Thursday, March 20, 2008

Inspiration from the classroom.

We should look to our creative teachers, past and present, for inspiration - not distant experts.

There is not much that is 'new' in our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum but none the less it is a welcome shift from the Ministry's past technocratic thinking. A couple of phrases are particularly welcome by creative teachers. One , that students should be, 'active seekers, users and creators of ( their own) knowledge', and the suggestion to work with, 'fewer contexts in greater depth'.

To find the 'new' curriculum in action teachers need to seek out those creative teachers, who largely ignored previous 'official' advice, to see examples of teachers who are themselves 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

One such teacher was Bill Clarkson. His book called 'Unique Perspectives' is an inspirational account about how to develop students 'voice in writing and content studies. His work in turn was inspired by earlier creative teachers; this is the way real ideas are spread in education.

A creative classroom, according to Bill, must value and respect the ideas, viewpoints and interests of the students.

Such a classroom requires that students are, 'genuinely engaged in their learning and pursuing things that are of interest or of importance to them', and if this is the case, 'the way they respond to and express their ideas will be unique'.

What is crucial, Bill believes, is that the learner develops as, 'an independent and creative thinking individuals in control of their own identity and their chosen path in life'. The 'life blood' of such an individual, 'is the strength of the child's voice'.

To achieve this requires an environment that,'taps into the children's natural curiosity about the world', an environment that contains, 'opportunities for experiencing all the different ways of learning; first hand experience, observing,drawing, thinking, talking, listening, reading, calculating and investigating'.

'All dialogue between the teachers and the child in the context of any kind of writing must be sensitive to the child's purpose or voice'. Bill's book is full of examples of both poetic and research writing that reflect student's voice' and creativity, along with art and photographs.

'It is also important that topics selected by the teachers are flexible enough to allow individual interpretation and direction'. Even in a shared experience that is narrower, such as a class observing a kingfisher diving for food, it still remains important that a teacher does not have too much influence on the control of the writing '(or drawing); it is important that children write not to please the teacher but to, 'develop original and honest thought'. It is also important for children to, 'be given time think through and interpret', before they express their ideas.

Quality work, in any area, takes time and thought. If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing well.

Bill believes strongly in students exploring the immediate environment;'Students from an early age are fascinated and naturally curious about the world outside'. Students , Bill writes, 'cannot be expected to develop a strong sense of place, or real appreciation of where they live, if they are not given the opportunity to explore their immediate and local environment.They should know about the significance of the the old buildings, pa sites, or monuments down the road, and be able to investigate the significant aspects of the natural environment such as a nearby patch of bush'.

To do so teachers , 'need to be seriously involved in teaching the students the skills and attitudes needed to permit focused and intensive' study. Students need to understand the purpose of any study and be able to make use of their senses to 'experience with vividness and freshness'.

Bill strongly believes in teachers coming alongside the learner to really listen to what they think and and have to say: 'From the teachers point of view this requires a genuine desire to know what a child thinks and why', to, 'help children develop, clarify, modify and extend their ideas' , and to help them explore,'ways to communicate these ideas honestly and effectively'.

Such honest 'interactive dialogue' requires that students and teacher trust and respect each other. Such a dialogue creates an environment that frees and challenges children to confidently do their thinking out loud and then for the teacher to sensitively and respectfully respond to their perceived learning needs.'

The students in Bill's classroom not only produced work reflecting personal 'voice' and in depth thinking but it was always presented in ways that reflected its importance. The walls of the classroom clearly showed student creativity and thinking, based on current topics, and student book and research work illustrated an emphasis on personal excellence and 'pride of achievement'. Procedures were introduced to assist students but students were always encouraged to 'personalise' their work as necessary. Final products represent a, 'labour of love and the tangible reward', of a job well done. The way teachers display children's work is, 'a direct message to students about how much the teacher values or respects their work.'

Bill concludes his book with the argument that, 'there is a definite need to promote more personalised and responsive strategies in teaching', and that the , 'strength of ( student) voice, sincerity and genuine quality is at stake'.

Teachers who do not have a copy of this book are missing a great example of a teacher who was able to engage the minds and hearts of his students; a teacher who was able to inspire even the most reluctant students to value their own identity, 'voice' and creativity.

Teachers who really believe that their students ought to be , 'seekers, users, and creators' , of their own learning would find the book both inspirational and practical.

Contact me( if you would like a copy.


Anonymous said...

It is a WONDERFUL book, very practical and inspirational... I thank you for making me aware of it.

Anonymous said...

I agree. My copy is currently in use with one of my teachers and yesterday I was shown two published stories by a very proud child. Still much to do but lovely to see such enthusiasm for her work.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks as ever Tom and Jody.

Read the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum for permission and Bill's book for inspiration.

I know which publication I really value; creative individuals beat authorities anyday! Isn't this the message of Easter?

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