Monday, November 02, 2009

Creativity or back to the past?

If you haven't heard Sir Ken Robinson speak about creativity you have missed a treat. A great antidote to the current back to the past diversion of national standards. Google him and listen to his TED Talk video.

Teachers' attention seem to have been taken up of late by the issue of national standards where all students in the future will be reported on to their parent about where they stand in comparison to their age group.

There is little research or evidence that students actually achieve better when such testing is in place as in the United Kingdom. The opposite is almost true as initial improvements have plateaued and are now trending down. And to make matters worse students attitudes towards the tested subjects is falling and , as well, considerable anxiety has been created for teachers, students and parents alike. Those who are interested in some in depth thinking around the topic should read the UK Cambridge Review summary which is very critical of national standards.

And it is not even that UK students outperform kiwi kids. The big issue, as in most countries, is the so called 'achievement tail'. Evidence suggests that this 'tail' is the result of poverty combined with ethnicity. Schools can only do so much when the playing field is so uneven for the students who enter. New Zealand assessment expert Terry Crooks has written that the answer isn't measurement it is one of motivation.

Let's be honest national standards is more about populist politics than education.

But it is a done deal and teachers will have to cope with the consequences.Overseas the collateral damage has been : the narrowing of the curriculum; teaching to the tests; and stress and anxiety all round. Simplistic as it all is it is a good vote winner for a society trying to survive in difficult times. The worst aspect has been the sidelining of the highly regarded 'new' New Zealand Curriculum before it even got started.

The good thing is that overseas teachers who have kept faith with creative integrated inquiry teaching, based around relevant learning challenges, have done well in the 'high stake tests' -with of course a little bit of teaching towards the tests!
The answer is for schools to keep their nerve and think hard about developing positive engaging inquiry learning and integrating literacy and numeracy skills into such learning. This once was the New Zealand way. It is now at risk. Do we have the leadership to ensure teachers are not overwhelmed by all the pressures involved with national standards? Time will tell?
Sir Ken Robinson, an international expert in creativity is well aware of the consequences of such a narrow back to basics movement and he believes the emphasis needs to be placed on developing every learners creativity and love of learning. He writes that creativity and critical thinking are as important as literacy and numeracy in the 21stC; they are, he says, 'the crucial 21st C skills we'll need to solve pressing problems'.

He says, in an interview in the recent ascd magazine ( Sept 09),' You can be creative in math, science, music, dance, cuisine, running a family, or engineering ...because creativity is a process of having original ideas that have value...looking at new ways of doing things.' And, he makes the point, it is wrong to associate creativity with being totally free and unstructured. 'An essential bit of every creative process is evaluation.If you are working on a mathematical problem , you're constantly evaluating it, thinking ,"does that feel right?"'Does that work?" "Is that going in a good direction?"'
And it important he says to realize creativity it not just for "special people" and that "everybody has tremendous creative capabilities".

Now developing all students creative capabilities, their specialist of gifts and talents, would be true 21st challenge - it is the basis of our new curriculum. Wouldn't parents, if asked want this for their children -along with literacy and numeracy? We live in 'and' not an 'either or' world!

Creativity,Sir Ken says, 'is not about letting yourself go, kind of running around the room and going a bit crazy. Really , creativity is a disciplined process that requires knowledge, and control. Obviously it also requires imagination and inspiration...but it is a disciplined path of daily education'.
As for the unprecedented environment and economic challenges we face now we will need, he says, 'every ounce of ingenuity, imagination, and creativity to confront these problems.' He say , 'we are living in times of massive one has got a clue what the world will look like in in five years, or even the next year actually, and yet it is the job of education to help kids make sense of the world they're going to live in.'
And that is the real challenge ; the future orientated 'key competencies' of our new curriculum.

And Sir Ken says currently, with our literacy and numeracy emphasis, 'we are systematically educating ( creativity) out of them'
Speaking about the school failure rate - the 'underachieving tail' -the disengaged students - he says, 'there is something wrong with the system'...students are 'not discovering the things that impassion them or invigorate them or turn them on.'
And this brings him back to the culture of standardized testing ( he is talking about the USA). This approach he says is totally counterproductive. 'You become alive', he says, 'when you do things you are good at, you tend to get better at everything because your confidence is up and your attitude is different' As Kelvin Smythe would say, students get a 'feeling for' learning.

'Too often' Sir Ken continues, ' now we are systematically alienating people from their own talents and, therefore from the whole process of education....It is a fundamental human truth that people perform better when they're in touch with things that inspire them.'
'We know human culture is so diverse and rich - and our education system is becoming dreary and monotonous' ( referring to the USA but this is the track we are heading down in NZ). He is 'not surprised so many kids are pulling out of school. Even the ones who stay are detached Only a few people benefit from the process.But it is far too few to justify the waste.'
Education , Sir Ken says, 'is becoming dominated by the this culture of standardized teaching, by a particular view of intelligence and a narrow curriculum..we're flattening and stifling some of the basic skills and processes that creative achievement depends on'.
And in New Zealand we are being led down the standardized track.
Sir Ken talks about teaching for creativity where he says, 'the pedagogy is designed to encourage other people to think differently. You encourage them to experiment, to innovate, them the tools they need to find out what the answers might be or to explore new avenues.'
You can't reduce all learning to a number ( or a simplistic 'plunket type graph).

Standardized teaching has led us to believe everything can be measured. This is a myth of past thinking.

We need creativity as much as we need literacy and numeracy even if it is harder to quantify.

This is what makes teaching a creative art - or did until national standards came along.

If teachers lose their creativity the students will be the real losers.


Anonymous said...

Sir Ken is always great value. It is a shame that his ideas haven't reached our politicians.

National Standards/testing sounds good at a surface level but I guess that where most people are at.

I hope you are right when you say that perhaps this might be the 'straw' that teachers finally react to - or will they do their best to cope with it as is their way? The latter I think?

Bruce Hammonds said...

The message I hear is principals aren't worried about the standards - they are worried about them being converted into league tables. In this they are wrong. They need to be worried not putting on 'brave faces' for the reasons indicated by Sir Ken Robinson, the Cambridge Review, Kelvin Smythe etc. Over the past decades schools have allowed literacy and numeracy to over dominate their broad creative inquiry curriculums. Standards will simply continue this slide into a narrow teacher imposed curriculum. Personalisation is the diection we ought to be going - not standardisation or 'one size fits all'.

Jody said...

And we see this narrowing already ... our arts advisor is waiting to hear if she has a job for 2010... entries into the local childrens art exhibition by schools was well down this year and the reason given was either they are 'too busy' or 'not doing art this year'.
Who knows how narrow it will get by this time next year!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Hi Jody

The time is coming when teachers might need to fight for what is right.

Who will want to be a teacher in the future - what we will need are accountants.