Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Let's return to creative teaching!

This book was published in 1978.Maybe it is time for teachers to search it out and read it as it provides practical inspiration for creative teaching across the curriculum. It explores ways in which teachers help their students discover themselves and their world through creative expression. I am pleased to say it includes work I assisted with in Taranaki - ideas which still inform my thinking.

The 'new' curriculum asks teachers to help their students 'seek, use, and create their own knowledge'. This is what Arts In New Zealand celebrated over thirty years ago!

Most of those involved have retired, or are no longer with us, but their ideas remain as relevant as ever. A dominant force behind the work in the creative arts was Gordon Tovey National Adviser in Art who placed prime emphasis on that most mysterious of faculties, the imagination and who believed that the 'aesthetics' in education - the reflections of thought in the child's expression, was the source of true meaning. The best publication still available, representing these ideals, is 'In the Early World' written by Elwyn Richardson ( republished NZCER).

Creative activities were seen by teachers involved in the 60s and 70s as the central focal point for learning and integrated studies were a means to realize this. The recent emphasis on inquiry learning continues these ideals but struggle against the literacy and numeracy pressures that eat up almost all available time.

A criticism of earlier education still rings true today (written by Scottish educator R F McKenzie) is 'due to the banishing of senses from education. A child's first visit to a rock pool is a vivid sensuous experience' and once this has been satisfied scientific questions come to mind.

Educational aims are clearly expressed in the publication.

The first is to help all students establish an independent identity through learning experiences.

All children should enjoy learning.Schools should be places where pupils and teachers share the decision making.Pupils should be encouraged to look for meaning in their own way and the curriculum should be related to their needs.Such content will help them in the search for skills and understanding and must be relevant to their level of learning and sensitive to the pupils interests. Any planing must respect their individuality.

The second aim was to help people to perceive their world with sensitivity and discrimination.

This means teachers need to recognise each learners background and help students form their own values relevant to the people, the environment, and the culture that make up the greater community. An emphasis was placed on the child immediate environment but education should constantly expand children's horizons so as to widen their perspectives.

The third aim was to help people to express themselves and to communicate with others, with confidence, sensitivity and precision.

It was felt wrong to expect children to conform to a common pattern ( a lesson that has been lost).

The final goal was help people to understand, evaluate,and contribute to the culture of their own society and to appreciate that of others, past and present.

Respect for others will grow through such understandings.

The aims of art education were:

To help students give visual form to the expression of their ideas.

To help develop and sustain the skills and techniques of visual perception : observing, experiencing, selecting, analysing and interpreting the world around them.

Pupils need to be helped to focus their attention on the smaller, more intimate details of their world. All learning should stem from the natural curiosity of the child. Observation supplies the material on which the imagination can develop. Once pupils have selected matter which interests them, they should be encouraged to interpret it in their own way culminating in a personal and unique way (another lost lesson).

To encourage a wide range of art forms by develop confidence and skill in the handling of techniques and media.

Techniques are the means by which pupils express their perceptions. Students must be given opportunities to experiment and learn the habit of searching for, and selecting ,and then refining their chosen ideas (another lost idea). Included will be an appreciation of the artistic accomplishments of others - 'knowing about' art. Pupils should be encouraged to discuss their own images and their classmates as well as the work of adult artists.

To sustain and encourage visual imagination and inventiveness by accepting personal responses as points of growth. Students need to develop expression, imagination, inventiveness, perception, appreciation and communication.

All students need to feel a sense of achievement. Any evaluation must be at the level of the students aesthetic growth.

All good stuff -and much of it lost in our conformist based learning intentions classrooms of today.

The individuality of both teachers ands students is central to the idea of a language arts or integrated programme . Every teacher has their own style and all classrooms reflect the personalities of their students. Standardized 'best practice' classrooms are not a possibility in such an artistic philosophy. How teachers assist is as ever a dilemma - too much and creativity is inhibited(as seen today) and too little and artistic growth may be lost. Teaching in such an environment is itself an artistic endeavour.

Interested teachers are advised to dip into the book to find idea that in a range of media to suit their circumstances. The book is full of anecdotal examples and the illustration themselves are worth a look.

It is certainly not a book just about art teaching, it is an example of a creative approach to teaching that extends to all areas of the curriculum. Art is seen as a form of creative problem solving and extends into technology, design, outdoor education, scientific and cultural explorations. It is all about an experience based curriculum along the lines expressed by John Dewey last century!

Integrated programmes ( now coming back into favour) have long been part of primary school teaching since the late 60s and the book includes several examples.

In Taranaki it was in the 70s that we developed our version of an 'integrated language arts /environmental approach' based on the the need to:

Provide a balanced programme where all subjects share an equal place (as against the current domination of literacy and numeracy).

Allow all learning to stem from the natural curiosity of the pupils, the personal worlds of students, and from direct learning experiences largely based on the immediate environment. Personal research and personal writing were features of rooms.

Encourage skills relevant to the learner - including skills of focus, concentration, craftsmanship, imaginative thinking and independent inquiry. Favourite phrases were the need to 'slow the pace of work' and 'to do fewer things well'.

Encourage pupils to become independent thinkers responsible for their own decisions to help them cope with a future society that will be constantly changing.

Stimulate pupils to produce work of high quality, giving satisfaction, pride in craftsmanship and personal success. A particular emphasis was creating the classroom as places both to celebrate student creativity and to inform classroom visitors.

Those who can remember the times represented in the 'Art In Schools' book will find today's 'new' curriculum a little 'back to the future'.

I certainly do.

Hopefully we now know enough to do it in a more lasting way today?


Dr. Sanford Aranoff said...

When we talk about stimulating students, we must first understand how they think, and build from there. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better" on amazon.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks for the suggestion.I had a look on Amazon and I am sure your book would be very useful for high school science or maths teachers. I agree we have to understand how our students think, value their prior ideas, and build from there. This is the basis of co-constructivist teaching that many teachers in our country( NZ) use.

Anonymous said...

What has 'been lost' since those days is a worry. I must see if I can dig up the book.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Do so - it is a good book to dip into. There is a lot of 'uncreative conformity' in our schools these days but know one seems to notice.

The aims expressed in the book are as up to date as anything in our 'new' curriculum, including the 'key competencies'.

The book was compiled from creative practices observed by the writers. It is time for such a book again. A book to celebrate and share the creativity of teachers, rather than the ability to implement pre-packaged 'best practices' devised by 'experts'.

Morgan said...

Hi Bruce,

I'm working with the MHZ Networks to promote their annual film festival for youth ages 7 to 18 and teachers. The Shortie Awards gives participants the opportunity to be a part of a global competition and an opportunity to share their work. In addition, there is no fee to submit and all participants will receive feedback from judges. The Shortie Awards is in its 10th year. Last year, we received 450 films from 20 countries and 28 states. We would love to beat that!

For more information, please visit www.shortie.org or email shortie@mhznetworks.org. You can also visit our YouTube page to see submissions from previous years. Submissions are being accepted through Without a Box and are due April 1, 2011 by 5 PM EST

We would really appreciate it if you could spread the word to your audience.
Thanks so much,
Morgan Wade