Monday, August 25, 2008

The balance between consistency and creativity.

A group of Gisborne principals posing with a statue of Peter Snell in Opunake during their Taranaki tour to observe local 'best practices'.

For three days the Gisborne principals visited selected schools in Taranaki. Their task was to look for each schools 'cc' rating: consistency and conversely creativity across classrooms. Consistency because this indicates shared language of expectations and creativity, for without celebrating each teacher and child's creativity, it all can become mediocre.

The balance between the two is vital.

I also wanted them to keep an eye out for examples of children's 'voice' in personal writing, research writing and in response to environmental experiences. All too often the students creativity has been sacrificed by too much focused teaching or intentional teaching, exemplars and criteria. One way to solve this would be to have an overriding criteria that each piece of work work child does ought to reflect his, or her, own unique style.

A very important issue was how much the current content study contributes to the 'energy' of the class. Unfortunately 'inquiry' learning has little time given to it due to literacy and numeracy 'gobbling up' most of the available learning time. One solution would be to develop content information research and writing in the language block, and the same applies to ICT. Evidence of in depth inquiry learning was a little thin in many classrooms.

Old fashioned as it may sound I wanted the visitors to see student book (and chart) work as evidence of learning and to appreciate that such books are actually 'portfolios' that show continual quality improvement ( 'kaizen'). It was good to see schools teaching students design 'scaffolds' to assist their students but, once again, care needs to be taken that they do not end up looking all the same.

Learning 'how to learn' , for students to be able to involve themselves in in depth inquiry learning, able to 'seek, use and create' their own knowledge, ought to be a real feature in a 21stC classroom. Time seems to be the issue. It is by means of such studies that students develop the 'key competencies' they will need in the future. Such studies also open pathways for students to develop their unique talents and interests. As A S Neil wisely wrote, 'true interests are the life form of the whole personality.'

The key to such studies is to 'fewer thing well' and 'in depth' and to value individual differences. If this is done then quality work will be be found.

The visiting teachers saw examples of all the above. It is important that quality products are seen as equally important as quality process. Students need to see, demonstrate, and exhibit worthwhile results for their activity.

A real feature of most room were clear task boards for literacy and numeracy and school, class and individual goals. What was missing were similar group planning grids for the current study. Once again this is possibly a time issue? Students do need to know what ,when , why and how - and some idea of what quality 'looks like' in all they do. Many classes observed start and finish the day with reflective periods which is a useful idea to develop security and continuity.

What stood out in most of the rooms we visited were classroom environments that both celebrated student's thinking, art and language; displayed in a way that informed visitors exactly what the classes were involved in. The classrooms, in this respect, can be seen as the 'third teacher' and a major 'message' system for demonstrating what the school stands for. A number of rooms had quality learning tables featuring students personal best work.

One thing that couldn't be photographed was the positive caring and respectful relationship between all students and their teachers but it could be felt. What could be seen was the result of high expectations for all students and the importance of doing fewer things well.

Quality teaching isn't 'brain surgery'!


gregcarroll said...

Hi Bruce
had a great morning today visiting schools and having read your post last night it was timely to share with others as we reflected on what we were seeing. I also did a 'tour' with you some years ago with a group of small school principals from Otago. There is no substitute for 'seeing it in action' for sparking ideas about possibilities for our own schools and situations. The Taranaki visit was the catalist for some real reflection, and changes in my beliefs about what to value in learning and teaching; and schooling.
Not that I felt everything was something to aspire to, it never will be. But it is holding the mirror for our own practices and beliefs that is a critical part of professional growth. What troubled me in some places was what I saw as over-consistency in some schools. I enjoy the difference and creativity in our staff and encourage them to keep doing what they do well. But - it works for others and I am not trying to be judgemental. Just doesn't fit with me and my 'style'.
Wasn't it Mark Twain who observed that it is difference that makes horse races?
Keep challenging us, and reminding us that sometimes not a heck of a lot changes except the packaging.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Hi Greg

Great to hear from you.I share your concern about the dangers of too much consistency and agree with you that it is vitally important that teachers really value the creativity of their students' thoughts and creative expression.

Mind you the only truly consistent person is dead! And a lot of what people call 'creativity' is not really creative at all. The current emphasis on criteria, intentional teachers, and so called 'best practice', is placing too much emphasis on the role of the teacher.

The answer , as I mentioned in my blog, is for teachers to always keep in mind the need to value every learners ideosyncratic style. My ideal creative classrooms existed in the 70s but we have suffered an era of standardisation and accountability since then.

What I would lke to see are schools dedicated to developing every child's creativity ( talents and gifts).This is the kind of consistency I am after.

Perhaps the NZC will spark an era of creativity with it's idea of students being seen as 'seekers, users and creators' of their own knowledge.

So far all I see is most of the day takn up with literacy and numeracy demands with little time left for creativity.