Thursday, May 08, 2008

A quick visit to Aussie

An image by artist Ken Done of the New South Wales coastline. Pandanus trees, and sunshine, are a feature.

It has been a while since I last added a blog.

It is just that I have been working with some schools in Coffs Harbour, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. This was a follow up from my presentation at the NSW Principals Association Annual Conference last November.

It was a wonderful experience, especially as it was an opportunity to escape the beginning of winter in New Zealand. For punishment I returned to New Plymouth on the coldest day so far this year and found that my home had been flooded. None the less it was all worth it.

It is always interesting to meet up with teachers from another country and the chance to visit classrooms of a couple of the schools was great. Teaching is both the same and different in every country one visits. I hope the ideas I shared were of value to the teachers I presented to; but , as I said, I enjoyed the experience.

As for my presentation - really three presentations, I shared my thoughts about quality learning and teaching in the content areas that seem to be neglected in both counties. An emphasis on literacy and numeracy, in both our counties, has diverted teacher energy from inquiry learning in the content areas and also the importance of the creativity in the expressive arts. This 'diversion' has taken the emphasis away from the centrality of the need to develop of every learners' unique talents, gifts and creativity. As one UK commentator has said, 'it is as if literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'. Educationalist Guy Claxton has written that more important than literacy and numeracy is 'learnacy'.

The first of my three presentations covered the big idea that we are in a major 'shift' in human consciousness equivalent to that experienced in the first Renaissance - some are calling this 'shift' the New Age of Creativity or the Second Renaissance. The trouble is, as we a leave the Industrial Age, our schools systems are artifacts of a past age.

New thinking is required; we need 'new minds for a new millennium.

Just as the 'round world' view of human kind created new perceptions and knowledge (aided by the printing press), so the idea of an 'evolutionary' world, aided by the world wide web, creating new, very different, ways of understandings.

Defining the future attributes required by future learners, and focusing all teaching toward realizing such attributes, is the challenge of today's schools. These attributes are defined as 'key competencies' ( a phrase uncomfortably linked to an Industrial Age) in the New Zealand Curriculum.

My second presentation covered what I call the 'artistry of the teacher'. We covered a series of activities to illustrate how teachers can value the 'voice', questions, ideas and opinions of their students. This 'personalization' of learning is a natural replacement of the previous uniformity of the 'mass' education established in an Industrial Age. We covered learning styles, the importance of perception and observation, multiple intelligences, co-constructivist teaching and the use of 'scaffolds' to develop student confidence. The key to quality is to do 'fewer things well' so as to ensure students' 'personal best'.

The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum sees students as, 'active seekers users and creators of their own knowledge'.

My final session was about class organisation, or what to do with others' while teachers are working with groups or individuals who need specific help. A rotation group system similar to one used by teachers for reading was suggested. We also covered the idea of an 'emergent curriculum' based on students questions, integrated learning, assessment through performance, and the creation of celebratory and informative classrooms. One important idea was the need to do 'fewer topics in greater depth' - this is in conflict with current NSW Curriculum requirements.

My visits to classrooms the next day illustrated to me that many of the above ideas were already part of many teachers repertoire. My ideas affirmed what many teachers were currently doing or, in some cases, what they used to do! From discussions with the principals and teachers a number of ideas presented did provide new perspectives that would 'add value' to their school programmes.

All in all a worthwhile experience for myself and a chance to experience some great hospitality and sunshine.

Be great to go back!!

For information on practical details of my presentations see my set of action plan booklets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You picked a great time to go to sunny Oz! Hope the flood is sorted!