Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Waikato Principals' Conference

Taupiri the mountain; Waikato the river.

Last week I was invited to present at the Waikato Principals' 2009 Conference.

It is important for leaders to keep alert to ideas on the horizon but it more important to return to school and to put some of them into action. It seems too many Waikato Principals didn't bother to attend. What does this tell us?

Such conferences provide an opportunity for both affirmation and challenge.

Whatever, on return, rhetoric needs to be translated into action.

Dr Stuart Middleton started the ball roiling by stating that education is a 'social promise' of a future for all students and then provided data to show that this promise was far from being realized. He wondered if current schools 'balkanised' structures were counter to the goals of the NZC. He showed that at a very young age student make a decision to take the high road leading to school success or the low road of school failure.

What we are doing isn't working. 'If schools are the answer', he asked, 'what was the question'
? Currently there are approximately 20000 young people who leave with little to show for their time and who take up neither work nor training! This, he said, is hugely damaging to themselves and to society.

Education is a 'tough nut to crack' and many curriculum initiatives suffer from 'death by embrace.' School also suffer from having the faulty expectation that all students need to be seen as normal - 'one size fits all'. School are dedicated to 'riding dead horses when it is better they get off and try something new'.

What would it mean , said Stuart, if all students were to leave 'confident, connected, life long learners'? We need to think hard about the purpose of learning in the 21stC.

Leaders he concluded:

1 Need to challenge the process
2 Inspire a worthwhile vision.
3 Enable other to act
4 Model the way
5 Encourage the heart

Next up was Professor Geoff Southworth retired director of the UK Leadership Centre.

He told the story of a professor who visited a successful school and when asked what he thought of it just said 'very interesting'. When pressed for further comment he said he would have to return to the University to work out if it would work in theory!

Professor Southworth said there is strong agreement on a few things.

leadership matters; 'learning centred' leadership.

Perception matters - it is 110% the issue!

It is how principals respond that matters. The core tasks of a principal are: the need to build a compelling vision to set a strong sense of direction ( where and why); to develop people; to keep adjusting to circumstances; to manage teaching and learning; and to have a set of positive personal qualities -'unwarranted' optimism, an improvement orientation, and to ensure all involved gain 'meaning, recognition, and a life'.

Another thing that matters is that the 'quality of the school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers'. Unfortunately, he commented, many schools get distracted from their 'core business' of ensuring student learning.

Successful principals generate and sustain discussions about teaching and learning and do not leave anything to chance. They continually share, spread and move positive ideas around making it clear what the school stands for.

Successful principals distribute leadership ; 'the Lone Ranger is dead'.In some cases the 'best teacher' is the best leader.

The question , he asked,was how do we use our 'principal influence' get a whole school approach? Effective leaders work hard on indirect leadership qualities: they 'walk the talk'; they use gentle persuasion relentlessly; and they model, monitor and become involve in dialogue.

Modeling is vital. As Albert Schweitzer said 'Example is not the main thing , it is the only thing'. What three things do the staff know you are paying attention to? Two things Southworth said : 'he has never found a teacher who has nothing to say about the Principal and when they talk it is not about what they say it is about what they do! The modeling and monitoring is all about pedagogy.

The task of learning centred dialogue is to improve the quality of teaching in the school. Three high quality teacher in row can raise student performance dramatically and, conversely, three low quality teachers in a row depress learning. Monitoring is required to identify teachers' pedagogical strengths and developmental needs so as to improve their repertoire of teaching strategies.

Questions to ask are;

1 How is teachers craft knowledge shared?
2 How might this be strengthened?
3 What are the obstacles in the way?
4 Which of these can you do something about and will you.

Sharing this craft knowledge is 'professional capital' of your school. Such knowledge needs to be described, analysed, reflected on, and articulated.

Such 'learning conversations' are the 'heart of the constructivist approach. 'The key is, through articulation, to make thinking visible'.

The second day started with Dr Kevin Knight who leads a private teacher training organisation. He asked, 'what is the state of teacher training in NZ' and answered his own question with 'not flash'.

The trouble is that current teacher training operates on a 'one size fits all mentality' when what it needs is 'differentiating'.

Dr Knight believes there is a leadership vacuum in New Zealand about what the purpose of teaching is all about. As for the Teaching Standards they are are unhelpful and lack any real detail. The new 'draft' Standards are only marginally better. Schools need to define their own indicators.

As for teacher appraisals they are , he believes, 'cop out' appraisals. They only work if there are clear images of teaching and learning.

Teacher appraisals should centre on the fundamental purpose of school - to cause learning. We need systems that tell how good teachers are. Dr Knight's organisation has developed an appraisal system that ensures all student teachers acquire the necessary learning; no one graduates until a suitable level of competence is gained.

Each dimension of teaching has five descriptors each with five further definitions. Professional development focuses on identified areas of need.

Dr Knight had also developed a differentiated professional appraisal system with six levels of competence.

1 Survival Level - where controlling students is an issue. For such teachers this is where assistance needs to be focused.
2 Environmental Level - 'loose' teaching.
3 Learning - where it 'feels good' and students are on task.
4 Advanced - where teachers can articulate literacy and numeracy but do not apply this to other areas.
5 Leadership Level - this is beyond literacy and numeracy.This is the 'total package'.

To get teachers to change you have to know what to change.

1 Step one is to articulate a vision.
2 Live and monitor the vision
3 Principals have to create time to make it happen.
4 Specific targets identified for coaching/ training.

The second to last speaker, Professor Bronwyn Cowie, reported on the finding from 'early adopters' of the NZC. 'It is what happens when teachers and students meet'. Often there is gap between the 'official' , the 'planned', the 'taught', and what is 'learnt'.

Professors Cowies findings were 'all good stuff'. Implementing the NZC takes time and requires schools take necessary risks which will require leadership courage.

'Change is a complex, non linear, frequently arbitrary and highly political' she said quoting Fullan. All change involves creative tension between independence and autonomy. It will involve making mistakes. The key element is to ask what do we think about learning and what do we think about teaching?

The challenge is to 'connect' vision to practice.

Questions to ask are: Does the curriculum fit with us? And how do we fit with the curriculum?

Schools are currently 're visioning' their schools.It is important in this process to learn to say no and, the professor said, it will require 'hard conversations in safe places'.

I was the last speaker and I didn't take notes!!

It always amazes me how a group of speakers , without collaborating, end up all contributing, or better still, developing in the process, a common theme.

It was well worthwhile attending. Those principals who didn't take the opportunity missed out on some valuable insights.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Creative Education.

Not all learning is able to be measured and graphed to prove achievement. This simplistic scientific approach has all but killed, or ignored, the innate creativity of many of our students, creating unnecessary problems of 'disengagement' or 'behaviour' in the process. To study a bridge there are a range of 'frameworks' available to explore and interpret such an experience -many well beyond measurement of learning. First of all you have to find the time to introduce students to such an experience.

Elliot Eisner is a highly respected educator who champions the role of the arts and creativity in education.

What follows are some of his ideas presented at a John Dewey Memorial Address; ideas that have greatly influenced my own beliefs about teaching and learning.

Eliot Eisner is a critic of the primacy of current narrow view of literacy and numeracy that dominates learning today and argues for a more generous view of literacy, one that goes beyond verbal and numerical skills.

Eisner's more generous view is all about the power to encode and decode meaning through any forms humans use to represent what they know and how they know; a view that reflects the many faces of intelligence.

Our job as teachers, he writes, is to help all our student's extract meaning from their experiences.He believes we have neglected the senses as a means for students to extract ideas from their environment and to make sense of their personal felt experiences.

Unfortunately this creative approach does not lend itself to the current pre-occupation with objective measurement which has been a limiting factor the past decades.What has been ignored is the power of transformational experiences ; the emotional power that comes from being involved doing something really well. Valuing the quality involvement of any experience for its own sake has been missing.Ignoring the 'personal stirrings and strivings of self discovery...the involvement of learning with personal emotion and meaning' means missing out on what really changes individuals.

This is the creative learning Eisner wants us to return to. 'Currently achievement rather than inquiry has been triumphant'. Our current distraction of measuring learning has diminished the mind rather than expanding it.We, he writes, have been limited by an overly cognitive view of the mind. We need, he says,and eduction grounded in a view of how human extract meaning from their experience.

Today in our primary classrooms selected important subjects take up the 'prime time'. A wider view of learning is required to integrate inquiry and creative expression into literacy and numeracy and in turn to feed into the afternoon inquiry expressive arts programmes.

Sensory and emotional learning is part of all subjects - how people feel about their learning effects what they come to learn. Each sensory system provides its own unique contribution and cannot be left to chance as it currently is now.

For example a class studying bridges is a theme that can appreciated through poetry, interpreted through science, maths, technology and engineering, and recorded and expressed through the various visual arts and photography. Each way of interpreting the bridge provides different 'framework' to understand and express ideas.It involves all the senses, attracts curiosity, and motivates various forms of expression.

This is, Eisner writes, how we are programmed to learn from birth
. We learn through experiences that cannot be fragmented to suit teacher's thinking. Language does not exhaust the possibilities of expression. The ability to explore the multiplicity of any environmental experience is what teachers should be aiming for. Even a simple topic like Autumn , or an Anzac Study, have a multiplicity of ways available to interpret.

What we interpret depends on the 'nets we cast' but all forms of expression are private until they are shared. A wide range of means of expression are available - sounds and music, words, number, dance and the like. And every form of expression is open to endless variety, all requiring personal decision making and skills. Our 'nets' determine the kinds of 'fish', or meanings, we catch and our skills the extent we can express what we want to say. To complicate matters the process of realizing one's ideas in any medium evolve through the editing process in ways that are not predicable.

The education Eisner is talking about is afar cry from the current determinist intentional teaching, or 'best practices' that comply with pre-conceived expectations and criteria; learning where the teachers control processes and determine and measure appropriate answers.

Eisner is arguing for a wider conception of learning well beyond the current narrowly conceived literacy and numeracy focuses. Teachers, he believes, need to free themselves from this technocratic and traditional view of teaching as it excludes too many creative individuals.

To be able to write, Eisner says, 'the writer must have something to write about. To have something write about the writer must be able to "read" the environment. The writer starts with vision but ends up with words.The reader begins with words and ends up with the vision'.

We need, he continues, to create learning environments that invite students to explore their experiences in whatever ways that make sense to them and in ways they can share with others. Surely this is the essence of personalised learning?

The eduction Eisner is encouraging teachers to think about would create an environment which would realize the full potential of all students to be actualized.

Such an education would have the potential to 're-engage' learners and to solve the current 'disengaged' learners and behavioral problems.

In the meantime our current government is trying to solve current problems by more of the same by returning to the false potential of standardized testing. This is Einstein's definition of insanity.

When you add Eisner's ideas to those of Howard Gardner ( we are all intelligent in a range of ways) and Sir Ken Robinson ( creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy) how is it that we want to return to past failed initiatives?

However, for me, the 'best evidence' of the power of Eisner's ideas are the creative teachers, past and present, that have shown, through their example, that it is all possible.

It is to such creative teachers we need to look to develop a truly creative education system able to 'invite' all students to develop whatever gifts and talents they might have.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Let's reach for the stars!

I have a few excellent quotes which are worth sharing.

The first from Stephanie Pace Marshall an American educator and space astronaut. She knows all about the courage to reach for the stars. She writes about creating 'new minds' for an ever evolving future.

'The liberation of genius and goodness of all children, the creation of new minds, and learning communities that invite and challenge the wonder and awe of the human spirit'.
'Is this,' she asks of her fellow teachers, 'the work you want to do?'

Continuing this evolutionary line Leonard I Sweet writes:

'The future is not something we enter.The future is something we create.'

And Physicist Ilya Prigogine who says:

'The future is uncertain, but this very uncertainty is at the heart of human creativity.'

American educator Glickman encourages us to reach for the stars and gives us a warning about the trap of rationality:

'Today, measuring the accomplishments of students, teachers, and schools by standardised test scores and handing out rewards and punishments for reaching or failing to reach sate and federal standards has become commonplace.

In such a climate, we typically err too much on the side of avoiding failure by relying on externally approved "Research based" programmes, teaching methods, and assessments...

What we lose in the bargain is imagination. Failure cannot go unchallenged, but what we have today is our own failure to imagine new possibilities and the worth of what has already worked well. There is no tragedy in reaching for the stars and falling short; the greatest tragedy is never reaching at all.'

Canadian educator Dean Fink writes 'we have to shake off the shackles of conformity and compliance and imagine, create, do something.'

As John F Kennedy said in the 60s:

'Some men see things as the are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

It was George Bernard Shaw who said 'that all progress depends on unreasonable men' ( and woman).

In the current environment of crisis it is time for new thinking and what better place to start than in schools that have the challenge to educate 'new minds for a new millennium'.

As Lucy said to Charlie Brown
'you cant solve new maths with an old maths mind! Or was that Einstein? He said you can't solve present problems with the minds that created them in in the first place.

Now is the time to be 'unreasonable' because we sure are in fine mess?

As Stephanie Pace Marshall asks, is developing such future minds 'the work you want to do'

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Early warning for NZ!

This was just a simple drawing of a pine cone but in the process an ominous figure emerged. Are there things we can learn from mistakes made in the UK? It seems we are doomed to follow their political lead when we should be focusing on the true purposes of education. At present our 'new' curriculum has given us an opportunity to be creative but talk of national standards are on the horizon - idea proposed by simplistic politicians and appealing populist minds.

A recent Guardian article gives us early warning! Thanks to those of you who sent it to me.

A Cambridge Review of Education has just been published after three years research. It presents a damming view of the UK primary curriculum which it suggests has failed generations of children. The review suggests a blueprint for a radical new kind of schooling.

The review blueprint looks remarkably like our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum. Our 'new' curriculum, thankfully, replaced one which bears a remarkable similarity to the UK one which was developed prior to our own 'old' one.

What is wrong with their curriculum?

There is an over emphasis on the skills of reading, writing and maths at the expense of other subjects.This, the review says, limits children's enjoyment of school and risks severely compromising their natural curiosity, imagination and love of learning.

The testing they have introduced, complete with 'league tables', has encouraged schools to focus on short term learning ( school survival?) at the expense of children's long term development. The most conspicuous causalities are arts and the humanities. Learning that requires time for talking, problem solving and exploring ideas is sacrificed, for what review calls, a 'memorization recall' style of learning.

Is this where our new Government is to take us?

The belief behind this narrow approach to schooling ( not learning) is that it is not possible for schools to focus on basic skills as well as covering full range of subjects. The review's lead author, Robin Alexander, of Cambridge University, believes this is faulty thinking and cites evidence that schools that blend literacy and numeracy into the wider teaching often get the best results. They are achieving this not withstanding the 'obstacle' of the current curriculum ( the one that looks like our 'old' one).

Our 'new' curriculum now gives such creative teachers 'permission' to be 'risk takers' but so far not may have left the security of past 'best practices'

This longstanding belief in the primacy of the so called 'basics' has been made worse by national literacy and numeracy strategies and the publishing of results

Even though in New Zealand, so far, we have avoided the failed concept of national testing literacy and numeracy have come to dominate nearly 50% of the classroom time that is occurring in the UK. UK national testing did at first improve achievement levels but are now trending down and, at the same time, students enjoyment and attitudes towards reading and maths are also falling.

It seems obvious that the politicisation of basic skills is simply the new governments scare agenda to improve so called standards. If implemented their agencies will 'micromanage' schools and this suggestion, ironically, by a party that believes in freedom and dislikes bureaucrats and regulations.

If we get national testing then the creative potential of the New Zealand Curriculum will not be realized.

The Cambridge Review is suggesting the introduction of a curriculum that aligns well with our 'new' curriculum. It want twelve aims for each pupil.They are: 'well being, engagement, empowerment, autonomy, encouraging respect and reciprocity, promoting interdependence, citizenship, celebrating culture, exploring, fostering skills, exciting imagination and enacting dialogue' and continues, 'their learning should should cover eight domains, including art and creativity, language, oracy and literacy, and science and technology to replace the current narrower subject areas'. Their current subject statements were what we had in New Zealand up until 2007. All the above aligns well with New Zealand's Curriculum's vision of 'confident life long learners', able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge' and, in the process, develop the 'key competences' required for continual learning.

Currently, it seems, we are leading the world - but for how long?

The Review's suggestion is for their national curriculum to cover only 70% of lessons and for the other 30% left to schools to decide.Our 'new' curriculum has gone well past this suggestion by encouraging school to develop curriculum to suit the needs of their students opening the way for personalised learning.

The Review wants to shift the responsibility for designing how children learn back from their government and its agencies back to schools. If were to introduce national in New Zealand testing it would stifle such responsibility and flexibility.

The review states that, as an antidote to the current 'utilitarian and philistine' and self centred age, there is a need to make an economic case for creativity in eduction but even more importantly it concludes that it is fundamental to children's happiness and well being, as well as raising job prospects in the future.

Certainly in New Zealand our best chance of survival is in realizing the gifts and talents of all students in school and in creating an environment where such gifts can be turned to individual and communal success.

The Review is timely for us in New Zealand for if we aren't careful we could lose the opportunity for creativity before we even had the chance to give it a go.

Monday, March 09, 2009

'Colonise' the Curriculum says Kelvin Smythe

Few people give curriculums the 'once over' like Kelvin Smythe. Kelvin has a had a long career in education and has aways been a champion of innovative 'holistic' New Zealand teachers. Kelvin has long suggested that teachers ought to 'colonise' Curriculum documents to fit their own philosophies and I agree. If you want to read Kelvin in full go to his site. In the meantime I am going to 'colonise' Kelvin's writing!

Kelvin is determined that education ought to attend to the heart as well as to the mind. Recent curriculums have ignored the affective , or feeling aspects, of learning and, as a result, a lot has been lost. Kelvin believes that powerful learning experiences 'transform' how students think/feel about issues. This of course is too hard for the technocrats to measure!

It is this affective aspect of learning that Kelvin wants to protect from hierarchical pressure and academic experts.

The answer, Kelvin advises, is for teachers to 'colonise' the official curriculum
and to take in messages they feel comfortable with and to treat the rest with benign neglect.

All in all, Kelvin believes, the 'new' curriculum is a rather 'genial ' one. A document that allows teachers the flexibility to shape it to suit the needs and interests of their students. Even its brevity is an advantage.

Kelvin makes the point that the emphasis on the key competencies does not mean that the curriculum is any less concerned with knowledge. Kelvin recommends that the Learning Areas statements should be given a prominent place. Without real content learning is at risk - the 'key competences' are both and end and a means.

The 'new' curriculum encourages integration of learning areas which, although a good thing, can if done badly, undermine curriculum validity.

Kevin is excited by a statement that , in regard to coverage, that 'the teacher may decide to cover less but cover in greater depth'. And that 'each schools curriculum should allow teachers the scope to make interpretations in response to particular needs, interests, and talents of individuals and groups of students in their classes'. Another statement Kelvin liked was the one that says the new curriculum is a 'framework rather than a detailed plan...schools have considerable flexibility when determining the detail'. And also that teachers should select achievement objectives to 'fit the learning needs of their students'.

The matter of school evaluation is a concern to Kelvin which is in contrast the documents 'genial setting'. Along with the elegant statements about assessment for learning comes the following that has the potential to damage good primary teaching.

Teaching and learning 'expectations', the curriculum says about achievement objectives , 'should be stated in ways that help teachers, students and parent recognise, measure, discuss, and chart progress'. In this one statement, Kelvin writes, 'is encapsulated the withering of imagination, creativity, intuition, the divergent, the aesthetic, the immanent, and the affective'.

This one statement, Kelvin writes is , 'the enemy of our holistic education tradition'. It represents the 'triumph of the technicists, the atomists, the bureaucrats, the contemporary Gradgrinds, the measurers, the controllers' This is about organising learning so it can be measured.

Kevin asks is this the kind of education we want for our grandchildren.

It is as if two different Ministry teams developed two irreconcilable stances. In technicist times measurement always trumps the affective, Kelvin writes.

Teachers should feature the curriculum's elegant statements that 'the primary purpose of assessment is to improve student's learning and teachers teaching.' And that 'analysis and and interpretation often takes place in the mind of the teacher, who then uses the insights gained to shape their actions as they continue to work with their students'.

In the the contradiction lies between the two approaches lies the curriculum's fundamental flaw.

A look at some of the learning objectives as that are developed up the 'levels' will show mindless word games in an attempt to show progressions.

Kelvin seems happy with most of the Learning Area statements particularly the Arts and Science. They are well worth reading.

A concern of Kevin's is that the competencies could become 'areas of bureaucratic contestation'. His suggestion is to 'integrate the competencies into the everyday functioning of the school and classroom...without losing sight of the key elements of the competencies'. The review Office will no doubt want to see evidence of their implementation!

His overall suggestion for the competencies is that unit plans for curriculum units include criteria derived from the competencies, and when a child does something significant a note be made.Another suggestion is to to develop a key statement to represent each competency.

Kelvin's real issue is about the pressures being placed on schools that result in less time being given to ' the aesthetic, affective, the imaginative, the creative, the intuitive, the feelings for, and so on.' This sort of imaginative teaching needs time and space to alow children to be divergent.

The creative 'holistic' approach is an alternative ,Kelvin writes, to the WALTS now in vogue. He suggests broadening the WALTS to encourage students divergent and imaginative responses.Currently an overuse of WALTS is developing a standardized mechanistic approach to learning.

Kelvin has some concerns about inquiry learning which I do not fully understand. Maybe it is that all too often inquiry learning neglects in depth understanding; the valuing of process, or competencies, over content.If so then I am in agreement. A study without real understanding is a study at risk.

The learning structure Kelvin recommends is: 'Introduction; Developing Understanding; Expressing Understanding; and Conclusion. The key stage though is Developing Understanding - this is the stage which teachers and children should stay until a strong affective response is evident. This is about engaging students emotions, their curiosity, and to allowing their divergent imaginative thinking to emerge.

'Teaching', Kelvin writes,'is about providing an environment that increases the likelihood of children being involved in powerful transformative experiences; by definition that means that the affective must be a central part of the process.' This he continues, is not about 'airy fairy' teaching but based on real detail, information and reality.

Kelvins aim, in his presentation, was to encourage teachers to be confident in the ways they approach the new curriculum; to see it as a mixture of pluses and minuses, and to continue to 'colonise' it.

He wants teachers to see the curriculum as a 'genial one that in many respects actively encourages you to shape it to your purposes'. He wants teachers to recognise the many holistic and liberal ideas in the document that will encourage enlightened practice.

He also wants to warn teachers about the destructive ideas being set up for measurement, and that the affective and imaginative are being squeezed out of classrooms by pressures resulting from the crowded curriculum. It is important, he believes, that the competencies need to be integrated into everyday classroom functioning.

How the Review Office reacts will be a vital factor in the development of the liberal possibilities of the curriculum.

Most of all Kelvin wants to remind teachers that they are inheritors of an a holistic approach to teaching and learning - one where the cognitive and the affective interact; the mind and the heart. An approach that values the power of transformational experiences.

This is the knowledge that primary teachers need to contemplate and value rather than that of the technocrats, bureaucrats and academic experts.

And I agree.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Developing a co-constructivist unit of study

A foyer display - Hokowhitu School. Hokowhitu is a school that values in all learners their sense of wonder. A school that values their students thoughts and is keen to develop their school as an inquiry community.

Below is a plan for a school to develop a unit of work which values students' ideas and thoughts and then challenges them to 'change their minds' though interactive activities.

Before starting the unit the staff need to clarify their idea of 'constructivist' and inquiry learning.

1 Select a unit of work either individually or as a team. If a team each team member will develop their own interpretation of the unit.

2 Plan to complete the unit in 4 to 5 weeks
.Junior classes may need less time.

3 Plan to achieve 3 or four major outcomes for the unit. The thought is to do 'fewer things well'. Possibly research findings based on 'key' questions ( research writing), a piece of creative writing,and a piece of art etc.

4 Conclude the unit with a parent open time
( from 2 to 2.50) to share student's work. A good idea is to have 'class walk around' by teachers before the parent open time.

5 The unit is to based on a 'co-constructivist' or 'interactive' approach where teachers gather students' questions, their prior ideas, and then undertake research and experiments etc to challenge students' views; and then to present/ display what they have learnt.

6 The interactive model is in essence an inquiry learning model

7 Consider using four group rotational model ( similar to the one used in the literacy block). Each session to start with few minutes to outline expectations and to finish with a reflective 'wrap up ' session. If such a model is used one group each day to be used to undertake an experiment, or in-depth discussion with the teacher, while others complete work they can do independently, or have drafted out in literacy time.

8 For the above group rotation to work the literacy (and possibly numeracy) times need to be 're-framed' so as to develop skills to be applied in the inquiry time. The literacy block needs to teach information and design literacy, and include experiments and activities to develop science writing etc. All the 'seeking, using, and creating' competencies need to be in place to ensure all students have the 'self managing' skills to stay on task during inquiry group work.

Negotiated group task need to be defined on the blackboard/whiteboard so all students are aware of daily expectations. The group programme will 'break down' as students complete tasks. Students then have the task to finish any work - or do extra tasks.

9 Such a process, as outlined above, will become more effective as both teachers and students gain confidence and skill.

10 The unit concludes with a display, or exhibition ,of the ideas the students have developed. Display will have a heading ( written as a provocation) 'key' question, 'prior ideas', processes used, finished work, any art or language and also including students assessment.

The key to successful inquiry learning depends on the information skills taught in the literacy ( and numeracy) block. Skills will need to be developed as needed if they are to be relevant or transferred. A quick read of students finished work will indicate success or otherwise.

It also not only important to teach a range of information literacy skills but it is also important, during this time, to steep students in facts, literature, and visuals about topic to provide material for students to wonder about. Once it is in students memories ( however interpreted) it becomes available for spontaneous recall later. Or, stated differently, the more students see, read, hear, or experience about a topic the more likely they will be able to ask better questions and to use that information independently. This of course is assisted by teaching information literacy skills.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Valuing students' 'voice'.

Entering this classroom a visitor cannot but be impressed by the celebration of students 'voice' or ideas. The young teacher, in a low decile school, has created an environment based on aesthetics and creativity. Her shadow study, a small thing in itself, has been made the most of.

'Children and scientists have much in common. Both are interested in a wide range of things and both are interested in, and attempt to, to make sense of, how and why things behave as they do'.

'Unless we know what children think and why they think the way they do we have little chance of making any impact with our teaching' write the authors of 'Learning In Science' ( Osborne and Freyberg).

Student centred classroom ought to reflect students questions, theories, 'prior ideas', points of views, and ideas they have modified as a result of learning more.

All too often this is not the case. Worse still teachers' intentions and language gets in the way. As well there is simply too much time spend on literacy and numeracy that also gets in the way of tapping into students' curiosity. Even the, hardly 'new', emphasis on key competencies may divert teachers away from the valuing of student's ideas.

Teaching ought to be about reflecting students diverse idea and helping them clarify and extend their thoughts. It ought to be about providing students feelings of satisfaction and power which comes from being able to do something.

Students are perfectly capable of making meanings for themselves. the teachers role is to value their 'prior ideas' and then to help them clarify and deepen their understandings. Disconcertingly students view are sometimes hard to change - this is the dilemma of the traditional teacher.

Students have idea to express ( and to be challenged) about an infinite range of experiences.

How do plants grow? What are seeds? What are Flowers for? What are fruits or vegetables?

How are animals, like cats, dogs or goldfish, suited to live their lives? What things are alive? What is an animal? Are we animals?

Why do we need food
? Where some food good or bad for you? Why do things taste differently?

Why do some things dissolve, melt, freeze and why?

What is air? How does smell get from a air freshener to our noses? What is wind? Where does it come from? Why do kites , or birds fly?

Why is water important? Where does it all come from, or go to? Why does it freeze or melt? What does soap do? How are bubbles made? Why do some things sink or float? Why do boats float? Where do waves come from -what makes the waves?

What is electricity? What is a battery? How does it get into our homes?

Where does all out toilet water go to? Where does all the storm water go to? What is rain? Where does it comes from, or go to? Why do puddles dry up in the sun?

How do we keep warm? How do we keep things warm? What is a thermometer

What is light? Can it go around corners? How are shadows made? Why do they change during the day?

How do musical instruments make sounds?What is vibration? How do we hear?

Why do things fall down and not up? Is the world round or flat? How do you know? Why do season change? What is the sun, the moon, or the stars.

What is wood, rocks, soil , dirt?

Why do we get sick? Why do medicines work? What is inside our bodies? Why do we have blood, veins, bones , hearts? Why do we get old and die?

A great idea would be to ask students, of any age, what are the question and concerns they have? From such an activity an 'authentic' curriculum would emerge' that teachers and students could explore ( co-create new knowledge) together.

Looking at the above list it is hard to know if they are science, language, literacy, numeracy, philosophy, technology, social sciences, or art. To solve them would involve all disciplines.

We need to consider how to integrate literacy and numeracy into such an 'emerging' and creative curriculum.

Students could be asked to think of ways to explore their ideas and ways to express them. In this process 'learning how to learn' ('key competencies') would naturally be involved.

This is true learning - all about 'changing ones mind'.

It is what ought to happen in our schools. It is how we learn in life - or at least the very young or those who get through our system to become scientists.

Imagine a school based on exploring students curiosity.

Imagine the exciting role of the teacher!

Schools have a lot to learn about learning