Friday, July 04, 2008

Back to the future.

A wonderful resource written in 1961 to develop a creative personalised programme in your class today! If it hasn't been thrown out it would makes enlightening, and practical holiday reading.

The other day I was sent some heavily annotated photocopied pages from 1961 Suggestions for Teaching English in the Primary School. The note with it was passionately pointing out, 'so what is new'.

After reading the document I wished there were such perceptive writers residing at the Ministry of Education today - and, thank goodness, there were no 'bullet points' to be seen. The document was an attempt to share the creative practices of teachers of the time and it made it clear there were no 'best practices' - every teacher and school needed to work out what was appropriate for themselves; ideals that are similar to those found in our 2007 curriculum.

In those distant creative days of the 60s and 70s, before the imposition of the standardized curriculum's of the 80sand 90, creative teachers used this publication almost as a bible.

Maybe we are returning to such creative ways of teaching? If so a read of these publications would be most useful - particularly the pages outlining the five stages to make the shift from a formal to a creative integrated approach to teaching.

The philosophy behind the booklets was a developmental one - where each teacher takes a learner from where he is to as far he can go. This is in stark contrast to today's technocratic check list and benchmarks approach.

The teachers, in these earlier and more enlightened days, were advised to see their pupils as persons with needs, talents, and interests to develop. The teacher's vital role was to put their students into situations that would help them understand more and to be able to use language better.

Reflecting similar challenges that face teachers today the publication stated that the major obstacles to change was the system of attitudes teachers had built up over many years. In those days it was escaping from tightly timetabled, 'cut and dried' programmes, and testing - today the challenge is to escape from the endless learning objectives of the curriculums of the 80s and 90s.

Teachers were being asked to focus on how children learn and to developing a diagnostic and supportive role, helping each student according to their individual need. The challenge was to integrate language skills into realistic student studies based around science and social studies and the local environment.

Teachers were asked to constantly take stock of of their children's progress, ensuring that work in all areas of the curriculum excited children's interests and powers of expression.

Language was not to be seen in isolation, instead it was to be seen as the medium in which teachers and students thought and worked. The quality of the language (and related art s) was to be reflected the quality of the students products.

Today there is no such time for such an integrated programme with the current emphasis on achieving literacy and numeracy 'targets.

In the 60sand 70s a great deal of the work was done in a creative spirit where students discovered things for themselves with the assistance of their teachers. It was, what we would call today, an inquiry programme; students solving problems in the pursuit of their own purposes; developing appropriate skills in the process.

Students and teachers worked as partners with genuine respect for each other, appreciating the worth of their discoveries of the world around, or within them. In such rooms grew a a trust and love which liberated both children and their teachers and made learning what it should be - a joyful adventure.

The publications were an attempt to share the creative energy of earlier pioneer teachers like Elwyn Richardson. This is exactly the role our current Ministry should be taking today. Creative teachers are the key to lasting educational change - teachers today ,exhausted from accountability pressures, are hardly in the position to be creative!

The quality of the language programme depended on the rest of the curriculum; language is the medium, but not the only one. The focus was on building on the interests of the students themselves ( today we would call this 'personalised learning). The encouragement of independence, self discipline and responsibility relate to today's 'key competencies');character being nurtured through the children's maturing awareness of themselves. As students developed independence they were given more responsibility.

Reading, rather than being isolated as today, was based on assisting children gain meaning to: serve their identified purpose, to follow an argument, pick out essential ideas, and to respond with sympathy and imagination the text. Teacher assistance was given, as required, according to individual or group needs.

Class studies provided the 'energy' or relevance for student work. Particular students' interests in class studies would lead them into a range of individual or group areas of interest and time was given to produce work of quality.

Much of the educative value of the work lay in the integration with of the creative arts and encouragement of an open minded experimental and resourceful attitude to the media being used.

Perhaps it to this style of teaching that our 'new', for most of the ideas within it are hardly new, Curriculum now encourages?

If so then we once again may see creative teaching take centre stage.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Bruce!

So 'what's new?' In the secondary sector there will be a few things that change on account of the 'new' Curriculum. But I doubt if they will be of any real benefit to the student.

It's a concern that there is now so little time to spend on the 'side trips' because of the emphasis on achievement.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Bruce said...

Kia ora David.

I read with interest your link 'emphasis on achievement' and agree that it will be hard for secondary schools to introduce worthwhile changes. Just all too much to ask? A real need for innovative school leadership?

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Bruce!

Well the leadership in that direction has to come from somewhere and it's not going to arise outside the school, at least not this decade. This is the autonomy that a teacher has, albeit narrow enough, but significant.

And it's Ken.

Ka kite
Ken Allan - Middle-earth

Bruce said...

Thanks for your comment Ken. I don't know where I got the David from! Let's hope school leaders emerge the next few years - there are a few about I know of!

Ka kite ano


Tyne said...

Goodness me!
That was published in the year I was born!

Albeit 12,000 miles around the globe.... :-)

And yet - I remember so well, those classrooms full of desire for learning.
I think perhaps those days influenced me, 30 years later, when I achieved my ultimate dream job as a teacher.... how wonderful.

(aka "C")

Bruce said...

I taught in England ( your place of birth?) in the late 60s when true child-centred learning was appreciated unlike today.

You may have experienced such a wonderful class. Certainly my time teaching in such a school transformed my approach.

True creative education stays the same whatever era - just messed up by people who know better than the students (or their teachers).