fordist ‘ paradigm where buildings are mass produced based on a few basic designs. You can have any house you like as long as it is a shade of brown!

Zaha calls for a ‘post modern’ or post ‘Fordist’ environment of flexible combinations of work and life processes. She uses words such as ‘dynamism’ and ‘fluidity’ in relation to future housing, careers and organizations.

All aspects of life, she writes, need to be ‘enfolded’ in on each other in a direct contest to the fragmentation and isolationism of the current ‘Fordist’ mindset.

Larger secondary schools are a perfect model of the ‘Fordist’ mentality with their standardized ‘one size fits all’ curriculums, specialist teachers, and egg crate buildings. ‘Post modern’ alternatives would see schools built in a variety of flexible ways, integrated organically with their parents and their communities. Diversity, community and creativity would be the ‘key words’ not efficiency, competition and Eurocentric standardization.

Cities, communities, and schools, would begin to reflect diversify and difference. Education, entertainment, work, and habitation would all be interrelated. The traditional modernistic grid patterns are antithetical to such developments Zaha believes.

Differentiation is the new game.

In education it will mean a move from mass education to personalized learning. New Mindsets as well as new flexible buildings will be required.

All this, Zaha says. will need a new language for architects and those who have responsibity for urban development. She believes that those cities which can shake off their now outdated designs and who dare to adapt contemporary urbanism and thinking will be the real places to live in the future.

Imagine a society, a city, or a school, built for the future rather that reflecting the past.

For more information about Zaha Hadid visit the Time magazine site.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A New Year - time for new ideas?

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What will the New Year bring us?

We are a week into a new year - what will unfold for us this year?

Last years election turned in a cynical battle of who could promise the most to the voters and resulted in the narrow election of a third term Labour Government.

Will this result in 2006 in a tired government with few new ideas or will the government be inspired to develop New Zealand into a leading ‘post modern’ 21stC country?

Major world wide changes seem to evolve every forty or so years; after the depression and World War 2 evolved the security of the modern welfare state. The welfare state seemed an ideal solution but over the decades it fell prey to its own success, its burgeoning bureaucracy and a ‘we know best what is good for you attitude’ which stifled innovation and creativity and, ironically, the very basis of democratic values.

A return to a 'free market' ideology was seen worldwide as the answer to freeing up creativity (and returning power and profit to big business!). We were told 'there was no alternative' (TINA) but what has eventuated has been a 'winners and losers' society based on narrow eurocentric, economic and materialistic values. Not the best environment to ensure a future sustainable multicultural society?

Recently we have had the ‘third way’ – a melding of the best of capitalistic greed and social responsibity. It has been a messy combination at best. The power still resides at ‘the top’; with those in power whether private or governmental.

I hope the ‘new’ Labour Government are using their holiday time to reflect on what kind of country we ought we become rather than just continuing to tinker their way into the future. They need to consider: how to value and include all citizens; how to value and celebrate our cultural diversity; and how to ensure a sustainable environment.Most of all they need to consider what conditions wil be necessary for the ideas, talents and dreams of all citizens to be realized.

Such new thinking ought to focus around the personalization of all services so that those who need assistance can be helped to take a growing responsibility for their own development.

And, in all this, the role of a new perspective on education would seem to be the key.

This can’t be left to politicians – they need to begin a 'conversation' with us all.

It time for another dramatic change – and New Zealand could lead it if we had the wit, imagination and the courage.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Living with the natural environment.

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I really like the idea of a diversity of houses somehow fitting with the natural environment. The new suburbs of New Zealand seem notable for their lack of trees.

I think, in our increasingly materialistic and technological world we all need to keep in touch with our natural environment.

By the way three shots of my home and one of my neighbours.

The 'new' New Zealand?

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Is this the ‘new’ New Zealand?

We seem to have learnt the lesson of the state building endless rows of dull state housing but now we are letting private enterprise do the same thing for the middle class wealthy.

There will be consequences no doubt.

I was talking to a person who has just returned after living for a few years in a new suburb at a growing coastal city. He told me that the sprawl of middle class housing is spreading rapidly – he counted twenty new developments on his last visit!

This wouldn't be so bad but they all look the same – and their design seems to have little to do with a New Zealand style. They are designed in a combination of Tuscan and Californian Orange County styles.

Is this sprawl of conformity and ‘look at me’ wealth the way we want New Zealand to develop? Private enterprise seems to have no more idea about the needs of people than the state had when it built it's houses!

The next step is gated communities to keep out the dispossessed!

What better ideas are there?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The urge to collect- and display.

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The urge to collect is strong in people of all ages.

People collect things for all sorts of reasons. Some people focus on collecting varieties of one item while others are more eclectic. Some collect because they just like the objects they collect, others collect because aesthetic or visual reasons, and some because they buy and sell their objects.

When you visit people’s homes what they collect and display indicates what is important to them. Nothing is displayed with out some thought behind the object – each object has its own story to tell to the collector and to a visitor. Collections reflect the personality and interests of the owners.

The urge to collect starts young and for some people early interests become lifetime occupations often turning into careers. Such people are lucky.

I guess there is a fine line between having a few items around one’s house and a collection but when visiting anyone’s home the real collectors stand out; in some cases collection have become harmless obsessions

As a collector (of the general aesthetic sort) I am always curious about what others gather around them. I have visited friends who collect such items as: art, books, CDS, match box toys, stamps, coins, geological specimens, shells, model boats, old books, crockery, historical artifacts, Bob Dylan records, New Zealand ‘Kiwiana’, furniture. The list is endless – recently I visited a house where the owner collected thimbles. I once had an aunty who filled her house with elephant ornaments. And a cousin who specialized in moustache cups. One idividual I used to visit turned his house into a museum featuring World War One!

Collectors are always on the alert for new items to add to their collections. For such people it is a never ending search. For many collectors a new item is picked up as part of a holiday adventure. Garage sales are the haunt of specialized collectors – one persons cast outs is another persons treasure.

Often collections of particularly passionate people transform themselves into personalized museums. An excellent example of this is Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum a wonderful example of collecting, local history and art all mixed together.

I always wonder how such interests develop and think that schools should capitalize on this basic desire to collect.

I particularly like visiting homes where the objects are part of the d├ęcor of the home – and displayed with the same care as the art work. They are a stark contrast to those homes that have little of visual interest to capture ones imagination.

The collections I particularly like tell a lot about the people who collect them.The artifacts collected become part of the identity of those who collect them.

Such collections add personality to the homes themselves.

Interesting collections indicate interesting people – people whose curiosity is alive and well.

Collecting should be encouraged.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Asking questions is my business

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I had a very curious young visitor over New Year.

Arriving with his grandmother the first thing my young visitor said was, ‘Bruce’s house needs a makeover!’ And he was right!

The motivation for the visit was to refresh his memory of the glowworms living on one of the tracks he remembered from his last visit. Until it was dark enough he had to wait somewhat impatiently. So I took him on a bush walk during which he told me about the ferns and plants he knew. He had seen simlar plants on a recnt holiday in Fiji. He eagerly took in whatever knowledge I shared with him.

Back inside he turned his laser like attention to the various things I had collected over the years. He noticed more (or at least expressed his curiosity more openly) than the last twenty adult visitors.I was pleased to tell him about some of the objects he was attracted to.

In particular he really liked the idea of a couple of whales teeth I had on my shelf. I could almost see him imagining them in a whale’s mouth. It took me all my verbal skill to convince him I needed both of them – finally I had to fob him off with a piece of rock crystal!

Until it was dark enough he then engrossed himself in nature book happily sharing his thoughts to the adults around.

Such evolutionary curiosity, this desire to know and make personl meaning, is a trait that should be valued at all costs. Unfortunately it is too easliy neglected as teachers react to the imposed pressure to improve literacy and numeracy. As important as these are they come well behind, what one writer calls, ‘learnacy’;the very trait my young friend exhibited. As another writer has written, ‘The evil twins of literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the remainder of the curriculum.’

Curiosity and creativity are the basis of all learning. If they are lost education soon turns into 'schooling' and students in begin to ‘turn off’ and they wish they were elsewhere. Their ‘voice’, their identity as a learner, their questions, their queries and their theories, it seems, are no longer required.

Lively curiosity is turned into dull compliance.

So far my young friend has retained his desire to learn - let’s hope he keeps it.

Imagine a class of such students busily exploring what attracts their attention, either based on their own questions or what the teachers has cunningly put in front of them.

It would be fun for both students and the teacher - and I bet the kids would do well at both literacy and numeracy!