Friday, April 21, 2006

So what has changed?

  Posted by Picasa I have just been trying to sort out all the notes I have collected over the years when I came some across some discussion notes I wrote for a school inspection when I was a leader of a year 5 and 6 teaching team in 1978!

They were also written to clarify my own philosophy at the time and to share with the other teachers in the team. After reading them I realized that ones basic philosophy changes little.

The notes began by saying that education is about developing the full potential of all students – not just in literacy and numeracy. The emphasis was on teaching a basic inquiry approach and to value each learner’s particular interests and talents. As well there was a strong emphasis on developing an appreciation of their natural environment and the importance of the creative arts. Attitudes of children toward learning were to be seen as vital; personal attributes more important than numbers and scores.

The number one task was to develop students with healthy self concepts as learners, able to work happily with each other. Our skills in helping children do the best they can are the key to helping difficult children and that we should be thankful for even the smallest sign of growth.

To do this we had to develop a personalized programme and help all children at their own level of need believing that all learners like to feel competent and will thrive on success – or doing something well.

A reality we had to face up to was to achieve this with thirty plus children, many of whom already had developed negative attitudes to many aspects of schooling.

To achieve our aims we needed to present programmes that provided security as well as being flexible enough to provide students with choices and what ever we do our children should know what is expected of them. Our morning would be structured around the more traditional areas and the afternoon around class studies but we would do our best to ensure that the children could see the links between them. Class blackboards need to make clear the tasks we want children to undertake.

Some points we were to keep in mind were:

1. To make use of the children’s own experiences and feelings as the basis of as much work as possible – particularly in personal language and art. During the year we would give plenty of opportunity for students to select their own areas of study as well as providing choices in current studies.

2. Student would keep personal books to write and illustrate focused stories based on their ‘felt experiences’ arising from their own lives. These books would be a important means to show growth in quality throughout the year.

3. The main motivation for class studies would relate to the immediate environment – local history, Maori history, natural science, geology, architecture. Other topics would be chosen from social studies to provide an insight into cultures past and present.

4. Such studies would allow us to teach observational and inquiry skills – formulating problems, gathering information and presenting findings. In addition studies would provide motivation for creative expression in language and art.

5. Students will keep topic books to record idea and thought about their studies and also summaries of main ideas of each study. Most studies will be recorded on individual booklets or charts. These books will also illustrate growth in student thinking and presentation.

6. A very important idea will be to ‘slow down the pace’ of students work as too many children rush and spoil their work and, in the process, gain little sense of achievement and pride. To do this we need to help then extend and elaborate whatever they are doing and to teach students basic presentation skills. We want our children to realize that a job worth doing is worth doing well.

7. Skills will be important but they must be taught in realistic situations as and when children need them. As teacher we should be on the alert for opportunities to help students gain appropriate skills.

As for the so called ‘basic skills’ reading was to be seen as reading – for fun or to gather information. We need to create situations where children want or need to read and help those who have difficulty. Children’s own writing is to be seen an excellent way to help students who are having difficulty helping them appreciate the link between experience, writing and reading.

Our language programme will be catered for as part of our studies but we need to develop language skills (in realistic ways) so students can use them in their study work. Regular handwriting is still important develop attractive work and to teach layout skills and spelling will be related to words required in personal writing or current study.

Mathematic is an area many children develop poor attitudes about. We will do everything we can to introduce maths as an exciting area of study in its own right and integrate maths into out current studies as we see opportunities. It is important that we ensure all students have a good recall of basic number facts but this will be best achieved if children learn to see maths as a form of language with its’ own patterns and beauty.

All our classroom activities will focus on developing high personal standards in all our children and to help them take responsibity, through making choices, for their own growth. Our expectations and helping skill are vital. We want all our students to learn to take pride in what they do.

As a result of our approach our room environments will feature the studies we are involved in and celebrate the depth of thinking and creativity of all our students. We need to take real care in displaying our students work as this will be seen as a sign of respect for the efforts of our students.

Don’t think I would change much today?


Bruce said...

I mightn't change that much but a lot of things have changed - particularly since 1987 ( when the so called self managing 'Tomorrows Schools' were introduced).

Where we used curriculum, at best, for guides, now they dominate with their strands, levels and endless learning objectives. It has been 'death by strands'!

Where we constantly evaluated student progress to develop quality work ( using what is now called 'feedack'), now assessment for accountability is the norm.

Where School Inspectors used 'professional judgement' now ERO reviewers are too often lacking in real experience and follow Government edicts.

Where we listened to the 'voices' of other creative teachers for advice ( often in the pub!) now everybody is imposing ideas on schools.

While our focus was on helping students achieve quality pieces of work, doing 'fewer things well', today teachers are easily distracted by a plethora of 'thinking sklls' which, in lots of cases,has resulted in 'higher order thinking' for 'thin learning'.

In our days creative techers were not all that common but almost all schools had at least one such teacher - today whole school conformity is the pattern making creativity more difficult.

But all is not lost.

The Ministry, realizing the error of their ways, are introducing a review of the NZ Curriculum which offers new freedoms. It even ( gasp!) mentions 'love of learning'.

More power to creative schools and teachers - there is a real need to discover such schools, and teachers, and to share their expertise.

Anonymous said...

Lets hope teachers and schools take advantage of the freedon you say the 'new' NZ Curiculum offers.

We have some great teachers in NZ - they need to be identified and their expertise shared .

As you say the standardized curriculum has just distracted us - 'a mile wide and an inch deep'!