Sunday, December 28, 2008

Some cool quotes.

Quote from Goethe.

All too often ( well in New Zealand anyway) well intentioned teachers provide so much guidance ( or 'scaffolding'), and define too closely the criteria, that the resulting work shows impressive consistency, even quality, but misses out on creativity. Teachers would be well advised to heed Goethe's advice.

Today my daughter, who is currently working in the UK, send me a handful of quotes she copied from a friends book that she thought I would enjoy.

'All you have to do educate a child is leave them alone and teach them to read! The rest is brainwashing' Ellen Gilecrist

I wish it were so easy. The way reading is all too often taught could itself be seen as 'brainwashing' by emphasizing literacy above other equally important ways of gaining and expressing meaning. A lot of schooling is 'brainwashing' - educating the brain by an academic approach that is all but irrelevant for many students.

'Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears,and never regrets'. Leonardo da Vinci.

Coming from a person who was excluded from from schooling, because of the circumstances of his birth, it is pertinent today when so many who go to school leave with their desire to learn in tatters. Da Vinci's curriculum was based on an intense curiosity, the ability to make use of all his senses, and drawing and describing what he observed; an artist and a scientist. Modern education would be well advised to follow this creative de-schooler!

'Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing.Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance'. Will Durant

All real learners discover new ideas at the very edge of their competence - the edge of ignorance. They understand that as they learn there is always more to learn. Appreciating the role of ignorance in learning is an interesting idea. Teachers who teach with pre planned confidence are not really educators, helping students discover idea for themselves, but merely tellers.

'Education has produced a vast population able to read but unable distinguish what is worth reading'. G M Trevelyan

This brings us back to the first quote.

It is purpose - something yet to discover, that drives all learning, and this includes reading.

And it is personal purpose that is missing in our schools today.

If you want some more quotes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas


Couldn't resist.
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Best wishes

Kia ora
I hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year where ever in the World you are. Check the map on the site to see who visits.
I am away for a few days so I am taking a short break.
Be great to hear from some of you if you have time. I love feedback.
Ka kite ano
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Testing our way into the 19th C!

Those with their minds firmly fixed in a patronising, mechanistic, or technocratic approach, always see measurement as the ultimate way of guaranteeing progress.Like any simple solution to a complex problem it is wrong -and has been proved so. Standard based teaching was the approach of education in Victorian times - each class was called a standard ( standard one etc) that you progressed to if you passed the test. In the early days, in the UK, teachers were paid by results their students gained in the tests. Maybe that is next on our 'new' governments agenda?

The National Government has rushed through its National Testing Legislation.According to the Prime Minister ' all students will face testing against national standards in literacy and numeracy from next year'.

What exactly this populist and reactionary legislation means in action will be discovered next year. It is hard to believe that this was seen as a priority when the real issue is to equip students with the dispositions they will need thrive in an uncertain and potentially exciting future. Not that literacy and numeracy aren't important - they are - but they are best seen as vital 'foundation skills' to be in place for students to use to further their learning and not an end in themselves. The new Government made no reference to the liberating intent of the 2007 curriculum as they head back to the past.

And it is not to say that primary schools do not currently test their students. Far from it
. As Kelvin Smythe says ,' schools are already assessed up to the gunwales...the last thing they need is more pressure from the Review Office for even more assessment'. National Party policy statements say that new tests won't be required as teachers already use AsTTle and PAT etc but they will be establishing benchmarks setting out minimum skills. This might not be such a concern as many school already do this and, if it were simplified, it might cut out the need for so many tests. Some of the tests schools are 'encouraged' to use , according to Kelvin Smythe, are overblown providing lots of data and little information, and I agree with him.

We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime in the UK has shown that national testing, although providing initial improvements,are now plateauing and trending down. In the UK results are published in 'league table' ( without reference to decile rating) creating 'winner and loser' schools. Ironically punishing, in the process, the very students who make up the 'achievement tail'. And standardised tests always have an 'achievement tail!

The same situation occurs with President Bush's 'No Child Left Behind' ( NCLB) standardised testing.

Both in the UK and the USA teachers teach to the test aiming their attention to those students not quite making the grade to improve their graphs. Such a narrow approach, in both countries, has led to the undermining of creative teaching, less time spent on other important areas of the curriculum, all leading to shallow learning. UK educator Guy Claxton writes that a side product of measurable improved achievement results is creating anxiety in both students and their parents, let alone killing the creativity of teachers, and is resulting in students losing the joy of reading and maths. 'The assessment tail is wagging the dog', or as they say, 'you can't fatten a pig by measuring it'!

National testing comes with a cost.

Canadian educationist Michael Fullan believes New Zealand in coasting on past success ( Education Gazette Nov 08) and believes we need to focus on 'capacity building' ( the 'will and skill') of teachers before accountability so as to implement successful practices. Reflecting back to the literacy programmes before Tomorrow's Schools might indicate where we have gone wrong.

All the imposed 'best practice' literacy and numeracy programmes of the past decades has not shown the improvement promised. As well this emphasis has all but squeezed out inquiry learning and the creative arts. If anything literacy and numeracy needs to be 're framed' to ensure students have the information gathering and expressive skills to ensure students gain both deep understanding and the important key competencies, or future learning dispositions.

The worst effects of the imposition of this 'Big Brother' national testing ( by a Government that believes in freedom, initiative and individual enterprise) will be on the enthusiasm, morale and creativity of teachers. Such a testing regime will create conformist teaching - the very thing we don't want if we are to really face up to the 'achievement tail'.

Kelvin Squire the former president of the New Zealand Principal's Federation , is quoted by Kelvin Smthe, saying, ' We could be moving to Worst Evidence Stupidity.We know that punitive, high stakes testing doesn't work....I've travelled all over the world with the Principal's Federation and I have seen it doesn't work.I'd resist national testing, do civil disobedience, if I had to!'

In Australia the same testing agenda is being implemented
and, according to a past Director General of Education Queensland Phil Cullen, this measurement obsessed hierarchy is destroying the purpose of true education. He quotes Alfie Kohn one of Americas most outspoken critic of testing. Kohn writes, ' A plague has been sweeping through schools wiping out the most innovative instruction and beating down some of the best teachers....ironically this plague has been released in the name of improving schools.Invoking such terms as "tougher standards" people with little understanding of how children learn have imposed a heavy handed, top down , test driven version of school reform that is lowering the quality of education in this country...Turning schools into giant test-prep centres, effectively closing off intellectual inquiry and undermining enthusiasm for learning ( and teaching).It has taken longer to realize that this is a ...political movement that must be opposed'.

Lester Flockton echoes thoughts in this blog in his article in the November Principal Magazine. He has expanded his views in an article in December's excellent Education Today magazine. He states that it is 'nonsensical and unfair to expect that schools alone should be accountable for the educational malaise'. He continues 'school are good for children but they cannot overcome deep deficits'. Lets not kid ourselves' he says.

These thoughts of Lester's about the wider responsibility of society to underachieving schools relates to ideas that Kelvin Squires has also written about. It is all to a easy to fix blame on school and then only to offer simplistic populist solutions.

What is required is broader bolder approach to education. Schools must play their part by providing opportunities for all students to reach their full potential. However there is no evidence that schools alone, no matter how good, can close worrying educational achievement gaps.

A broader school approach would not only focus on basic skills but also to develop the whole person including physical health, character, social development and non academic skills - the 'key competencies'.

A broader approach would also need to focus on the total environment the students come from, the importance of high quality early childhood, the encouraging of at least one parent to be able to look after children for the first three years with all the support possible, and developing integrated relationships between schools and other community organisations.

Testing just doesn't cut it!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Leadership for what?

Winston Churchill, as with any true leader, was able to deliver, through his oratory, a powerful story to provide his people hope of better things to come. Leadership is about creating powerful future images through myth and story - and it is rare commodity.

I am critical of leadership courses run for school principals for, so far, I have not been able to discern any new story, or powerful vision for the future, they have provided for those who might be followers. Considering those providing the information are at best timid leaders or, worse still academics, it is no wonder. It sounds like a case of , 'Stick to your seats and never go to sea and you will be rulers of the Queen's navy'. Such leaders will be as effective as the peace time generals who are equipped to fight previous centuries wars. In war time true creative leaders 'emerge' often to be dispensed with when peace breaks out.

Developing lists of 'best practices' will never be good enough when times demand new questions and answers that can only come from future, or 'next practices'. And politicians are no better. As Michael Fullan writes 'politicians always get it wrong' .Look , for example of the easy answer of national testing. Mind you Fullan has done quite well out of such simplistic initiatives - busy measuring the wrong things. As Guy Claxton writes, 'most far reaching ideas and changes come from the outside'; think of Nelson Mandela.

As social commentator Eric Hoffer wrote, 'In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists'. 'The status quo' , as some one said, 'is Latin for the mess we are in'.

The world as we used to know it, following 9/11 , the ongoing financial crisis, the worsening environmental problems, and any number of social issues is on the verge of transformation but into what is the question. Current hierarchical organisations simply cannot cope and are failing, and this includes our outdated industrial age education system.

Little has really changed since Tomorrows Schools.The most innovative period, in my memory, was in the late 60s and 70s led by creative teachers assisted by a progressive advisory service. It is to their ideas that we must return to for inspiration if developing the creativity and 'learning power' of every student is the vision we want to aim for.

To combat the restrictive forces being imposed on schools. We need courageous leadership to create the conditions and the inspiration for teachers and schools to unlock the repressed creative capabilities of both teachers and students.

Such leaders must reach beyond the narrow conception of eduction based on literacy and numeracy achievement. Initiatives that have failed to work in other countries, distorting and subverting teaching. In the process of schools complying to such initiatives the enthusiasm and love of learning of the students is being put at risk, students who continue to 'disengage' from schooling.

If we want, as Jerome Bruner wrote in the 60s, for 'each man ( to be) his own artist, his own scientist, his own historian, his own navigator' then things have to change. Or, as Guy Claxton wrote in 2008, to ensure all students 'develop the ability to pay attention, to wonder, to construct imaginative explanations, and to develop the love of learning.'

'We need a new narrative for education' , Claxton writes, 'that can engage and inspire children and their families- a tale of adventure, of learning derring- do and learning heroism. Let's us fire up the kids with deep satisfaction of discovery and exploration. They are born with learning zeal; let us recognise, celebrate and protect it, but also stretch, strengthen and diversify it'.

That we need real leaders is a matter of urgency , it is, as HG Wells wrote decades ago, 'a race between education and catastrophe' We need leaders who can express the true purpose of education. Such a purpose will need to 'emerge' out of local explorations and the networking and sharing of ideas those at the centre no longer know, or never did! All new learning comes from the edge.

There are no road maps to the future. Leaders will need to have the courage to look towards distant horizons and make their own tracks for others to follow. They will have to learn to rock the boat without falling out. They need to be provocateurs strong enough to criticize the failings and constraints ( including the imposition of simplistic 'national' testing) of the current system, even if such views will at first be unpopular.

Leaders need to pose questions and enter into dialogue with all involved. We have had enough of the corrosion of compliance and passiveness and solving endless day to day, often imposed, problems. Creativity not compliance is required.

Principal leaders will have to be inspirational models of the 'seekers, users and creators' of their own learning that the new curriculum asks teachers to develop of their students.

There is no other way.

These are moral choices.

Are there any real leaders out there?

Monday, December 08, 2008

What do the learners think?

If we are to 'personalise' learning to 'engage' all learners to develop their 'learning power' and talents ought we not take the time to listen to their views?

The people who know best about what attracts student's curiosity, or things that worry them, are the students themselves. A visit to even the most child-centred classrooms will find very little reference to students' questions, views and theories. All too often students are required to respond to what their teachers feel is important for them to learn.

A good idea, at the beginning of a school year, is to survey students' views and to compare what changes have eventuated over the period of the year as a result of the years learning.

It is not to late to undertake such a survey so as to suggest ideas for changes for the next year.

Teachers could get together to list all the topics that students could give their views on using a 1 to 5 scale ( 5 representing great). Such a list should look random, interspersing children views about subject areas ( and aspects within each) with school grounds, buildings, bullying, friendliness of staff, sports and playground facilities

It is a good idea for the teacher to run through their views of the items from when they were at school
to give students 'permission' to give honest responses and to show students that their teachers are 'human'. Some teachers might express they were not very good at something but have done their best to improve.

Items could be selected out of the list for yearly comparison, for example, student attitudes towards maths or bullying.

Another end of year activity could be to list the 'key competencies' ( in 'student friendly' language) and for students to draft out their own assessment of how well they have developed these vital learning dispositions. After dialogue with the teacher finished copies could be added to their end of year report. This would be an excellent way to share with parents the importance of such future learning attributes.

Another suggestion is for teachers to ask their students to write a note to next years students to share with them the kind of things that they will need to do to thrive in your classroom.This can provide some very interesting insights!

The ideas ( or mindsets', or metaphors)) students have about school can be gained by asking them to finish the following sentences:

What is a school? A school is a place where...
What is a student
? A student is a person who....
What is a teacher? A teacher is a person who...

Is a school a place where you do as the teachers says, or a place where you come to learn? Is a student a person who does as he or she is told, or a person who learns how to do new things? Is a teacher a person who tells students what to do, or a person who helps you learn?

Finally teachers could ask their students some of the following;

What do they like about school?
What would they like to learn more of?
What are the three best things about school?
What don't you like about school?
What would you like to learn less of?
What are the three worst things about school?
If you could change one thing what would it be?
What makes a good teacher?
What makes a good learner?

What are the things that interest, or concern them,that they would they like to study next year? Most likely students ideas will reflect important aspects of the current Learning Areas what were the best things they studied this year and why?

Any of the above activities would indicate to students that their ideas count and, equally importantly, might show areas for schools to acknowledge and improve?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Self managing learners

Students working together know what to do and how to go about it even if they don't know exactly what they will discover; they are exhibiting the attributes of 'self-managing learners'. Although a science 'lesson' it equally could have been undertaken during literacy or maths time as a means to introduce scientific recording for later use in a p.m. inquiry time?

Self managing is a 'key competency' both for the smooth running of a inquiry based classroom and to develop vital life long learning capabilities. As such it is highly related to future success. When students are 'self managing' it allows teachers the time to work with students who need help.

If students are to become 'active seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' then self managing skills need to be 'taught' deliberately as an important goal of any classroom. The best way to see if students are self-managing is when the teacher leaves the room . As Art Costa says, if you do , on your return, 'what intelligent behaviours would you hope to see?'

What we want are students with a 'can do' attitude who are 'resourceful, reliable, resilient' and responsible. Or as the Placemakers ad goes, students with, 'Know how. Can do' plus additional phrases , 'Don't know how.Will give it a go'.

When teachers observe students exhibiting self-managing skills they ought to give students, or the class, credit for being such great learners.

For students to be able to develop this competency they need to know: what, when , why and how they are to go about the task -and the task ought to be one that is meaningful to them.

As time is limited for afternoon Inquiry study many of the skills need to be taught in the literacy or numeracy blocks.

This obvious solution is not often seen as these blocks are all too often taught as self contained programmes.

The 'new' curriculum makes it clear that English is all about 'making meaning' of ideas and 'creating meaning' for themselves - all teachers need to do is to use the inquiry topic as the context to do so.

Teachers need to ask themselves what independent activities can their students do by themselves?

Can they work without your presence .Leave the room for a while and see if they can.If not why, and what needs to be done.

Do they know what to do when they do not know what to do, or do they mess around until told? Do they have the attitude that there is aways work to go on with when finished -even just reading their library book?

Can they read quietly by themselves?

Are the tasks on the blackboard/task boards clear enough for students to work with minimal help?

Have they learnt the importance of not rushing their work to be first finished; that quality is more important than quantity? That they need aways to focus on personal excellence and be able to show improvement.

Do they have the co-operative learning/ discussion/listening skills to work together on a task?

Do they have the research skills ( comprehension skills) to gather information from a range of sources ( including the Internet) using key questions?

Are they able to draft out their observations, or notes, from experiments. If not teach these in the literacy block as required. Do they know how to proof read for errors of thought and for spelling? Do they know how to attempt a word they can't spell or read?

Do they have the design and presentation skills to ensure their work has aesthetic value and will be noticed? This includes use of ICT.
Do they know how to lay out their work to best effect. Such skills need to be taught in the literacy block.

Have they work , drafted in the literacy block, to make finished copies of independently in the afternoon inquiry time?

Do they have the skills of observational drawing, are they able to make graphs or diagrams if needed? Are they skilled in the ability to express their thoughts poetically if required?

Are they able to work outside without losing concentration?

By term 3 or 4 are the students able to plan and complete an inquiry topic of their own choosing making use of all the inquiry learning skills that have been introduced during the year during class and group studies? This activity is an ideal task to assess student inquiry and self managing skills.

If teachers want their students to exhibit self manging competencies then they need to consider what skills and attitudes need to be in place before students undertake any piece of learning. If students do not have the skills to do what is asked of them this is the teachers problem.

The teachers role is to develop the competencies in their students required to become 'confident,actively involved, life long learners'.

Teachers need to focus all their teaching on helping every student become a 'seeker, user, and creator of their own learning'.

Monday, December 01, 2008

2009 National testing or Inquiry learning?

When governments impose targets on schools it is not what you hit that counts it is what you miss because you weren't looking! Literacy and numeracy or life long learners?

The 'new' New Zealand curriculum provides a real opportunity for schools to develop a 21stC education. The imposition of national testing could well put this 'at risk' if what has happened in other countries is anything to go by.

National testing in Victoria - lets hope this is not the new government's intentions!

From a NZ teacher teaching in Melbourne – is this what is in the future for us? Not so much the ‘nanny state’ but the ‘big brother’ state!

‘We are right into national testing over here. There is now national testing of all year 3, 5, 7, and 9 students. It just used to be in the other states. Victoria used to be told that we were lagging behind the other states but now, low and behold, after national teaching we are one of the top states. We also have online testing in Numeracy and Maths with the results going to the Department. This is done 3x a year. Our reports are also put directly into the Department. Accountability is everything, don't worry about the teaching. We are told that it does not matter where the students start our job is to get them up to national average and they are trying to bring in performance based pay as well. Also pay incentives for expert teachers and principals to work in disadvantaged areas.

An agenda for 2009: a focus on Inquiry Learning

1. The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum is all about students being: 'creative energetic and enterprising’ able to ‘make sense of their information, experiences and ideas’ so as to become ‘ confident , connected and actively involved life long learners.’

2. It asks schools to develop students who ‘are competent thinkers and problem solvers who actively seek, use, and create knowledge’. This involves giving students more choice and responsibility over their learning leading to a more ‘personalized’ approach.

3. The NZC is asking schools to develop an inquiry approach to all learning; to develop schools as ‘communities of inquiry’. An inquiry approach is about engaging students in difficult questions and issues that are meaningful to them. It is about placing ‘learnacy’ above literacy and numeracy. This would be a major change of focus for schools.

4. The need is to present learning contexts to challenge students
(‘rich topics’) to be able to research and ‘reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.’

5. Schools need to sort out an inquiry model for students to make use of. This model needs to move beyond the mere gathering of information to the deep construction of thoughtful understandings and, at the same time, develop the ‘key competencies’ or future attributes, or attitudes, or dispositions, required for ‘life long learning’.

6. Class inquiries ought to provide the ‘energy’ to focus the greater part of the school day
and include the teaching of information research and presentation as part of the literacy programme, as well as mathematical ideas, that may be required as part of any inquiries. The NZC suggests ‘doing fewer topics in greater depth’.

7. Such inquires may feature one Learning Area in particular but will most likely involve aspects (strands) of other learning Areas as well. The curriculum is to be seen as ‘deep’ ‘connected’ and integrated. Teachers may need to plan collaboratively.

8. Teachers will need to develop focused independent group work in all learning blocks including dedicated inquiry time. Groups, or individuals, may research individual aspects and then to share findings, with a wider audience through exhibitions, publications, demonstrations, performances, information media, or posting on web. Such findings are powerful means of assessing depth of understanding and knowledge of process.

9. By covering a range of inquiry topics (covering the full range of learning Areas Strands) students will also be given the opportunity to uncover hidden gifts, talents and interests that might become life-long passions, or vocations.

10. Lack of dedicated inquiry time is an issue so the idea of ‘re framing’ the literacy and numeracy blocks to develop appropriate research skills would seem an obvious answer. This would also include integrating use of ICT.

Be interested in any thoughts. An imposition of narrowly based national testing will provide a moral challenge for school leaders.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Powerful Learning.

This book provides the research that backs up powerful learning strategies.A must read for school leaders and policy makers. Linda Darling-Hammond is a spokesperson on education for President elect Barrack Obama.

This is a book for the times
. Published with the support the George Lucas Foundation ( ) its premise is to demonstrate how innovative learning environments in classrooms, supported by new technologies, could revolutionize learning.

As industrial assembly lines are being given away in industry as they move towards more collaborative ways of working schools are remain caught in a web of educational thinking and systems that originated a century ago.

Fortunately the ‘dominant paradigm’ of mass education is showing sign of wear and seems incapable of being able to cater for today’s diverse range of students.

The book outlines how schools can transform themselves to help all students learn in more powerful ways so that they can meet confidently the demands the future will place on them and allow them all succeed in ways that align with their personal talents and skills.

These demands, the book argues, cannot be met by a return to basic skills and obsessive testing but instead will require that schools provide more meaningful learning experiences.

The book outlines the kind of teaching that produces more powerful learning but, more importantly, presents research on learning and teaching that summarizes what is known about effective teaching and learning strategies in three major areas – reading and literacy, mathematics and science – as well as selected strategies that are used across all learning areas and in interdisciplinary contexts, including project based learning ( inquiry learning) performance based assessment, and co-operative learning. It also looks at the factors and conditions that can influence the effectiveness of these strategies.

The book is intended for the policymakers whose decisions shape our education systems and the teachers and other educators who determine what happens in the classroom. Most valuable is the evidence the book gives about the outcomes of successful educational strategies, examples of what the looks like in practice, and insights about how they can become the norm, rather than the exception in our schools.

Of particular interest are the chapters showing how literacy and numeracy programmes need to be integrated into the inquiry programmes. All too often in our schools they are locked into their time slots and, because of this, the power of literacy and numeracy are underutilized.

This book will provide both inspiration and intellectual support for innovative schools, both primary and secondary, who are moving towards implementing the transformational spirit of the ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum.

Natural born learners.

'Scintists in the Crib' by Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl. A great book for parents of young children - and for teachers who need to trust children to do their own learning.

I had written, a while ago, that children, given the right conditions, had the attributes of young scientists.

A comment, from the Netherlands, suggested I ought to read the book The 'Scientist in the Crib' because it provided up to date research about how children learn to back up what I had written.

Great advice.

This book comes with high praise from educationalist. Jerome Bruner who writes, ‘this book is a gem, a really beautiful combination of scholarship and good sense’.

This exciting book discusses important discoveries about how much babies and young children know and learn. It argues that evolution designed both adults and children to naturally teach and learn off each other, and that the drive to learn is our most important instinct. Very young children, as well as some adults, use much of the same methods scientists use to learn so much about the world.

The Washington Post says this book, ‘should be placed in the hands of teachers, social workers, policy makers, expectant parents, and everyone who cares about children’. Another critic writes, ‘This is a terrific book – a page turner- , in fact I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next’. ’It is a must’.

Howard Gardner (of Multiple Intelligences fame) writes, ‘few books about human development speak so elegantly to both scholars and parents’.

A few extracts sum up the spirit of the book:

‘Scientists and children belong together in another way. New research shows babies and young children know and learn more about the world than we could ever have imagined. They think, they draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations, and even do experiments. Scientists and children belong together because they are the best learners in the universe’. ‘What we see in the crib is the greatest mind that has ever existed’. ‘It is not that children are little scientists but that scientists are big children’.

All the learning dispositions, including how to learn off others, are already in place at birth. One has to ask what happens to this innate ‘learning power’? If we are all born with the ability to discover the secrets of the universe why do so many children lose this love of learning; this infinite capacity to wonder and urge to question and explore?

The book expands on the three elements children have to ensure they learn :

1 Children are born with innate knowledge in place

2 They enter the world with powerful learning abilities.

3 They are 'programmed' to gain unconscious tuition from adults.

By watching young children learn, the book suggests, we can learn how to create the conditions for all students to learn. This is in contrast to the belief that underpins most teaching, that without teachers they couldn't learn. It redefines the role of the teacher to one of creating positive learning conditions, to personalise learning opportunities, providing appropriate feedback as required but always leaving the responsibility in the hand of the learner.

The book holds the solution to close the so called ‘achievement gap’ that seems to concern politicians so much. It asks us to stop teaching and to start observing. To place trust in learners because they are born to learn, it seems, until they become distracted by anxious teachers and the imposed demands of schools.

This is in contrast to those teachers who seem to want to 'deliver', plan and assess all the learning in their class. It asks of teachers to trust and respect to the natural learning abilities that all learners are born with.

It also begs the question of why it is that so many children lose this innate drive to learn? It seems that schools have become places where students learn not to do their own thing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The end of the world as we know it!

Most of our organisational structures, and the 'mindsets' of those work within them, reflect the industrial age they originated from. Most now no longer work and any amount of 'tinkering' will not help them survive. A new interconnected world awaits those prepared to let go of the past - in reality they will have no choice! Change will be painful for many but it will be inevitable.

I was convinced in the 80s that we were to enter a new age. Marilyn Ferguson supported my thoughts in her book 'the Aquarian Conspiracy'. Her idea was that slowly, by natural evolution, all organisations were in the process of being transformed. I think now she was wrong to believe things would naturally change just because good ideas were in the air. The past has away of clinging to power whatever happens.

The dramatic financial crisis the world is now experiencing is more an earthquake than an evolution. It is the result of a build up of pressure, but my feeling is, when the dust settles,it will result in a transformed world. At least I hope so! Perhaps we needed such an earthquake to remind us we should take nothing for granted.

We now are at, what physicist Frijof Capra calls, a 'turning point'. A time of dramatic and unannounced change that will transform human consciousness. An industrial 'mindset' of growth at all costs by faith in progress will be replaced by an ecological interconnected sustainable world view.

Such turning points have punctuated human development since the dawn of time. First farming and agriculture reshaped human development, then the Renaissance ( with the aid of the printing press) and in the 19thC the Industrial Revolution. Now we have the immense power of new technologies that are eroding away all barriers.

A new wave of change is upon us which will replace the mechanistic assumptions of our present systems.

It is at such times, when old paradigms crumble ,and when new ones are not fixed in place, that we get a great burst of creative thinking. There are those who say we are entering a new Creative Era or a Second Renaissance.

This certainly is my view. We will all have to think differently - we will need 'new minds for the new Millennium'. Education must be at the centre of this revolution. This will require us to change our whole education system. For some this will be frightening ( and some will try to return to past certainties) but for others it will be exciting.

In the meantime ,as in any transition, it will be messy as people search for solutions in time when no one seems to have any answers.

The demands of our times require people to develop new capabilities. Courage, innovation, experimentation and creativity will be at a premium. Not attributes one associates with current education!

Courageous school will have to let go of old ideas which are failing our students and embrace the new. This must go well beyond the current 'tinkering' we all too often see. One thing is certain those who currently 'control' educational development have little idea of what do do. If there is to be a change it will come from creative ideas from the 'edge' but for ideas to survive they conditions to grow and spread. As the poet Yeats wrote, 'Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold'.

At the centre of our survival will be our innate ability to learn to see new patterns and take advantage of new ideas that will 'emerge' out of the chaos.

Our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum, with its vision of 'confident, connected and creative' students is timely. It asks schools to ensure all students appreciate that learning is for life; to be 'seekers, users and creators' of their own meanings. The important attribute of a future learner will be to know what to do when they do not know what to do, to paraphrase Jean Piaget. Or to act in the way that all two year olds already do and which is put 'at risk' as soon as they enter formal schooling!

The rhetoric of 'new' New Zealand Curriculum is far from being realized. What we have in out school is not a student 'achievement gap' but a 'rhetoric reality gap'. It is our industrial aged schools that are out of step with the future.

We urgently need to transform our school system to develop both the 'learning power' ( or 'key competencies') and the talents and gifts of all our students.

We need a new story to replace the mechanistic 'mass' education sorting system we now have. If all students are to leave school equipped to solve the tremendous social, economic,and environment problems that our world currently faces schools have to change. Schools need to be 'personalised' so as to ensure all students succeed to realize their potential and not just the academic students. And we now know enough to achieve this but only if we change our minds as teachers first.

Now is the time to reflect on the purpose of education.

We need, as UK educator Guy Claxton writes, ' to inspire students to become brave and confident explorers, tough enough in spirit, and flexible enough of mind, to pursue their dreams. We must help them discover the things they most passionately want to get better at. To develop the confidence and capacity to pursue their passions'.

If we are to achieve this it will be because of the efforts of creative teachers and schools. It is no use waiting for the politicians because , as Michael Fullan says, 'they always get it wrong'.

The crisis we are in goes well beyond the financial - is marks the end of past thinking and the beginning of a new world.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Real life learning!

More thoughts from Guy Claxton's book 'What's the Point of School'.

Children are born to learn but you wouldn't think so when you consider 'school failure'! This appetite to learn , according to Guy Claxton, is innate and failure ought not to be an option.

All those unmotivated students are simply kids who don't want to learn what the school wants to teach them. The question, writes Guy Claxton, 'is not whether young people can be persuaded to learn,it is: 'what stops them, or puts them off'.

The key is to base school learning on 'real life learning' that occurs when people have to deal with their 'rich, messy, disconcerting life'.

Real life learning usually happens in the context of getting something interesting done - mostly learning is a means to an end. In real life 'you zoom in on a specific bit of focused learning at just the moment you need it.' In school, a good deal of learning lacks this timing.

School learning is often piecemeal broken down into little bits. School learning usually involves solving problems of carefully graded difficulty. In real life there is no one to to do the pre-grading for you. The learning curve is anything but smooth but you usually have more control over when, why,and how you go about doing it.

In real life learning often involves a lot of collaboration and talking. No one know the answer ahead of time. More knowledgeable members help each other. In school , though there is group work, learning is essentially individual and may even be competitive

In real life people:

Watch each other and copy or adapt what they see.
They go off by themselves to practice 'hard bits'
They ask their own questions and select their own 'teachers'.
They make scruffy notes and diagrams to hep them think and plan.
They create half baked ideas and possibilities and try them out.
They run through things in their head imagining how things might play out.
They imagine themselves doing something better and use this to guide their practice.

In school, he says, you may or not make use of these kinds of general learning tools, but you will rarely hear them talked about.

The missing key, states Claxton, 'is thinking about how to narrow the gap between the way learning is 'done' in schools, and the way it is done in the outside world'.

Children , Claxton says, quoting Cambridge professor Joan Riddick, are 'hungry for the three Rs -responsibility, respect and real- and the three Cs - choice, challenge and collaboration'.

Schools, it would seem , need to do some 'real' learning if they are to ensure all students retain their birthright to learn. 'School' failure ought not to be an option.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guy Claxton's Magnificent Eight

Guy Claxton author of 'What's the Point of School', a book that examines why our current school system is failing so many children and how we might put it right.

Claxton's first priority is to create enthusiastic learners who can thrive in our complicated world.'Learnacy', he believes is more important than literacy and numeracy'.

Guy Claxton believes that teachers need to focus on how they relate to students in their classrooms. What is important , he writes, are the values embodied in how they talk, what they notice, the activities they design, the environments they create, and the examples they set day after day. These represent the culture of the class.

Every lesson invites students to use certain habits of mind, and to shelve others. The 'key competencies' ( or 'dispositions'), he says, are not a whole new thing but are an attempt to prioritize the 'habits of mind' young people are going to need to thrive in the 21stC. For some teachers, he continues, 'key competencies' are merely making explicit what they already do.

In his book 'Whats the Point of School' he outlines what good learners do (as against being a 'successful' students). He has sorted the dispositions of good learners into what he calls his magnificent eight'.Teachers need to encourage all of them.

1 Powerful learners are curious. They are born curious and are drawn to learning. They wonder about things, and know how to ask productive questions. They enjoy the process of wondering and questioning. Curious people, however, can be demanding and skeptical of what they're told.

2 Confidant learners have courage. They are not afraid of uncertainty and complexity. They have the confidence to say, 'I don't know?' - which is always a precursor to, 'lets find out'. They are willing to take risks and try new things. They 'stick' with things and 'bounce back' when things go wrong. They also know when to give up. They have 'mental toughness' or resilience.

3 Powerful learners are good at exploration and investigation they like finding out and are good at seeking and gathering information. They take the time to attend carefully and do not jump to conclusions. They are good at 'sifting' ideas and trust their ability to tell 'good evidence'.

4 Powerful learners requires experimentation. This is the virtue of trying things out to see if it works, or just to see what happens. They make mistakes, keeping what works for 'next time'. They like adjusting things, enjoy admiring their work in progress, and seeing how they can continually improve things. They say, 'lets try'...and, 'what if?' And they also know the importance of practice.

5 Powerful learners have imagination. They know how to use their 'inner world' to explore possibilities. They know how to make use of 'mental rehearsals' of how they might act.They also know how to relax and let idea come to them, finding links and connections ; they have a good feeling of 'rightness'.

6 The creativity of imagination needs to yoked to discipline. They have the ability to think carefully, rigorously and methodically. They are good at 'hard thinking' and ask, 'how come'? They are good at creating explanations, making plans, crafting ideas, and making predictions based on their evidence. They are also open to serendipity and to changing their minds if necessary.

7 Powerful learners know the virtue of sociability. They are happy collaborating and sharing their ideas and resources. They are good members of groups able to help groups solve problems. They are able to both give their views, receive feedback, and listen respectfully to others.

8 Powerful learners are reflective. They are able to step back and take stock of progress. They are able to mull over their actions and consider how they might have done things differently. Good learners are self aware, able to contemplate their actions to continually 'grow their learning power'.

Claxton believes that his 'magnificent eight' are both specific enough, and general enough, to cover most of the positive learning behaviours ( 'key competencies') we need to encourage, both as teachers and parents.

They seem to me to be the 'dispositions' that we would want of our teachers as well?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Memo: the challenge of the NZ Curriculum

A close reading of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum would indicate that our schools need to dramatically change if they are to provide all our students an education to allow to thrive in the future.

The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum provides schools with a challenge but only if they are able to think out of the current 'mental boxes', or 'mindsets', they find themselves in.

This will requires more than 'makeover', or a few 'add-ons', what is needed the questioning of all processes and activities . All too often the basic assumptions underpinning schools remain unquestioned but unless the purpose of schooling in the 21st is faced up to, and 're-imagined', things will remain much the same. UK educationist Guy Claxton's latest book, 'What is the Point of School?', provides the question (and a few answers).

A few thoughts to consider:

1 Schools ought to be about keeping the love of learning alive in all students to ensure all are 'confident, connected and creative learners'(NZC).

2 As research indicates, and reinforced by common sense, that students learn when their, curiosity, interest, or attention is alerted. Ensuring this innate disposition to learn is kept alive, in all students, ought to be our number one priority. Guy Claxton has written that 'learnacy', or the drive to learn, is more important that literacy and numeracy'. This is echoed by creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, who says that creativity will be as valuable as literacy or numeracy in the future. Our 'new' curriculum wants all students to be 'seekers, users and creators' of their own knowledge.

These thoughts are not reflected in the schools I visit.

A look at the time spent on various Learning areas, or a glance at the school wide assessment 'targets' that schools report on, would reinforce this lack of balance or reflection of past practices.

3 The 'new' curriculum indicates a need for future capabilities, or as they are called Key Competencies', to become central to all learning and that they are to be seen as a 'means and a end' to develop 'life long learners'.

Developing engaging 'rich' real life problems, based learning contexts, for all Learning Areas, is a future challenge. Schools need to see themselves as 'communities of inquiry' allowing teachers to utilize the idea that 'intellectual curiosity is the heart' (NZC) of all learning. If this were the case programmes ought to feature students' questions, 'prior ideas', tap into their individual talents and gifts, and take advantage of their immediate environment. The 'new' curriculum wisely recommends that schools do fewer studies in depth' to develop students competencies and understandings. This would also apply to maths studies.

Classrooms would need to feature such inquiries, drawing and integrating where necessary, all the Learning Areas. In contrast most primary classrooms spend most of their time and energy on literacy and numeracy, all too often, with little 'connection' (NZC) to other Learning Areas.

The 'essence' and the different perspectives, or ways of thinking, of each Learning Area, are vital to ensure the talents of all students are to be given a chance to be recognised and amplified and to develop key competencies in authentic situations. Currently Learning areas are being neglected simply due to a lack of time and a lack of appreciation of their value, by teachers, of how important they are to individual students.

4 Literacy and numeracy programmes need to be 're framed' to achieve the vision as outlined in the NZC. All to often the are taught as independent of other Learning Areas. This is not to underscore their vital importance as 'foundation skills' but to emphasize they are are also a 'means to an end' - 'confident learners' able to use such 'basic skills' to interpret and express ideas involved in inquiry learning challenges across the curriculum.

Future schools need to integrate into the literacy block all the skills students need to read and research information and also ways to express ideas gained. This would include aesthetic design and presentation skills and use of appropriate information technology. Meaningful skills of research reading are obviously of vital important if the limited time given to inquiry learning is to be taken advantage of. Every opportunity to integrate inquiry content into literacy block would, in effect, 'kill two birds with one stone'. First drafts of research tasks should be completed in this time to allow students complete their work independently in the afternoon 'inquiry block'. Science experiments ( shared science thinking and writing) could be completed and written up as models during literacy time.

The same integrated concept applies to maths that is required as part of students investigative work. This needs to be modelled in the numeracy block.

Such thinking integrates the morning skills block with the afternoon inquiry learning time ; and provide the means to infuse the Key Competences.

I think the above ideas expressed are worth consideration by schools.

To me, they reflect not only what modern research into learning, and how our brains work, but they also the creative work of both our 'pioneer' teachers and the 'creative' teachers still to be found in our schools. If such ideas were to be implemented then school assessment priorities would need to change to reflect the competencies as outlined in the New Zealand Curriculum. We need to assess what we value.

As mentioned the ideas above could provide the inspiration for a debate about how to implement the vision and the challenge provided by the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum?

It would be beyond much current'tinkering! Dramatic times require courageous thinking; it is time to escape from the limitations imposed by the past before it is too late.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Powerful Learning

What do we know about learning? What can we do to create powerful learning? This small readable book by Ron Brandt ( past editor of the ascd) draws upon findings from psychology and research to describe the conditions that promote learning.

Why schools don't implement such ideas is the real problem.

Learning, the introduction of the book, says is an ambiguous term. All forms of life learn - that is, they change their behaviour on the basis of experience.

This book, by Ron Brandt, focuses on creating the conditions for more complex learning - or 'powerful learning'. Young children learn to walk and talk through a natural process of trial and error and some accomplished artists and musicians are described as self taught. People can solve problems and make scientific discoveries without being directed by a teacher.

Some educators, the book states,are sometimes intrigued by the contrast between traditional school practices and the way learning takes place in other settings.

New research now offers teachers the information to make learning more meaningful for all their students.

The following are presented as guidelines for teachers who want to create powerful learners.

1 People learn what is personally meaningful to them. The search for meaning is innate. Problem based learning, or experience, or project based learning, where students investigate real problems, is a means to achieve this in the classroom. In other words people learn when they want to learn. When 'engaged', and if goals are achievable, they will extend effort and will also be appreciative of guided practice. Teachers are advised to tap into students interests and questions and ensure the tasks they negotiate are of optimal novelty and difficulty.

2 People learn when they are accept challenging but achievable goals. There is no limit to growth and educators must not underestimate what students can do. All students have greater potential for learning than is commonly recognised. Students learn more actively when they are challenged to reach for high goals, when teachers demonstrate confidence in their students, and when they are provided the necessary 'scaffolding'. Challenge is tricky as it is only effective if the learner accepts the challenge.

3 Learning is developmental. Because there are predetermined sequences of mental development in children individual and age differences need to taken into account. All learners move along 'novice' to expert' continuum; with new experiences learners may need more concrete step by step assistance. When some expertise is gained they need to be encouraged to show initiative and creativity.

4 Individuals learn differently. Every human brain is uniquely organised and all students make use of different strategies, approaches,and capabilities. The research of Howard Gardner ( 'multiple intelligences') indicates there is no such thing a single general intelligence; 'one size does not fit all'.Teachers need to be expert in 'negotiating' the curriculum with their students, to value students questions,and to provide a growing degree of student choice and control.

5 People 'construct' knowledge by building on their previous ideas. They learn through recognising patterns and their learning is not aways orderly because learning can be 'messy' and intuitive. All learners encounter new learning they 'construct' their knowledge but only if it makes senes to them. Teachers assist this process by challenging students views and/or by introducing material that conflicts with their current ideas. This approach to learning is called 'constructivism' and values acknowledging students 'prior' knowledge; the ideas, attitudes and skills the children bring with them to any learning situation

6 Much learning occurs through social interaction. The most radical of all the 'new ideas' is that the brain is a social brain and learns by relating to, and learning from, the views of others. Teachers need to create their classroom as 'communities of inquiry' where students work together to share ideas to continually negotiate meaning. This social interaction , or teamwork, is a valuable future disposition in the work force.

7 People need feedback to learn. Positive social interaction and respectful relationships allow teachers to provide positive feedback to learners. Students need feedback about the accuracy and relevance of their thoughts and actions. It is vital for feedback to be accurate, timely, and useful. Learners need to know what changes might help.

8 Successful learning involves the use of strategies - which themselves are learned.Learning is both a conscious and a unconscious process. People can learn 'how to learn' by sharing aims, planning targets, and reviewing achievement. Self management ( 'meta cognition' - becoming aware of their own thinking) is critical. Students can be 'coached' to think ahead, to envision possible steps, to reflect on their own progress ( self assessment) and to consider what they might do 'next time'. Future learners need a repertoire of strategies to call upon and to be able to use them effectively ( In NZ our 'new' curriculum calls these capacities 'Key Competencies'). 'Knowing what to do when you don't know what to do' will be a valuable future attribute in changing times and requires that students feel confident enough to act on their intuitions. People learn such capacities unconsciously by picking up on the 'messages' of the class culture as valued and modeled by the teacher.

9 A positive emotional climate strengthens learning. Thinking and learning is closely associated with our emotional well being. Motivation to learn is influenced by the individuals mental state. Positive emotions enhance memory and is associated with curiosity, excitement, laughter, enjoyment, and appreciation. This however does not argue against an orderly and supportive environment as learners need to feel safe so as to be able to take learning risks. Students need to feel their views and questions matter.

10 Learning is influenced by the total environment. Students absorb the values underpinning the class and so educators need to attend to all aspects of the setting - physical, social,and psychological. Our brains are continually monitoring the environment to 'see' if it supportive to our learning, picking up on the attitudes and actions of teachers.

The above guidelines are probably too abstract to be very helpful and educators need to think about them, elaborate them, and then apply them to their own circumstances. The conditions apply as much to teacher and school learning as it does to students and all are intertwined and need to be implemented holistically.

The book concludes that research, and creative schools, shows that these beliefs do work but only if they are shared by all and integrated into the culture of the school.

If we are to develop our students as 'confident, connected life, energetic and enterprising life-long learners' able to be their own 'seekers, users and creators', schools need to develop themselves as 'learning communities'.

This you would have thought, is what schools ought to be.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What's the Point of School?

Guy Claxton, University of Winchester,is one of the UK's foremost thinkers on developing students 'learning power'.

His most recent book is called 'What's the Point of School' and ought to be compulsory reading for anyone involved in education. His book is all about 'rediscovering the heart in education'.

His concept of 'learning power' is very much in line with the Key Competencies of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum (07).

I couldn't wait to receive my copy of Guy Claxton's latest book from Amazon as I have enjoyed his earlier writings. I wasn't disappointed.

'The purpose of education' Claxton writes, is to prepare young people for the future.Schools should be helping Young people to develop the capacities they will need to thrive.What they need and want, is the confidence to talk to strangers, to try things out, to handle tricky situations, to stand up for themselves, to ask for help, to think new thoughts'

'This is not to much to ask', says Claxton, 'but they are not getting it'.

'Education' he says,' has lost the plot'. It is not just the performance that counts, he believes, but rather the 'quality of the learning skills and attitudes in the long run'.

Claxton writes that we have to start by seeing just how bad things are and to appreciate that most of the school reform has made little difference. Claxton provides a viable alternative and his ideas resonates with the direction of our 'new' NZ curriculum.

The key resources that make up a confident learner:

1 Being curious - keen to engage in new challenges.
2 Being resilient - being able to stick with difficult things.
3 Know how to balance your imagination and your logical mind.
4 Wiling to ask for help and receive feedback without getting upset.
4 Being able to step back and take a deep breathe and calmly think things through.

These seem barely more than common sense but Claxton asks why are so few people in education talking about these 'habits of mind'. Young children are born to be enthusiastic learners pursuing whatever takes their attention. What happens to this learning drive or power?; schooling that dulls the mind and spirit rather than one that stretches students' learning power!

We need to move beyond the rhetoric of life long learning and developing all student's potential
seen in all school documents.

What is needed is a 'sustained attempt to grow those qualities of curiosity, resilience, imagination and reflection that are collectively going to give you the deep-down confidence you need'.

Calxton's book provides a range of example of how to develop students' 'learning power'.

His message is that schools must change. We ought not to put up with students enduring a passive depersonalised assembly line experience. We now know enough , writes Claxton, that no student need fail if we 'attend more successfully to cultivating the qualities of character and mind that modern life demands; curiosity, imagination, disciplined thinking, a love of genuine debate, skepticism. These are the learning dispositions that students can use their whole lives.

There might be a danger that teachers might, in the process of developing such dispositions, neglect content. Claxton writes about 'learning power' but also states that this 'power' cannot be learnt without in-depth content or interesting and challenging contexts.

There is no doubt that we can do better in education if we ( teachers and parents) have the collective will and imagination. 'Happiness', Claxton writes, ' is better seen as a regular by-product of having done something challenging and worthwhile.'

'If we can help them to discover the things they most passionately want to get better at, and to develop the confidence and capability to pursue those passions, then I think more happiness and less stress will be the result.'

CLaxton hopes his book will 'inspire people to help their students and children become brave and confident explorers, tough enough in spirit, and flexible in mind, to pursue their dreams and ambitions'.

If education has 'lost the plot' we need 'a narrative for education that can engage and inspire children and their families - a tale of trials and adventure, of learning derring-do and learning heroism. Let's fire the kids up with the deep satisfaction of discovery and exploration.They are born with learning zeal; let us recognise, celebrate and protect it, but also stretch, strengthen and diversify It.

You need to to read Claxton's book to fully appreciate the power of the 'learning story' he is so enthusiastic about. All good for me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Learning:It is all about Passion!

Nigel Ogle - the man behind the Tawhiti Museum. The Tawhiti Museum, an expression of Nigels' passion, is one of the most stimulating museum experiences you will see anywhere.

Although there is a lot of talk about students needing 'future learning capacities' ( called 'key competencies' in the new New Zealand Curriculum) so as to become 'life long learners' it is important to remember that learning needs to be about something. Students interests, gifts and dreams provide the passion that drives individuals to learn more and more...forever.

Author Rebecca Priestly, in her book 'The Awa Book of New Zealand Science', conveys the excitement of science and the thrill of discovery. She writes that she was not prepared for 'the ferocious passion - often crossing the line into obsession' she found in the journals. Reading their writings she found expressions of 'intense excitement' and 'burning curiosity'; a sense of surprise and awe as they made their discoveries.

The myth of the dispassionate rational, and rather boring, scientist is far from the truth. Scientists are driven by their curiosity to explore and explain things that attract their attention. In this respect they have much in common with any two year old, except young people do not have the need to ensure their findings stands up to inspection.

The message is clear for educators, we must do everything to keep alive the curiosity and openness to learning of our students. We need to tap our students innate gifts,interests, talents and dreams and then to encourage them to dig deeper into what attracts their attention.

At the beginning of learning, and science, is curiosity, and with curiosity is the delight in mastery - the joy of figuring it out that is the birthright of every child. One scientist said to another 'What we can't tell then that it's so so much fun' A Nobel prizewinner said 'We were like children playing'. It is, as another said, 'a rage to know - the acute discomfort at incomprehension'.The so called scientific method is not as scientific as you would think and is more a process of enlightened trial and error.

If teachers were to be aware of: the importance of passion and curiosity in learning; the need to explain as best we can; and the process of science, a curriculum would 'emerge'. As well, creative teachers can provide their students experiences with the potential to attract their student's attention . As educationalist Jerome Bruner wrote, 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'.

Back to Nigel.

In an article in our local paper Nigel says he has 'aways been interested in old things - old waggons, old tools - just the feel and character of things' As a young person he collected old things but when he took history at secondary school he was disappointed there was no New Zealand component but, when attending Palmerston North Teachers College, he met tutors really interested in history and, as importantly, interested in the arts.

During this time Nigel visited creative teachers in New Plymouth to see what he said were, 'absolutely inspirational teachers working on what was then called integrated programmes'. They were, he said, 'ground breaking' and after seeing them he said to himself,' Yeah teaching is something I could really do'.

Nigel had short but successful career as a teacher
. I had the opportunity to visit Nigel's classroom in those days and was always impressed with the stimulating programmes and environment he developed.

Nigel left teaching in 1980 to establish his museum, a museum that combined not only his deep interest in local history but also integrated his art and teaching skills.

He observed a young boy visiting his museum with his class who threw away his worksheet and 'did a runner' into the museum. Nigel followed him and found him entranced by a display of small figures of Maori in canoes. Nigel engaged the boy in an intense conversation about the display. This is the kind of reaction Nigel said he wants. 'In three questions', Nigel related, 'the youngster had got to the core of that display and related it to place he remembered and had experience of'.

Of a new display he is working on Nigel says, 'It's is all incredibly exciting', I'm working on it 24 hours a day - every waking moment.

Nigel is a brilliant example of a person following his own dreams and passions.

Helping each student realize their passions ought to be central to every learners education - and such passions provide something to develop those future capacities around.

A must read!

I haven't time to write a blog about this book written bu Guy Claxton - one of my favourite writers.

Suggest you check it out using google at Amazon.

Surprisingly inexpensive!

'A powerful and timely examination of why our schools are built to fail, and how to redesign them to meet the needs of the modern world.'

Written with passion blending latest advances in brain science and practical down to earth examples. Outlines the need to develop in all students learning capacities ( the NZC Key Competencies) and how to achieve them.

A powerful voice that has contributing to the thinking of the Ministry and which builds on the ideas of creative teachers who have always being in developing students ability to 'learn how to learn' in tandem with students passion to learn what engages them.

More later.

Friday, October 10, 2008

New Zealand Curriculum 07

The framework for the decades ahead? A lot of things will have to change if its vision of 'confident, creative and connected students' is to be realized.

The New Zealand Curriculum is a confusing and repetitive read and very little in it contains anything new for creative teachers. For such teachers it is a little 'back to the future' but for secondary schools in particular it will be a foreign language.

But for all that the NZC provides an opportunity for teachers to develop their school as learning communities centred on inquiry. It is strongly based on a co-constructivist and personalised approach although it mentions neither.

Cliches abound but they are saying the right things. Students are to be 'confident, creative and connected' 'life long learners' equipped with the 'key competencies' - 'literate, numerate' - 'active seekers users and creators of their own knowledge'. The emphasis on values and the principles all say the right things.

The five 'Key Competencies' , or 'capabilities to become life long learners', are a central feature and are to be caught rather than taught; a 'means as well as an end'.

(1)Thinking is all about students being 'creative, critical', and 'meta cognitive' thinkers, able to 'make sense of their experiences'. 'Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of thinking'. Students need to actively seek and create knowledge' able to 'reflect on their own learning'.

Thinking should 'draw on their personal knowledge and intuition' and be based on 'their questions' and 'challenge their current assumptions'.

(2)Language is all about students 'making meaning' through reading and 'expressing meaning' to writing etc and able to interpret texts and images of all kinds.

(3)Managing Self is all about the importance of 'self motivation', developing 'a can do attitude' and able to set goals and plan their own projects.

(4)Relating to Others is all about developing empathy for others; able to listen to others and 'be open to ideas'.

(5)Participating and Contributing. The need 'to develop a sense of belonging' and be actively involved.

The Learning Areas.

Students are to gain the essence of each area; they are to be seen as ways to assist students 'interpret their world'.
Studies selected need to affirm New Zealand's unique diverse cultural identity. There is less emphasis on 'learning objectives' and these are to be 'selected to fit the needs of the students' and the learning context. Strands are to be covered over a period of time and not every year.

It is a shame that there is not a section on inquiry learning as composite statement as the need for such an approach is emphasized in all learning areas.

Learning is to be based on 'real life contexts' to engage and challenge students and that 'connections' between learning areas are to be encouraged.

1 English is about 'enjoying communicating' meaningfully, 'orally, visually and in writing, for a range of purposes'. Students need to 'be critical', able to 'interrogate texts'; able to 'receive, process, and present ideas or information' Able to receive meaning from reading and able to create meaning through all forms of communication.

Further into the curriculum document is states that for year 1-6 students that 'learning builds on the experiences students bring with them', as well as being exposed to the Learning Areas, with a focus on literacy and numeracy along with key competences etc. This is hardly a justification for the current time allowance for such areas.

2 The Arts.This area values children's experiences and are to be seen as powerful forms of expression. The arts provide an opportunities for students to 'use their imagination' and to 'create multiple interpretations'. The arts are all about 'developing students unique artistic expression' and visual arts 'begins with children's curiosity and delights in the senses and stories and develops visual literacy and aesthetic awareness'.

3 Health and PE is all about developing, in every student, a 'sense of wellness' ( Hau Ora) and developing 'resilience and a sense of personal and social responsibility'. PE develops 'positive attitudes towards physical activity'.

4 Mathematics and Statistics is about 'the exploration of patterns and relationships' and 'equips students with an effective means of investigating, interpreting, explaining, and making sense of the world'.

5 Science. is a way of 'investigating, understanding and explaining our natural, physical world and the wider universe'. It is about 'observations, carrying out investigations' and develops a 'respect for evidence'.

6 Social Sciences focuses on 'how societies work' and how people 'participate'. It is about 'people, places, cultures and historical contexts drawn from the past, present and future and from places within and beyond New Zealand'. This area helps students 'appreciate New Zealand's heritage' and develops students' identify as New Zealanders. It also is based on an inquiry approach based on 'students question's, the 'gathering of information', 'analyzing it' and 'reflecting' on findings.

7 Technology assists students develop 'practical skills as they develop models, products and systems'. Good advice is given to study 'fewer contexts in greater depth drawing on learning from other disciplines'. For primary classes it is more an aspect of science?

8 learning Languages to provide 'a means to communicate with people from other cultures'. This would seem to be another aspect of the Social Sciences?

Effective Pedagogy.

Although not mentioned in the NZC the pedagogy is underpinned by a co-constructivist approach to teaching and learning.

Teachers are to:

1 Create a supportive learning environment valuing the 'uniqueness of each learner'. The importance of 'acceptance' and positive 'relationships'.

2 Encourage reflective thought and action. This mirrors the thinking skills competence. Reflective learners are able to 'assimilate new learning, relate learning to what they already know' and 'translate into new actions' and in the process 'develop meta- cognitive ability' - 'the ability to think about their own thinking'.

3 Enhancing the relevance of new learning.Students need to know what, why, about their learning. Teachers are to 'stimulate curiosity, challenge students, and involve them in their own learning.'

4 Facilitate shared learning. To develop the classroom as a community of inquiry and to include in this 'the teacher as a learner'.'Teachers to challenge, support, and provide feedback'.

5 Making connections to prior learning. Children learn when it 'builds on what students already understand'. Teachers 'help students make connections'.

6 Providing sufficient opportunities to learn. Students need 'time to engage, practise and transfer new knowledge.' Teachers may decide to 'cover less' and to do what is selected to 'greater depth' Great advice.

7 Teachers as inquirers. Teachers need to continually 'inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students'.Teachers need to 'decide what is worth spending time on', decide 'what needs their students have', and 'what strategies are likely to help', and to 'evaluate what has resulted' from their teaching.

Assessment. An excellent section.

'The primary purpose of assessment in to improve students learning and teachers teaching.' Assessment is seen as 'ongoing process between teaching and learning. Much of which 'takes place in the mind of the teacher who uses insight' to assist their students. Schools need to be able to show evidence' of their programmes success through selective 'school wide data.'All too often assessment ends up by being the tail that wags the dog!Schools should assess what they value ( learning capabilities?) above and beyond 'basic' skills. Schools are asked 'to gather sufficiently comprehensive evaluation of student progress and achievement and to identify those at risk, and Maori students, to gain further attention.

The School Curriculum.

The New Zealand Curriculum is based on the premise 'all students can learn' and recognises that all students have idiosyncratic needs. The basis for personalisation?

'School have the scope and, flexibility and authority to design their curriculum in response to the needs, talents of individual and groups.'

'Schools may develop their curriculum's around central themes integrating values, key competencies, and skills across a number of learning areas.There is a need to address real life situations so that learning crosses apparent boundaries'.

A question was asked, under Teaching as Inquiry, about what is worth spending time on?. Schools need to look at how they distribute time at present and consider how to re-arrange their priorities to develop their school as communities of inquiry if they are to achieve the NZC Vision of developing 'confident , creative life long learners'.

I wait, in anticipation, to visit such creative 21st C schools. In the past I have been fortunate enough to visit very creative teachers but just imagine a creative school? Or groups of schools!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Power through reading!

Reading, and writing, are not just processes to be 'achieved' but are all about power - power of the imagination, power of gaining messages through literature, and power to gain and share ideas that can change how you think. Unless students, particularly those from from families who lack 'cultural capital', appreciate this power why would they bother to read or write?.

Arguments about literacy never seem to go away. Phonics or whole language arguments occupy literacy critics. Like the nature/ nurture argument the answer is both. Either or arguments only force proponents into corners; the future is always the best of both.

The trouble is that too many teachers can't see past literacy and numeracy demands ( 'targets) to see that it is the evolutionary desire to learn, to make sense of things, that is the most important 'literacy' of all. Guy Claxton calls this 'learnacy'.

If a lack of cultural capital is limiting many students who enter our school system then this is where teachers must begin. This goes well beyond what is called 'whole language' or phonics. Teachers need to look back to pioneer educators who really appreciated the power of personal experience and the power of having the skills to express things that attract learner's attention. It is this power that is the genesis of 'organic' reading and writing programmes. Such an 'organic approach' appreciates that the other learning areas ( now being neglected) are the key to provide motivation for students to utilize their curiosity and imagination.

In New Zealand, one such pioneer, was Sylvia Ashton Warner who developed her ideas in the 50s. Thankfully there are still some creative teachers who still utilize aspects of her ideas. She called her approach 'Key Vocabulary' and started her students reading and writing with words from their own experiences. She saw her young students as having a mind 'inhabited by instincts; wants, fears, desires and loves, hates and happiness. She saw her role as 'engaging in conversation' to help her students express their personal feelings and from their idea their first reading books. She believed in 'using the childs own imagery as working material; not wholly, but enough to keep it alive.' She believed that this native imagery was being replaced by images presented by modern media and when when idea come from somewhere else it results in 'lots of carbon copies' and we of 'get' conformity. 'Books made from their own vocabulary , their own lives, drama, and their own vocabulary, have a natural place in organic work.'

Thankfully there are still some creative junior teachers who continue to use aspects of Sylvia philosophy of valuing the natural imagery of each student as the basis for developing their reading and writing programmes -and with this the desire in each student to continue learning.

In the 60s and 70s these ideas were introduced into upper primary classes based on the ideas of another New Zealand pioneer, Elwyn Richardson. Developmental programmes, whole, or experience based learning, environmental studies, and integrated related arts, all contributed.

Unfortunately much of this creativity has been lost under the pressure of the standardised curriculums and associated accountability demands imposed in the 90s and, today, by the current obsession of schools to achieve reading and maths 'targets'.

The 'new' curriculum (07) offers creative teachers an opportunity to take centre stage once again but we will need new courageous pioneers who are able to inspire others.

Another who really valued the power of literacy was Brazilian educator Paolo Friere. His ideas reflected similar ideas to those of Sylvia Ashton Warner and other creative New Zealand teachers. Paolo worked with illiterate villagers who were under threat from those who oppressed them.

When Paolo, and his co-workers, entered a village his first step was to get the villagers to discuss their lives, interests, concerns and problems.Many were afraid to express their ideas or simply believed that nothing they could do would ever make a difference. It was, what he called, a 'culture of silence' and he set about to teach these villagers 'the awakening of consciousness'.

Slowly the villagers gained the confidence to talk and eventually they put more of themselves into their words, and began to speak with passion and conviction. As they talked Friere noted what he called 'key words'.Friere called these 'generative words' as they generated ideas out of which other words could be built from. Freire would write these words down and show the villagers how to write them, and by writing them, take hold of them, own them, possess them, and have them for their own use.

From such beginnings he was able to help the villagers, after a hard days work, become functionally literate over a period of eight weeks.

Too many of our failing children ( the 'achievement tail') and illiterate adults in the workforce, and in our prisons, have never felt the power of reading and writing. They have never understood the link between their speech and the written word, and that, behind every written word there is a human voice speaking, and that reading is a way to hear what these voices are saying. And, most importantly, that they have their own stories to share with others. This is all about 'learning power' rather than phonics and whole language.

Teachers don't 'teach' students to read, they provide the conditions to tap into students felt concerns to allow the innate evolutionary ability of all learner to 'make meaning' develop.

Sylvia Ashton Warner, Paolo Freire, and many creative teachers, have shown it can be done. What we now need are new creative pioneer teachers with the courage to believe to do whatever it takes. Such teachers, like Sylvia and Paolo, will have to believe that 'authentic' curriculums 'emerge' from their students innate talents, interests, dreams, passions, concerns and problems.

Reading needs to be seen by students as a natural extension of the own learning power. It is all about recognising the human 'voice' through reading and writing. It about recognising the power of their own stories the stories of others.

Reading is about power. It gives students a chance to celebrate who they are, to develop a positive learning identity, able to change things for the better.

Anything that increases peoples sense of their own dignity, competence and worth is sure to contribute to making the word a better place.

Literacy, in this respect, is central to being valuing the individuality of every learner but is not what I see in many classrooms today.