Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Advice from David Perkins to make learning Whole

David Perkin's book 'Make Learning Whole' concludes each chapter with very practical advice to create positive integrated learning environments.

Advice from David Perkins 'Making learning Whole'

One: 'Play the whole game' not fragmented bits.

The problem Perkins says is there is too much problem solving ( teachers problems ) and not enough problem finding - or figuring out often 'messy' open ended investigations. 'Playing the whole game' is the solution resulting in some sort of inquiry or performance. It is not just about content but getting better at things, it requires thinking with what you know to go further, it is about finding explanations and justifications.It involves curiosity, discovery, creativity, and camaraderie. It is not just discovery learning - it needs strong guidance gradually faded back.

To get students involved in any learning game teachers need to present 'threshold experiences' suited to the students developmental level. And students need to see the point of the game in any content area.

The best 'threshold experiences are playing 'junior versions' that provides students opportunities to see the 'big picture' of the activity . All 'games' have 'hard bits' to practice. 'Whole language' is a good example but with the inclusion of necessary skill development so to 'play the game' of reading well. 'Junior' versions can be played in subject areas such as mathematics or cross curricular investigation that integrate the total curriculum. 'Junior versions' need to involve learners at different skill levels, and need to challenge students to get better at the game, and, to 'stick', students need plenty of practice.

Ideally the language and numeracy blocks ought to contribute to students being able to involve themselves skillfully in such bigger open ended investigations.

The critical thing is that students can 'perform the the game' ( reading, maths, an inquiry investigation) with flexibility and understanding.

Teachers need to:

1 Try to introduce all learning as a kind of inquiry or performance involving problem finding and solving learning that students see the point of it.

2 Such learning should produce something worthwhile - a solution, greater understanding or research that students value.

3 The best way is to find a 'junior version' of the activity, a 'threshold activity', that is attractive to the learners. A ' junior version' that stimulates curiosity, discovery, imagination camaraderie and creativity.

4 Such 'threshold' activities need to provide opportunities for meaningful practice

Two: 'Make the game worth playing'.

Worthwhile games have intrinsic motivation. Students often start school highly enthusiastic but become increasingly less so over the years as schools focus on measureable achievement rather than developing a love of the game of learning. Most students simply forget most of what they are taught - it does not 'connect' or 'stick'.

Worthwhile learning resonates with learners' interests and concerns, and provides opportunities for greater success, insight and understanding. Teachers need to introduce 'generative' topics to develop powerful learning. Good topics provide, writes Perkins, 'enlightenment, empowerment, and responsibility'. Topics, or 'junior versions' of any game, must provide reason for students to want to learn more. Sometimes students don't know what they want until they have had a significant amount of experience through playing 'junior versions'. A good topic provides the opportunity for students to develop their understanding and provides opportunities for guided choices and teacher feedback to develop meaningful skills. Teachers need to provide a 'culture of opportunity' to 'make games worth playing', to communicate high expectations for all learners and toencourage the value of practice and effort.

The first step is choosing a game worth playing.

Teachers need to:

1 Search for 'generative' topics that illuminate fundamental questions of human learning.

2 Organize learning, through 'Junior versions', that develop personal goals, worthwhile performances and ongoing assessment.

3 Provide a climate of high expectation for all students to develop proactive mindsets and provide step by step assistance so students can improve their learning capacity.

4 Provide opportunities for students choice,creativity and imagination as their confidence and skill develops

Three: 'Work on the hard bits'

Students need to appreciate that to get better they need to work on and practice the 'hard bits'. If the desire to get better at playing the game is present such practice is understood as necessary. 'Hard bits' need to be valued as a means to improve and requires ongoing assessment by both the teacher and the students. Feedback need to focus on strengths and shortfalls and should clarify intentions, provide appreciation and indicate concerns and suggestions for 'next time'.

Feedback fails to 'stick' unless it is infused back into the setting of the whole game. After any separate 'hard bit' lesson students need an opportunity to make meaningful use of it for it to be integrated. Deliberate practice is needed, with experience teachers will gain insight into the areas of 'troublesome knowledge' to assist students. 'Junior versions' themselves are a way to practice missing skills. 'Learning conversation' with students having difficulty - with students describing their actions- are another way of finding problem areas.

Teachers need to:

1 Help students work on the 'hard bits that feedback into the 'whole game'.

2 Figure out ways to give students frequent rich feedback from themselves or other students.

3 Embrace 'hard bits' and provide actionable feedback and immediate opportunities to apply.

4 Try to anticipate 'hard bits' and organise teaching to assist.

5 Make use of students specific difficulties to help teach smarter.

6 Find some 'whole game' exercises that focus on practicing the targeted 'hard bits'

Four: 'Play out of town' - the issues of transfer.

People often do not transfer learning in one context to another ( 'they can't play out of town). If the task is similar ( reading another book) then 'near transfer' applies. It it involves reading in an inquiry situation it might not ( 'far transfer'). To develop transfer students need to build up 'rich extensible action repertoires' .

Transfer does not happen by itself. It can only be achieved if the pattern of learning favours it. Teachers need to pay attention to developing transfer ensuring that students develop awareness to make use of skills learnt in other situations.

The more students are encouraged to transfer learning by being involved in situations that require them to use such skills the more learning is transferred. Transfer involves both content and process. Teachers can point out where transfer is required by doing activities close to the original application ( called 'hugging') or in a new situation ( Perkin's calls this 'playing out of town') and by reminding students of the need to use previous learning ( called 'bridging' ).

Teachers need to make the most of transfer opportunities.

1 Ask how can I help students make connections?

2 Focus on areas where transfer might be a problem -applying reading or maths skills to inquiry topics.

3 Design learning activities that involve transfer - teaching research skills in literacy block to integrate into the current class inquiry study.

4 Remind students of their prior knowledge of content and process ( 'key competencies').

Five: 'Uncover the hidden game'.

Almost everything people learn in school has its hidden aspects. Getting good at things means getting below the surface. What is often missing is self management- ways of analyzing, questioning, clarifying problems and then organising approaches. To do this students need to be able to explain things to themselves - to be aware of strategies, for example, in reading new texts. Thinking about thinking , to be successful, need to undertaken and made explicit in real contexts ( or 'whole games'). Each learning area, or discipline, has its own 'hidden games' to appreciate and once again these are best learnt by being involved in 'Junior games' - by being mathematicians so as to 'surface' how mathematicians work.

What teachers can do to make 'visible' 'hidden' learning - 'key competencies'

1 Reveal 'hidden' strategies to students through examples and discussion, or help students discover them for themselves with your help.

2 Keep things simple at first with very 'junior versions' .

3 Encourage self management and 'good moves'.

4 Help student appreciate the learning process - how the 'game is played' in any learning area - to think like scientists.

Six; 'Learn from the team' - to learn from and with others.

Too much of schooling, Perkin writes, 'is a solo activity' - reading and listening rather than interacting. In life we generally learn ( or 'play whole games') together; learning is a collective enterprise. To achieve this teachers need to set up 'participation structures' to ensure all students are involved. Focused group work is required. 'Newcomers' can be ' scaffolded' and helped just above their developmental level and by 'participating as apprentices' graduallay become more involved. Ideas thrive in an environment of discussion and collaboration while undertaking real tasks ( or 'whole games') that result in group performances or presentations. Peer, or small group problem solving, (with each group working on different elements of problem), active listening, thinking aloud, cross age tutoring, and reciprocal reading are ways of working on the 'hard parts' and are examples of learning from each other. Demonstrations and sharing ideas and critiques of each others work are other means of learning from others. Teachers can also share ideas by circulating around groups 'nudging, prodding and cajoling to help students in advance' with the 'hard bits'; focused teaching.

All the above builds up a 'community of practice' where students actively share and talk about what is on their mind and what they have learnt, or need to learn. This is an ideal situation to to integrate newcomers to the room - this applies to new school staff as well as class members. The school as a inquiry or learning community.
Such collegial sharing 'makes the game worthwhile'.

What teachers can do to ensure 'learning from the team'.

1 Use various well defined group partciation activies.

2 Think of different ways for students to share and help each other.

3 Plan ways to involve newcomers ( beginners) to any activity: pair problem solving, 'jig saw' tasks, cross age tutoring, debates, project based learning.

4 Make use of a 'demonstration - lecture- students at work, and critique' ( reflection) approach that 'allows students to watch and learn from one another'. The same applies for teacher professional development.

Seven : 'learn the game of learning'.

Students need to 'drivers' of their own learning and not 'passengers' - much of this sense of agency will come from playing 'whole games. To be 'drivers' students need to make their own choices. Too easily learning can be micromanaged and, if so, students will not develop a 'take charge mindset. We need to teach them to feel what it is like to 'drive their own learning' - and there is no other way without letting them drive. This about student agency -about developing classrooms that work happily even without the teachers presence. Teachers in charge of their own learning. Such 'driver-seat school cultures are very good for building the skills and dispositions of learning to learn ' - the 'key competencies' required for unknown times. Students in such classes do not easily give up as they have learnt to value effort and responsibility for their own learning. How teachers relate to students, the messages they give about learning, are vital to develop 'confident, creative and connected' learners able to 'seek , use and create their own knowledge'. 'Such students have been drawn into deep and self regulated engagement in learning'. Creating opportunistic learning situations, high expectations for all students, realistic learning contexts,modeling, coaching, scaffolding, and focused feedback to make learning 'visible' or explicit are key teacher ingredients. Any separate stand alone lessons, if necessary to practice 'hard bits', need to be put to use as soon as possible. Such teaching, Perkin's writes, ' does not call fr absolute freedom, but rather a measured latitude that supports as much as it frees, guides as much as it permits, shapes as much as it allows'.

All the previous six points contribute to developing to students learning the lifelong 'game of learning'. All learning is preparation for the as yet unknown that lies ahead.

What teachers need to do to help all students learn the most important game of all - 'the game of learning.'

1 Do everything to capitalize on the 'driver not the passenger effect' in learning so learner develop skill in the 'game' of independent learning.

2 Develop a 'driver seat culture by developing patterns of interaction that allow learners significant autonomy and choice promoting self reflection and self- management ( the 'key competencies')

3 Develop a 'deep' rather than a 'shallow' approach to learning, one that values effort rather than a 'either you get it, or you don't, mindset'

4 Teach specific skills of self management and learning strategies to develop student independence and responsibility.

5 Bear in mind that good learning benefits from explicit attention not just by osmosis.

Natural learning is immediately meaningfull and worthwhile; new knowledge is woven in as needed as well as revealed by the unfolding experience; conflicting knowledge is negotiated through thought and experiments; and considerable learning happens automatically extended by reflection and targeted rehearsal and practice of 'hard bits'. Each learning experience represents the larger 'game of learning'.

'We are teaching today for tomorrow' Perkin's concludes. The essential ingredient is the first principle - 'play the whole game' - or a 'junior version'. 'Teach today what students will need tomorrow'...'how to map it, how to cope with it and how to master the large understandings that can help make sense of it'.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Education is about playing the whole game .

David Perkins is professor of Education at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. A highly respected authority in his field he is well known for his research and insight into the deep understanding of teaching and learning. His latest highly creative and easy to read book ( published 2009) summarizes years of observations, reflections and research. He 'makes visible' what creative and insightful teachers do. He also provides a framework of seven practical principles for all teachers to transform their teaching. A must read for 2009.

'Making Learning Whole', written by David Perkins, is hot off the press - published in 2009. All schools ought to acquire a copy because it will certainty help them focus their teaching and ensure all their students are equipped with the dispositions to thrive in an unknown future.

It is certainly aligned with the intent of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum and provides practical ideas to implement it.

Perkins believes that there are too many research ideas that merit attention that make selection difficult. His book, developed around a metaphor of playing a game aims to provides a simple metaphor/framework to base teaching on. He outlines seven principles that make sense of the 'game of learning'- each providing very practical guidelines.

He succeeds.

His point is that formal learning rarely gives students a chance to learn to 'play a whole game'. All too often learning by teaching isolated 'elements' first or students are required to 'learn about' things because of distant future need. In both cases ( one resulting in a 'piecemeal' curriculum the other lacking personal relevance) students struggle to see the point of learning. Perkins contrasts this 'mindlessness' to learning a new game.

Education , Perkins writes, 'aims to help people learn what they cannot pick as they go along' unlike, he say, learning ones first language.

Perkins seven general principles, if applied, would make the 'learning game' more like playing a 'real' game. His principles, he believes ( and I fully agree), are able to be applied to any learning.

To gain all the practical suggestion ( nicely summarised at the end of each principle) requires the full reading of the book but creative teachers will recognise the principle in their current teaching and be reassured. I certainly was if I am allowed to put myself in their company.

The seven principles are:

1 'Play the whole game'.

When young people first learn a new games they play it at what Perkins calls a 'junior level'. Such a game is fun and makes immediate sense to them; with success, experience and skill they begin to appreciate greater complexity. Some might even become professionals but all learn to understand the basic game.

Schooling is short on what he calls 'threshold experiences' that are able to challenge student current thinking. All too often for students school feels like a jig saw puzzle without even a picture to focus their thinking.

The key to involving students to make the learning 'whole' by playing, at first, a 'junior version' of the game. An experience that students can see the point of doing. In the sports world this done well to first attract and then involve students.

2 'Make the game worth playing'.

Now and then, Perkins writes, pushy students ask , 'why are we doing this?' To make the game worth playing play a whole game not just 'bits and pieces' that make no sense to the learner. The secret is to find a 'junior games' ( or learning challenges) to suit the developmental level of the students.

3 'Work on the hard parts'.

Just playing a 'game' will not mean you will get any better . Perkin's introduces the important idea of the need to work on the 'hard parts'. Real improvement requires singling out the 'hard parts' for special attention, practicing them on the side, developing strategies and then reintegrating them into the whole game. This immediate reintroduction is vital. Practicing the 'hard parts' is what all good learners do. Practice and effort are more vital than innate talent in many cases.

4 'Play out of town'.

By this Perkins is talking about the problem of applying or transferring learning. Applying learning to new situations is a mark of deep understanding. New settings ( away from the home crowd or school) challenges student's to stretch and adapt their skills and insights. Perkins provides ideas to achieve this transfer. The whole point of learning is to prepare students for other times and places and not just to get better in the classroom.

5'Uncover the hidden game'.

Any activity always has hidden dimensions -underlying principles or strategies that beginners are not aware of. Often things are not as simple as they seem. Take for example the game of chess.

6 'Learn from the team.. and other teams'.

At school, all too often, students are encouraged to do their own work but in contrast hardly anything in real life is done solo. In life people are required to work in teams or to co-ordinate with other people in complex ways. Learning from others involves learning from teachers, peers, and all other information sources. Students will need explicit skills to be able to do this but any such skill need to be re-integrated back into a whole task. How often do teachers develop information seeking and expressive skills in their literacy programmes that integrate such learning directly to the current study ( the main 'learning game' of any class)? Reading many 'shallow' student project reports not too often - or if done, they ate are not applied. This disjoint is the point of Perkin's book.

7 'Learn the game of learning'.

It is only when you learn a second language that you learn important ideas about language learning. All too often students are so busy 'learning' content that they are unaware of 'how' they learn. A self managing learner makes a point of becoming aware of and practicing the hard parts. They are able to connect, or transfer, what they have learnt to other situations.

Perkin's writes that there is nothing more worth learning than acquiring the disposition ( 'key competencies') of learning how to learn. In this he would be joined by such people as John Hattie, Art Costa, Guy Claxton, Benjamin Bloom and Howard Gardner. It also resonates with the intent of the NZ Curriculum with its vision of 'connected, confident, life long learners, students able to 'seek use and create' their own knowledge.

Not only has Perkin's developed a powerful integrating metaphor for learning he has also provided , for each principle, a summary page of excellent practical ideas of how to develop each principle.

As for order of the principles play the 'whole game' first ( a suitable 'junior version'). Learning the 'game of learning' comes only when all is in place. Following Perkin's advice would solve the problem of 'shallow' or fragmented learning and would result in in depth understanding, an awareness of the inquiry process and the development of the dispositions ( 'competencies') required for life long learning.

'Learning by wholes' incorporates various learning theories.

It is an integrative approach but can be a unifying cross curriculum study or be used within a subject disciple. It shares with behaviourism the idea that things get better when feedback is immediate and informative but it also encourages that students develop their own creativity and style. It is very constructivist embracing the idea that learners construct in some sense their own meanings from experience. Discovery and inquiry learning can be understood as particular spins on constructivism.

However, 'learning by wholes' Perkin's explains, 'does not say all learning should be aggressively discovery orientated'. 'There are many times when the best way to get started is to explain and demonstrate, to ask learners to try and try it again, and to coach them through a process of improvement'. Well designed 'learning by wholes also accommodates different levels of readiness within the same group. Perkin's makes it clear that attention the 'hard parts, are most necessary to ensure growth but that such practice must be immediately applied to the 'game' in hand.

Perkins model sits comfortably with the approach of many creative New Zealand teachers as well as contemporary ideas about learning.

Forgetting the whole game metaphor, Perkins writes, it all might sound something like the below:

1 Engage in some version of holistic activity.
2 Make the activity worth learning.
3 Work on the 'hard parts'.
4 Explore different versions and settings for the activity.

Although achieving excellence is an ideal aim Perkins explains that many people will remain 'mediocre' at whatever 'game' they are playing. This is not a problem, he writes, because by playing the 'game' certain values and understandings are gained and a general sense of participation with whatever they are experiencing. An ecological study, for example, might develop in some students a life long interest while other gain an a sense of ecology responsibility. Both aspects, he writes, do 'substantial good'.

All in all an excellent read - made more enjoyable by Perkin's easy style of writing.

As I began - a must read for 2009.

For a negative take on the 'game of learning' read Robert Fried

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Making learning Visible (John Hattie)

Auckland University Professor John Hattie has recently authored a study, based on research into 83 million students, studying effective teachers around the world and has come up with some reassuring results for creative teachers. It's all about trusting relationships and 'oodles of feedback'. Note - it is not about national testing, our government's highly unoriginal plan.

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It seems hard to avoid the brief press releases of Auckland University Professor John Hattie's research in our newspapers. It is a shame that the papers haven't done more in depth research of their own into Hattie's findings.

Most teachers by now will know the main findings of Hattie's research from his previous papers and creative teachers will be reassured that his research backs up intuitive ideas gained from their experience. For such teachers Hattie's findings will be obvious and common sense; unfortunately common sense is not so common! A quick glance through Hattie's book provides definitive evidence of what works and what doesn't.

What doesn't 'work' includes class sizes,homework and school type and he doesn't even mention our current governments misguided focus on national testing.

I have my doubts about the importance of school type but as he states in his book ' this is not a book about what cannot be influenced in schools.... critical dimensions about class, poverty... are not included.. not because they are unimportant, indeed they may be more important than many of the influences discussed in this book. It is just that I have not included these topics in my orbit'.

He also says that his book is not about qualitative studies. It only includes studies that were based on statistics. Thankfully his finding give support to the intuitive ideas gained by creative teachers through their lived experience. Hattie does say his message is a positive one for teachers and that 'many teachers already think in the way the book argues'.

Although I appreciate his exclusion of the socio -economic dimensions the effect of the environment students students come from has to faced up to. If not faced up to it places a impossible responsibility on schools and teachers in such areas.

Hattie's research aslo includes little criticism of the archaic industrial aged structures of secondary schools which work against many of the relationship issues he found to be most important. Although this is understandable, in light of Hattie's study, it is a also a shame - a bit like patching up a sinking ship. In previous paper he has written that his research would assist 'restoring faith in the public school system'. Elsewhere he mentions that effective practices are more often to be seen in primary schools. If out of date school structures are not faced up his effective teaching findings could well be simply cosmetic - getting better at a bad job. And, indeed, Hattie's development of better testing in literacy and numeracy has had the effect of schools focusing on literacy and numeracy and diverting valuable teachers energy away from other equally important areas. Such thoughts would seem to place Hattie as an educational conservative unlike future orientated thinkers such as Guy Claxton, David Perkins, Howard Gardner, Robert Fried and Elliott Eisner etc, and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson.

To his credit he quotes that, for all the reforms, in many respects some aspects of education are 'hardly different than 200 years ago' and that his 'meta analysis' of research provides the potential to make real changes as its conclusions are 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

The big challenge of Hattie's findings, if implemented, would mean 'a change in the conception of being a teacher...it necessitates a different way of interacting and respecting students'. This brings us back to the writings of Guy Claxton and our current curriculum's emphasis on 'key competences'.

Hattie's meta analysis ( a synthesis of 50000 previous studies) found that overwhelmingly student teacher interaction came out on top.

Hattie's book is about the power of directed teaching, focusing on 'what happens next' through feedback and monitoring. This is an approach that also informs the teacher about the success or failure of their teaching; making learning for both teacher and student 'visible'.

Number one is teaching where the students know exactly how well they're doing and can articulate this, and what they need to know, to their teacher. Hattie says that teachers should ask themselves, "how many of the kids in your classroom are prepare to say, in front of class, 'we need help', we don't know what's going on', or ' what have you learned?" This sort of trust, he says, is rare.

The most effective strategy of all is giving regular feedback and fostering an atmosphere of trust - these are qualities within the reach of every teacher to improve on.

I have to agree with the head of the secondary teachers union who has said , in response to Hattie's finding that, 'it is not rocket science' but I disagree that it it would be common practice in our stressed secondary schools. Hattie, in his book, commends the work of University of Waikato's Russell Bishop study of the experiences of Maori students which asks for a considerable change of approach in teacher student relationships. It is however not 'rocket science' for those creative teachers, past and present, found in our primary schools.

I liked Hattie's reference to philosopher Carl Popper's 'three worlds' ( a favourite of the late National Art Adviser Gordon Tovey, mentor to creative teachers in the 50 and 60s). The first world of surface knowledge, the second of thinking skills ( 'key competencies'), and the third creating deep concepts about what is worth learning. Tovey called the 'third world' the creative products resulting from learning. It places 'key competencies' in perspective for me.

Hattie writes that the major source of student variance lies within 'the person who gently closes the door of the classroom door and performs the teaching act'. His research focuses on the difference between the 'expert' or 'excellent' teachers and the 'accomplished' or simply 'experienced'. I would prefer the use of the phase 'creative' rather than 'expert' because it is the 'artistry' of such teachers that make all the difference. Identifying and sharing such teachers quality teaching attributes is the focus of Hattie's research. 'While teachers', he says, 'have the power - few do damage, some maintain a status quo in growth of students achievement,and many are excellent'.We need to identify, esteem, and grow those who have powerful influences on student learning.'

Papers are available on the Internet which outline all Hattie's ealier findings but the top teaching influences are : feedback, instructional quality, direct instruction, remediation feedback, class environment and challenge of goals.

'Expert' (or 'creative') teachers, Hattie found, had real respect for their learners as people with ideas of their own. They are passionate about teaching and learning, able to present challenging learning tasks ensuring 'deep learning' ( able to be transferred) and show more emotionality about successes and failures in their work. They are able to make lessons their own, invite students to 'engage', integrating and combining new learning with students prior knowledge. Their expertise ('artistry') allows them to 'read' their classrooms and to be more responsive to learners.

Such creative teachers,Hattie writes, are very context bound and find it hard to think out of the specifics of their classroom. They are extremely flexible and opportunistic, improvising to take advantage of contingencies and new information as it arises. They are 'greater seekers and user of feedback'. Interestingly research indicated that such teachers did not have written lesson plans but all could easily describe mental plans for their lessons. They were able to work intuitively and focus their energy on the creative act. Creative teachers indeed!

Interestingly it was pedagogical knowledge ( 'the art of teaching') rather than content knowledge that distinguished the 'expert' teachers.

The three things that separated 'expert' from 'experienced' teachers were: the degree of challenge presented, depth of student processing of knowledge and representation of what was worth finding out about, and ongoing monitoring and feedback.

Five areas covered in Hattie's latest book are;

Students to develop: a 'positive learning disposition' and to be 'open' to new learning. They need to develop 'engagement' with learning goals so as to become 'turned on' so as to gain worthwhile learning. Claxton's 'learnacy' or the NZ Curriculum's 'key competencies'.

Homes to be helped develop 'positive parental expectations and aspirations' as 'positive parent alignment' with school is vital.

Schools to provide a positive , optimistic, invitational, trusting and safe learning climate. One that welcomes student errors and develops positive peer influences; that gives both teachers and learner's respect as learners.

Teachers who are seen by their students as quality teachers. Who provide clarity of expectations and a belief that all can learn. Teachers who are 'open' to new ideas, who develop positive learning climate, and who value the importance of student effort to improve.

A curriculum that is explicit to learners and that provides challenging in depth experiences.

Hattie's work probably deserves greater consideration than I have given it as it is important. If teachers are to make the difference Hattie believes is possible then we need more than 'press releases'.

Hattie's on going research has identified teacher effectiveness ( or creativity) 'beyond doubt' and faces up to the fact that not all teachers are equal.

If the ideas Hattie has identified are known by all teachers then all our students could do far better than is currently expected.

Applying such ideas is preferable to wasting teacher time and energy on the failed concept national testing.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Developing talent in young people?

Benjamin Bloom is well known to teachers for his taxonomy of questioning. In the late 80s Bloom wrote a book called 'Developing Talent in Young People'. Bloom was interested in what contributed to the greatness of talented individuals and what role did schools play in their success

I have always been curious about the early life of talented individuals so I was interested to access a copy of an article written on the subject by Benjamin Bloom published in 1985. I have  wondered what creative individuals like NZ filmmaker Peter Jackson would've been like at school and what kind of school would such creative individuals invent if they were given the challenge? One film maker George Lucas has done this.

In the future schools will need to focus on developing the talents of all students rather than academic success for those students who are best suited to the current education. This is the position of creative expert Sir Ken Robinson. Howard Gardner is obviously a key figure in defining the range of multiple intelligences or talents students have.

An emphasis on a personalised talent based eduction would dramatically transform education and would result in less students leaving feeling failures, or worse still alienated, as at present.

Bloom studied 120 individuals who, before the age of 35, had demonstrated the highest level of accomplishment in artistic, psychomotor ( physical) and cognitive fields.

He was interested in; what was the role of the home, teachers, and schools; and were such people initially so rare and possibly a special type or were they largely a product of special circumstances; and what were the patterns of development found in each field? Bloom was interested in their learning and the relationship with schools

The first thing that was noted was that the majority of individuals became involved at a relatively early age, usually before the age of 12.

In the majority of cases one or more of the parents had a personal interest in the in the talent area and gave the individual great support and encouragement. Some of the parents were above average in in the talent area but most parents exemplified some of the special qualities and lifestyle and provided role models for the young learner. Sometimes the interests were so strong all members of the family were expected to participate.Small signs of interest were encouraged and rewarded. Bloom makes the comparison to the process where very young people learn their mother tongue, it begins at the optimal time is and strengthened through natural interaction. The families involved take for granted that the children will learn their talent and language.

The curriculum of the home consists of a special language, a set of expected behaviours, and a set of values or a lifestyle.For the most part children are taught and learned on a schedule in variety of ways and to a standard that seem to someone in the family to be appropriate. Quite frequently early learning exploratory and very much like play.

In contrast much of school learning is highly formalized even in the early grades ( note , this refers to American education of the era). Teachers follow curriculums, learning is seen as as serious task and is differentiated from play. School programmes are determined by the age of the child and, while there may be some adjustment made for individuals, normally each individual is instructed as a member of a group with some notion that all get nearly equal treatment. A child who deviates may be given special help but this is normally restricted for those doing poorly. At home each learner is treated as unique. Bloom makes the point that only in small one class rural schools would a similar situation be seen.

For the talented individual all of the instruction is received on a one to one basis. Many talented individuals receive regular individualized private lessons. In such setting the 'teacher' works with each individual, diagnosing needs and providing corrective feedback, and sets practice to be supervised at home. The development of each individual was seen as unique; the child's learning was seen as central and involved continual adjustment. Standards set by the teachers were always tailored to the specific needs of the learner.

In contrast instruction at school emphasizes group learning with students in ability groups.The group is taught as whole or in sub groups. There is a cycle of teacher explanation and demonstrations and student responses and practice with minimal adjustments made for individuals. Because of differences in ability some students are expected to better at the same set tasks. As a result some students develop a positive view of their progress while others develop a sense of inadequacy. When home and school work together greater progress is made but when home and school relationships are poor progress suffers.

At home talent development emphasizes individual progress relative to the learner with parents following up practice set by the 'teacher'. The home supports the 'teacher' by monitoring practice and giving encouragement especially in the early years.

Learners with talents are are spurred on by regular recitals, concerts, sports events, competitions etc where the child's special capabilities are displayed publicly. These real periodic events provide important benchmarks of the child's progress and also provide opportunities for individual to exchange experiences with other outstanding peers even if they did not win. In schools there are few such public events to reward performances.

Bloom admits that home school comparison in regard to talent development could be seen as unfair. School provides a general education for all while talent development focuses on the individual in a particular field. Bloom however believes that that much may be gained by noting major differences in the process and the results. For talented individuals schooling was rarely seen as central to their lives but, at the same time, talented individual spent up to 15 to 25 hours a week practicing. They also lived and breathed their particular talent. Their aspirations for the future in their talent ruled much of their lives. They were willing to put in the effort, hard work, and make sacrifices to achieve; everything else was done in moderation.

In contrast, at school, students are expected to do everything well according to timetabled instruction, and this limits the sense of engagement provided to those who pursue talents out of school. The school does not permit students to become deeply involved in any one part of the curriculum and indeed students are expected to follow courses and to achieve on a narrow range of learning areas.

Schooling, writes Bloom, provides an assembly line with each student and teacher concentrating on only a particular part of the educational assembly line. Unlike the talented individuals unique and integrated learning experience students at school receive their learning in isolated tasks. Bloom writes that this provides a sort of tunnel vision which lack integrative meaning.

Bloom concludes his article by describing the relationships between talented individual and their high schools. Some students were 'A' students, others barely met graduation requirements, while some rushed to to get away from unhappy circumstances.

Three possible scenarios were discovered.

For one group of the individuals Bloom studied talent development and school were almost two separate spheres of their life. Both made great demands but with minor adjustments students were able to meet both sets of demands. They worked on their talents before or after school. Whatever, schools did little to assist in their talent development and their talents were seldom discussed at school.

For a second group school experiences were a negative influence in their talent development. Schooling was something to be suffered and they were frequently urged to pay more attention to what the school expected of them. These students were outsiders and were often labeled by other students as different.

For a third group Bloom found that some schools were more encouraging and such schools became a major source of support, encouragement, motivation and reward for the development of the talent. The school experience expanded the individuals interest and made the development of their talent real and important. Many of the students recalled unusual and exciting teachers whose enthusiasm and encouragement was contagious. Such teachers went out of their way to support their talented students. They were helped to meet peers with similar interests and involved in events to celebrate and give recognition to their particular talents. Such schools provided, writes Bloom, 'a shelter in a world where few people shared their interest and the intensity of their involvement.'

Concluding Bloom believes teachers ought to ponder the differences been talent development and school learning he has uncovered. Teachers, he says, might like to think about whether their schools provide the conditions essential to fulfil the realization of all their students potential; and to think about what makes teaching and learning most effective and why is that some individuals become committed to learning while others become distracted?

He reports of very few schools where talent development and schooling enhanced each other.

He concludes with the observation that, after age 12, the talented students students spent as much time on their talent field each week as their average peer spent watching television.

Time to put Bloom's research into action!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Educating for Creativity

If you have never heard Sir Ken Robinson's short video check him out on google. Or visit his site Or visit previous blogs.

I came across an interview with creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson and couldn't resist listening to it as his 'voice' represents what education could be if it could escape from its 19th century straight jacket. His writings and presentations are all about the need to move us from an academic educational system, created to 'serve' the now defunct industrial revolution, to an interdisciplinary structure more suited to today's globally networked knowledge workers.

Considering the challenges we face it would seem a sensible idea.

Sir Ken big concern is that education ought to be all about developing the whole child's individual natural abilities, talents and uniqueness. He believes it does not do this at present and that, in many cases, 'it divorces people from their natural talent'.

He believes that creativity has been leached from the educational process. Education , he says, ought to be about enabling people to have life which has meaning and purpose for each student and also to allow them to contribute to their communities.

Most countries provides a very narrow form of education and it's getting narrower. This, he says, is not an argument against literacy maths, or science . These are very important even if, he says, schools do not teach them 'courageously', but the current emphasis pushes out other equally important disciplines.

The first thing Sir Ken would want to see is a more broadly based curriculum. This would include maths and technology, and so, on but you would do them in different ways. He would like more emphasis on project work, on discovery, but he would also like more art, music, dance and theatre. 'You'd be doing', he continues, 'interdisciplinary sessions, where you would be learning maths through theatre; you would be using maths as a way of enhancing learning and dance for example. So it would be a much more dynamic curriculum'.

'Secondly, it would be much more tailored, as you are getting older, to your particular interests, because people have very different talents and abilities.' In the traditional school setting many people are weaned away from the very talents that excite them.'I am sure', he says, people have had the experience of being pushed away from doing certain things like art or music because of a belief that these things aren't very useful for getting a job'. He makes the point that art today, for example, is very important with the current emphasis on industrial design, product innovation and the wide range of jobs in the creative industries.

Some things, he says, now taken for granted need to be challenged for example dividing the curriculum up and separating students by age, as this is often where the problem lies. He talks about students in lower grades who can outperform people several grades ahead and that he would like to see much more inter age learning. And he would like to see more adults involved in learning.

The problem education faces stems from systems invented in the 18th and 19th centuries to meet the needs of an industrial economy and, in many ways, were based on principles of industrialisation.
They are all about a linear form of planning like a production line. It is, he continues, 'about conformity, about educating people in batches'. These intellectually impoverished schools, he believes, 'need to be revitalized'.

That schools ought to reflect today's personalised interconnected knowledge economy ought to be obvious to anyone involved in education. It is the schools that are the slow learners!

Sir Ken reflects that students beginning primary/elementary schooling today would be retiring about 2070 and that he doesn't know anybody who has the faintest idea of what the world will be like in 2010 let alone 2070. He compares this to when he was growing up in the 1950s and 60s when there was a reasonable expectation of what your working life might be like. About 80% of the work force were in manual work, a minority doing office work and a few eccentric people would go off and do creative work. And it was a reasonable expectation that if you got a job you'd have it as long as you needed it.

Things have dramatically changed but school remain the same. Good if only it was 1960!

There is no going back to basis unless, Sir Ken says, it means a more accurate sense of human capacity based on developing the talents of all learners. It is entirely possible to do this, he says, 'the best way to to prepare our kids for the future is to have them firing on all cylinders.To really know what they're good at and be confident they can do that'.

The two things that will help anyone develop their creative capacity, Sir Ken believes, are 'habits and habitats'.

By habits he means the routines we follow during the course of our daily lives; the more we do the same things, the more we think the same way. One way to develop creativity is do things differently to stimulate your imagination; to do things you wouldn't normally do. We need to open our minds to new possibilities and new experiences and do things we haven't done before because often being creative is finding a new 'medium'. When people are in their 'element' they love the things they do. Discovering each learners element has to be a priority for schools.

The second is our habitats. The environment we live and work in, the way we configure our buiding, effects who we relate to and in turn has a huge effect on how we think and how well we think. Redesigning our physical spaces redesigns, in turn, our physical reationships and can have a huge liberating effect on your whole creativity, he says.

It is a shame that schools, secondary schools in particular, have such fixed routines that ensure their students receive an outdated fragmented view of learning and in the process that deaden the human spirit.

Unless schools can break such counter productive habits and habitats they will remain educating their students for the wrong century - as we enter a new creative era this would be as disastrous as ignoring global warming, Sir Ken believes.

Currently most governments , according to to Sir Ken,' seem recklessly bent on making the situation worse with their imposed national reform programmes'. What governments need to do,he believes, is to create the conditions to allow school to develop the creative capacities of all their learners rather than enshrining literacy and numeracy at the neglect of other equally important things.

All we need is are governments that realize we need to redesign our schools to equip all students for the challenges of the 21stc.

Perhaps this is asking too much?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

On Knowing - Jerome Bruner

My tattered and much read copy of Jerome Bruner's stimulating book of essays, compiled in 1965, gives expression to the 'creative cunning of the left hand' and outlines the conditions to develop creativity - the 'art' of knowing and discovering. Every time I read it my understanding deepens - this deepening of consciousness through education is the theme of the book. Some essays are still beyond me.

The themes Jerome Bruner covers in his book concern the process of knowing, how knowing is shaped and how it in turn gives form to language science, literature and art. The symbolism of the left hand is that of the dreamer - the right that of the practical doer.The areas of hunches and intuition, Bruner writes, has been all too often overwhelmed by an 'imposed fetish of objectivity'...'The lock step of learning theory in this country has been broken, though it is still the standard village dance'. Today we still have those ( usually politicians) who wish to test for learning ignoring, according to Bruner, that 'it is difficult to catch and record, no less understand, the swift flight of man's mind operating at its best.'

'There is something antic about creating, although the enterprise be serious', he writes.

Creativity Bruner defines is 'an act that produces effective surprise' although surprise, he says, is not easily defined, and once expressed often have a quality of obviousness about them ; representing connections that before were unsuspected.

Conditions for creativity require that the learner stand back from reality and to be 'prepared to take his journey without maps' driven by a deep need, or passion, to understand something. The 'wild flood of ideas' need to be tamed, and in the process, the thing being created takes over and compels the learner to finish. The learner, Bruner writes, is 'dominated' to complete the task.

The heart of creativity ,Bruner writes, are the questions, 'Who am I , where do I belong, and of what am I capable?' And, quoting William James, he writes, 'How do I know what I am until I feel what I do? This is why action is required to develop a positive identity; we 'either create or stagnate'. As William James says, 'we are remoulded constantly by experience', or as Bruner writes, there is 'a quest for identity'; an 'increased demand for significance in life'.

Bruner makes many references to the writings of John Dewey. Education is a process that cannot be separated from what it is that one seeks to teach. 'It is' Bruner writes, ' the study of the nature of knowing'. Education must be about providing the opportunities to discover the 'special power' of whatever one chooses to teach - art , science , music, maths or poetry.

Learner are attracted, through their curiosity, to begin the 'knowing process'. Teachers, Bruner advises, ought to 'practice the art of intellectual temptation'.

Personal excellence is what a learner discovers for himself. It comes from the teachers 'faith in permitting the student to put things together for himself'. But, says Bruner, discovery, like surprise, favours the well prepared mind'.'Discovery whether by a schoolboy...or by a scientist cultivating the growing edge of his field' is a means of transformation in a way that one is enabled to go beyond the evidence.

Preparing this searching 'mind' is the role of the learning culture the teacher creates. In the right climate students 'are armed with the expectancy' and persistence to find patterns. The students are 'learning how to go about the very task of learning'. This is in contrast to to those students who are 'seekers after the right way' able only to 'give back what is expected of them'. There is a big difference 'between learning about and discovering'.The behaviour that leads to discovery is not random - it is 'directed, selective and persistent'. Such learners experience success and failure as information - 'on the right track or on the wrong one.' Success delivers growing confidence and mastery - what Bruner calls the 'art of inquiry'; 'inquiry as a way of life'.

This disposition to inquire is gained in the process of doing something that 'smells right'. 'It is my hunch' says Bruner, 'that it is only through the effort of discovery that one learns the working heuristics of discovery; the more one has practice, the more likely one ( develops)... a style of problem solving or inquiry that serves for any kind of task'. Practice in figuring things out can only be gained by 'engaging in inquiry'.

Students who can mediate their own learning, and commit such learning to memory, are most successful when the learning resonates with their own interests.Such students , by reflecting on their experiences learn to see patterns. 'Learning to simplify', says Bruner, 'is to climb on your own shoulders to be able to look down at what you have just done - and then to represent it to yourself.'

The good teacher is one who provide opportunities that 'cry for representation'. ' How can I know what I think until I represent what I do'. Students, Bruner recommends, ought to be encourage 'a going back over experiences, a listening to oneself'. And, continues, that the 'art of teaching' is to encourage such reflective behaviour so as to help students make sense of any experience so as to avoid mechanical learning.By imposing premature formalism we prevent the child from realizing the own learning and run the risk of turning students off learning.

All this Bruner says argues for a 'spiral curriculum' where 'ideas can be revisited later with greater precision and power until students achieve the reward of mastery'.'Any subject can be taught to anybody pf any age in some form that is honest' Bruner had written earlier.

Bruner argues for depth over coverage and that content ought to be selected by 'whether is is worth knowing based on whether the knowledge gives a sense of delight and whether it bestows intellectual travel beyond the information given'.'Useful knowledge', he says, 'will look after itself' and argues that schools should 'focus on delight and travel' and that 'we should opt for depth and continuity in our teaching'. Learning that travels should give the learner 'the sense of experiencing of going from a primitive and weak grasp of some subject..(to a ) more refined and powerful grasp.. ( so the learner) can see how far he has come and by what means'. And where to next.

Delight, he says, comes from the pleasure of recognising links, or connections, to previous learning particularly of the major themes that underpin all human learning.

Bruner agrees with John Dewey who saw education a a 'process of living and not a preparation for future living'...' the true centre is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child's own social activities'. Learning, according to Dewey , ought to be active not passive. Dewey had great faith not only in the individuals capacity to grow but in society's capacity to shape man in its own best image. Dewey was writing in the 1890s - a time of sterility and rigidity in formal schooling.

Bruner reminds us that a 'excess of virtue is vice' as Dewey was unfortunately misinterpreted by his followers.Education has not only transmit the knowledge and values of the culture but also must also seek to develop the 'individuals capacity to go beyond the cultural ways .. to innovate..to create'. 'Each man' , writes Bruner, 'must be his own artist, his own scientist, his own historian, his own navigator'.

This paradox provides school with a creative tension to this day; 'one size fits all' in contrast to the ideals of 'personalised learning. 'Education' Bruner writes,' must, then, be not only a process that transmits culture but one that provides alternative views of the world and strengthens the will to explore them'. According to Dewey, education must begin with 'insights into the child's capacities, experiences, interests, habits' 'It is sentimentalism', says Bruner , to restrict learning to children's interests. Interests, he says, can be created and stimulated and provoked.

Schools are special communities where students are challenged 'leap into new and unimagined realms of experience' so as to 'open new perspectives'.

The 'yeast of education', writes Bruner, is the idea of excellence, and that it comprises as many forms as there are individuals'. 'The school', he continues, 'must have as one of its principle functions the nurturing of images of excellence'. Each subject areas provides organizing concepts to provide opportunities to develop excellence. But, he reminds us, teachers must ensure students grasp connections between subjects to develop the 'unity of learning'.

What should be taught turns our to be what is worth knowing, he writes and his suggestions echo the strands, or 'big ideas' of our current Learning Areas. Whatever is introduced needs to include the inquiry tools essential to the unlocking any new experience and to 'develop the informed powers of mind and a sense of potency in action'.

The goal of eduction is both disciplined understanding, and the process of learning to tackle confusion ; both product and process. If students are to have a general idea of how and where thing fit the first round of experience should be relate to the reality of the child life. 'In as far as possible , a method of instruction should have the objective of leading the child to discover for himself' The virtue of such an approach is that the 'child will make what he learns his own' and it also provides the 'reward of the power of disciplined inquiry'

'There is no difference in kind between the man at the frontier and the young student at his own frontier, each attempting too understand.Let the education process be life itself as fully as we can make it ' Bruner writes.

Bruner's book is a challenge to us all see students as 'knowers'. As we face up to a range of interconnected problems to sustain the very world we live in. We need an education system designed to develop the creativity and learning power of all students; individuals who 'feel they are living at the full limit of what is possible'.

Our current school system has a long way to go to developing the creative potential of all students so as to achieve Bruner's vision.