Sunday, August 05, 2007

Creative teaching

Elwyn Richardson - Pioneer creative teacher.

Author of 'In The Early World ' republished by NZCER

In the mid seventies Elwyn visited Taranaki to meet up with teachers who were interested in his ideas about creative teaching. I have just come across some notes I made during a talk he gave in 1976. His ideas still seem as relevant as ever.

Our latest 'new' NZ Curriculum sees students as, 'active seekers, users and creators' of their own knowledge. Our Minister likes talking about the 'latest' idea coming from abroad - 'personalised' learning. Sooner or later the emphasis will be placed on developing the full range of talents and intelligences of all students if we really want to be an innovative and creative country.

None of these 'new' ideas are indeed new. More old wine in new bottles. Below are my 'interpretation' of Elwyn's ideas, written at the time, but you will get the 'message'. My advice is to buy his book -and to imagine what he could have achieved with modern information media. I visit numbers of classes with lots of ICT 'bling' and 'higher order thinking skills' but with few products of genuine creative teaching to be seen.

Back to Elwyn's ideas.

'Normal' teaching, Elwyn believes, results in a loose commitment to teacher tasks and, as a result, many students develop a low level of achievement and personal satisfaction.

A 'good' classroom should develop in students a personal commitment to their learning. Teachers can do this through: talking, discussion, focusing students' attention, helping them look closely at things,by taking trips into the immediate environment, and by tapping their personal experiences. From such activities students develop ideas to research and share and emotional feeling to express through words, poems, paintings and other art media.

Such classrooms create a 'creative outlook' that values students ideas across all learning areas. Teachers in such an environment develop a 'master/apprenticeship' relationship with their students and do all they can to help them to plan their own activities. Teachers need to learn to value the experiences that students bring with them to school and to make use of such areas of interest in personal writing, literacy, art and, possibly, to develop studies around.

Teacher expectation is important. Students pick up feelings about what teachers value and what they expect; they are expert at reading the 'emotional atmosphere' of the room. True learning is learning how you feel about things and how to control, develop, or express your feelings appropriately. The best experiences are the student's own experiences. All too often these are ignored as teachers impose the own topics or subjects.

In some parts of the world some teachers have gone too far and make little contribution to helping their students develop their ideas. Elwyn believes there is a time for the teacher to contribute and that students need the security of a loose timetable with some fixed points. Too much freedom can lead to brand of anarchy.

(Today the problem is too much teacher input with : exemplars, criteria, objectives, testing, imposed 'intentions! and formulaic teaching, leading to well done but hardy creative products.The teachers role has become benignly oppressive.)

Elwyn believes strongly that students need to be helped to identify with their natural environment. To do this teachers need to collect natural things of interest and introduce them into their classrooms. By encouraging students to look closely at such things, taking advantage of their natural curiosity, students learn to make use of their senses, develop visual observational skills and become pattern conscious. Drawings and poetic thoughts will capture such ideas and will in turn lead to enriching students vocabulary and language facility generally. With such skills in place trips to the immediate environment become far more productive, children able to notice grass movements, patterns at the beach or bush, tyre marks and shells and to respond to them creatively.

( These is the experiences that far too any of our 'modern students miss out on.)

Elwyn expressed concern that due to learning becoming over intellectualized ( and therefore available to be assessed), that intuitive thought was in danger of being neglected. There was, he felt, a danger of learning becoming too conceptualized and that this would result in damaging students' intuition and creativity. That it would result in the neglect or downplaying of the creative arts.

(Which has happened)

Returning to the teachers role Elwyn said that creativity is not about letting students 'rip into things' Creativity , he said, has to be engendered - it is a way of resolving things; a kind of release. He mentioned a quote that said, 'We have no art we do every thing as well as we can'. About year three, he believes, children begin to identify with excellence and to learn from other children. We, as teachers, need to help students develop a sense of personal excellence.Teachers ought not be too good a judge.Talk about their art, or language, but be careful not to take decisions away from the students. Help them makes their own choices and to consider what they might do differently 'next time'. But, equally, don't be too weak a judge. Be positive, joyful,even jealous of their talents; allow yourself to speak. Our own education, Elwyn said, all too often has dammed our own aesthetic values.

Use the classroom environment to provide positive reinforcement of excellence. Display the best of each students work on the classroom walls. Publish their work. Be respectful of their thoughts. Talk with the about their work , get them to share it with others. Enjoy their creativity.

We need to help our students see beauty everywhere.We need to get our students out into their environment but, to do this, we have to be aware as teachers ourselves.

Elwyn concluded with a few things to do:

Read poems -enjoy the imagery
Read 'powerful' pieces from books
Be consistent.Stick to your ideas.Give children consistent experiences rather than to 'dabble' in activities. 'Do fewer things well' otherwise there is no growth.
Provide students with challenging problems across the curriculum to think about.
Intensify their observations by directing their attention to: line, shape, colour, texture to feed the imagination .We need to develop students perception.
Listen to the students - help them develop their own abstractions.
Reinforce personal excellence, pray for miracles and be grateful for small mercies.
Encourage students intuition.
Trust children - be broadly accepting.Have an open mind. Students will contribute and share their experiences if we give them 'permission' and they feel you are open to their ideas.

Too many of our students have been mis -educated, we need to help them find themselves through their own creativity.

( The challenge remains)


Anonymous said...

Inspirational stuff -and as relevant today as it ever was. It is only from such creative teachers that things will ever change Are they around today?

Anonymous said...

Bruce, This is so timely - recently I visited 4 schools and experienced a range of environments. One school was aiming for excellence and excellence was clearly evident on their walls, in their rooms - you could feel it.

I also saw what you mentioned in your blog "Today the problem is too much teacher input with : exemplars, criteria, objectives, testing, imposed 'intentions! and formulaic teaching, leading to well done but hardy creative products.The teachers role has become benignly oppressive." It was everywhere and in some of the classrooms the wall content was all teacher made, bought posters, exemplars, We are learning to statements etc. There was also an emphasis on what I call cloned art where all the children in the class have drawn a tree exactly the same way !

So thanks to you Bruce for this blog - you say it so well and this blog and the one about Woodleigh are inspiring.

ps - Bought some copies of In the Early World and have had a read. Lots of creative work for sure but also heaps of quality teaching - lots of discovery and always a strong compassion for the child.

Anonymous said...

Another POWERFUL post that is just screaming at me to print it out, highlight it and stick it on the bosses door (OK, actually I'll admit that I have already done that!!!!).
Thanks once again.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thank you Tom and Jody.

Have you noticed that I have re-arranged all my blogs under headings/labels for easy reference. Opinion please.


I am sure there are such creative teachers still around - possibly rare in any era. Trouble is, it is hard to know where they are. And in this modern 'technocratic era' teachers are more constrained by 'approved' approaches and compliance requirements than ever - ironic in an age of 'promised' freedom for schools. I guess there are networks out there in 'cyberspace', on 'blog-roles'- but nothing beats face to face discussions and visits, and/or people discussing and sharing in the pub on a Thursday afternoon ( which is what we used to do).

By the way Tom I was shown digital photos of a school like the one you decribed Tom - possibly highly regarded!! 'Cloned teaching'!

Anonymous said...

The new look blog is great Bruce. Rachel has done a good job !

I have 48 blogs saved in my bloglines account and numerous others have been rescued from the ether world of cyber space and been printed !

Bruce Hammonds said...

Cut it out Tom! It took Rachel a few minutes of applied expert intuitive 'clicking' and me five hours of struggling to put labels on all my blogs, regularly knocking myself off the web in the process! She is a 'digital native' - me I am, at best, an 'assisted digital immigrant!

Anonymous said...

The new look blog is great Bruce. You have done a quality upgrade - it is clean and well organised. My sincerest apologies !

Digital immigrant - hmm I don't like the term - I was a tourist at first, and now am an over stayer but it is home now !

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thans Tom

You will be pleased to know I am now an on line author with Concept Curriculums and will soon have a set of 8 small boolets available for $50 and am also arranging to publish a series based on my blogs. Will let you know.

Great fun!

Anonymous said...

Why havet we heard more about Elwyn fom those who purport to know all from Wellington? Inspirational stuff! Thanks for bringing him to my attention!

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note that Elwyn as a young teacher was teaching Maori students with sucess and with advanced teaching techniques. He was able to relate to students and empower them to be creative and feel good about themselves. I personally believe that it is the sense of being creative and being listened too that creates a subsequent feeling of self worth that is the key to improve our communities and to avoid wasteing young lives.The answer to education is significant connections to teachers who actually know and understand the kids they teach. In many situations this connection is the only meaningfull thing in a students life.Such a teacher is Elwyn.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Couldn't agree more.