Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Back to the future?

Reflections on thoughts written in 2002.

Mark Twain once said that he could live for a month on one compliment so it was great to receive an e-mail, from a student teacher from Glasgow University who said, after reading a newsletter I wrote on Teaching and Learning Strategies in 2002, that it 'completely changed my view of education and teaching'.

I couldn't resist re-reading what I had written in 2002 and was pleasantly surprised to see how relevant what I had written is to today's challenges.

In 2002 schools were trying to cope with the then Ministry of Education's Curriculum. Introduced in the early 90s to provide a 'seamless' curriculum it had, in reality, created change fatigue, confusion, stress and teacher 'burnout'.

My newsletter asked that, as a country, we needed to have a 'conversation' about how education could contribute to ensure all students are able to thrive in a a challenging future. The publication of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum has more or less done this.

I wrote very positively about the need to focus on the art and craft of teaching by sharing the ideas of creative teachers. I wrote about the Queensland New Basics, their 'future literacies, their focus on 'productive pedagogy' and their integrated 'rich topics'. Lasting educational change will depend on sharing the ideas of creative teachers rather than relying on imposed contracts.

I wrote that schools should clarify their teaching beliefs and share their 'best practices' by working in concert with other schools to break down the professional isolation teachers were feeling. Schools, I felt, needed to develop collaborative learning communities who continually question their own teaching. I wrote, quoting Art Costa, students need to be inspired by whatever talents they may have, 'able to set goals,establish plans and establish priorities.'

I believed then, as I do now, that we need to move beyond either child centred (primary) or traditional education (secondary) and instead to take the best of both. Creativity and talent development combined with rigor, effort, perseverance and depth of study. The best of both not either/or ; what I called a 'More Informed Vision for the 21stC'

I wrote that education is a process from moving learners from 'novices to experts' and that the role of the teacher is one of being a creative 'learning coach'. Such teachers need to believe that every student can learn, given the appropriate task, time and help. The teachers role, as a 'cognitive coaches', is to assess students current learning ( prior knowledge) and then to negotiate explicit 'stretch goals'; 'scaffolding' any help that might be required.

I wrote that all students need to experience 'personal excellence' as assessed against previous learning. That learning needed to be relevant and interesting to them if they are to invest the intellectual energy required to solve problems. Teachers need to introduce fewer topics and to do them in depth - the integrated cross curricular 'rich topics' of the 'Queensland New Basics'. I believed then ,and still do, that creative teachers can easily ensure that the major strands of the current learning areas would be covered.

I wrote that a (co)constructivist theory underpins such an approach to learning
quoting Lev Vygotsky who wrote, 'what a child learns with help today she will do by herself tomorrow'. Students questions, and prior knowledge, would determine the pathway of each individual; teacher entering into dialogue with students to expand their knowledge.

I wrote, that to achieve quality of student work, teachers needed to 'slow down the pace of student work' so to develop a reflective mindset in learners and also to provide time for teachers to assist students with their thinking. I felt then that students were covering too much content and that this was leading to 'fragile' learning - a 'trivial pursuits' curriculum. I mentioned the idea of a 'haiku curriculum' - one that was simple and deep.

Although I was supportive of ensuring students become aware of the process of how they best learn ( 'meta cognition') I wrote that achieving real content is also important. What is vital for future success is that students know what to do when they do not know what to do!

As for assessment, I wrote that it ought to be integrated into every learning task
and that the teacher, as a diagnostic coaches, would naturally integrate feedback and further suggestions for 'next time'. I wrote that students should become their own assessors, using negotiated criteria, and that the best assessment of all ( other than the obvious joy of learning) are the student's' presentations and performances.

Management, I felt, was the 'lost art' of teaching and that in the rush to cover so much content teachers had become 'activity managers'. Students, I wrote,needed safe predictable classroom environments to provide a secure environment necessary for them to develop the confidence to take 'learning risks'. Teachers to undertake 'focused teaching' also need to ensure that all student knows what, when ,why and how, they are to do what is asked of them so they can work independently. It is, I advised, a good idea to have group tasks clearly displayed on the white, or black, boards and I recommended using a rotational four group pattern for content studies similar to the pattern used in reading programmes.

My last point was that if students produced work of personal excellence then their work ought to be displayed with due respect. Displays should feature headings, key questions, and a range of finished student work. Rooms ought to celebrate student creativity and pride of achievement.

The whole point of the newsletter was to express the importance of the skill, passion and enthusiasm of creative teachers in contrast to imposed curriculum and compliance requirements.

I concluded that creating the conditions to allow teachers to practice 'their artistry', to honour and value their efforts, and to ensure the collective wisdom of such teachers is shared with others, is the role of future leadership at all levels.

The past decades have not been kind to creative schools or teachers.

The Ministry, since the writing of the 2003 newsletter, has given us a 'new' curriculum, one that recognises the centrality of those who do the real work - classroom teachers.

The only thing it seems that has changed, since I wrote the 2002 newsletter, are the views of the who work in the Ministry .

For ideas I have gathered from creative teacher over the years.


Anonymous said...

For as long as I have known you you have shared the ideas you outlined in your 2002 newsletter. Progressive ideas are now coming back into the limelight after suffering a couple of decades of Ministry imposed 'educational dark ages'! Hopefully John Dewey will at last replace the Henry Ford industrial aged mentality as we move out of a mass standardized age into a personlised learning environment.

Bruce Hammonds said...

You made me think about the genesis of my philosophy and I have uncovered a publication outlining similar ideas published in 1970!