Saturday, June 30, 2007

Inquiry or Project Learning advantages

Students in this year 7/8 class research life in another country as part of a project to raise money to provide aid. This is part of PowerPoint presentation of their project.

For over a 100 years educators such as John Dewey have written about the benefits of experimental, experiential, hands on,student-directed learning. 'Doing projects' has a long history.

Junior school teachers, who believe in inquiry learning, see such investigations as the source of 'intellectual energy' in their classrooms. In many classrooms however is is relegated to light relief after the heavy work of literacy and numeracy has been completed.

Two developments have made Project Based Learning (PBL) more relevant the past decades are the revolution in understanding how students learn as they 'construct' their own understandings and the shift from an conformist industrial culture to an information age demanding greater innovation and creativity.

The future will demand of students new 'key competencies' if they are to take responsibility for their own ever evolving careers in a unpredictable changing world.

Schools will have to change dramatically if they to assist their students develop the talents and competencies to thrive. Inquiry based learning provides the means to actively engage students to develop knowledge and skills through extended inquiry processes structured around complex authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks. Some call such tasks 'rich topics','fertile questions' or 'hook' questions.

Creating effective products is important. Inquiry without real 'products', or content, is learning at risk; doing and creating something are part of the same process.

Outstanding inquiry projects;

1 Recognise students inherent drive to learn ( to construct meaning), their capability to do important work, and their need to be taken seriously by putting them at the centre of the learning process.

2 Are central to the school curriculum not an 'add on'. Such learning provides an realistic context to apply literacy and numeracy skills.

3 Highlight provocative issues, or questions, that lead students into in depth explorations of important topics, or 'big ideas'.

4 Require students to develop competence in essential tools and skills, including technology, self and project management ( NZ Curriculum's 'key competencies')

5 Result in 'products' that solve problems, or present information generated through students investigations, research and creativity.

6 Allow teachers to interact to provide feedback and support to ensure students develop in depth learning.

7 Use performance based assessment that communicates high expectations, rigorous challenges requiring an integrated use of a range of higher order thinking, communication skills, and complex planning and process procedures

8 Encourages collaboration between students, in some form, through group tasks and class presentations.

9 Naturally integrates learning areas
and, in secondary schools, involve teams of teachers to working together to assist their students learn.

Such learning is a far cry from earlier 'project learning' that, in many cases, resulted in little learning of real quality. Even today there are teachers who seem to believe that 'the process' is more important than 'the product'. The emphasis ought to be on creating quality products ( or knowledge) through quality process, not either or.

To be successful teachers and students will have to master the behaviours and strategies necessary for students to achieve quality learning but if they do there are important benefits.

Such an approach to learning:

1 Overcomes the dichotomy between thinking and knowledge. Students need to both do and know. Some see learning as a 'verb' best seen through student 'performitivity' or actions.

2 Supports the learning of a range of skills and competences in realistic settings

3 Develops the 'habits of mind' associated with lifelong learning.

4 Integrates curriculum areas, thematic instruction, teacher expertise and relevant issues.

5 Enables students' learning ( of both knowledge and skills) to be assessed using criteria similar to those used in real world team project learning which values accountability, goal setting, and improved performance.

6 Develops positive and collaborative relationships between students and teachers

7 Provides opportunities to meet the needs of students with varying skill levels, learning styles and particular talents. Personalised learning.

8 Has the potential to engage and motivate bored learners
- and jaded teachers.

For teachers who involve themselves in inquiry, or project based, learning it is an opportunity to create engaging classrooms to support self directed learning.For teachers in secondary schools it is an opportunity to work with other teachers to share the joys and challenges of teaching.

When implemented properly it has the potential to transform a school and to develop an education system which faces the challenges of the future. There are plenty of schools that are well on the way on this learning journey.

It will not be easy, particularly for 'subject constrained' secondary schools, but it will be worth it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Action Plan 3 Quality students presentation of ideas.

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A few examples of students work from year 1 to 6 that catches the eye!

Helping students present their work as best they can has aways been a feature of a group of Taranaki teachers since the 70s. Most of those original teachers have long since retired but their ideas live on in many schools in the province today.

One cynical local principal used to call this early group of teachers the 'pretty classroom brigade'! I have more recently heard such efforts to develop 'attractive' presentation of idea a waste of time - that the thinking involved is far more important.

When students enter science and maths fairs they soon learn the value of well designed presentation skills! Ideas are of no use if no one can be bothered reading them. 'By altering the graphic content of an exhibit you could double the number of people who visited it', according to Gillian Thomas, formally of the UK Science Museum

The belief is, that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well ; that when anything is well done a growing sense of pride develops. This applies to every area of human endeavor.

There seems a need for an aesthetic dimension to valued above the merely practical. This aesthetic dimension can be seen in the drawing of our ancestors of animals on the cave walls of Lascaux; these wonderful drawings are not just practical, they are thoughtful, creative and inventive. They are an opportunity to respond and create to their experiences.

Developing well designed aesthetic student book and research chart work is hardly high art but it is important for a number of reasons.

Most important we want our efforts recognised - to stand out so they are noticed. If students ideas are exciting so ought to be their presentations. Good design is what 'catches' your attention.

Design ought to become an obsession in all we do, according to business 'guru' Tom Peters, in his book Re-Imagine'. Everything we use has been designed, often so well, we take it for granted - poor design we notice more easily! Schools designed for a 19th century eduction are a good example! Nature is full of beautifully designed animal and plants. Good design makes use of simplicity, clarity and focus, not confusion or sloppy work. the study of design through the ages would make an interesting 'rich topic' at any level.

Students are entering a world where design is more important than ever to 'sell' ideas or products and, for students to be successful, they need design assistance to present their ideas. This is more than 'prettiness' or 'window dressing'.

Back to the classrooms and our students work.

Let's help our students develop design graphic skills from an early age. At one school that takes this seriously the staff have developed what they call 'design scaffolds' for each level of their school. The very young need a lot of interactive help as they have only 'beginning' writing skills - teachers need to help them develop their ideas and their layout. As children move through the school design formats become more demanding and, by year six, students have a repertoire of design formats to select from. Students who have natural design skills are encouraged to introduce their own creativity.

Students can develop an insight into visual design by paying attention to the layout of various publications - School Journals are an ideal source of graphic presentation ideas.

Some Taranaki schools have resisted the movement towards developing 'portfolios' and instead have re-imagined traditional exercise books as portfolios. This is something I would encourage. All books in such schools are to show continual quality improvement throughout the year. Criteria and suggestions can be pasted inside the front cover of each book to guide students and to inform parents - one school sends all the books home twice a year before parent interviews.

A common phrase during regular feedback situation is, 'Is this better than your last page, how,and how will you improve next time'?.

The work in such schools is outstanding.

One insightful retired principal friend of mind believes a quick look at students exercise books will quickly show the quality ( or lack of it) of school programmes. This applies to the depth of content as well as presentation. All too often , even halfway through the school year, few pages are used and what can be seen is of poor quality.It doesn't take much to gain small victories in this area.

Visual design presentation skills apply to all book students use, including their maths book. A few simple (if old fashioned ) guidelines will improve books. Neatness is an important factor in mathematical accuracy - and realistic maths projects can include illustrative design elements as well to make them look more exciting. The handwriting book is an ideal way to develop design and aesthetic qualities. Obviously visual design skills are important in books used for personal writing and content study work.

None of the above suggestions are brain surgery and may strike people as being 'old fashioned'. All I know is that when I visit such schools with other teachers the quality of the written and research chart work on the walls, along with quality art of the students, always impresses

Students in such schools are gaining an experience of personal excellence and an understanding that their 'personal best' is always 'next time'.

And through such experiences of excellence students develop an 'eye' to appreciate quality in other students' work and in their environment generally

It is all about doing fewer things well.

This insight might be the most important thing students learn.

I would recommend schools set about developing quality visual design and presentation skills in their school - set a challenge and give students and teachers a term or so to see what they can do.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Moving from High Schools to Learning Communities

A rural New Zealand school with the exciting challenge of developing a unified learning community for students from year 1 to 13

Redesigning our High Schools for the 21stC - the real challenge for those involved in education

The 'in' phrases these days are 'Schools as Learning Communities' and 'personalised learning'.

Around the world innovative educational thinkers and politicians (such as our own Minister of Education) are writing and talking about such things but so far not too many school have made the transition.

And it is not that the ideas are new - they were central beliefs of the early progressive educators of the last century such as John Dewey. John Dewey even thought schools should be developed as democratic organisations! Ideas, it seems, takes a long time to establish themselves in schools but one senses that the time is now right as we enter a new Millennium demanding new qualities from its citizens. The industrial era is now over and hierarchical industrial aged school are no longer appropriate.

If I were a principal I would want to be seen as being a part of such 'new' thinking. Unfortunately too many schools are held back, facing the wrong century, by the deadening forces of the 'status quo' and a general resistance to change.

With this in mind it was interesting to read New Hampshire's (USA) vision for redesign called , 'Moving From High Schools To Learning Communities.'

New Hampshire authorities appreciate the urgency of the need to making transformational changes. The report notes that once few students ( about 20%) attended High School and now that it is compulsory 20% drop out, or leave with little to show for their time. This would be the New Zealand experience as well.

The vision of New Hampshire accepts this reality and wants to redesign their high schools to recognise the talents, interests, passions and dreams of each students so that all can become successful learners.

They have developed six guiding principles - most of which will sound familiar to creative teachers.

1 Personalisation and relationships. Personalisation places each individual learner at the centre of educational provision. Schools need to focus on developing individual learning plans that create a real sense of belonging and enabling students to take ownership for their own learning. To be successful each learner needs student advocate or mentor. Personalisation of learning is seen as central to high school redesign.

2 Rigor and High Standards. Every student, the report states, deserves a course of study that allows them to learn in a deep and practical way.To achieve this requires high standards be to be expected of all students. Such standards should address character and emotional development as well as academic growth. They should address not only academic knowledge but also everyday life skills , problem solving, team building and time management. These sound very much like the NZ Curriculum's 'key competencies'.

3 Relevance and Engagement. Relevance, the report states, connects what students learn to the skills they practice in real life situations.By engaging every student in learning the number of students dropping out will be reduced -students gaining the skills they need to be successful and able to contribute to their communities. Learning opportunities could be provided through, internal credits, independent studies and by using courses provided through the Internet. There are schools in New Zealand already using these approaches and the innovative use of NCEA units tailored to suit individual student needs would fit into such an approach.

4 Results. Analyzing the results of innovative programmes would be vital to redesigned high schools. Such data should be used to determine steps to support a student's growth and help students understand whether he, or she, has reached set goals, and, for teachers, to see if a course needs modification.

5 Empowered Educators. ALL educators must become effective leaders, making choices as they serve the vision of the school. Teachers will need to change from delivering to mentoring and facilitating student learning.They will need to be active curriculum designers encouraging students to assume responsibility for their own learning and to move from teacher-centred to student-centred educators.This transition will require strong professional development and will lead to more exciting and rewarding careers for teachers.

Parent and school collaboration will be required. Such community involvement will create schools that share the responsibility for the delivery of eduction.

School will need to develop themselves as Professional Learning Communities to become places of continuous learning; vital and spirited environments in which there is an openness to ideas, information and insights. Mutual supportive relationships will be crucial to be successful. the school environment needs to be inclusive and school structures developed that facilitate engaged learning. As idealistic as this sounds it is both necessary and possible if every student is to leave the school system as an engaged and successful learner.

6 Follow the child. A student centred approach calls for personalized assessment so each learner can flourish in four domains: personally, socially, physically and academically. Each learner needs an educational plan personalized by analysis of who the student is as a person. Parents, educators and students work together to determine an individual student's pathway. Goals developed will be both short and long term and will draw on resources inside ad outside of the school. They will combine classroom and community learning, coached and mentored learning, and independent learning. All students' learning paths need to be monitored and delivery plans adjusted as required. Schools that develop this type of personalised approach to eduction help students learn more, and encourage more students to leave school with appropriate qualifications according to their particular needs well equipped for the next step in their lives.

Once again these are ideas that many schools are implementing, or considering, in many New Zealand High Schools.

This seems an important report - one that ought to influence the direction of our own secondary schools - schools whose structures and 'mindsets' face a past factory industrial era rather than a creative innovative future.

It asks school to think about the hours and days schools are open - features that reflect an agricultural heritage let alone an outdated industrial age.

Schools are being asked to allow their students to gain credits at various times and not necessarily inside the school walls, able to access both community and distant resources ; to acquire knowledge other than in traditional classrooms settings. Students need to master required course competencies in a variety of ways - in New Zealand the NCEA offers such a possibility but only if schools can see past their traditional subjects and structures. In this New Zealand, through the NCEA, is well ahead.

Personalizing learning asks school to develop programmes tailored to the needs, learning styles, interests and strengths of each learner.

The hope in New Hampshire is that the report will inspire high schools across the state to take advantage of the increased flexibility.

While back in New Zealand the debate is being distorted by self centred schools claiming that traditional practices, developing winner or loser students ( 'failure is good for kids') and antiquated Cambridge exams, are the way to go. They are, if we do not want to be seen as leaders in the field of creative teaching and learning.

We could be world leaders if we had the wit and imagination!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Action Plan 2 A Shared Inquiry Approach

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Students' research on eels, using information technology media, is well displayed on the wall of this year 6 classroom

It is a valuable idea for a school to define a basic inquiry approach to implement across the school, or curriculum areas, to ensure students develop an appreciation of 'how to learn how to learn' - to be aware of their own thinking processes.

Metacognition is a word used to describe the act of 'thinking about ones thinking'.

Students who can articulate what, why, how,and when,they are going to do anything, and know how to assess their own efforts (and to consider 'next time'), are 'powerful' learners.

While students can articulate, when asked, the process becomes automatic with use and is taken over by the unconscious mind, according to educator John Dewey.

Thinking,according to Dewey, begins with a state of doubt, with uncertainty; with a search for sense making or meaning. Such a thinkers usually have possible answers in mind but these have to be put to the test. Then decisions have to be made, depending on the strength of evidence uncovered. At times new directions simply 'emerge'. This is a lot 'messier' that many educationalists would suggest. Thinking , like many forms of creativity is not always linear! Changing our minds is part of the learning process.

There are a number of inquiry processes schools can make use of. They are all varieties of the same process. There needs to be a problem to solve, consideration of ways to research the problem ( and a possible division of tasks), presentation of findings and, to conclude, reflection on what has been learnt.

For some it is called 'action research' - the act of learning about anything through involvement in the task.

Essentially it is a 'learning cycle' of doing - talking about it - recording findings - and reflecting on what has been learnt.

The key to in depth research is to base the study on 'key' questions ( some call them a 'fertile' questions) or 'hook' questions. It it best to keep such overarching questions limited. As well as the study progresses new question may well emerge.

For research to be successful students need to be introduced to appropriate information gathering techniques so as to avoid the common practice of many students who simply copy down material from books or the Internet. All teachers need to teach their students this process.

When it comes to presenting their findings new skills need to be in place. Students may be able to complete research well but have no idea about how to present their finding so as others might want to read them. Aesthetic and design 'scaffolds' are one way to achieve this. Some schools have developed appropriate 'scaffolds' to suit the abilities of students at each level of the school. By year 5 or 6 students ought to be able to develop their own independently.

Some school utilize a 'co-constructivist' approach ( also called 'negotiated learning') where the student's are involved in all aspects of the inquiry process. This includes teachers not only valuing students questions but also their 'prior ideas'.

Teachers should ask four questions and then negotiate the answers with their students about any topic;

1 What do we know already? What are our 'prior ideas - or misconceptions. It is worthwhile recording these to later show how much the students have learnt.

2 What do we want to find out about? Or what are our questions, and what are our problems curiosities and challenges? ( It would be possible to base the years work around such student questions - some schools already do this).

3 How will we go about finding out? Where will we look? What experiments and inquiries will we make? What will we need? What information and resources are available? Who will do what and what should be the order of things?

4 How will we know, and show,what we have learnt
? Whom will we show and for whom are we doing the work,and where to next?

Student centred research is essentially common sense - the way students learn from birth and will continue to learn forever if it is not 'deadened' by schooling. Some call it 'enlightened trial and error' while others see it as the 'scientific method' - a problem to solve, clarification, hypothesis, testing, and conclusion.

All students are scientists at heart ( or vice versa), learning at the edge of their competence. Problem solving is the way we all satisfy our curiosity about things we don't know about.

Somewhere along the line we seem to have bypassed this natural way of learning in our schools. Learning with students makes teaching a more natural and enjoyable process.

We should stop trying to 'teach' things to our students and instead learn with them - offering them our knowledge as a resource for them to construct their own meanings.

When a study is chosen wise teachers, of course, will gather all the material they can to assist their students. They will also consider what 'big ideas' they will want their students to gain from the study and what the possible outcomes will be. Teacher have a vital role to keep their students on task , well equipped and well organised.

When the students are busy learning in depth content ( the 'stuff') they are also becoming aware of 'how to learn'.

This is creative teaching at its best.

Three excellent references:

Project Based Learning

learning by Design

Problem Based Learning

Action Plan 1 - room environments

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Photos from four schools whose rooms celebrate quality student 'work' across the curriculum.

Schools who value student's 'work' ensure their classrooms celebrate their students' creativity and inform all who visit what the students have achieved.

For such teachers the classroom is the 'third teacher' - the first being the teacher and the second the materials used by students to learn.

It is an excellent idea for all teachers in school to think carefully about the environments they create, for better or worse. This would make an ideal 'action plan' for a school to undertake. If given appropriate guidance such a 'plan' could culminate in all teachers having a 'walk and talk' staff meeting visiting all rooms to see what others have achieved.

If this were to be done there needs to be some sort of agreed criteria developed to assist teachers reflect on how well they are achieving what has been agreed to.

Some teachers may need to be convinced of the worth of such efforts and may consider it to be 'window dressing'! Consider the kind of environments teachers appreciate in their staff room or their own homes - all environments 'tell' messages about what is important. Aesthetics and visual design are becoming important elements in all aspects of our lives.

Certainly the commercial world is well aware of the power of aesthetics and visual display.

To start ask teachers to look at their rooms as they are now. Is there any sort of 'wow factor' to be seen? What 'messages' does the room give to a new students or a visiting parent or teacher?

How much of the material to be seen is commercially or teacher developed? As the year progresses rooms should celebrate student thinking and creativity.

A quick look around the school will soon show which teachers might be able to act as a design resource for others who might need assistance.!

Secondary school subject teacher's room ought to reflect the important 'messages', or big ideas, of their particular Learning Area, as expressed in the New Zealand Curriculum.

After a preliminary look at the room, to gain a 'first impression', take a close look at what is on display. Are there examples of well designed student work to be seen? Looking closer at such work, are students' questions, ideas, research and reflections to be seen? Is there any evidence of an inquiry approach being used?

Can you see a range of Learning Areas on display, if a primary class, or examples of students work in the subject if in a secondary room?

Is the work for the current study displayed with a clear heading ( preferably as a provocation or challenge). Are study questions and tasks to be seen? As the study is completed examples of students work should be added to the display.

Looking at the blackboards, or whiteboard, are tasks and goals for students clear?

If a school were to set out to develop powerful celebratory classrooms, that both inform and celebrate student thinking, then teachers need to given a term or so before a 'walk and talk' staff meeting is undertaken.

When all classroom celebrate students and teachers creativity it leaves a powerful impression in the minds of all who visit.

Well worth the effort.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Future directions from Aussie

Author Colin Mason. Mason is an ex Australian Senator and ex leader of the Australian Democratic Party. I have selected out his thoughts on education.

Colin Mason is impressed ( as I am) with the Met School established in Providence New York by Dennis Littky, as a model for future schools. He is not the only one impressed, Bill Gates is equally impressed and evidently has donated 52 million to establish 70 more Met Schools. Gates has commented that, 'Americas High Schools are obsolete and limiting - even ruining - the lives of millions of Americans every year'.

Strong words. If I were a Principal of a Secondary School I would want to know more about what is happening at the Met School.

Established in 1996 by Dennis Littky, Met School is based on 'students being helped one student at a time' and students (many from 'the wrong side of the tracks') stay with their teacher 'adviser' for four years, pursuing largely individual goals. The major objective of the school is to teach students how to learn and think, and to pursue their interests in purposeful ways.

Personalised learning!

Mason believes that the future will require innovative happy people who recognise and value their own creativity, abilities and ambitions and are confidant in pursuing them.

To achieve this for all students, he believes, would require dramatic changes for our current schools; a real move away from the conservative elements of traditional academic schooling.

Mason admires the writings of American professor John Dewey, who wrote early last century, that schools should be based on activities and experiments permitting students to develop their natural creativity in democratic communities.

He also admires the ideas of ex Catholic priest Ivan Illich who believed that schools should be abolished and education be based on real life situations.

Teachers in such visions 'visions' are to be seen as learning guides, facilitating each individuals student's learning process, individual needs and curiosities.

Unfortunately secondary schooling has changed little over the past 150 years. Conventional schools continue to use the same transmission techniques and still group their students according to age cohorts taught by isolated subject teachers.

All too often such schools are boring places, writes Mason. I am sure many students would agree. He quotes Alvin Toffler ( of 'future shock' fame), who says, 'mass education was an ingenious machine constructed by industrialisation to produce the kind of adults it needed....our schools face backwards to a dying system, rather than forwards to the emerging new society which will require students with future in their bones'.

The 'future in their bones' - the future needs to be in the teachers bones first! For some teachers it would be like asking dinosaurs to dance!

Traditional education still holds a strong grip on our secondary schools and, so far, few leaders have emerged to challenge such an outdated model.

There are aspects of traditional education Mason would want to hold on to but he believes all young people need:

To develop a respect and love for the planet, all it's life forms and ecosystems, and for this to be taught by seeing and doing; by being involved in nature early in life.

To be involved in classroom democracy learning to handle personnel relationships and responsibility in the process.

To have their human abilities, creativity and potential encouraged and valued.

Literacy and numeracy, Mason believes, should be linked to maturation and be develop as appropriate and not, as at present, being forced unnaturally, creating, in the process, a sense of failure in many students. Mason is critical of system that 'hothouses' early literacy and numeracy and quotes successful countries ( Switzerland and Finland) that don't teach such things formally until age 6 or 7 and still do well in international tests. Research, he believes, shows such students make better reading progress than those taught earlier.

I guess Mason is questioning 'what is basic?'

Eduction for older students needs to be more experimental and flexible and make use of the power of modern information technology. Children learn naturally by asking questions and an education based on following up such concerns do not easily fit into any 'organised' curriculum. Schools, Mason writes, should build on, and amplify, children's' natural way of learning.

Mason appreciates that the ideas he is expressing are in conflict with the 'clockwork universe' ideas of the 19th C which assumed a standard and arbitrary body of knowledge to be 'delivered' regardless of student's abilities, interests, or capabilities.

Schools, he believes, need to offer choice and opportunity for students to learn what is most useful to them. Students should be able to study subjects as long as it takes for them to to appreciate excellence. They need to be encouraged to draw their own conclusions, criticize, and put forward their own ideas, not just sit, listen and regurgitate.

Mason believes we need a 'new' education that values:

originality rather than conformity
excellence rather than mediocre standards
rather than a fixed curriculum
motivation through intrinsic rather than imposed discipline.
freedom for students to choose areas of studies according their needs
maximum use of information technology so students can access the 'best' teachers.

Nothing will happen, in my experience, unless leadership is taken at the individual school level. Such leadership will require real courage to explore such unknown territory.

There are some signs this is happening.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Te Kotahitanga - making a difference

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Teachers and students at Massey High School- Te Kotahitanga in action.

The Te Kotahitanga Project was developed by Russel Bishop and his team at Waikato University School of Education supported by the Ministry of Education's Maori in Mainstream Strategy ( Te Tere Auraki).

It is great to see the ideas now being extended to more schools and that any school now can make use of the findings.

As planned and introduced into schools it is an ideal way to ensure real transformational change happens in a Secondary School.

And there is plenty of information to assist schools and teachers who really want to make difference for their Maori students. If the ideas were implemented, as suggested there is a good possibility that the new understandings, 'mindsets' and enhanced pedagogy developed will spread throughout the school and, in the process, help all students succeed.

The Te Kotahitanga research project set out to investigate how the achievement of year 9 and 10 Maori students could be improved. It involved entering into dialogue ( narratives of experiences) with students, their parents, teachers and principals and resulted in an 'effective teachers profile' and ideas about how to establish effective learning contexts.

The main conclusion was that the most important influence on Maori students was the in-class face-to-face relationships and interaction between the teachers and the Maori students. 'Deficit theorizing' ( blaming school failure on the students and their backgrounds) and associated low expectations was seen as the major implements to Maori student achievement.

The key to improving student achievement was improving teacher pedagogical skill through focused professional development that encouraged teachers to place students in non-confrontational authentic learning situations and for teachers to reflect on the teaching and to gain ongoing 'feedback' and support. In essence teachers were to be seen as learners themselves.

The research's conclusion showed that, not only did student achievement improve, but that teachers also increased their caring, raised their expectations and focused less on student behaviour and more on students' learning. And, no doubt, school was more enjoyable for teachers and students alike.

The results showed real growth in the efficacy and agency of both teachers and their students, assisted teachers challenge their assumptions and in the process developed stronger more positive teaching beliefs. The latter is seen as vtally important as there is a growing body of research that indicates that it is the teachers performance that has the most effect on student learning.

None of this would be exceptional for teachers who believe in a student centred ( or 'personalised') approach to learning but for teachers, whose methods of teaching have been influenced by the traditional 'transmission' approach, it would be 'mind changing' experience. It is no surprise that Russell Bishop and Ted Glyn called their excellent book: 'Culture Counts- Changing Power Relations in Education.'.This book outlined their belief in valuing the 'prior ideas' that students bring to any learning and that knowledge needs to be 'co-created' by students and teachers working together.

All teachers ( including those without Maori students as well) should start looking at the quality of their relationships with their students. Teachers might think they have good relationships with their students but might be surprised by students' views on this issue. Teachers could ascertain this by having conversations with their students, or by conducting surveys.

Teachers could also question their expectations of Maori children ( and all students) to avoid 'deficit thinking' so as not to fall into the trap of blaming the student.

Couture does 'count' and Maori culture should be reflected throughout the curriculum and the school environment. Secondary teachers could learn much from their primary colleagues about developing stimulating classroom environments that reflect the identity, views and thinking of their students.

Productive partnership with students and their teachers are vital. Students' questions, views and 'prior' idea need to be valued, learning experiences and tasks negotiated so students develop a sense of 'ownership'. Expectations need to be made clear and 'feedback' given to ensure all students gain success.

Teachers need to encourage parents to share in their students learning and to value their input and knowledge.

The teacher collective sense of agency and efficacy is vital. Teachers need to reflect on the repertoire of teaching strategies they make use of in their classrooms and to understand that some strategies are more helpful than others - such things as co-operative learning, formative 'feedback' and goals setting, involving students in planning their own learning, and basing learning on 'rich real and relevant' curriculum challenges

Massey High School is well on the way it seems.

Teachers at Massey have had the professional development to believe in the promise that they can make a real difference and, as well, to contribute to developing their school as a professional culture of continual improvement. Changing power relationships is the key to school transformation and Massey High School teachers,according to their Principal, are taking more risks and trying new things.

The next step would be to critically challenge the traditional assumption that lie behind the dominant 'transmission' secondary school model, with its fragmented mechanistic timetables, and to develop the new structures and approaches to education required in the 21stC.

This would make a difference!

To Kotahitanga research is too important to be left to apply to Maori students.

For further ideas:

The 4th June Ministry of Education Gazette.
Te Mana Korero 2 Teachers Making a Difference for Maori Students Facilitation Handbook. Excellent material ( see page 8)
There is a summary of Te Kotahitanga Research on the Ministry of Education site .

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Three Keys to change

If you had to change or die -would you?

An articel based on a new book 'Change or Die: The Three Keys of Change' provides insights into making real lasting changes in the most difficult of situations.

The article makes the point this is not about making the 'normal' changes that happen all the time. It is normal to experiment, to get exited about new ideas, and we all learn from experience as we respond to new challenges. Some of us are better at change than others but we are all resilient and creative, to a greater or lesser degree. Younger people cope with change more easily than older people as they have not become so fixed in their ways but every one can change.

The article asks what if you were in life or death situation would you change? Yes is the obvious answer but the odds are against you by nine to one!

Three examples from the book are given.

In the health area people remain sick because of how they choose to lead their lives - too much smoking, drinking and lack of exercise. What is more shocking is that when asked to change life styles( or die) following traumatic heart surgery fewer than 3% do!

But it has been found 77% of patients stick with their lifestyle changes when they were involved with a range of therapies( it didn't matter which) that required them to take part in regular group conversations.

The second example relates to prison inmates after they are released. Normally 35% of inmates are rearrested within six months and 65% within three years. Rehabilitation seems of little use.

In San Fransisco there is an exception, a city block has been had become a residence where 500 criminal live and work together with one professional staffer.The felons run the place themselves , taking responsibility for each other, kicking out anyone who uses drugs, alcohol, or those who use threats of violence. Although most of them are illiterate they teach each other marketable skills, run businesses and support themselves with the profits. 60 % of people who enter make it through to lead lawful productive lives; in contrast to 6 out of 10 'normal' released inmates return to crime.

The third example of dramatic lasting change occurred in a American failing car manufacturing firm that was taken over by Toyota. Toyota set about creating a new sense of mutual trust ( not part of the previous management style) amongst the suspicious workers and within three months the factory was rolling out cars with hardly any defects - an incredible feat. Workers were now being asked for their ideas on improving quality- a new experience for them.

The heart patients, the ex-convicts, and the car workers, had all proved the 'experts' wrong.

The changes were not made because of facts, figures or 'evidence', or because people are rational, or that knowledge is power, nor even through fear,crisis, or authority; but they did change, even in such 'impossible' situations.

The book, and article, presents a simple idea - that virtually anyone can change if they can change their deep-rooted patterns ( 'mindsets') of how they think, feel and act. And that this change can occur with surprising speed even when people feel powerless or the situation hopeless.

It is not possible to sum up all the aspects of making such changes but there are three change keys that underpin all examples.

The first is relate. If you form an emotional relationship with a person or community that inspires and sustains hope. It seems you need the influence of seemingly 'unreasonable' people to restore your hope - to make you believe that you can change and expect that you will change. This is an act of 'selling' - the community, or leaders, have to make you really believe you have the ability to change. They have to 'sell' themselves as your partners, mentors, role models, and sources of new knowledge and specific strategies.

The second key to change is repeat. The new relationship helps you practice and master new habits and skills that you'll need. It takes lots of repetition, over time, before new patterns of behaviour becomes automatic and seem natural- until you can use them without thinking.It helps to have a great teacher, coach, or mentor, to give you guidance, encouragement and direction along the way. Change doesn't just requires 'selling' but also 'training'.

The final key is to reframe. the new relationship helps you learn new ways of thinking about your situation ( your 'mindset') and your life. You are able to look at the world in a new way - you have literally 'changed your mind'.

These are the three keys to change: relate, repeat,and reframe.

New hope, new skills, and new thinking.

This may sound simple but the article writer assures us that it is not. Too many people, who run our organisations, are trapped in old, 'facts, fear and force', thinking.

But with these keys you have all you need to get started.

To me they would work well in a school -particularly a school with numbers of students who are 'failing'. The ideas have much in common with the research behind the excellent Kotahitanga Project develop by Waikato University, or the thinking behind the move towards 'personalised learning', or the powerful 'learning communities' ideas developed by creative teachers and schools.

The same underlying principles are the 'active ingredients' to unlock profound change in any situation. They are easily understood and available to be applied by anyone who wants to make a real difference.

The common belief is the importance of positive relationships that inspire hope and and self belief.

The book referred to is 'Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life', by Alan Deutschman. The article referred to is published in the magazine Fast Company.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Encouraging the talents of all our students

To thrive in the future NZ needs an education system that develops the talents of all its students.

It would be great if all schools were able to create an environment where all students felt that their ideas,interests and talents were recognized, amplified and valued.

Unfortunately our current system seems to value literacy and numeracy above 'learnacy' and an academic curriculum above one based on developing students' 'genius',interests and talents.

It was Howard Gardner ( "Frames of Mind') who added an 's' intelligence breaking away from the traditional of a single IQ theory. Gardner defines intelligences as: the ability to solve problems that one encounters in real life; the ability to generate new problems to solve; and the ability to make something or offers a service that is valued within one's culture.

Gardner has developed eight distinct intelligences: verbal linguistic; logical mathematical; spatial- artistic; musical; bodily kinesthetic; interpersonal; intra-personal; and naturalistic.

It is essential, according to Gardner, to not see these as fixed categories and that we all have elements of each intelligence within us to different degrees. He believes they all are 'teachable' and can be further developed given the right environment.

If students do not get the right experiences their potential will be limited. According to Sir Ken Robinson ( a creativity expert - search Google) school stamps each of us with deep impression of what we not are capable of and in the process leads to an incalculable waste of human talents. Until humans find their 'medium', he writes, they will never realize who they might become.

The challenge for an education system is to ensure all students receive the education to students inclinations, or dispositions, into fully fledged abilities or talents.

There are several ways schools can develop their students talents. Lots of programmes focus on specific talent areas like sports, drama, school performances, or music. In most cases the best way is to introduce students is through 'rich' integrated topics that lead naturally into whatever intelligences are appropriate.

An important message is to to do fewer studies well, in more depth, to allow for in-depth thinking and understanding.

All studies the class undertakes will provide students with choices to process, communicate, or express ideas that will relate to their particular talents. Interesting topics will provide the means to activate students latent talents.

Gardner argues that such topics should be studied in depth through broad, robust, 'rich' studies . Gardner believes that it is not always required to try to include every intelligence in every topic - ths would diminish the power of the idea . Some topics will themselves focus on a particular intelligence but all topics can be developed through other intelligences.

Well before the idea of multiple intelligences creative teachers utilized such understanding through integrated studies so the ideas are hardly new.

The key, as always, is to do what is selected well. It is important that students be challenged to to push their understanding to the limit and for students to be given plenty of time to practice the skills they are developing in meaningful contexts.

When school studies are based on students interests and develop students talents all students will be able to leave school feeling successful.

We want students to discover, and develop to the fullest, their talents,abilities, and interests, and to learn how to apply those talents in the world beyond the classroom.

The challenge for teachers is to find, and amplify, hidden talents and to build on those the students bring with them.

Such talents have the potential to develop into future careers.

Multiple intelligences provide an opportunity to give all students the feeling and joy of success and the ability to make a full contribution to class studies. The teachers role is to inspire and empower students - to be talent scouts - providing whatever help they can.

With an appreciation of multiple intelligences ( and learning styles) no student need leave school feeling a failure; all too often the present experience for far too many students.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The future is coming -are we ready?

A book we all should read 'New Zealand Unleashed' by Steven Carden.

The future is coming but are we ready for it is the theme of Steven Cardin's book. the book looks at what sort of society New Zealand will need to be to best tackle an unpredictable future. It is about how New Zealand can thrive on the uncertainty of the future, rather than fear and resist it.

Steven Cardin is management consultant working for McKinsey and Co who has just returned to NZ from overseas. He was one of the five New Zealanders to be awarded an inaugural Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leaders Award.

I think we should 'listen' to what he has to say.

The three traits that determines a countries ( or an organisation like a school) success are:

1 Lots of ideas have to generated - he calls this creativity and creativity fuels innovation. Therefore it needs to be encouraged and nurtured.

2 The ideas of others needs to be absorbed. Being a 'sponge' for ideas develops the vibrancy to adapt.

3 An adaptive society( or an organisation such as a school ) needs to be willing to change. Tolerance towards change allows the hard decisions to be made.

This, Cardin suggests, is no miracle cure but the solutions are to be found in the way we think; in our attitudes as much as our actions. It seems, from reading the book, there are more reasons not to change than to do so, but if we want to thrive as successful nation in the future we will have no choice. The same applies to each of us and to organisations such as schools.

My advice is to buy the book and start to think about 'our' future - and what we need to do as a nation( or as a school) to thrive.

Has anyone out there read it?

More learning styles

The four characters in the sit-com Seinfeld represent aspects of the four basic learning styles.

Kramer - the intuitive and creative thinker.
Jerry - the logical thinker.
Elaine - the caring emotional individual.
George - the procedural and practical.

The four styles: the head - the thinker; the hand - the practical; the mind's eye - the imaginative; and the heart - the caring person

Of course no one is a pure style and, if they were, they would be interesting people indeed! Dr Spock, in Star trek, represents the pure unemotional logical style - he would make an interesting School Review Officer! We are all our own special mix but we do have preferences, as do all our students.

Just imagine a school run by any one of the Seinfeld cast.

Kramer's school would be different - full of 'off the wall' ideas. George's would be boring ( or is that my bias?) and Elaine's all a bit emotional. Possibly Jerry would be the best bet but he would aways be worrying about it was going all the time. Perhaps he would make a better ERO officer than Dr Spock! Personally I would like ERO full of Kramer's to compensate for the present lot!

It is pretty obvious that the style of a leader influences the direction of the school ( for better or worse) and the best situation would to have input from a diverse team to ensure all points of view were represented.

In a class the teachers style can equally be the limiting factor - it is important for teachers to plan activities with the four basic styles in mind.

This was the point of my previous blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Group work and learning styles

A simple four group rotation covers all learning styles

It seems, these days, new ideas come along, pushed by their enthusiastic supporters, which inadvertently make teaching more complicated.

All too often these ideas are not that new and are often already in place in many classrooms without teachers even knowing it. One such idea is 'learning styles'.

All sorts of 'learning styles inventories' are 'peddled' around schools simply adding more confusion to what already is a difficult job.

Teachers of young people have aways known that their students are all different but as students go through the system they are increasingly treated as if they have more in common with each other. Those who don't learn, it's their fault, they just didn't have what it takes - old fashioned exams proved this!

But if we want all students to realise their full potential ( usually written into every school's charter) then their individual talents and styles need to be recognised. A standardized system 'one size fits all' does not fit anyone. All too often school failures are students whose learning styles have been ignored or neglected.

Most teachers use for literacy ( and often numeracy) a four group rotational system which allows them to work with small groups while the other students get on with their assigned tasks.

It turns out such teachers are using the major findings of learning styles thinking.

The concept of 'fourness' has been around since the ancient Greeks. It seems people fit into four basic types or personalities. In the 30s Carl Jung clarified such ideas. He developed them into four functions relating to how we absorb and judge information.

These functions create the four basic styles
that, interestingly enough, relate to the main characters in 'Star Trek', or the TV sit-com 'Seinfeld'.

In 'Star Trek' the hard logic of Spock is the 'thinking style', the 'free wheeling' Captain Kirk represents the 'imaginative style'; the 'hands on' engineer Scotty represents the 'practical style'; and the caring Dr Bones the 'feeling style'. In 'Seinfeld', Jerry's obsession with analyzing everything ( thinking style), Kramer's 'off the wall' plans ( the imaginative style) , George's procedural rigidity (the realistic 'practical style') and Elaine's burning need to loved ( the 'interpersonal feeling style').

The four identified styles are:

Interpersonal Style - sociable,,feeling and relating.
Understanding Style - likes to think things through ( researching).
Mastery style - action orientated, practical, realistic, remembering.
Self Expressive Style - imaginative, developing creative ideas

Of course every one of us uses a mixture of styles but we do have preferences, and each style can be amplified through practice and experience. Every student will develop their own learning profile and teachers need to cater for all styles by developing a range of suitable tasks.

Integrated programmes naturally cover all learning styles as does a well organised literacy programme, as mentioned earlier.

The four reading groups teachers rotate are ; shared reading ( interpersonal); reading for comprehension ( understanding); some practical work ( mastery); and some imaginative work ( expressive).

If you want a simple symbol for each group they are: the heart ( interpersonal) ; the head ( thinking); the hand ( mastery); and the eye ( imagination. Teachers could place the appropriate symbol by the appropriate group - learning styles without effort!

In content studies the approach works just as well but is not often seen. A group working with the teacher doing an experimental activity; a group researching negotiated key questions; a 'hand on' practical activity; and an imaginative task applying what they have learnt.

It seems nothing is really new. People just keep eventing new terms for old ideas but it is important that both teacher, and students, develop awareness of their particular mix of learning styles

Maybe, in the past, the successful students are those styles who matched the style of their teachers!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Observation and learning styles

The results of some serious looking by a ten year old who has learnt the 'secret' of observation.

One skill, not taken seriously by many schools, is that of learning to really observe -too many children look but do not see. The key to observational drawing is simple - look - draw - look - draw - until finished. Often students look once and then fall back on cliches they have in their heads!

In the 60s, when the beginnings of creative education were being established in New Zealand, observing was not encouraged as it was thought it limited children's curiosity. This in turn was a reaction to a conformist approach to 'art' in the 1940s that emphasized copying.

Observational art is now established as a common practice in many schools but, all too often, it is seen as an isolated task and not the beginning of the creative process. This is a shame because, if it is not extended, it may be a limiting process emphasizing realism over imagination.

The first thing for teachers to remember is that all students have their own 'style' of drawing and if this is recognised then all drawing will reflect the personal style of the young artists. This does not mean that students ought not be assisted to look carefully - quite the opposite - it is just a warning not to be so 'good' a teacher that all drawings look the same.

While drawing students need to be encouraged to 'slow the pace' of their work to allow them to notice patterns, shapes, textures and colours - as well this 'slowing the pace' gives time for teachers to come along side their students to assist as necessary.

As students are focusing on drawing it is an idea to ask them to use their imagination to think about the object they are drawing. How did it come to be as it it? What will happen to it? What might the object symbolize - what similes or metaphors come to mind? One idea is to select a small aspect of the object and to draw, when enlarged and painted, such a drawing will be the basis for a piece of abstract art ( except to the artist). Drawing can also be 'deconstructed' and redrawn into a new shape. This might lead into a study of the artistic process used by some artists.

Students might also be asked to reflect on the feelings they get when they look at what they are drawing - such ideas might be developed into small thought poems.

What questions come to mind that they might want to know more about? How did it get to look like it does now? Such questions could well be the beginning of an in-depth study.Imagine students drawing a photo of an ancient castle, or a spider, or a symmetrical object.

Observation is more than just drawing.

It is possibly the most basic skill of all. As such it ought not be limited to an isolated activity; it is far too important.

The students who see more, have more thoughts, will develop a greater vocabulary - this surely is the beginning of literacy.

And they will have developed a range of ways of interpreting their environment and their experiences.

See articles on our website for further ideas.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Matariki -Maori New Year.

Known to different ancient cultures around the world by a variety of names the Maori called this star cluster Matariki - for them it marked the beginning of the New Year.

I would hope as I visit classrooms in the next few weeks I would see evidence of an awareness of Matariki - or the Maori New Year. Obviously it ties in with the shortest day - or the middle of Winter.

I wouldn't expect a major study ( but I cant see why it could not be one) but some recognition of the event would surely indicate that the school was taking Maori culture seriously. Matariki is one of the most significant celebrations in the Maori calendar and is becoming more well known in recent years. All New Zealand students should have some understanding of its significance, and not only to the Maori as their research will tell.

What a great way to search the Internet to research what it means.

A small wall display with a suitable heading, a few key questions and some student research, would be all that is needed.

Recognition of such events that will contribute to the development and appreciation of a diverse but inclusive New Zealand culture. Classes that take advantage of such 'teachable moments' are helping students develop a consciousness of 'our' distinctive unique culture. It will help them see 'us' as special in an increasingly global world.

It is such 'signs' of our distinctive culture that I look for when I visit rooms - it shows me that there is a teacher that cares about such things.

There is such a lot of good material to refer on the web.

The rest is over to teachers' imagination

Matariki - the New Beginning

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Transforming secondary schools.

If you are riding a dead horse the best advice is to get off and try something new.

The number of reports published worldwide about transforming High Schools would fill a library on their own but for all the fine words little has changed.

But if a country is to develop citizens to meet the needs of 21stC we just have to move away from the norms that governed factory era schools.

The most persistent norm that stand in the way is isolated teaching in stand alone classrooms. The 21stC schools will need to transform themselves into learning communities where teachers learn to share their expertise.

Teachers would then be able to transform their personal knowledge into a collectively built cohesive professional knowledge base.

This doesn't seem to much to ask but it is rarely found.

It is not an impossible dream and those schools that have achieved such things are far better places to learn and teach in - and for new teachers to be inducted into.

When teachers work collegially they are able to share their expertise, have candid conversations about whatever concerns them, and to reflect on actions they have jointly taken.

Unfortunately it is the students who suffer most when left with an isolated struggling teacher; teachers who are all to often loath to admit their failings to others. Such school cultures are negative learning places but they still are the norm.

Quality learning and teaching should be the number one focus of the school leader(s) and be the responsibility of the entire school community. Fostering such a supportive environment help new, or struggling teachers, encourages good teachers to become great teachers and, most of all, creates a quality learning environment for students.

When teachers work in teams with students, undertaking action, or research based learning, on often interdisciplinary projects, everybody wins.

Wouldn't it be great to envision a school culture in which experienced and beginning teachers worked together on mentoring student inquiries as well as as sharing inquiry into effective practices.It is this sort of teamwork that the real world expects of future workers. The best place to learn such 'competencies is at school.

The trouble is that too many parents and teachers find it hard to move away from the factory model schools with their genesis in the last century. All too often teachers in such schools never see another person teach - this privatisation of practice is holding schools and students to ransom. Teachers all to often left on their own, unable to learn from their more experienced associates.

It is over to teachers and schools to do the learning - isn't that what schools are for?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sharing the wisdom of creative teachers

A creative teacher taking advantage of the 'teachable moment'! A smelly but fascinating wasp nest

I have always enjoyed sharing the ideas of creative teachers.

I strongly believe that it is only from such teachers that realistic ideas are realized or developed
. I gained this insight ( or wisdom) early in my career as an itinerant school adviser. In this role I was able to visit teachers whose rooms shone out through the creative accomplishments of their students; today we would say such rooms had the 'wow factor'. My original role may have been to give 'advice' but I learnt far more by observing such teachers and helping them as best I could.

I really enjoyed these teachers because they represented what education is all about - helping all students 'open their eyes' to new experiences and, in the process, developing whatever talents they had.

These teachers I observed worked hard but really enjoyed what they were doing. These teachers were extremely proud of what their students could achieve, whether their art work, their creative language, or the studies they undertook.

Thankfully such teachers still exist today and, to be honest, they were never to be found in great numbers - even if few in numbers their ideas had the power to spread far and wide assisted by advisers such as myself and by other teachers who had the good fortune to visit their rooms. To this day I believe that visiting creative teachers ( or better still creative schools) is the best way to develop professional wisdom. Seeing is believing - or at least believing it can be done! Today, during such visits, I observe true 'learning conversations' and transformations in the making.

Creative teacher, then and now, take professional risks, gaining satisfaction in the growth they see in their students -and growth that cannot always be easily measured. The growth such teachers 'feel' is the growth in human spirit that comes from students achieving beyond what they could have ever imagined without their teachers involvement but with the thought that they did it themselves!

Such teachers create their 'magical' classrooms by never accepting less than the best their students can do; they work hard to provide their students the courage to be learners not 'pawns'. Students, in such classrooms, learn their is always more to do that learning is a continual process of becoming.

Teachers, in such dynamic classrooms, are collaborators with each of their students on their personal learning journeys - a journeys where there can be no maps.

Creative teachers spin their, often uncertain, ideas into a tapestry of understanding that others can interpret, share and build on - and certainly I have been caught up in the 'magic' of it all.

So I write this 'blog' to share the insights of such teachers and to encourage others to do likewise
; even if it means teachers 'stepping out of the box' of current expectations.

Today's teachers have the challenge to to 'weave their students spectrum of interests and talents' so they will be able to thrive in what will be an uncertain but exciting future.

My advice to teachers, who sense there is more to teaching than they currently experience, is to search out creative teacher to learn from and share with and, in the process, develop supportive networks to give each other the courage to be creative learners themselves.

In the past century progressive educator John Dewey wrote, ' One of the saddest things about is that the wisdom of our most successful teachers is lost to to the profession when they retire'. Unfortunately it is all too often not recognised even before they retire.

Sculman (87) argues that, 'teaching is characterized by a collective and individual amnesia - the the consistency with which the best creations of its practitioners are constantly being lost to both current and future peers. There is a wonderful history of creative practice past and present we cannot afford to lose'.

There is a need to track down and share such creative teachers wisdom.

As we seem to be leaving the worst of the standardized curriculums, imposed the past decades, and enter what some are calling 'the age of ideas and creativity', a more creative 'personalised approach' will be vital.

A true revolution must be led by creative teachers
- the 'others' will rush to join the parade when they see what it is creative teachers believe in is working.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Developing pride through achievement.

One school I visit in Howick has its own kiln to fire students work.

Working to achieve ones 'personal best' is stated as one of the beliefs of many schools I visit. Certainly it is an important part of my own philosophy - 'to do fewer things well' so as to achieve work of depth, whether it is in art, maths, language or science.

All too often, in the rush to cover ( or 'deliver' ) the curriculum, many students do not get to 'feel' the success experienced when they do something that surprises them - something beyond what they imagined they could do.

And, all too often, the 'message' many students gain from their school experience is 'first finished is best'. They are encouraged to 'measure' their success by how quickly they complete their work, rather than by how thoughtful they were in doing it.

Teachers need to replace this self defeating idea with one that values doing things really well. If we want our students to develop a sense of personal quality, to value effort, perseverance, and learning through 'enlightened trial and error', we must introduce tasks to develop these traits, or 'habits of mind'.

We need to be clear that ideas of craftsmanship, and a sense of pride gained through real achievement, are important in all aspects of life

Exploring various artistic media is one way to develop this but all human activities provide the aesthetic satisfaction gained through doing a job well.

When students explore clay they first have to search for an idea they want to express.Then they have to explore what clay can and can't do in the process gaining specific skills. They have to work though trial and error, keeping what works, to eventually realise their final work of art - which may, or may not, resemble what they first envisaged in their imagination.

This process is a metaphor for life itself and, through such involvement, students sense what true learning is all about; that the 'messy' creative process mimics life itself!

Clay has more magic to offer. The work, when dry, is placed in kiln and emerges a different texture all together. The adding of glazes extends the process even further and, perhaps, is the most magic phase of all. The possibility to introduce some science into the experience is there for the taking - the change in the clay and the glazes and the measurement and effect of temperature. Some models will not make it through the firings but such disappointment is also part of life and the answer is to learn from the experience - life is aways 'next time'.

The teacher, as a skilled 'learning guide', is present at all stages helping students gain the skill in handling the clay and to develop their understanding of the process involved. He,or she,is continually entering into 'learning conversations' with the learners, providing guidance and assistance as required, all the time keeping in mind the need to protect each student's individuality and creativity.

Such teachers, in any area of the curriculum, are teaching students the real purpose of creation - to do ones personal best and to learn about themselves in the process.

And who know some might even turn out to be potters!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The craft of teaching.

Tasks defined on the blackboard (using dust free chalk/pastel) .

There is a lot of talk of the 'artistry' of teaching - the ability of a teacher to come alongside their students to have focused 'learning conversations', providing challenges, choices and feedback, depending on the needs of each learner. These days it is called 'formative assessment' but, in earlier days, it was simply called'kid watching'.

For a while this valuing of the teachers skill has had to play second fiddle to a wrongly perceived importance of complicated rational curriculums arranged in strands, levels and endless learning objectives. The teachers role was demeaned to 'deliver' and assess such incoherent fabrications.

Teacher 'artistry' is obviously of paramount importance but classroom management has a vital role to play - the 'craft' of teaching - to allow teachers to 'personalize' their assistance.

In most classrooms such organisations are easily seen in regard to literacy and numeracy programmes but all too often lacking when it comes to the content studies. As a result the energy and power created by powerful studies is lost.

In learning centred classrooms ( rooms where students 'work' as 'researchers') tasks need to be negotiated with the students and, as well, an organisation developed to allow students to get on with their tasks. As all students can't work at the same task at the same time a form of rotational timetable provides an excellent way to complete tasks and to share resources such as ICT and teacher time.

Rotational group work works well for reading and maths blocks and a similar arrangement is ideal for content studies ( usually p.m. programme). Sensible teachers develop skills such as graphing ( if graphs are required) and how to research in the morning programmes. The content studies provide, as mentioned, the 'energy' to teach such skills in context.

Such routines and procedures provide learner with the necessary sense of routine to get on with their work. Students ideally ought to be involved in establishing guidelines and procedures.

When such procedures are in place it allows both students to get on with their work independently and teachers ( and parent helpers) to focus on a particular group ( to teach a set skill) or an individual in need.

Such organisations are pivotal to establishing task orientated classrooms. Students who know what ,when, and how, to do what has been negotiated with them, and who are clear about what makes their work excellent, create the atmosphere of a true 'learning community'.

In such an environment students know what to do when 'stuck', know to get on with other tasks when current work is complete and are never at a loss about what to do.

It all might look easy to a casual observer but it is the result of quality prior teaching.

The classroom as a family

The Russian doll metaphor would be more accurate if each doll showed greater individuality!

Long ago John Dewey wrote that what every parent wants for their own child should be provided to all children. He believed strongly in the concept of community - a community that respected the contributions and individuality of every learner as long as others were not put at risk.

The concept of a 'learning community', based on caring moral beliefs, is once again in vogue but it is still not easy to replace traditional 'mindsets' about school and relationship based on who holds the power. Today the true power, or authority, that teachers possess is the power of establishing positive relationship with all their students.

Thankfully there are always teachers who are able to create classroom where all students feel comfortable - even with students who have reputations for causing 'trouble' in other classes. Such teachers treat all class members with the respect and expectations they hold for their own family.

They 'know' a few important things:

They know that all children are both like all others and are different from all others.
They know they all need unconditional acceptance for who they are.
They know all children want to believe they can become something better than they are- and that the key is to tap into their students dreams, interests and passions.
They know children need help live up to their dreams.
They know all children want to make sense of their experiences.
Children make better sense if teachers work with them; when teachers accept their ideas and help them extend them.
Children need action, joy and peace.
Children need to feel they have power over their own lives and need to be helped to make their own choices - and to learn from their mistakes.
Children need to be helped to use their power wisely and to think of consequences particularly as it affects others.
And most of all children need to feel secure enough to take learning risks.

These understandings , often not explicit, make up a perceptive teachers set of teaching beliefs.

The focus of such teachers is to make children happy ( often through the pride gained achieving difficult tasks).Their goal is to make their students more responsible and independent.

Such teachers observe children learning carefully monitoring growth and providing guidance as required. They celebrate, build on, and amplify each students strengths. They provide guidance, discipline and support as necessary, being careful not to encourage an unhealthy dependency.

Such teachers are proud of all their students achievements - proud of them for their particular mix of gifts and talents; and they make it clear they give up on no one.

Such teachers are examples of 'tough love' teaching ; high on standards but short on standardization.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A simple but effective vision


One school I have worked with has used their name (resting canoe in Maori) and three Norfolk Pine trees ( both contribute to their logo and school uniform emblem) to develop into a vision, values, and teaching beliefs that underpin all the decisions and choices the school makes.

The three trees have been 're-invented' to stand for their values : respect, responsibility and reflection - their 'three Rs'.

To add 'learning power' to the 'resting canoe' the school has developed six paddles to represent their teaching beliefs. These paddles are not only used for teachers to base their teaching on but they are also used as the basis of the school teacher appraisal system and for teacher self reference.

The six paddles are:

1 Foundation Skills in place.
2 Students as powerful learners
3 To present challenging learning experiences to our students.
4 Expecting only our students personal best ( the school vision as well)
5 We see teachers as learning coaches.
6 Focused and celebratory room environments.

Each paddle is defined by more specific agreed actions to be taken to achieve it.

(Every school will have their own priorities to define their teaching points.)

The principal uses the 'model' to discuss the school with visitors and new parents and teachers ensure that all students are aware of the story behind their logo and uniform emblem. The students, after six years, leave with them as part of their learning.

The simple vision, values and teaching beliefs create a 'common language' for all to use at the school.

For those who are interested there is a school vision on our website that you might consider modifying for your school. You would just have to pick your own metaphor to create your own 'story' around.
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Imaginative art by 6 year olds


Three supermarket pictures and work arising from a 'sun smart' unit.

It was great visit a school last week to see a range of quality children's' work.

The student's in one class had obviously visited the local supermarket as part of one of their studies. Not an uncommon event but, in the hands of a perceptive teacher, the class members took the time to really take in the experience through their senses.

On return to the class the 'rich' experience was then interpreted by the children with the obvious help of a creative teacher - a teacher who values coming alongside the students to help all students succeed .

The students also learn in the process that a thing worth doing is worth doing well.

Their was a obvious pride by the students in their work.

To me, this small episode of teaching, illustrates well the simple secret of quality teaching and learning. I can imagine all the interactions and 'learning conversations' involved in such a teaching event.

This sense of quality pervaded the whole school.

I look forward to returning to see further progress.
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Monday, June 04, 2007

A 'criteria' for viewing classrooms.

My all time favourite classroom environment ( and teacher).
Thanks Bill.

Over the years I have often been asked by schools to visit all classrooms to give my thoughts about what I can see and to give ideas about how to improve them.

Those who ask me are well aware ( usually) of my particular point of view and appreciate their school being 'seen' through a different pair of eyes. My thoughts are often far different from those expressed by ERO Review teams

Such an alternative viewpoint is often necessary because, as it it is said,'Fish are the last to discover water'.

My own background places priority value on class content studies ( student research), creative art and the expressive language areas .I also believe strongly in the aesthetic dimensions of learning and see classrooms as the major 'message system' of the school, or the 'third teacher'.The first being the class teacher and the second the intellectual challenges presented to the students.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit in Korea an English Junior School and an American Elementary school that shared the same site . Visiting both the school illustrated clearly real differences in room environments and teaching approaches. Both seemed unaware of the differences but they were clear to me.

To be honest when visiting all rooms the only I really notice are those that 'stand out' - it is to these rooms other teachers should look to for inspiration.

This week I am accompanying a group of principals visit number of schools in our area and before we visit I will share with them a 'criteria' I use to help interpret the rooms on their visit. Visiting other classrooms, particularly in other schools, is one of the best ways to get ideas and to reflect on your own practice. Many innovative schools have introduced regular 'walk and talk' staff meetings in their schools where teachers share, with others, what is new in their rooms.

My criteria reflects my particular point of view so school will need to develop their own. I do not concern myself directly with literacy and numeracy programmes except to say they seem to take up far too much teacher time and energy.

Give rooms a mark out of 10 - 10 being the best.

1 The 'Wow Factor' This reflects the 'power of the first impression' when entering a room. A quick look around the walls, whiteboards and the quality of student involvement is easily seen. Quality work across the curriculum, in such a 'rich' environment, is to be seen everywhere.

2 Does the current study have pride of place in the classroom? The current study ought to provide the energy and inspiration for most of the work that is going on in the room - including aspects of the literacy and numeracy programmes.Do studies have clear headings, key questions displayed, and examples of student research in process? Are the research tasks outlined clearly, possibly with criteria for self assessment?

( Classroom displays ought to both celebrate student thinking and creativity and inform all of the processes involved.The latter is often not a strength.)

3 Look for evidence of students 'voice' and 'identity'. Looking closer at work on display ( or in books) can you see evidence of their questions and answers ( prior idea) in the class content studies. Does 'research' on display feature students own thinking? Are there examples of students personal writing that expresses students' own 'voice' and experiences, or is it all teacher directed? Is there evidence that 'higher order thinking' processes are in place and that ICT has been integrated into the study work? Look also to see that displays feature a range of learning areas or evidence of past studies.

( This an area of weakness in most schools I visit)

4 Does the students work illustrate that they are aware and skilled in graphic design?. This is often a neglected area but one that has great potential for lifting the quality of students work and classroom environments generally. An awareness of design will be an important future skill. Is there evidence of quality design presentation shown in research work ( charts etc). Does bookwork show evidence of continual qualitative improvement in both ideas and presentation/ layout ( living 'portfolios')?

( This is another area of weakness in most schools I visit).

5 Evidence of classroom management and organisation. Look for clear group and task information for literacy, numeracy and p.m. study work. Students need to know what to do and when. Ideally these will have been 'negotiated' with the students. Usually literacy and numeracy tasks are clear but, more often that not, a similar definition is missing for study work. Look also for evidence of a daily programme including an introduction to the day and a end of day reflective 'wrap up'.

The above criteria reflects my 'biases' and to be useful such a criteria ought to be negotiated at each individual school. When done it will act as a 'self reference' for each teacher.

There is a more extensive article on classroom criteria on our website