Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New book published by Bruce

I have put together a book of ideas ( 240 pages) I have gained from creative teachers I have worked with over the years. It has always been a concern of mine that the ideas of creative teachers are all too often neglected as schools do their best to put into practice ideas imposed by outside experts.All too often such people have little experience of what they are asking teachers to do!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A critical view of the NZ Curriculum by Kelvin Smythe.

Recently I was asked to present at the Westcoast Principals Conference held at Franz Joseph. It was a conference with inspiring ideas to match the scenery. Kelvin Smythe is a long time supporter of New Zealand teachers and believes that they need to hold true to their hard earned beliefs.Kelvin's view of the new curriculum is worth a read. To read his full talk visit his site but the below is my interpretation of his views - views I am happy to align myself with.

Kelvin titled his talk 'Colonising the Curriculum' and his presentation provides valuable insight into both positive and negative aspects.

As for the Vision he says 'enough already', And for the Learning Areas, Values and Competencies he says, 'yes they pass my test'.

His overall view of the curriculum is that if everything else had been even, it could have been a useful document.

But everything isn't even. Curricula, he says, doesn't matter much it's the context that matters. While teachers may be buoyed up by the curriculum Anne Tolley has little regard for the curriculum. She is busy pursuing what will be the real curriculum: national standards, standardized tests; collecting data for school reports; and a narrow view of literacy and numeracy.

Welcome to your new world!

Teachers will have to keep the true spirit of education alive and to do this they will have to 'colonise' the new curriculum.

If learning is going to mean something to children is has to cater for the affective side of learning as well as the current cognitive bias. Both work together. When children change the way they see and respond to the world it is a transformational experience. As a result children get a 'feeling for', or a positive attitude towards, whatever is being learnt. This 'feeling for' is not measured by those who rely on quantitative measurement but it is vitally important, particularly if we want learners to love whatever they are learning.

Valuing students feelings attitudes as well as the cognitive is the holistic or learner centred approach to teaching that Kelvin believes is the core of good primary teaching.

It is this creative integrated approach that Kelvin want teachers to protect from the those who want to reduce learning to what the politicians have selected to be measured. When teachers become fearful of hierarchical pressures they tend to look past the needs of their children to focus on complying to the imposed requirements of others.

Kelvin is very critical of some of the conformist 'best practices' being imposed on schools by academics and literacy and numeracy contracts. He worries about the post modernist view of knowledge that says content doesn't really matter it understanding the inquiry process that counts. Correctly, he says, that without real knowledge students are not able to develop the love of learning that comes from such knowledge.

Back to the curriculum Kelvin is supportive of the advice to 'cover less but cover in greater depth (p34), that the the curriculum 'allows teachers the scope to make interpretations in response to particular needs, interests,and talents of individuals and groups of children in their classes' ( p37) and that the 'curriculum is ...a framework rather than a detailed plan....And that schools have considerable flexibility when determining the detail'(p37).

All good stuff.

Kelvin is also very supportive of learning area statements and the advice that 'these statements, rather than learning objectives , should be the starting point for developing programmes of learning...schools are then able to set achievements objectives to fit these programmes'. (p38)

As for the strands being covered on the basis of a yearly rotation policy Kelvin just says 'Yeah right!'

A real concern, for Kelvin, is the assessment statement that says that learning objectives 'should be stated in ways that help teachers, students, and parents to recognise, measure, discuss , and chart progress.' Kelvin sees these as 'chilling words' and if followed will result in 'the withering in schools of imagination, creativity, intuition, the divergent, the aesthetic, the immanent, and the affective.'( p39)

'We have in this one statement', he writes, ' the enemy of our holistic education tradition made clear. We have the triumph of the technicists, the atomists, the bureaucrats, the contemporary Gradgrinds, the measurers, the controllers'.

What might ERO make of all this?

There is though, on page 39, a statement about assessment Kelvin believes is of considerable elegance but, he believes, the damage has been wrought - and this without considering the damage to be done by national standards. The following elegant statement should feature in school documents , 'the primary purpose of assessment is to improve students learning and teaching.' And, even better, the statement continues, 'much of the analysis and interpretation often takes place in the mind of the teacher.'

Is there a conflict with the earlier statement? This contradiction, Kelvin writes, is the fundamental flaw in the curriculum.

Kelvin is also critical of the nonsensical way the learning objectives are expressed in the 'pull out' sections and writes that why could not the level four statement encompass all levels. I totally agree. While many teachers 'feel' that the learning objectives have less influence it must be noted that the proposed national standards are to be defined by achievement objectives for particular levels.

Kelvin is really enthusiastic about the Arts Learning Area statement but feels there is no need for a separate technology statement before level four. Not that much is being done - or science for that matter!

As for the competencies Kevin believes that they should be integrated into the everyday functioning of student learning. To do this seamlessly would be a mark of success. A simple phrase to represent each competency would help teachers nad studnts keep them in mind.

Kelvin sees the holistic ( Creative) approach as an alternative to WALTS etc.

Kelvin is, at all times, aware of the need to protect time for creative education and also in giving space for children to be divergent rather than focusing on the 'right answer'. In this Kelvin believes (and I am right with him) that the creative approach is preferable to the WALTS now in vogue - combined with such thing as predetermined 'success criteria', 'teaching intentions' and feedback. All of which , if not used wisely, can result in conformist teaching and learning. In a holistic approach the teacher does not discuss in detail with the children what they are to learn, then after the lesson discuss with them what they did learn ( making the process venerable to parroting). By not defining the objectives before the activity plenty of time is left for the children to be divergent, intuitive and imaginative, and for the teacher to learn alongside the child.
At the very least teachers can broaden the WALTS to allow for, or encourage, divergent thinking.

looking at the current emphasis on an inquiry approach.

The curriculum, on page 35, has given emphasis to an inquiry approach but all too often this has been interpreted as students gathering information and 'cutting and pasting', courtesy of google. This is a shallow version of inquiry. Real inquiry needs to be based on real problems, first hand or experimental activities. By such inquiries students challenge their 'prior ideas' and come up with the best conclusions they can - conclusions that are always open to further questioning. Kelvin believes such 'hands on' investigations are rare in schools. I have to agree - there is simply not time to do so. Good inquiries (and associated expressive work) ought to be the driving force for much of the school day.

Teaching, in Kelvin's view (and I might add mine as well) is as follows:

'Look -I'll get straight to the point.Teaching, in my view, 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 central part of the process. The affective, however, only occurs with genuine effect, I argue, when it is grounded on detail, information, and reality - so I am talking airily effective teaching.'

Kelvin asks if people remember the 'feelings for' approach he developed in socail studies? It was, he writes, about developing in children a 'feeling for' other cultures based on real detail,information and reality. Such teaching in science as well, was once feature of creative classrooms. And the results showed the idiosyncratic ideas of the students involved as they expanded their knowledge.

Kelvin is making a strong plea for teachers to value children's emotions, attitudes and feelings and for valuing the diverse expressive abilities of all children. This approach is in contrast to the formulaic 'best practices' classroom that are all too often seen today.

Kelvin recommends that the learning structure should include: Introduction, Developing understanding,Expressing understanding and Conclusion. The key stage, he writes, is developing understanding - this is the area children should say on until a strong affective response is evident. In social studies look for a 'feeling for' the people in the human situation under scrutiny and in science where children express a compelling curiosity to want to push on, in mathematics a keenness to apply idea gained from their learning.

Kevin comments that 'science and social studies are in serious trouble in our school ( this is reported on in recent NEMP findings) because there is simply not enough time for the emotions to be engaged, their curiosity aroused, and divergent imaginative thinking to emerge'.

I am with Kelvin.

Teachers need to fight to return creativity as central to all learning.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

'Don't be a chameleon on the plaid'!

View from conference room looking towards Mt Cook /Maunga Aoraki. Aoraki in Maori means the 'cloud piercer' -an attribute all creative principals need to see through all the compliance nonsense and curriculum confusion that gets in the way of leadership. Kelvin Smythe opening the conference on a very philosophical note; it was my role to close the conference.

To read Kelvin's full message visit his site

Kelvin's main message was about the morality of being a principal - that principals need to be in charge of their own destiny. That advice needs to be contestable and that Principal need to focus on the important things -as for the rest just get them done.

Principals, he said, need to take a moral stance. Research shows that NZ Principals now work 50% harder than ever but that most of this time is not spend focusing on teaching and learning. The moral decision is to focus on teaching and learning and the best advice, Kelvin believes, is to 'colonise' the New Zealand Curriculum document and to keep integrity with their own beliefs. Curriculum, he said, doesn't really matter -all too often it gets in the way as past decades have shown. If principals cannot keep true to their beliefs they will become as confused as a 'chameleon on a Scottish plaid!'

The new curriculum, he said, gives plenty of latitude for principals to manoeuvre and 'colonise' the official curricula - indeed all official polices - for the benefit of the children. 'Any curriculum needs to be transformed by teachers to make it work for them.'

Kelvin worries that curriculum screws are being tightened by the review office and the research of quantitative academics by their imposition of so called 'best practices' leading to a sameness in schools and classrooms. I couldn't agree more.

The moral position is to act on what one thinks is right for teachers and students although, Kelvin admitted, few principals would stand on a moral position come hell or high water! 'Standing out from the plaid', though he said, ' can be refreshing and a relief.'

Kelvin made a strong stand for the inclusion of the affective, the aesthetic, the symbolic and the intuitive, as being the heart of successful classrooms. It is these areas that are currently missing or being pushed to the periphery. Kelvin argues for the holistic duality of the affective and the cognitive. He wants to see a renaissance of the arts in our classrooms so students can gain transformational growth by expressing themselves through the arts. So students can gain 'feeling for', or a positive attitude towards all areas of learning. I wonder how many schools are including such things in their educational 'targets' - and such creative learning will be put at even greater risk by the reactionary imposition of national standards!

The education review office has created in principals' minds a persuasive perception of what the review office wants creating a moral dilemma for principals - what one writer calls 'corrosion of character' as principals try to guess what the review office want. National standards will add to this distortion. Because of such pressures, Kelvin believes, that a balanced curriculum is at risk. Ethics, Kelvin said, is to ensure no harm is done to the students in ones care.

Kelvin made a plea for primary teachers to stick to their beliefs about holistic education and to resist impositions that get in the way of the teacher learner relationship; that we need to see that the affective side ( the 'feeling for' something) is not neglected by centralised standardized 'evidenced based' approaches. All learning, he said, relies on a powerful meaningful contexts to be sensible to the learners. The best evidence we share should come from our own classroom practice, informed by other sources, and that we must avoid being in the thrall of qualitative academics ( John Hattie). Such academics, he said, are 'the witch doctors of contemporary life'.

Another aspect of moral leadership is the guidance you give and this should be informed by exceptional teachers. Exceptional teachers need to be protected from conformist influences. Such teachers have the ability, he said, to recognise in a flash the ideas you proffer that provide them integrating insight. Such teachers make such ideas their own and move on.

When you find such teachers cherish them - it is the easiest way to maximize the good you do.

Kelvin made the point that while learning is complex teaching should not be. Students questions provide intrinsic ideas to explore with the students. Teachers need to be hugely sensitive of children's responses. Teaching ought not to be the peak of theory; it is something straightforward and naturalistic.

Everything a principal does has moral implications - you need to shield your teachers from the worst of current directions. It is a contradiction that while the new curriculum is freeing things up other policies are screwing things down. You have to walk the line between latitude and control.

This paradox asks you to 'stand out from the plaid' if you do not want the false premise of national standards, the obsession with literacy and numeracy, the neglect of the arts to call the tune.

Kevin's main message is that the price of silence for not acting decisively and morally is that politicians and the educational bureaucracies will conduct conversation with themselves, interpreting your silence as acceptance.

This is why, he said, you must not only 'colonise' official policies but morally you must make your voices heard.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Principals doing some real learning

Northland principals learning how to paddle the canoe at Waitangi.Impressive to observe the growth in their co ordination and style. Next step onto the water!

The past month has seem me presenting at Principals Conferences from the Bay of Islands to Franz Joseph but the best lesson I learnt was watching a group of Northland principals learn how to to handle the paddles for the big war canoe.

Watching them learn how to paddle and move from un co ordinated individuals to working in harmony was truly impressive. It made me think of the research of Graeme Nuttall's written up in his book 'The Hidden Lives Of Learners'. In this book Nuttall records that learners need at least three experiences of any learning event for it to become part of their thinking.

First principals had to 'volunteer' - so only the brave ( or the slow) came forward. Learning obviously involves an element of risk taking. Earlier others 'volunteered' to enact Mrs Busby landing on the foreshore while others came forward to pull up the first New Zealand flag. During these role plays our teachers informed us of the history involved, including the story of Hone Heke chopping down the flagstaff. One of our guides also dressed up as Mrs Busby to take us through her house explaining construction details. All very enlightening. History coming alive.

Back to the war canoe.

First the 'expert' tutor lined up the 'novice' paddlers and explained what was going to happen and then he demonstrated the movements of the paddle and the chants involved for each movement. It was all , at first, quite complicated. He then took them through the movements slowly paying attention to vital points. One one point of the practice half were paddling followed by the second group. After three or four practices the end results to those watching was very impressive. For the paddlers their first awkwardness and lack of confidence was transformed into a powerful demonstration of learning. For those involved it was a transformational experience, by paddling and loud chanting - they gained a real 'feeling for' the art of paddling.

The 'next step' would be on the water.

For us all a great example of powerful teaching -and we all learnt a lot about the history of New Zealand.

Learning by doing. Seems like a good idea!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Perry Rush -educator

It was great to listen to Perry Rush present to the Westcoast Principals' Conference earlier this month. Perry is not just implementing the New Zealand Curriculum he is well ahead leading teachers into true learning centred education.

The vision for Island Bay school is 'Our Way, Island Bay'.

Perry has a great story to tell and is an inspiration to others who might wish to emulate the spirit of learning that he represents. It is clear that Perry leads by example and that those that work with him have trust in him to take them into an exciting future.

He comes to Island bay following time at Discovery One a innovative independent Christchurch School. A brief conversation with him indicated that Perry has had to work hard to get to where he is now. I first heard of him years ago when he was the teacher of a year 7 and 8 Tawa school based in downtown Wellington.

Perry has taken advantage of the opportunity to develop a local curriculum offered by the New Zealand Curriculum. During his presentation he encouraged principals to follow his example and feel free to develop ideas that suit their community.

He see the New Zealand Curriculum as a visionary document and one that demands real changes from schools. He asked do schools really want be involved in such transformational change?

Island Bay has taken a 'learner centred' approach: 'Our Way, Island Bay,Integrated learning'.

He asked his audience to consider what things tend to be 'fixed' in their school? Often things they assume to be 'fixed' are only 'fixed' because no body has really questioned the assumptions behind how their school is organised. We all too often just assume current ways of working to be appropriate. These, he said, 'are the cultural traditions and mores of a school'. To move into the future we need to uncover and challenge such assumptions so as to consider what it is that can be changed?

The key is to find the time and space to focus on the needs of the learner.

Three issues to consider:

1 What are our beliefs as these determine our actions? And what is the basis of our beliefs and can we articulate them?

2 What is our culture - our educational environment? Culture is critical. The key competencies of the curriculum indicate the kind of behaviours we wish to encourage; how we wish to live and learn together.

3 What is our pedagogy? What are the strategies, approaches and techniques we agree to use?

A school that wishes to change needs to bring in new ideas and also needs to get rid of unnecessary things. But most important of all the teaching team needs to be able to articulate their beliefs.

At Island Bay the staff work to see learning from child's perspective, to appreciate that the students role is to make meaning, and that the teachers role is to support and challenge the learners to deepen their understanding.

Also as part of developing appropriate pedagogy the staff have studied all the available research.

The Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) has reinforced the valuing of diversity, of being responsive to differences, and the need for quality teachers to pose real problems - problems that result in active research. For students, as the NZC states, to be their own active 'seekers, users and creators'.

Graham Nuttal's book pointed out the power of the hidden curriculum; that we all construct our own meaning according to our prior experience; the power of peers on influencing learning and the need for kids to talk to each other about the right stuff. Nuttal's research pointed out to the staff the need for each child to be helped to make their own 'unique pathways'.

From Jane Gilbert ( author of 'The Knowledge Wave') a researcher at the NZCER the idea of the changing shape of knowledge. That knowledge is not seen as a noun ( to store) but as a verb (a doing word). Learning is about 'performativity' - the ability to do something with what you know. The deeper children learn the more they can apply what they know. As well there is the idea that knowledge is 'owned ' by the group - the idea of 'collective intelligence'.

And of course John Hattie's idea of 'expert teachers'.

Back to Island Bay's Culture.

A quote about culture Perry shared was , 'what we care about, what we are willing to spend time on doing, what we celebrate, and what we talk about.'

The practices that underpin Island Bay School are:

The learning is to be integrated
learning is to be conceptual and based around big ideas.
The NZC's Key Competencies are to be connected with Art Costa's habits of mind'.
Based on inquiry learning.

Perry outlined how Island Bay had 'grown' their curriculum.

The first challenge is to figure out the intent of the NZC;what does it mean?

Student learning and not about coverage.
An emphasis on local meaning.
A participatory view of learning.
Excellent 'essence' statements for each Learning Area.

The NZC provides both an opportunity and a challenge as it requires what Perry called a 'seismic shift' and not merely 'tinkering'.

Perry shared Five Change ideas:

1 Engage powerful speakers. Island Bay have used John Edwards, Mary Chamberlain, Jane Gilbert, Kath Murdock and Lane Clark.

2 Link theory to practice. 'Improvisation is the hallmark of a creative teacher'

3 Consult widely with the local community.Island Bay only selected 3 or 4 questions from those suggested by the Ministry.What problems/issues are worth engaging students in? What would make an ideal graduate profile for our learners? What ought to be our core beliefs? And what do the Key Competencies actually mean? Reduce them to five points.

The school felt it needed to 'unsettle' what parents and teachers think and sent out a 'provocative' newsletter based on ideas from Jane Gilbert. Focus groups were held with parents selected randomly ( about 15 in each group?). Each group was asked a key question e.g what do students need to thrive in the 21stC?

4 'Explode' teacher thinking. Teachers visited a range of 'best practices' schools and inquired into 'best practice' in areas of literacy, ICT, pedagogy and developed action plans to undertake inquiry. Action times had to research 'best practices'; attend appropriate professional development of their own choice; be mentored by a recognised expert and finally to provide the school with recommendations.

By this means the staff made their own shift and out of all the thinking emerged the new vision for the school.

5 The school kept 'wall stories' about staff inquiries.These displays made explicit the idea being explored and were a way of deprivatising teacher practice and contributed to the development of a shared pedagogy. This was 'low tech' approach that was achievable by all.

Drawing his presentation together Perry explained the Island Bay School Inquiry approach, a model largely based on the writings of Kath Murdock.

(1)When inquiry topics are decided upon they are linked to a 'host' learning area.
(2) Finding out. For each inquiry the main area are identified from the host Learning Area - the main strands and selected learning objectives are identified.
(3) Sorting Out. Learning tasks are mediated and appropriate key competences are identified but most units incorporate most, if not all, of these competencies.
(4) Going Further. Learning is expressed through a range of Learning Areas as appropriate
(5) Refection. Making connections, and 'now what so what'?

It all comes down , Perry concluded, to developing a curriculum that is living and breathing.

All in all an inspiring and practical presentation.

Thank you Perry.

PS Apologies for any misinterpretations but I think I captured the 'essence' of what Perry said.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It is all about motivation

The New Zealand Curriculum states that 'intellectual curiosity is at the heart' of the thinking competency. For all that it is hard to find a direct reference to the word motivation but it is motivation that is the key to engaging learners. I have always liked Jerome Bruner's quote that 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.' If we want to solve the problem of disengaged students it is toward motivation must turn not the reactionary and simplistic national standards!

While waiting my turn to present at the West Coast Principals Conference held at Franz Joseph I had the opportunity to listen to Otago University educationalist Terry Crooks of NEMP fame.

In all his years in education Terry said he had come to the conclusion that the most important issue in education is motivation.'Motivation', he said, 'is at the heart of learning.' 'Motivation', he added, 'is far more important than the introduction of such things as National Standards ( testing). This coming from an educationalist who has dedicated much of his life to the testing of students achievements was worth hearing.

It is not that students cannot learn it is just that we have spent too much time on focusing on thing we think they should know rather that focusing on what motivates them. Young people are born with an innate drive to learn , to make sense of things, and to inquire about whatever capture their curiosity and imagination.

Terry talked about the centrality of students interests - what they like to learn about and about how teachers can capitalize on this desire to know.

Referring to the effective pedagogy of the New Zealand Curriculum Terry noted that motivation didn't even make it as a heading. Nor, I would add, did inquiry, but both are implicit. He regretted that motivation 'was not highlighted as as an important issue as it is the prime goal of teaching'.

As teachers we need to know what interests them, what they love so as to turn such interests into education growth in knowledge and positive attitudes. 'We need' , Terry said, 'to cherish and support such interests and to build on the enthusiasms kids bring with them'.

And he said 'we need to find ways to complement their interests and find ways to broaden them'. To me this is the prime purpose of education - to amplify the gifts and talents all students bring with them to the classroom. It seems we have made education far too complicated with our focus on 'our' curriculums! We need, as Sir Ken Robinson reminds us, 'to find each learner's medium'. 'What is it that makes individuals', Terry said, 'fall in love with learning'. When learners are totally involved, learning at the optimal level, he said they enter, what some writers have called, 'flow'

For teachers, Terry continued, the challenge is to make appropriate demands on students so as to match tasks to their ability. This aligns well with Vygotskys's 'zone of proximal development' or the personalisation of learning agenda. This are the areas of teacher artistry. If teachers do not match tasks to students competence students adopt the habits of 'learned helplessness' - they learn to give up and become disengaged; this in turn creates the so called 'achievement tail'.

'To develop enthusiastic learners', Terry said, 'you need build motivation through success with what students regard as significant challenges'. 'Time spent on motivation', he said, ' is time well spent'.

With reference to the New Zealand Curriculum Terry was pleased to see that it takes the long view about achieving learning objectives giving teacher time to focus on presenting engaging learning challenges. Doing fewer things well, as the curriculum states, is good advice.

With regard to his work with the NEMP testing Terry noted that vitally important subjects like science are showing to be of less interest to students. He puts this down to less experimental activity in school science programmes as a result of the the growing emphasis on literacy and numeracy. These areas are taking up too much of the available learning time that would be better used undertaking enjoyable activity based learning.

NEMP research points out the importance of attitudinal data - how students feel about subjects they are learning as feeling are at the centre of further involvement. I would bet that few school target student's feelings and attitudes in their selected school targets? In our current managerial and rational approaches to learning such subjectivity, or soft data, would seem to many to be unimportant?

It is interesting to see what areas of learning NEMP research shows students like - PE, sport, hands on technology. It would seem that to engage students learning needs to be 'hands on', a 'doing' thing ( learning as a verb not a noun). The teacher's emphasis should centre on maintaining motivation not covering the curriculum.

Terry's advice was not to worry about the curriculum so much and get students doing things that make sense to them. Real science. Real maths. Real inquiry. As an example Terry talked about a project children enjoyed in his wife's primary class - a study of possum population in an urban setting. Students set and checked traps, worked alongside experts,recorded data about what they found and this was reported on their findings appropriately. It would have been a great opportunity to integrate information technology in a realistic setting. Terry suggested the need for students to study significant environment and social issues - such things as exploring the health of a stream or variation in plant life( mix of species and their conditions) from the coast to a few hundred metres inland. These are wonderful examples of both real content and process and, as well, as examples of teachers learning alongside their students.

This experiential learning was once a feature of active primary classrooms but all to often , due to the over emphasis on literacy and numeracy, is not as common as it ought to be. Ironically NEMP research show students losing interest in reading and lacking in comprehension skills. Terry gave examples from his wife's teaching where students' reading had improved through working with students in a realistic way.

'Motivation is', he repeated, 'the most important issue in education today'.

'The answer', he believes, 'is to tap into and extend motivations students bring with them'.

'We need', he says, 'to consider what turns individual students on to learning'.

'We need to value the experiences the children bring with them'.

'The big three things we need to do', Terry concluded, 'is to combine motivation, real experience, with the appropriate skills, so as to ensure success. And we need Io give our students time to come to to terms with their learning and to provide them with relevant choices'.

It would seem we have allowed schooling to be removed from the real life concerns and needs of our students.Reconnecting with such personalised learning is the answer to student achievement not by imposing blanket national standards( tests).

A return to such 'learner centred' teaching would make learning more fun for both teachers and students - and in turn both would gain areal 'feeling for' the power of learning.

All good to me.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The process product dilemma

This chart, from earlier days, illustrates the information the learner discovered about the Sioux Indians. It also represents a sense of aesthetic appreciation of Sioux design and doing something really well. Something to be proud of or too great an emphasis on product?

There seems to be view in education these days that the process of learning is more important than worrying about the quality of the learning itself,and particularly the physical products of student learning. Classroom walls in such rooms emphasize that the teacher and students are aware of a wide range of 'thinking processes' that are often grouped under the phrase 'Higher Oder Thinking' or HOTS.

This emphasis on process includes the key competencies of the new curriculum. Content seem of less importance.

That students need to appreciate that the process of learning is educationally significant what they create, or learn, is equally important.

This splitting into process and product is wrong. In the first place there can be no product without some sort of process. The processes used, at whatever level of skill, shapes the quality of the product, or depth of thought that will be realized.

Similarly the product or end in view that we aspire to create shapes the means we employ and provides the criterion against which choices in present are made. What is seen is the manifestation of those processes.It is from those processes that we are able to make certain inferences about processes. It enables judgements to be made and provides opportunity to provide feedback if necessary.

Process and product therefore cannot be dichotomous. They are two sides of the coin. Processes can be improved by attending to the product and products improved by making inferences about the processes. Students respect thoughtful attention to their work because it testifies to them that their teacher are taking them and their work seriously. Achieving worthwhile products, using any media, provides great satisfaction and feelings of competency to the learner. And done really well provides aesthetic satisfaction that comes from personal excellence.

If teachers focus on higher order thinking, or key competencies, as the most important aspect then we will get 'higher order thinking for thin learning'.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Importance of observation.

Skilled student observing fellow student completing an observational drawing of a tree as part of a bush study. Involved in such a 'slow' activity who know what thoughts were running through both their minds?

Drawing is an ideal way to break through habitual ways of thinking. All too often our students see but they do not look. Observational drawing has long been an important means for some teachers to develop deeper consciousness in students - to assist students see through their habitual ways of seeing and to develop new awareness.

Such drawing develops qualities of perception and understanding of whatever is drawn. Drawing can be seen as the mind asking question and the hand drawing answers.It involves a simple strategy - look hard- imagine -and then draw, and continue until the drawing is finished.

German philosopher Goethe had thoughts about studying plants through drawing, 'It takes time.You have to slow down.You see and you follow ever detail - of a leaf for example - in your imagination...you look at a leaf , and you create the shape of the leaf as precisely as possible in your mind. You move around the shape of the leaf in your mind until the leaf becomes an image in your mind.You do this with one leaf, with another leaf, and so on, and suddenly you begin to see dynamic movement.' The mind wonders about how the leaf was created.

Questions will emerge which can lead to intensive study. Thoughts arise that can be shaped into poems. As artists take in what they can see metaphorical thought might come to mind. Imagination can extend images into amazing interpretations.

A few leaves can provide a lot of deep thoughts. Such contemplation, Goethe believed, developed a new ways to see.

For teachers who understand this observation is not a simple task but one that truly develop deeper understanding and sense of wonder.

Until you look you never know what you can't see.

To slow students' looking the first thing is to encourage concentration through focus. To pay attention without judgement. To slow the pace of thought so as to see all there is to see. To think of connections.

Such observation is away to break through our conventional, or conditioned, way of thinking.

Focused observation, and ensuing imagination, may well be the missing 'basics' in our hurried school system.

A powerful study for your students?

Newsreader on TV introducing items about the 7O th Anniversary of World War Two. An aware teacher surely would've take the opportunity to introduce the importance of World War Two to their students? At least for students in year 5 and above. In many classes it would build on the ideas they may have gained from earlier ANZAC studies?

It would be interesting to gather from your students what they already know about World War Two. If this 'prior knowledge' were recorded in same way it could be used later to show students how much they have learnt.

Researching World War Two would make a idea language arts unit.

What are their 'first questions' and the current answers. Use these question to direct student reading and search for information.

Some questions that might emerge are:

Why was it called World War Two? Was there a World War One?
who was fighting who?
Why was New Zealand involved?
How did it start?
Where was it fought?
Who won?
Was it a necessary war? Why?

It would be interesting to gather students' views on war? Such a study would introduce the ideas of sacrifices involved by soldiers and citizens alike.

Who knows where such study would lead. Even if it were just studied as language unit for a few day it would provide food for thought for students. At the completion students could reflect on what they have learnt as well as their own thoughts about wars. If a more extended study students could research various topics in study teams.

As they uncover resources ideas will flow. Many students will have grandparents who can share what they remember from their fathers who may have served in the war.