Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Time for some choices?

Creativity or conformity?

Time to leave the corrosive age of accountability and enter a new era of creativity.

We need new minds for a new millennium.

Time for courageous leadership.

Around the world their is a rising tide of disquiet about the distorting results of an over emphasis on the time spent on reading and maths and, as a result, the squeezing out of other equally important aspects of education.

The accountability movement hasn't thankfully reached the oppressive levels in New Zealand as it has in America, the United Kingdom ( with its league tables) and even in our close neighbour Australia.

But a look at our primary schools would show that literacy and numeracy have, as one UK commentator says, ' all but gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'.

The fact of this emphasis on literacy and maths targets has been a narrowing of the curriculum and we are paying price for this narrowing. In countries overseas there have been dramatic cuts in such intellectually rich subjects as social studies, the arts, physical education and even science.

Such a distortion has the effect of not valuing and amplifying the various talents of students in the neglected fields. The very talents we desperately need as a country to thrive in the 21stC.

Our 'new' Zealand Curriculum, which states that we want to see our students as , 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge', gives us a choice to redress the balance.

Currently New Zealand schools, unlike other countries, select their own achievement targets but for all the choice these are , in the main, restricted to literacy and numeracy. And what get measured gets done and takes up the prime time; other areas get pushed to the margins. The so called 'achievement gap' is restricted to reading and maths - if the only game in town is soccer its tough if you are a hockey player! Our New Zealand Curriculum states that every student can learn - something our system so far has never achieved.

Sometimes it seems it is too difficult to simply find the time to do more exiting programmes.

What really matters ought to be the passions, talents, motivation and aptitudes of our students - their openness and excitement for learning. What our 'new' curriculum calls 'key competencies'.

We need to redress the situation by valuing the 'creative spirit' within every learner.

This is the choice our 'new' curriculum offers us. We no longer have to worry about 'coverage' but we need to 'design ' challenges that that provide all students the opportunity to develop their innate competencies and talents. The curriculum, suggests wisely, that we should do fewer things, to do them in depth, and to integrate, where possible, learning areas.

Seeing each student as an individual and then doing our best to help them to be the best they can be ought to be the new emphasis. Some call this emphasis 'personalised learning' as against, 'one size fits all'.

Such a creative emphasis requires equally creative teachers.

Creating the conditions to encourage teacher creativity is the challenge of leadership at all levels. Relationships and trust need to replace compliance and control.

A creative education, where students work collaboratively, develops in students a capacity for empathy and collaborative work as well as self managing skills.

A creative education provides to all students ( not just the academic), by recognising and developing their talents, a sense of direction and purpose in their lives.

A creative education develops flexible thinking and risk taking in students, important elements in an individuals future success.

Such ideas take us well beyond traditional secondary schools with their academic bias and separate subjects and primary schools that have over emphasized literacy and numeracy.

So there are choices of direction to be made.

Our society is going through a time of dramatic change in every area of life and new thinking will be required if our planet is to remain conducive to human life.

A creative education is, in a way, a spiritual one - one of developing personal meaning in life. It is about emphasizing the important values rather than narrow achievement targets. The future is not just about literacy and numeracy ( so important in an industrial age) but it more about 'learnacy'; the love of learning itself.

It is all about connecting people to a larger narrative than their own lives.

Our young people must acquire a 21st century education - one that faces up the reality of our own fragile existance.

But first we, as teachers, must make the right choices.


Anonymous said...

These are the very questions I have been looking for answers for.

I have heard of schools changing their timetables so that the 'morning' is extended and the 'afternoon' is reduced to an hour. Teachers tell me the children are much better behaved ! So when do they do the fun stuff - an hour isn't long enough for a decent art session or science investigation.

Linking these ideas back to the new curriculum is very helpful because it gives me the words with which to discuss the ideas. And also gives these ideas a sound footing.

Bruce - I have just purchased your booklets and am enjoying reading and mulling over the first booklet in particular.

Bruce Hammonds said...

One of the anwers is to develop skills such as research writing, and researching generally, in the language /reading programme.Teach design and presentation formats, art skills such as observation, the use of appropriate ICT, even ralated handwriting, in the morning that then can be used in the p.m. programme.

The same applies for mathematical data collection/graphing etc - these skills can be taught in the a.m. for use in the p.m.

You need to at least have four dedicated hours for group work based around the current content study - this allows rotating four times a week, as in reading, and leaves one day for finishing work.

You can also have at least one of these content sessions in the morning.

My classroom management booklet covers all this.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Tom can you send me a normal e-mail with your e-mail address on it - I want to send you something.

Brian O'C said...

The emphasis on literacy and numeracy (or as it used to be called the 3Rs) is a knee jerk reaction to the moving away from the education in the 80s and 90s.

So much of schooling then was concentrating on making people feel good. You here it expressed so often from teachers that it is important to enjoy things and to have fun. And it is of course important.

But sometimes things just have to be learnt that are hard work and not much fun. They often weren't taught well. And the areas of maths and English were often the ones left out because those parts can often be hard work and can struggle to be 'fun'.

I am thinking of the basics of number like place value or fractions. Or spelling and learning simple grammar.

So our reaction is to just concentrate on what can be measured and not consider the other.

Remeber the 60s! The youth of that era became the teachers in the 70s and 80s and the consequent promotion of what can be called the enjoyment mode. They are now the decision makers and policy makers (and consultants) who in an era where economics rule are concerned with maximising the economic and public good.

Fun is not either of these!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks for the comment Brian.

I agree that things were a bit 'loose' in the 80s ( everything was) hence the imposition of the 'market forces' accountability movement and associated curricula, but, in reality, primary schools have never really left their focus on literacy and numeracy.

Worldwide, in the 90s, there has been a greater measurement emphasis on reading and maths which has made it even harder to develop creative personalised programmes.

The group of creative teachers I associated with ( through the 60/70/80s) always believed that anything worthwhile required effort, time and perserverance.

We believed satisfaction comes from doing something really well, in any field - and that any success requires, as mentioned, time, effort, and practice.

We believed in, 'creating friendly environments for hard work'. Soft expectations are a sign of a teacher who doesn't understand the creative process.

Today we need a focus on creativity, involving real relevant challenges, and the appropriate help to ensure success for all.

As well we need to define the core basics that need to be in place at any level for all learners so that can take advantage of learning opportunities. These need to be few, explicit, and well done.

I worry about shallow work I see in primary schools, with their integrated programmes, and in secondary schools, with their 'forgetable' fragmented specialist subject centred teaching. We need to do fewer things well and to integrate learning across disciplines.

Both do a disservice to learners. We need the 'best of both worlds' - 'child centred' learning and effort and discipline.

The key to learning is doing things that you like to do, or to see the point of doing , that amplify your natural talents and encourage you and to continually improve on past performance.

We need to understand the intellectual demand of creativity, in any area of learning, if all students are to, 'be seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge', as our 'new' NZ Curriculum suggests, is required for the 21stC

Anonymous said...

I read of a school, in your own home town, that is extending the morning part of the day to focus on literacy followed by mathematics - so much for creativity and students interests! And , worse still , they think they are being innovative! A Victorian curriculum in the 21st Century! Oh well - as long as they have electronic whiteboards!

Gay said...

Great to catch up with Bruce Hammonds blog site.I taught in Palmerston North -Milson School where the principal Martin Baites implemented a lot of Bruce's philosophy.A colleague and I have gone on to publish our book -'Discovery Time-Developing the key competencies through activity- based,child directed learning.'At the printers now! We are very excited about learning through play.Check out our blog
Cheers Gay

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Gay.It is a long time since those Milson days.Martin was an inspiration to me. Your publication sounds great and I enjoyed reading blogs from your site.All the best.