Monday, October 18, 2010

Creative emergence or planning studies

Can life be planned or, in an ever evolving world, do we need to be equipped with the confidence and the dispositions to learn from whatever experiences we encounter? Traditional school people seem to believe that, without teacher planning, their students would learn little. In contrast creative educators believe that it is all about creating the conditions necessary for students to develop their innate talents. The teachers who hold the second view, of course, do need to have considerable knowledge ( or know where to point their students ) to ensure their students potential is realized.

The very young and adult artists and scientists have the attributes of 'life long learners' - to be 'seekers, users and creators of the own knowledge' as the NZC states. As Professor Brian Cox , the UK Governments Science Adviser, says , ' the point of science is to be comfortable with the unknown'. Explorers of all ages, to ' fly' like an eagle, need to be both open to new ideas and skeptical of authority.

The other day I was asked by a principal a of a small school if I had 'any links to research or examples of institutions delivering a school curriculum over a set number of years? By that I mean a policy of integrated studies areas being comprehensively covered over maybe 2-3 years rather than attempting to cover everything in one school year.I would love to see any examples of such a programme or even have links to any research you may know of'.

I guess I was the wrong person to ask because I believe such planning does more harm than good because it discounts the questions and concerns that emerge from any group of curious children. As a result students see school as something that is done to them rather than something they learn to do for themselves.

The teaching profession has always been full of 'experts', in the various subject areas, who determine what content young people should learn. Recently we have had imposed on schools the idea of national standards that all students have to achieve. As yet they have not 'morphed' into national tests but one doesn't have to have crystal ball to see what will evolve. National Standards withstanding current education is already infected by pre-planned intentional thinking. Even the most child centred classroom is really students having fun doing what teachers think they need to do. Literacy and numeracy the two worst offenders. No student, it seems, would ever learn to read or do maths if teachers didn't set about testing and teaching them .

Socrates, two thousand years ago, worked our what teaching was all about about; listening to his students , their question, and asking questions of them. He believed his peasant boy Memo already had all the geometry in his head - his role was to help him clarify his ideas. Even his 'mate' Plato wrote that 'the task of the teacher is not to place knowledge in where it does not exist, but rather to lead the minds eye that it might be see for itself'.

And for two thousand years we have ignored their advice. Experts, who know better than creative teacher, have no faith in students innate ability to make sense of their own experiences. They have pushed their lists of content , or learning objectives, or standards, on teachers. And too many teachers, believing in planning, have gone along with them.

So back to the query from the teacher.

All I could do was share a few (diconfirming) ideas with him.

I wrote: 'I have never believed it is important to define an integrated inquiry program over a number of years. Just too complicated and inflexible. The important thing is to develop in students the dispositions, attitudes and competences they will need to continue their life long learning quest. These key competencies are outlined in the NZC and are similar to the 'habits of mind' of Art Costa , or the 'powerful learning ' of Guy Claxton.

With this in mind it is vitally important to develop the 'seeking, using and creating knowledge' asked for in the NZC in the literacy block and, where possible, in the numeracy block. All too often these are developed as stand alone areas of learning. And worse still take up much of the whole day!

So the challenge is to ensure all students 'learn' through a series of experiences how to 'seek' knowledge ( using their own questions) to 'use' it ( not just cutting and pasting but showing students 'voice' and opinions) and to 'create' ( products of originality in writing, art and project work).

To achieve such self motivated resourceful learners requires them being involved in rich, real, relevant and rigorous challenges. Some of these challenges might be part of self contained language or maths topics but the best are integrated and generative inquiry studies that spin out into all sorts of curriculum areas'.

My advice to him was to, 'each year to cover ( two a term usually) a range of content area studies. These can be developed by looking the various strands in the learning areas ( excluding maths and language) and developing eight or so themes to cover each year. The next step is to ask the students themselves what they would like to learn more about and the issues and concerns that worry them? From such a process a teacher could co-develop a curriculum involving their students. Any topics or questions that 'emerge' ('teachable moments') should be also be taken advantage if - it is the dispositions that teachers need to always keep in mind and the talents their students are developing'.

'As for the themes that need to be covered the ones that come to mind are:

Environmental studies ( mainly natural science); heritage study - European history; Maoritanga; Science technology - physical science; a creative arts theme ( visual art, drams or music in-depth study) etc. Make up your own list by combining strands from various areas. Another thought is a Communication ICT theme. A great idea is in term four, for year 3 and above, for students to select and do their own individual research study. This is a great way to assess if students can use all the various skills you have hopefully taught them during the year'.

'Three points to keep in mind'.

'At the beginning of the year plan out the eight or so studies. Leave room for studies that just emerge. At the end of the year make a record of what studies were actually undertaken -as plans might have changed during the year. Use these to see what areas have been missed to plan for the next year and to ensure that students do not get involved in repetition.

It is important to cover a range of themes to give every learner a chance to find out what they like - their own particular set of interests or talents ( multiple intelligences)

For each study plan three or for major outcomes to encourage depth of thinking and to encourage students to do fewer things well. Each outcome will indicate skills that will need to in place or to be taught to achieve quality results in literacy time.

Outcomes could be: a research presentation where students answer three or four open questions (this might be a PowerPoint but usually involves research language work); a piece creative or expressive writing based on the theme; and a piece of creative art work'.


'The studies selected must become the driving motivation for the whole day as much as is possible - and the reason to teach reading and comprehension and presentation skills in the literacy time (and as much as possible numeracy time as well)'.

The teacher thanked me for my advice and said he would think about it. I think it was probably both the wrong question and the wrong answer.

Most teachers these days are avid planners and data collectors - to concerned with proving achievement to really trust themselves or their students. Technicians teaching by numbers - imposing their intentions on their students

Teachers in such a formulaic and dysfunctional system are no longer creative.


Anonymous said...

I think you would agree Bruce that a degree of planning is important but equally important is to go with the flow as required because little turns exactly as planned? Having some idea of where you are going helps with decision making on the way?

Bruce Hammonds said...

Planning, I agree, is necessary to give some security but it should be dropped as ideas emerge.

Eddie said...

I do plan but not excessively. See, if you put too much energy in planning and your mind is fixed and closed, it blocks any possibility of a greater, better and more practical idea into your mind and your project.

Bruce Hammonds said...

So right Eddie.