Thursday, February 28, 2008

Back to the future.

Bill Guild working with students 25 years ago.

Twenty five years after retiring Bill Guild has been invited back to his old school to share his ideas about quality teaching and learning. It is a half a century since Bill took up his appointment at the school.

As well, it turns out, Bill taught the aunt of the current principal who wants to learn about, from Bill, the ideas that first gained the school it's creative reputation. Tapping into the wisdom of the past is a powerful idea - and it turns out Bill's wisdom is very current.

Bill was part of a small group of teachers who worked hard to develop creative classrooms in the 1970s. Today the challenge is for whole schools to work together to share their expertise.

When Bill retired he gave me notes of talks he had given and, in this this blog, I share a few of his ideas to indicate the thinking of the day.

'To me the teachers' role is vastly different.No longer the font of all knowledge but rather a counsellor, adviser, partner, guide, questioner, prompter and confidant.'

'I believe that schools must be learning communities where students learn, with our assistance, the things they want to learn; when they want to learn them; how they want to learn them; and why they want to learn them; all through their own curiosity'.

'As a group we were disillusioned with the traditional pre-packaged approach ...largely adult conceived....including ability grouping.Attributes such as co-operation, understanding and sharing were largely given lip service. We believed that learning should stem from the natural but vital curiosity of children and it should centre around real experiences'.

'Skills...such as focus, concentration, craftsmanship, introspection and independent inquiry need to be introduced.' 'Presentation and display skills need extra special attention and the creative areas given new emphasis.' We felt such independent self motivated learners would be more able to cope with the future with assurance and zest.People who are responsible for their own learning, able to make relevant choices, seem to be the kinds of people best suited to cope with future society.'

'To achieve work of high quality, which gives satisfaction and a feeling of personal success, there is a need to slow down the pace of work so the enjoyment is experienced as the work progresses and the finished piece reflects, not only thought, but pride of craftsmanship.Slowing down the working pace of children and allowing them time to reflect and and saviour their discoveries and achievements.'

'The role of the teacher is to encourage and stimulate pupils to seek knowledge for themselves.'

'Carefully arranged teacher displays', are a feature, and were based on, 'environmental, language, or maths topics'.'As the topic progresses the work of children is added to the display until it becomes an amalgam of both the children and the teachers efforts.' 'It is most important to acknowledge, in a meaningful way, the value of a piece of work.' 'These displays provide a window to the world revealing the work being done in literature, individual interests, the environmental and experiences shared by the class or as individuals.'

'There is an emphasis on the immediate environment.It is the teachers role to reveal the unknown in the familiar and to help children to discover the unnoticed world within their environment.' However, the interests of the children cover a wide range from fact to fantasy.' 'The school is a base from which to explore their environment.'

'Gradually, with experience and growing confidence in their own abilities, children are given some choice within a very wide topic and finally many children may reach a stage they can be given a complete choice.'

'Questioning techniques must be suited to the needs of the learner ...and should be framed in a way as to stimulate greater powers of thought.' 'Plenty of time must be given the children to talk, discuss,disagree, argue, and revise opinions, all of this while refining and defining their solutions.'

'Teaching observation is important. I believe we look at so much and see so little.Hence my belief that if we slow down our pace and allow ourselves the gift of observation.''Without the input of looking future artistic or intellectual output is possible.' 'But drawings must go further than factual information, they are also able to convey feelings, impressions, and emotion.People who look harder, see more and understand more.' 'Drawing is a way of asking questions and drawing answers.'

Drawing involves the, 'outward eye, which is our observing eye, and an inward eye, which looks at feelings, memory, and imagination.' 'Observational drawing is not concerned with mere reproduction'... but result in, ' drawings which are uniquely yours.'

' A sense of design and beauty is an obvious need in our society and very little emphasis, and even scarcer recognition, has been placed on this area of visual education,'

Along with my colleagues I have tried to develop classroom programmes where children are exposed to a variety of ideas and situations.We have tried to take into account the backgrounds and interests of the children as well as they ways in which they learn. All children need success and we feel that this best achieved by children having confidence in themselves to select their own tasks, and through the development of necessary skills and abilities, to complete them to a deep sense of satisfaction in a task well done.'

Bill worked with group of creative classroom teachers working in different schoools. The challenge today is for whole schools and, better still, groups of creative schools working together making use of the teacher expertise in their own schools. And also, as Bill illustrates, the wisdom of past creative teachers.

The 'new' NZ curriculum provides an opportunity for the beginning of new creative era of education.


Anonymous said...

This is wise stuff - the curriculum was king and they were able to concentrate on learning and teaching. Bill speaks here of a creative team of teachers who were focussed on learning. I am hopeful of building such a team, at St Matthew's.

I estimate the amount of time I spend on curriculum is about 5% of my week. At present much energy is going into property, compliance, and establishing plans as well as day to day running and planning.

This blog is inspiring and encouraging.

Bruce Hammonds said...

It is 'wise stuff' indeed Tom and not really new -John Dewey was writing about in the early 1900s.

It isn't though, a matter of 'curriculum was king', more the opposite. It was a laser like focus on developing and valuing the interests, thoughts, questions, research ideas, creative art and language of every single student. I would call it 'personalised learning'.

Having deep and rich topics were obviously centre to all this but deep content was both a means and an end.

One of Bill's phrases was, 'slowing the pace of work', so as to come alongside the child to give sensitive assistance. Today we would call it 'feedback'.

Another phrase was, 'defining and refining', by which Bill ensured each learner knew what they were doing and able to dig deeply into their research, language, or art work.

Teachers in the group Bill worked with really valued (and shared) the creativity of their students - this was their 'evidence based learning'!

Bill linked up with other like minded teachers in our area.The challenge today is to develop creative schools and, better still, groups of creative schools.

Hopefully you will be able to tranfer your energy away from time wasting compliance tasks into developing the creative teaching learning relationship which is the key. This is best gained by helping students suprise themselves by doing what they thought they couldn't do.

Our current fragmented system has a lot to answer for!

Anonymous said...

I had a teacher called 'Miss MacKenzie' who grasped the moment. We walked around the bay to see the whale that had died (and walked inside the squelchy, smelly body), set traps for seagulls (and released them unharmed), went eeling in the creek, swam in the sea .....
I LOVED it!!!! Creativity and an inquiring mind were it!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Capturing the teachable moment - too good to let go by. The skill of a teacher, according to Jerome Bruner, is, 'The canny art of intellectual temptation'.

Anonymous said...

Yes ... the teachable moment ... sometimes external pressures mean you almost miss it and capturing the moment that may never come again.

Bruce Hammonds said...

The main thing is to do whatever you are doing so well it really suprises the students - and to be sure, in the propcess, each student retains their own 'voice' or individuality.