Thursday, June 12, 2008

The next big step in the school change process!

Ever wondered about what an ideal school might be like from your point of view? And what you might say to prospective students, parents and teachers to get them to come along on the adventure? Those in power who try to transform the system have failed, maybe it is your turn?

Schooling as we know it is essentially conservative. The pressures on teachers , real or imagined, are so strong that little seems to have changed over the years.

But there have been real changes if only in the primary years but secondary schools still teach 'five subjects hourly each day', according to a local principal. Maybe the recent government requirement to ensure all students are in schooling, or training, up until the age of 18, will create the pressure to change that so far has been resisted?

I began primary schooling in the 50s. From this perspective primary schooling has changed dramatically. In my day primary schooling wasn't to different from secondary. A lot of sitting still in desks, listening to the teacher, copying things down and the use of the strap but, after World War Two, change was in the air.

When I began teaching in the 60s liberal ideas, introduced by pioneer teachers in the 50s, were beginning to change the face of primary teaching. By the 70s things had changed dramatically. students worked in groups and learning was 'individualised' (if not 'personalised'). Innovative schools introduced integrated or related arts programmes breaking down the tyranny of timetabling. Today, even the promise of technology, hasn't really changed schooling since those heady days.

The lack of real change is not due to a shortage of innovative ideas to make use, both within New Zealand, and worldwide. It seems there simply is a lack vision and educational leadership at all levels. Once again it is time for pioneer teachers to lead the way - or preferably pioneer schools - or, even better still, groups of collaborating schools.

A key phrase in the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum
, for me, is for teachers to ensure all students become 'active seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

'Personalisation' is another key idea - tailoring education so as to develop the 'gifts, talents, passion and dreams' of all students.

If I were in position to make changes I would premise education on the following hardly original thoughts but, if they were to be implemented, would transform schooling.

From the beginning education should be seen as a partnership between the learner, the parents, the teacher and the school. The student's potential needs to be central. 'Learnacy' ( the desire to learn) must come before literacy and numeracy. The education system should be premised on the challenge of tapping into the talents and interests of all learners above all else so as to retain the joy of learning. Once the joy of anything is lost - reading and maths are two such areas, learning is lost.

All teaching must focus on developing in every learner a positive learning identity, or attitude, towards learning. With this in mind a profile of interests and potential talents needs to be introduced from day one ( involving parents) and evolve and deepen throughout the students life, leading to future occupations and leisure activities.

To achieve this classrooms would need to centre around each student's questions, ideas and personal concerns. From this an 'evolutionary' curriculum would 'emerge'. As well teachers would need to present 'rich' learning challenges, making full use of the immediate environment, to 'attract' learners attention and curiosity. Students need to be exposed to all the values and key ideas that future citizens need to have an appreciation of. To achieve both quality thinking and 'products' would require students to 'do fewer thing well'.

Students, as 'seekers, users and creators of the own knowledge', need to also become their own judges of quality; aways aiming to beat their 'personal best' and to focus on what they need to do 'next time' to improve. Nothing teachers do must distract the students drive to make meaning of their experiences, or their responsibility to be in control of their own learning.

The teacher's role in such a personalised learning community will be more vital than ever. Not only will teachers need to have an appreciation of the range of human talents ( by making use of multiple intelligences ideas of Howard Gardner) they need to ensure all students achieve the basic skills of literacy and numeracy in ways that preserve student's joy of learning. This will naturally integrate the use of information technology as a powerful learning and expressive tool, along with the other equally important expressive arts. Teachers need to see themselves as diagnostic learning coaches whose success will be judged by student attitudes as much as by their achievements.

All such learning will not only develop whatever talents each individual student has but also the 'learning how to learn' meta cognitive and inquiry skills.

All the ideas above by themselves anything new but, if implemented, from early childhood ( where they are most commonly to be found) through primary up into secondary and tertiary levels they would transform education as we know it. As students grow older the challenges to transform schooling becomes more difficult. Traditional structures and mindsets of teachers at this level are not aways conducive to change.

The 'engagement of all learners' is as vital.if all students are to leave school as 'life long learners' with all the appropriate 'competencies' in place somethings have to change.

The answer is a system based on preserving, in all student, a joy of learning and a desire to continually expand their horizons. If so a system of education, premised on developing each learners special set of gifts and talents, is urgently required.

This would take us on from the gains made in primary and early education in the 70s. If not it will remain a half realized revolution.

We can't continue to tinker with a system developed in, and for, a past industrial age; a system that is well past used its 'use by date'. If we are to thrive, individually and as a nation, in an environment based on a fast pace of evolutionary change, we have no choice. This is particularly so in a environment at risk, full of what seems impossible social and environmental challenges, that simply can't be solved with 'old minds'.

'We need new minds for a new millennium'.


Anonymous said...

How have we let an obsession with literacy and numeracy 'highjack' education - important as they are. They ought to be seen as a means to an end - the development an 'educated' person who continues to enjoy learning, particularly in areas of personal interest.

Bruce said...

As English educationalist Guy Claxton says - 'learnacy' is more important than literacy or numeracy. A programmme based on developing students talents and interests, making full use of the learners environment, requires literacy and numeracy but taught in context. 'Literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'. It is a matter of rearranging priorities - not one or the other.

Anonymous said...

You are right, the desire to learn should be the central focus, the main source of purpose and student involvement. You would think that would be understood in an instituition concerned with education. People only need look at how they have learned the things that are important to them.
Learning is not just about finding out what others think or know, it is about finding out what 'you' think or know. It is about having your own perspective, developing your own powers of reasoning and interpretation.

Bruce said...

Coudn't agree more. Learning and teaching are all to often different things!