Wednesday, July 23, 2008

30 Years ago - so what has changed?

Class of 78.My 'e-mailer' front row right

Recently I received e-mail from a student I hadn't heard of since she was in my class in 1978. She wrote about how great it was to experience the class and how much all that we did has stayed with her over the years.

With this in mind I searched out something I wrote, at the time, for the team of teachers I was leading. I was curious to see how much my ideas had changed since then.

What follows are extracts I wrote to clarify my thoughts and to share with the team followed by some reflective comments.

'Education is a means of helping all students achieve their full potential...this includes the development of interests that might lead into personal fulfilment or a career. As well we need to broaden each child's awareness of their immediate environment and the wider world.The key to any success will be seen in the attitudes of each learner to their own education. There will be students in our classes whose attitudes will have been subverted by their previous experience.It is these children who will offer us the greatest challenge so they can be restored to become self directed learners. The hope is that all children will move towards a healthy self concept and a caring attitude towards each other. For some children we need to be thankful for the smallest signs of growth.Helping such children gain personal pride through achievement is the key to their success'.

For me I would change little if I were to teach a class today..Sound like today's vision of a 'learning community based on shared values and teaching beliefs'.

' To do this we must accept the individuality of the children, respect their personal views and develop as much as it is possible a personalised approach to learning. All children like feeling competent and all thrive on success. All children get a good feeling from doing something really well'.

Personalised learning - now there is a phrase we hear about a lot today!

'We will need to develop safe and secure organisations to provide time to help those in need while at the same time developing in students the skills to work independently.Whatever we do children will need to know what is expected of them. Some parts of our day will be formal and directed to introduce to students the skills they will need but we will work hard to provide students with choice and responsibility. The morning will be structured around the more traditional areas of reading and maths and the afternoon around the class studies. We will introduce much of the skills required in the reading/language programme. It is over your confidence whether or nor to use ability grouping in 'basic ' areas but my own thoughts are that ability grouping has created more problems than advantages.I still think that there will always be times when groups of students, with common needs, need to be brought together for special help.' Our class organisation pattern will revolve around rotational groups and our blackboards will make it clear tasks for each group - this covers language, maths and study groups.

I still think that ability grouping end up more for the teacher convenience of than for the students benefits. Clear group tasks are the key to independent learning and focused teaching. The above includes what are now 'called key competencies'?

'We will use the students own experiences and feelings as the basis for as much work as is possible - particularly in language, content studies and art. It is very important that children see their experiences , feelings, questions and artistic and poetic expression as important and worthwhile. All too often schools unintentionally replace student's real experiences with far less personal ones. With this in mind all students will keep personal writing books to capture their thoughts about their lives. We need to ensure that by the end of the year students ( and their parents) will see real growth in quality of the writing and presentation'.

Personalised learning and 'evidence based' progress!

'The 'energy' for most of the classes work will come from the studies we introduce.These will emphasize out rich immediate environment ( (bush stream seashore and the small scale world) and local Maori and European history and architecture. Such studies will require us teaching inquiry learning skills of observation, information searching and presentation of ideas through language ( poetic and research) and art. We will also provide cultural studies to give students ideas of other times and places and an opportunity to exercise their imaginations'.

This emphasis on students studies is in contrast to much of what can be seen today's classrooms with their almost obsessive focus on literacy and numeracy.

'An important idea is for us to 'slow down the pace' of students work as many have developed a 'first finished is best' attitude. In all we do we need to encourage an appreciation of quality thinking including visual presentation of in all their book and chart work. We need to encourage the idea that a 'job worth doing is worth doing well'. Students will keep a topic book to records their idea about class and incidental studies - these also will need to show quality improvement as the year unfolds. Early in the year topic book and chart work should be well defined until students develop personal standards. We must do everything we can to encourage students to take a growing pride in their work'.

It is this 'slowing of the pace' of students work that encourages students to develop a reflective approach and also provides the space for teachers to assist learner in need or sharpen up skills not being used well. Today much of what students produce illustrates 'thin learning' not withstanding an emphasis on 'higher order thinking'. Students topic book represent a living portfolio to illustrate progress to parents and students.

'Our room environments will celebrate student's questions and their completed research based on the current study, along with topics selected from language , art and maths areas. Such studies should have clear headings. We will mount and display students observational and imaginative art, and language with the respect it deserves. All work displayed should represent individual student responses and, as such, represent their individuality.'

The key to quality room environments is doing fewer things well. Room environments represent an important aspect of 'what counts as important' and ought to be seen as representing a major 'message system' for any school.

All classrooms should be 'learning communities' that celebrate student's individuality and creativity if developing personalised learning is to be the future challenge.

Actually there is not much I would change even after thirty years. All that is missing is modern information technology which , if introduced as a tool , would enhance the students ability to collect data, research questions and present their ideas.

Perhaps the new environment offered by our 'new' curriculum will allow present day teachers to develop newer versions of such creative teaching? That is if they take back the responsibility, or have the courage, to work with their students to develop curriculums that align with student's needs. All those years ago i worked alongside a number of other local teachers - teachers again need to search out like minds to share ideas to gain confidence to have faith in their own professionalism. Professionalism that has been all but destroyed by the imposition of technocratic curriculums and obsessive assessment requirements.

As for me it is all a bit back to the future.


Anonymous said...

I can see why your ex student has fond memories of your class. Today teachers do not have the intellectual freedom to be so creative bombarded,as they are, with curriculum requirements, a focus on narrow 'targets' and, all too often, endless school imposed requirements.

You taught in the good old days when teaching was more fun. And reading your 'blog' nothing, it seems, is new,

Jill Hammonds said...

People like Bruce will be good regardless of the time in which they teach and we all need to be that way too. Today's teacher have all the same freedoms, we've just been fooled into believing otherwise. Fortunately we now have a curriculum that actually reminds us (if we read it) that we have that freedom. Let's use it as the opportunity to throw out all the meaningless "stuff" and get back to teaching. But let's also use it as a chance to explore what has changed in our world and grab the better options of that world too.

Jill Hammonds

Bruce Hammonds said...

Kia ora Jill.

Thing are never quite the same ( 'you can't step into the same river twice'). Yesterday teachers had to fight against tradition today they have to get over all the incoherent standardized curriculums and accountability pressures imposed on them by the same Ministry officials. They haven't been 'fooled' they have been 'burnt out'!

I agree the hardly 'new' curriculum offers a real opportunity for todays teachers to develop learner-centred education.

So far I haven't seen much sign of teachers basing their curriculum on the questions and interests of their students. Maybe this is what 'personalised' learning means - let's hope so. Funny that the phrase wasn't mentioned in the 'new' curriculum.