Monday, August 11, 2008

Teachers learning from teachers

Teachers from Puketaha School visiting schools in Taranaki -an opportunity for seeing new possibilities and affirming their own teaching.

It is aways interesting to observe teachers as they visit other classrooms. The four teachers involved in this particular visit are part of very innovative school team and were thus well placed to appreciate the value of what they would be seeing.

There is no doubt in my mind that 'focused' visits to other schools are a very valuable means of professional development. Being involved in the discussion following the visits, and listening to the in-depth thinking and future planning that the visits motivated, confirmed the value of such experiences.

Such visits are time consuming and ought not to be taken lightly. Having a guide, or a particular purpose, to focus observations make such visits all the more worthwhile. And back at school ideas gained should be integrated into school programmes.

The point I wanted the teachers to observe during the visits was the importance of the class study to supply the 'energy' for the inquiry work of the class. This is in contrast to the current emphasis where literacy and numeracy are the most important elements - the remainder of the day left over to cover all other areas of the curriculum. This is not to say that literacy and numeracy are not important, they are, but they should be seen as 'foundation skills' required to allow in depth thinking in the total curriculum. As educationalist Guy Claxton writes 'learnacy' is more important that literacy and numeracy. Education is about progressively developing each students innate talents and 'learning power'.

The schools visited illustrated this point well but, even in such schools, far too much time is 'eaten up' by literacy and numeracy programmes. The 'Victorian three Rs' curriculum is still alive and well in this age of inquiry learning . This is ironic as the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum, with its emphasis on key competencies, is asking schools to develop students as 'innovative' and 'creative' - active 'seekers, users and creators' of their own knowledge.

Such an emphasis would require the negotiation ( to ensure 'ownership') with students to introduce 'rich' learning experiences to challenge their thinking. Although the 'process' of learning is important, if learning is successful, then the students ought to be able to produce quality finished thoughtful work - both creative and scientific. Such studies were a feature of the classes we visited not withstanding the lack of time to focus on such important areas.

Quality student presentation of students ideas, both in students bookwork ('portfolios') and on the classroom walls in the rooms were another feature of the rooms we visited. Room environments need to celebrate student creativity and thinking as well as informing class visitors. Some rooms we visited were simply inspirational. Quality work is seen when teachers do 'fewer topics well' and really encourage students to think , or better still reflect, hard about what the are inquiring into. The room environment needs to be seen as the 'third teacher' ( the second being the activities students engage in) reflecting the 'messages' that the school thinks is important.

I would've liked to have seen a greater use of the immediate environments a resource ( even just to capture seasonal events) and also a greater emphasis on valuing students 'voice' and creativity generally. I am often disappointed by the lack of originality in student art and language which seems far too teacher ( or 'criteria') dominated. It is aways a mystery to me as to why teachers develop purposeful group timetables for literacy and numeracy but do not continue this approach into the content areas. Maybe it is this time thing again?

A few other things I liked:

Examples of powerful language experience writing ( usually as a result of an environmental visits) in a few junior classes. For students, with less than wonderful language ability, this is vital. It once was a feature of New Zealand junior rooms.

Student book work that shows 'continual quality improvement' ( the 'kaizen' of the Japanese) and believe that these are the best form of student 'portfolio'.

A range of content students which features students achieving three or so focused outcomes - a piece of research based around a few key questions, a piece of creative language, and a piece of expressive art. Research and information ideally should be taught during the literacy block as well as relevant maths to gain more time for studies.

The positive role of the teacher in providing feedback, design scaffolds, and most all all really valuing helping each student express their own idiosyncratic point of view. The development of an 'emergent' curriculum evolving out of student interests and concerns might be a future development -another lost idea? If 'key competencies' are so important this would make sense.

The visits provided lots of intense discussion amongst the visiting teachers. The most powerful conversations were motivated by a school which is developing collaborative and inquiry learning across the whole school.In this school students of all ages work together to create a powerful end of term parent exhibition.

It will be interesting to see what ideas the visitors gained will be added to the visiting schools already impressive approach.

All in all a powerful learning experience - there is nothing to compare to teachers learning of other teachers.


Jurassic Park said...

The group is having a release day on Friday to continue the conversations we had on the trip and put action plans in place. We, as you said, were most impressed with the last schools approaches to developing collaborative and inquiry learning across the whole school. We see the whole exercise as top quality professional development for all the staff in ensuring consistency of approach through the whole school. The question of consistency has been something we have grappled with sometimes, as such a push can impact on creativity if one isn't careful. Between the 5 schools we saw we got many ideas that fit our vision and thrust to make us a better school - will report back next Friday in more depth.

Jurassic Park is alive and well

Bruce said...

Kia ora Jurassic Bob and your hardworking team.

I really enjoyed your visit - a very professional group of educators - and discerning diners and shoppers as well!

I am sure the ideas you picked up will mutate and evolve into great things.

Keep in touch.I am always keen to know what is happening at Jurassic Park.