Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Still a need for Bruce's POV?

'If the 'new' New Zealand curriculum is so good maybe it's time to fade away?'

I happened to go to the funeral of a well respected liberal educator, in his late 80s, the other day. It was more celebration of his life as members of his family shared his beliefs, sang songs he enjoyed, showed some of his photography, and read one or two of his poems.

Afterwards I had the opportunity to read his autobiography and was particularity fascinated by the growth of his educational ideals that he outlined.

I learnt from my reading that after the depression of the 30s a New Education Fellowship Conference was held in New Zealand; the discussion that it invoked influenced educators of the time. This evolved into the ideas of Dr Beeby the Director of Education, appointed by the transformational first Labour Government. After World War Two progressive idea were in the air if not in the schools but, at least, there were innovative teachers beginning to develop more creative approaches to learning. Approaches that valued the individuality of each student and the importance of developing each learners unique creativity. Today we would call it personalisation.

Reading the autobiography it is clear that the ideals, now being expressed in the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum, are hardly new!

That the ideas spread so slowly is testament to the conservative nature of the education system.

The establishment of specialist advisers it seems was an important way to encourage teachers to develop new ideas - in particular the art advisers who were selected because of their potential to develop creativity. Being exposed to the value of creative art and language inspired the writer of the autobiography. Add to this the revolutionary ideas of the 60s and, by the 70s, innovative teachers were making their marks felt.

But traditional approaches were still the 'name of the game' well into the 70s, especially in bigger urban schools. Creativity though was emerging in small rural schools.

Taranaki became a well known in the 70s for creative education

This creativity was centred around a small group of teachers that I had the opportunity to work with as an science adviser. In the eighties I continued to work with a limited number of schools who developed a school wide approach to creative teaching.

It was during these times that Taranaki gained its well known reputation for creative education.

Then we had to suffer the imposition of curriculum based on strands, levels and countless learning objectives that put all the hard earned creativity at risk. It was all about standardisation, accountability and, eventually, a return to a 'Victorian' three Rs literacy and numeracy curriculum.

So now we have the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum; a curriculum that, although welcome, is hardly 'new' - more 'back to the future'.

It is as if the curriculum imposition of the 90s have been forgotten in this rush of Ministry 'revisionism'. The Ministry seems to be giving the liberal impression that it is all a natural progression, sidestepping responsibility for the confusion and teacher stress and burnout that their previous efforts created.

The phrases I do like is the idea that students should be their own, 'seekers, users and creators of knowledge' , and that there is a need to do 'fewer thing well'. These were ideas that I read in the autobiography I mentioned earlier.

You need a long memory to see that all is not new.

So is there still a need for the point of view I hold?

I am certain there is as school now 'clamber' to implement the 'new' curriculum without any understanding of what it means to be creative. Shallow creativity is all too easy to implement and is alive and well in our school where evidence of students 'clone like criteria based creativity' is all too evident.

What creative school needs to do, as always, is to:

1 Value the idiosyncratic gifts, talents, voice and identity of each individual student and to see this as a more important priority than literacy and numeracy - these ought to be seen as 'foundation skills,'

2 To develop 'emergent' curriculum based around students interests, concerns and immediate environment. Such an approach leads to a a naturally integrated approach. Class studies ( or 'rich topics') becomes the source of the intellectual energy for the class by tapping into the innate curiosity of all students.

3 To do 'fewer things well' and to value, not only the inquiry process, but also quality of the creative product, or depth of individual student thinking. The room environment should celebrate the questions, theories, and creative language and art, of the students. The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum values this as personal excellence - hardly a new value. Displaying student work is as much aesthetics as it is celebratory and informative - it is the third teacher and main 'message system' of the school.

Assisting students develop aesthetic design skills to present their work with individual flair and creativity is also important and ought to be seen in every page in all students book work.

4 The role of the teacher needs to be one of coming alongside the learner assisting students to do their own learning -another idea expressed in the autobiography I read. The teachers I admire gain their greatest satisfaction when their students surprise them ( and themselves) by the quality of their thinking and creativity.

5 If the above is the 'artistry' of teaching then developing classroom organisational patterns that 'allow' such work is the 'craft' of teaching. This requirement has been with teachers from the first days teachers attempted to 'personalise' their teaching and move away from standardized approaches such as lecturing, ability grouping or streaming.

When I see such elements ,which it seems have been a part of creative mindsets from the beginning, in all classrooms then, maybe, it is time to give it all away.

But, as I said, education is a conservative system.

Until then I will continue to add my 'point of view' to the continuing debate.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bruce

Once we had no Dr Beebie to give NZ educaton a direction we ended up with what we have now. If you you were publishing a recipe it would read. Take one leader from Treasury and make him leader of the education sector.Result. As you state in your blog.
Changes with the new curriculum. With some irony / cynicism I see that we now have 3 blocks in the school day. Literacy, Numeracy and topic.Is the topic area which covers 5 curriculum areas in the morning.? Hardly!! It fills the 1 1/2 hour after lunch block of time.
So I believe your work is completed my son when the topic block is in the first part of the day and leads the rest of the learning. When this happens in the majority of schools the new curiculum will have achieved its aims and you can rest with a smile.
Keep up the good work. This oldie in the north still believes in what you say although he isn't as persuasive as you are.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I am afraid you are right.

Nothing much has changed. The 'default' mode of most teachers is literacy and numeracy. Literacy because primary teachers think they know all about it and numeracy because they don't feel confident to do it differently than asked by 'experts'. And of course school 'targets' are always numeracy and literacy!!!

And there are no independent creative advisers to inspire only contracts to comply with.

When student curiosity is central, their 'voice' appreciated and their talents developed, then, as you say, creative education will be in place. And hell will have frozen over!

All we see now is decorative criteria based 'art' and language; pretty but shallow.

Nothing like a hopeless cause!

PS the educator I refer to was Norman Burgess who taught at Whakamara when you taught in Hawera.

Anonymous said...

Nice photo Bruce !

Great ideas again. It is not easy to swim against the tide. The Ministry contracts are creating an homogenised approach to teaching and learning.

I agree with anonymous when they talk about the school timetable. Several schools I know have reduced their afternoons to one hour. After some gathering and resting after lunch here will be precious little time for anything !

At our school I am starting to ban the words literacy and numeracy and am suggesting we talk about language and maths instead !

Bruce Hammonds said...

May not be easy swimming against the tide Tom but better than getting swept away with the current.

I agree that professional development, or 'toeing the official line', is leading to homogenised mediocre teaching - no matter how much they prattle on about their 'evidence based research'.

You are right , literacy and numeracy have had their day - let's call it language and maths and get on with the job of inspiring a love of learning ('learnacy').

Less isolated maths and reading and more integrated inspirational 'rich' studies.