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.


Anonymous said...

I think it is important that people lke yourself and Kelvin take the time to share your pertinent ideas. In schools we are often just too busy to give such important things enough thought. So thanks. It seems you are both in agreement?

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled upon your blog today....fantastic. Will add it to my reader.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks anon. I think Kelvin and I both have a 'mission' ( to use an 'in' word) to really value the beliefs and practices of creative teachers. Maybe 'our' 'new' 'benign' curriculum is on 'our' side at last

And great Paul that you have 'stumbled' on my blog...I had fun reading your own fantstic one. The best things are found by stumbling?