Friday, April 04, 2008

Providing opportunities to develop students passions and interests.

A creative teacher is always on the alert for an opportunity to involve students in meaningful learning - in this case learning about why archaeologists need to research an early Maori settlement. The students found the experience fascinating.

I have always liked the quote from Jerome Bruner that , 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.' Students are innately curious and if they have developed a range of interests they will do almost anything to learn more about, or get better, at it.

The New Zealand Curriculum asks teachers to see their students as active 'seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge'. Achieving this will provide a real challenge to many school

Our identity is closely linked to what we are good at doing, or the interests a we have, and so it makes sense to expose students to a range of experiences that provide opportunities to develop, uncover, or amplify, their interests.

A recent Ministry of Education publication, 'Assessing Key Competencies' suggests that we need a new metaphor for assessment - 'performance'. I can't resist a comment that this idea is hardly new - except to those who have been distracted from such a common sense idea by traditional educational assessing for accountability or, a little better, for acquiring teacher defined skills or content.

Performance , to me , suggests performances of student's talents rather than 'key competencies' but I agree key competencies are integral to any performance.

I just have a feeling that developing talents and interests have not been fully appreciated by current thinking - the emphasis is that the 'key competencies are at the heart of the curriculum.' This emphasis requires new forms of assessment beyond the 'old basics'.

I agree with the document that students need to develop an identity as a learner who is, 'ready willing and able' to apply themselves to any new learning challenge. I have aways liked the business firm that uses, 'Know how , can do', as it vision phrase but would add to to it , 'don't know how but will give it a go.'

A performance is seen as a complex mix of competencies and needs to judged as a whole after the performance as part of an ongoing creative process. This is not to say that specific elements cannot be highlighted for future improvement.

Teachers are asked, in the document to 'audit' the opportunities they provides to develop key competencies ( and I would add students talents and interests)?

What 'rich tasks' ( a term for topics designed as part of the Queensland 'New Basics') are being provided that allow the development of 'new literacies' to add to the old basics of reading writing and literacy'?

Other phrases sum up the 'spirit' of such learning: Inquiry Learning, Project, or problem , Based learning; generative topics and 'ill defined problems'. They all involve both teacher and students moving into new area of learning making use, in the process, all the key competencies and the various disciplines.

Some examples I have observed:

In depth ecological studies of natural environments - a piece of bush ( The missing cloak of Tane), long grass, a lawn, the seashore, streams one class studies a river from source to sea), life in the soil and studies of single plants ( the flax) and animals ( cicadas/wasps). One school studied the human body and skeleton extending into health and well being.

Exploring physical science topics from the science of fight (making kites) to household chemistry ( cooking).

Studies of other cultures, past and present, to develop cultural literacy. Studying recently migrated cultures using class new mates.

Exploring heritage building in the local environment ). One class studied styles of architecture). One excellent study was based on exploring the symbolism of a church. Oral history of those involved in WW2 ( linked in with ANZAC Day) another remembrances of older people in the community.

Art themes such as printing ( and writing) through the ages from clay tiles to multi media printing. The art and science of firing clay. Making videos and multi media presentations. Photography from pin hole to digital cameras.

Intensive studies of Maori, or Pasifica, culture - researching a pa site; exploring Maori, or Pacifica, art and craft. History of life and times of famous early Maori fighting chiefs. Life and times of a pakeha Maori:Kimble Bent.

Exploring maths topics such as patterns ( involving a range of Learning Areas) measuring, geometry in the environment.

Many of the above were planned by the teacher ( or teams of teachers) but a number arose through taking advantage of 'teachable moments'. However they were introduced activities and 'performances' were negotiated with students.

The best assessment , or demonstration, of key competencies would be for a student( or group of students) to undertake a self chosen independent study. Not only would this demonstrate what students know but would also indicate areas teachers need to focus on. At the beginning of each year is another time to assess what competencies ( and talents) students bring with them.

For a creative teacher the years programme could 'emerge' from students interests, concerns and teachable moments but, even for such a teacher, it is easy enough to ensure that the strands of the learning Areas are covered. It is vital that, whatever is studied, is done well to ensure 'deep' learning.

The key competencies maybe the 'heart of the curriculum' but the development of every students talents and interests are central to of each individual learning identity. I guess it depends on your point of view!

Take a look around your class, or school, what opportunities are being offered to develop either?


Anonymous said...

Where did this phrase key competencies come from - it does seem rather technocratic? Dispositions, attributes, intelligences, or behaviours, would fit just as well?

I agree developing students love of learning through tapping into their interests is vital. Perhaps teachers don't appreciate the power of talents?

Anonymous said...

Bruce.... here is a link for you .. is it funny ... or is it TOO SAD!!!! Ask yourself. The whole world gone mad on literacy and numeracy .... AAARRRGGGHHH!
Anyway.... here is the link ... worth a watch

Bruce Hammonds said...

The phrase comes from a European Report 'DeSeCo: Definitions and Selection of Key Competencies. I have read it - all very boring I thought.

Wrong choice of phrase for the 21stC ( an age of creativity and ideas) as you suggest but we are stuck with it now.

I don't know why teachers don't value their student's talents as a priority - maybe they have never seen in action what inspiration a talent provides an individual?

Bruce Hammonds said...

I checked out that site Jody. What a great and simple site for teachers who believe in the power and motivation of the arts ( or talents).I am going to use ideas from it for a blog. Great 60s song revised for today times!

'Go to sleep pray now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you'll do fine.
It's reading and maths, forget all the rest.
You don't need to know what is not on the test.

'So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school 'cause they're not on the test.'