Sunday, December 31, 2006

Last thoughts for 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the verge of a new ecological 'world view' that will transform all our current organisations that have been shaped by outdated industrial aged thinking.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

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A shared language of teaching and learning.

Pedagogy to cross the primary secondary gap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rip van Winkle and schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are some things old Rip would recognize.

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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Whose learning is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Developing a creative country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative countries need to:

1 Tap the full creative capabilities of everyone

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

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

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

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

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

7 Attract creative people from around the world.

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Last words on the draft NZ Curriculum

Posted by Picasa The competencies hold the key!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Schools need to change a lot faster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 08, 2006

John Holt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A site about John Holt Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A must read........

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The creative ones, Jane writes, already have.

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

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

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

I am re-reading mine!