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.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Time for creative leadership

 No point in the blind following the blind! Posted by Picasa

Leadership –the ultimate creative task.

I found an article I cut out of the paper last year about leadership and its ideas are worth sharing.

Leadership, it says, is as much an overused term as it is vague.

What is more interesting the writings on leadership has changed over the decades.

Thirty years ago the thinkers were talking mainly about outcomes and management by objectives. This will still sound familiar in education today. Fifteen years there was a heavy emphasis ago on processes such as Total Quality Management (TQM) and such thing as re-engineering. Quality management collapsed into measuring everything and nothing. Again another familiar idea to schools with the current emphasis on 'targets' and 'evidence based teaching'.

Today the references are towards ‘imaginative capital’, 'dialogue', ‘realizing not yet enacted realities’ , ‘co-creation’ and ‘distributed, shared, or inverted leadership’.

The emphasis now is not doing what you do well (and spending endless time and energy proving it) but now leaders have to think forward rather than project the past. ‘The new requirement', the article states, 'is to be creative – in the sense of creating something not seen before’.

This leaves leaders with two problems. One is how to come up with ways of developing new ways of doing things and the other is to do this while still keeping the organization well managed and on course. Teachers in creative classrooms will know the feeling.

Leadership must now be ‘entrepreneurial’ and this may mean getting younger members to lead teams ('inverted' leadership) or projects because the more established managers are past it. Just think of who has the ICT knowledge in our schools.

Even though creativity and innovation are felt important few leaders have any idea of what it means in reality, or how to go about doing it. All too often incremental improvement is the result.

How to create the conditions to release creativity is the challenge; any organization that is heavy on checking up, or evaluation, will find it impossible. Creativity requires an environment that encourages 'risk taking and mistake making' and this requires considerable leadership courage.

It is far easier to fallback on ensuring efficiency; proving what you are doing is done well. This will really feel familiar to principals’ particularity with the possibility of an Education Review Visit on the horizon. This leads into a timid, 'blind following the blind', mentality.

Future leaders will have to become more skilled at developing creativity and living with the complexity and uncertainty that goes with it. Leadership will have to be a more exploratory than analytical process.

Final advice offered in the article:

Value creativity and trusting those with expertise but don’t throw away established structure until new ideas are worth the risk.

When new idea throw up complexity or confusion (which they will) keep an open mind and pursue operational simplicity. Don’t let things get to complex. Judge things on their potential to be of real advantage to future succes.

It would seem to me that future leaders will have to trust their intuition (something not valued in out technocratic era). If everyone in the organization has a stake in the success of the organization they will make the best decisions they can to ensure its success. This will require a strong culture of experimentation and trust, and an ability to learn from mistakes. People, one writer says,will make the right decision if the 'shadow of the future is strong enough'!

Advice given to me many years ago, by a friend of mine, was to remember the motto of the wing walkers (who rode the wings of bi planes after World War One), ‘Don’t let go of something until you have a firm grip of something else.’

Good advice when you are taking risks?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

We have the means but do we have the will?

  Posted by Picasa Another of my favourite books, written by David Hood

David Hood has had along career in education having been a secondary school principal, spent time in the Education Review Office, and was NZQA first chief executive.

He believes New Zealand’s secondary schools have been caught in time warp. Designed for an Industrial Age they are, he writes, becoming increasingly irrelevant.What is required, he believes, is a ‘paradigm shift’ because changes made so far have only been tinkering at the margins.

The past 50 or so years have witnessed great changes in every area of life and we would expect, he writes, for education to also be markedly different but, in reality, secondary schools have changed little. In fact they seem highly resistant to change!

Visit a school and the old industrial mindset is alive and well. Structurally the subjects are much the same, the students are still divided into aged grouped classes (all too often streamed by ‘ability’), the day is rigidly fixed within specific timetables, and teachers teach classes from the front changing classes on the bell every hour or so. This is exactly as it was 50 years ago!

The trouble is both teachers and parents tend to accept this as ‘natural’ or ‘given and yet there is nothing natural, Hood explains, about how schools are organized; they are organised for a world that no longer exists. Their original function was to sort students out but today (with all students expected to stay on until 16) over 30% of them fail, creating the problems of alienation and discipline we hear so much about today. However it is the schools that are failing their students and not the other way around. No business would survive with such a failure rate!

And it is not that there is a lack of research to show that schools are ineffective for a great number of their students. We know more than enough that no student need fail but only if we changed our collective minds first.

It begs the question, Hood writes, why schools haven’t changed dramatically when all around the change is the name of the game. The trouble is schools are so bound up by tradition that teachers themselves are very cautionary towards change. What does take place is tinkering around the edges without changing the schools structure in any way; and as result the gap between what could be done and current reality widens; schools become increasingly dysfunctional.

Even the reforms of the past decade have made little difference. None of the reforms have got to the heart of the matter, teaching and learning, although the recent draft NZ curriculum is a step in the right direction. Don’t bet however on secondary school changing much though – they are experts in resisting change. Hood’s own experience as a secondary principal is evidence of this – changing teachers’ minds he found is a real challenge. The teachers themselves are as locked into a system( and their subjects) as their students, and this has stifled their creativity. Teachers are unable to see the value of developing integrated ‘contextualized’ studies that would teach the very attitudes and skills businesses want.

As we enter the 21stC, Hood writes, school practices continue on without rhyme or reason, ‘In many respects the clock has stopped, time has stood still, and innovation has taken a back seat,’ while in the business world everything has, and continues, to change. The new concept of the 'intelligent worker', capable of problem solving and decision making, of taking responsibity for ones own work within agreed goals has little to do with traditional schooling based on obedience, control and conformity. Schools are just too conservative to be involved in ‘venturesome innovation’ the hallmark of a successful business.

Research clearly indicates that students learn best when teachers collaborate with students to plan studies based on real life experiences, negotiate course objectives and activities with students to achieve goals, integrate use of ICT, and assess results jointly with students against agreed criteria. When these are in place students ‘engage’ in learning with enthusiasm.

Hood believes all learners ought to have the right to:

be involved in making their own decision about what to learn

to have functional literacy and numeracy in place when they leave school

for their learning to be based around real life problems

to succeed at learning

to have their learning assessed.

All new entrants with their parents should be asked to identify their strengths and weaknesses, special interests, talents and aspirations, and agreed action plans put in place; learning to be ‘personalized’ to suit each students' needs.

Groups of teachers, Hood writes, should be collectively responsible for managing and facilitating the learning experiences for groups of students. The conventional timetable would need to go and learning to be focused on ensuring ‘foundation’ skills are in place with the remaining time ‘blocked’ for a wide range of contextual studies.

All this is possible, and even encouraged, in the National Curriculum. It is at the school leadership level where innovation must begin; already there are schools well on the way - but far too few.

Such schools demonstrate what is possible when schools evolve into 21st C ‘learning organizations’; schools willing to question traditional wisdom and embrace change as an opportunity to be innovative and creative.

We need , Hood writes, to be serious about changing our schools - the success of our young people and the viability of our country depend on it. Such schools will be important as we enter, what some are calling, the ‘Age of Creativity’.

It is time, as John Hood concludes his book, for ‘courageous decisions’