Saturday, January 29, 2011

What do we steal from our students?

I have just returned from 'The Inspired Impact ;Developing the whole Child' conference convened by Ross Kennedy of College Street Normal school in Palmerston North attended by 1400 educators.

It was ironic that many local schools were noticeable by their absence - their loss entirely.

I had the opportunity to have a keynote to share my views along with creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, inquiry learning expert Kate Murdock and Helen Baxter, an example of where we all, well our students, might be going.

I was in good company .All speakers were helping teachers re imagine schools for a 'creative age'; or 'a second Renaissance'. Schools for 'Generation why'? Actually Sir Ken had had a heart attack and couldn't' make it at the last minute giving one in turn to Ross as well! However, due to the marvels of modern technology, Sir Ken was able to give his address from Los Angeles from two huge screens.A sign of the times.

I have not had time to get my head around the full implications of the speakers and workshop presenters messages except to say it is urgent we all start to re-imagine, rethink, or transform our schools to prepare our students for their future.We need new schools to develop the new minds for the new millennium.

Dr John Edwards based his presentation, the final one for the conference, on a question his wife had asked him when he returned after teaching his graduate students.

She asked him, 'What have you stolen from your students today'

The poem is worth a read because it clearly makes the distinction between an antiquated transmission style of teaching (which is still all too common) and what is now required if we are to develop all students as 'confident life long learners', the 'seekers, users,and creators of their own knowledge', that our revised curriculum asks of us.

‘What did you steal from your students today?’

(The poem is abbreviated but you will get the picture!)

‘If where we go is always the decision of the curriculum or my curiosity and not theirs.

If I always decide on the topic to be studied, the problem to be worked on.
How will they ever know how to begin?

If I am the one who is always monitoring progress.
If bells and I are always in control of the pace and the flow
How will they learn to continue their own work?

If all the marking and editing is done by me
If the selection of work to be published or evaluated is made by me
If they do not have language of self assessment.
How will they find ownership, direction and delight in what they do?

If I speak of individuals but present learning as if they are all the same
If we do not take opportunity to think about our thinking.
If I never openly respect their thoughts.
If I never let them persevere with something really difficult.
If there is no time to explore.
How will they get to know themselves as thinkers?

If the never help anyone else.
If we do not teach them the skills of working cooperativelity.
How will they learn to work with others?

For if they
Have never experiences being challenged in a safe environment.
Have had all their creative thoughts explained away
Are unaware of what catches their interest and how then to have confidence in that interest
Have never followed something they are passionate about to a satisfying conclusion.
Have not clarified how they sabotage their own learning.
Are afraid to ask help and do not know who to ask.
Have not experienced at overcoming their own inertia.
Are paralyzed by the need to know everything before writing or acting.
Have never got bogged down.
Have never failed.
Have always played it safe.
How will the ever know who they are?’

So what are you stealing from your students?
I guess the real question is, what do we want our students to leave with so they can continue their learning journey? We need to discuss this with out colleagues.

I think the answers lie in the above thoughts.

The implication for teachers is that Schools and curricula need to be redesigned so that teachers and their students can genuinely rediscover the joy of learning.

Perhaps this is what the new ‘buzz word’ personalization really means?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Beginning the school year - 'keeping the end in mind'.

If you want a book to inspire you to become aware of the possibilities of your environment this is the book for you.Ideal for any adult wanting to expand their awareness but for teachers a most valuable classroom resource. Full of practical ideas to use with your class to help them retain ( or regain) their natural curiosity. Very creatively and visually presented. A fun book. Not written by a curriculum consultant which makes it even more valuable.

Check link for more info.

Business philosopher Stephen Covey, in his book 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', writes that it is important to ' keep the end in mind'. It is too easy to get bogged down in the present just trying to get through and in the process lose sight of the 'end in mind'.If this happens you can easily end up losing your way. As the saying goes, 'it is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you're up to your backside in crocodiles!'

So what is the end in mind for a teacher beginning the school year?

This ought to be defined by the agreed vision,values ( agreed behaviours) and teaching beliefs of the school. And if this is important, and not just rhetoric, then success ought to measured by achieving this vision. Of course this is rarely the case - schools are all too often concerned with the 'crocodiles' of day to day hassles. Tradition, or past unquestioned habits, seem to rule the minds of most schools. Just look how they apportion their time - it would seem few have escaped from the Victorian emphasis on the 'three Rs'.

So what would be the end in mind to keep in mind?

A good place to start would be the vision pages of the revised New Zealand Curriculum 2007.

Nothing should get in the way of NZC Vision of ensuring all students become 'confident life long learners' - or life long questioners and inquirers.

This means really focusing all teaching interactions on developing the 'key competencies' of the curriculum; learning to think, work with others, persevere and use every means to communicate effectively. Some call these 'habits of mind' (Art Costa) and others 'learning power ' ( Guy Claxton). Once it was just called 'learning to learn'!

To achieve 'confidence' and 'learning power' requires teachers make certain that what is studied is seen as real and relevant by learners.

Good advice is for teachers to to do fewer things well and to continually diagnose what each individual can do and, where there are gaps in skills or understanding, teaching the missing information.Positive attitudes for, or 'feelings for', the particular learning experience are the key to successful learning.

One key phrase in the NZC ( on the vision page and in the thinking competency) is for each student to be a 'seeker, user and creator of their own knowledge'. The teachers role is to ensure all students have the skills and attitudes to achieve such personal knowledge creation. The challenge for the teacher is to ensure all students develop 'feeling for' whatever they are learning. Successful teachers really care about what their students think and feel particularly those who have lost confidence in the ability to complete any task. Valuing each learner's 'voice', questions, and ideas is vital.

Such a vision is student or learning centred one in contrast to students simply asked to do what teachers expect of them. This doesn't mean letting students do what they like ; the teacher role is a very creative one.

Teachers need to negotiate with students to ensure empowerment or a sense of ownership and to hold students to completing what they have agreed to do.

This requires firmness and teacher artistry to assess what it is each learner is capable of and then ensuring students gain the skills to continually improve their personal best. As educationalist Jerome Bruner says, 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'.

Thankfully students are easily trapped by their innate curiosity if what is put in front of them appeals. The challenge for teachers is to think up ways to tap into this sense of curiosity in all learning areas.

With such a vision in mind teachers can slowly , as students develop skill, pass greater responsibility to their students..

When it seems difficult to negotiate learning then it is honest to say 'we just have to do this so lets do it'. With maths it is possible to develop relevant studies but when practice is required then just call it that, practice. Remind students that to do anything well you need to have the skills in place and that sometimes skill practice is important , but only to be able to get back to the real learning. Literacy blocks ( and maths where possible) ought to focus on providing the research skills necessary to undertake in depth inquiry studies.

The vision of the revised curriculum's is a personalised approach to learning - helping each learner at their point of need. Students will see the point of practicing learning missing skill if it helps then achieve the 'end they have in mind'.The whole purpose of education is to develop in every learner a powerful learning identity, a strong sense of self, of being a valued and worthwhile person. This involves the teacher really listening to their students and validating them.

A good idea is to start the year with a discussion with your class of what makes a powerful learner. Work through the introductory pages of the NZC with them and develop an image of a great class - a true learning community of inquirers 'hunting' for meaning in their tasks. Such a community requires rights and obligations (agreed behaviours) for both the teacher and the class members to hold themselves to.

'Their' powerful learning attributes ( 'merged' with the NZC 'key competencies') can then be referred to, as required, to ensure students keep the 'end in mind' and do not get lost in pointless ( to them) activities.

Keeping the 'end in mind' is valuable advice for both teacher and learners.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Beginning the school year - some activities

My previous blog had ideas about beginning teaching and some links to articles with ideas to to think about. This blog just adds a few more.

Teaching is one profession where there is no shallow end. From day one you are presented with up to thirty plus young individuals for you to shape into a learning community; and every class community will be different. Even experienced teachers have second thoughts about starting a new class as at the end of the year they will have left students who have learnt to work with each other and their teacher.

Developing this learning community is the real challenge for any teacher. Good schools will provide structures, organisations and curriculum guidance to assist but it always worth having ideas up your sleeve.

First impressions count and the students' parents will be waiting to hear from their children what their teacher is like so it is important not to leave it to chance.

A good idea is to begin by introducing yourself to your students with a small potted history of yourself based around a number of questions. The students can then use this model ( or scaffold) to write up something similar to share with you or even, in small groups, with each other.It is a good idea for then to write a draft, or make a mind map, before they start - and this also you can model.

Keep this reasonably short and ask them for their best writing - this will give you an idea of their personal best they bring with them.

You might like to have 'mini lesson' on the school vision, mission and values and what they mean if they are available. This could be developed later into a class treaty of expectations and positive behaviours and linked to a 'mini study' on the Treaty of Waitangi. If so it is a good idea to get them to draft out , or mind map, their 'prior views'. After this done students can complete research to clarify their knowledge.

The idea of valuing students 'prior' ideas, or skills, should be part of all learning activities.

During the first day you might share with them one of the best things ( most memorable or exciting) you did during the holidays. Then get them to do something similar. Emphasize the importance of writing as if they were back in the situation, what they felt , heard. or saw, and get them to write about what they were thinking at the time. This is an opportunity to introduce students to the idea of valuing their personal 'voice' and going for quality - not length or most words.

Think of continuing this personal narrative writing throughout the year as a weekly occurrence - completing one from idea, draft to realisation once a week in a writing journal . This is the best way to let students know you value their experiences and for them to contribute to developing a learning identity.

Personal narratives can be illustrated ( often for homework) but, if so, students need to be taught the skill of powerful drawing. Some students will have already decided that they are not artists and, if so, this is a chance to change their minds. One idea is to get them to complete a self portrait with their biros. First let them draw without instruction ( to see their 'prior' skills) and then guide them ( 'scaffold' them) through the process. This is another chance to introduce the idea of quality. Once again value individual differences. The lesson is outlined in the link on the previous blog.

One way to develop students drawing or illustrative skill is to base their drawing on a digital photo of themselves - possibly doing something exciting during their holidays. If so get them to focus on the dramatic aspects, or close up views, not long distance shots. Combine their portraits with them holding perhaps a fish or some food for example. Get them to include as much texture, or details, as they can.

Both the above can be expanded to develop as a major piece of art.

Another way is to get some school journals and then students to select an illustration they like and to copy it into their language book. It maybe be useful for them to copy only part of the drawing to introduce the idea of focus. When complete add the artists name. This is an excellent language activity and illustrates to the students wide range of artists styles and genres ( there lots of approaches to being an artist from the real to the bold). This is a fun activity to use whenever new journal arrive.

Observational drawing, a vital science/art skill, is a good activity to get students to do. Once again get then to draw an object ( kawakawa leaves are great) without instruction to assess their 'prior skill' and then instruct them to draw carefully, to go slow, and to take their time. The two efforts be compared and lessons drawn from the activity.If you are planning a small environmental study then this skill can be put to use. A 'mini study' of cicadas is one idea, or shells collected from the seashore during the holidays. Wild flowers, grasses or a flax study are possible studies.

A good idea for maths ( after you have surveyed their prior attitudes ) is to study what maths is and get them to research the history of number development through the ages. You could cover how different cultures have their own number system. Find out who developed the zero and why it is so important. It is important to humanize maths if all students are to gain a 'feeling for' the subject. Famous mathematicians can be researched. It pays to keep maths as applied as possible.

It might be useful to share with them the main ideas of each Learning Area covered in the New Zealand Curriculum if so make time to gain their collective 'prior ideas' first. The main ideas coud be copied into one of their books?

For writing,after you have assessed their handwriting abilities, it is fun for the class to research the development of writing from cave drawing to word processors. The history of writing ,and the various writing media, is a fascinating one.

One final thought.

All students buy a set of exercise books to begin the year. Some schools I know have reinvented these books as portfolios as they ought to show qualitative improvement (the Japanese call this continual small improvement 'kaizen'). The first days of school is the time to introduce students to this expectation. It is a good idea to introduce them to simple graphic presentation ideas. It is also a good idea to aim, by Easter, for all books to show improvement.In the schools that have developed their books as portfolios all books are sent home before parent interviews for their comments and later to discuss during interviews.

When a research study is undertaken students should be shown design or graphic 'scaffolds' to help them present their work. As with all 'scaffolds' it is important, that once in place, students be encouraged to show their individuality and creativity.

One you have thought out all the possibilities map out a programme for day one and week one. If you are in a proactive school your fellow team member will provide you with ideas to include.

Share your daily plan with the students at the beginning of the day. At the end of the day (and each activity) have reflective session to clarify what has been learnt. At the end of the day discuss with the class the three main things learnt during the day - their mothers will want to know!

Even if you don't use all the above suggestions they all remain available for later use. It is important to do fewer things well in depth.

The overall 'message' you want to leave with them is that you want them to do their best work - to aim for quality; you want then to to value their own 'voices', experiences, questions and ideas; and you want them to value their individuality and creativity. This is the essence of a learning community.

Best of all slowing their pace of work (many students will arrive with a 'first finished is best' attitude) will help you to get them to value perseverance and effort and to develop a concept of personal excellence.

Not a bad start.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Beginning teaching - or starting a new year

Beginning the school year another blog to flick through

Beginning teachers face a dilemma.

It is obviously sensible to 'find out what is important around here' and to get on with doing it.

Good advice to start with but the danger is that it is all too easy to conform unthinkingly to bad habits as well.Compliance and conformity to school expectations ( for better or worse) is more the name of the game for new teachers.

For example there is a lot of talk about the importance of inquiry and creative learning - about integrating subject disciplines around relevant problems. However when school timetables are passed out it becomes pretty obvious schools are centred around two traditional areas - literacy and numeracy.

In fact it is hard to see where inquiry and creativity actually fit in.

The only solution, if you are a new teacher, is to do your best to develop literacy and numeracy skills that will be used to ensure deep and meaningful inquiry studies. Students should see inquiry learning as the most important thing.. They should see literacy and numeracy as a means to an end -as vital 'foundation skills'. They need to see the difference between 'real' maths and 'practice' maths.

This is easiest in literacy ( I prefer the heading 'language arts') by basing comprehension and information research skills on the current inquiry topic but most inquiry topics also need mathematical skills to be in place. And it is important for students to see the connections as well.

One task I would do is to get the class to complete an informal survey of attitudes, or feelings, towards all aspects of the school curriculum. Ask students to show their interest using a one to five scale or sad or smiley faces.

Developing a love of learning and developing a 'feeling for' each area is vital. If the results are less than wonderful then you will know where to place your effort as teacher.

It strikes me teachers spend hours each week on mathematics for little effect. At the end of schooling far too many students leave with a poor attitude ( and achievement level) in maths and this ought not to be the case. If you placed poetry on the list I bet not many students would say they liked it but I also bet that, with interesting teaching, all students would come to see poetry as a fun activity.

So what do your students think of various school subjects? The survey is a good first day activity. Better still if the list were drawn up by all teachers and used as an important assessment tool.

If you know about the mindset research of Carol Dweck add :

1 Do you think were are born as smart as you are ever going to be ( 'brains' or sports ability) and there are some things you just can't do ?


2 Do you think you can get better at anything if you try hard and practice?

The first is a 'fixed mindset'.Low ability students get their lack of ability affirmed at school ( through ability grouping, national testing or streaming) and high achievers ( often girls) do not risk their status by new areas of learning becoming risk averse. Those with a 'growth mindset' just have a go at anything believing in effort and focused practice and see not succeeding as a challenge.This 'growth mindset' underpins the New Zealand Curriculum; ' have a go kids'

Click on the links below for some good advice to read before starting the school year.

Some activities to begin the year

Developing a stance as a teacher with your class

What attitudes about learning do your students bring with them?

Discussing how we learn with your class

Finding out what talents your students bring with them

A basis for planning a unit of work

More on planning an interactive unit

Sharing stories - personal writing

More on personal writing

The importance of teaching your class to observe

What do your students know about the Treaty of Waitangi?
More about the Treaty

Developing design presentation skills

More on presentation of student's ideas

Developing a stimulating room environment

A lesson Cicadas

A lesson on the flax plant

Make this the year to break out of traditional patterns and assumption and to develop active literacy, mathematics and inquiry programmes - ones that value students' 'voice' , questions, ideas and creativity.

There is no rush but don't be trapped by yesterdays timetables and expectations.

Remember the revised New Zealand Curriculum has as its vision for all students to be 'confident life long learners' ( or inquirers) and for them to have the competencies, or 'habits of mind', or 'learning power', to be 'seekers, users,and creators of their own knowledge'.

Few schools have achieved such a vision - yet! Or if they have the vision they have a reality gap between what is said and done!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Something old but still worth thinking about! And read John Edward's poem as well

Late in January there is going to be a major conference - 'The Inspired Impact Conference; Developing the whole child'. It is about challenging traditional curriculum delivery methods to prepare a place for creativity in classrooms. The conference has at its aim 'to delve deeply into learning and creativity'.

All I can say it is about time.

Creativity has been at risk the past decades as literacy and numeracy imperatives have all but eaten up all the school day. And with the National Standards it can only get worse. There is more compliance and formulaic 'best practice' conformity in our schools than creativity. All too often when you visit classrooms you see clone like art work.

Teachers need to have the courage to ensure all children develop all their talents and become the 'confident life long learners' ( or inquirers) that the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum asks of them. All children have the right to be 'seekers, users and creators of the own knowledge'.

Red flower

Once upon a time there was a little boy who studied at a big school.

One morning the teacher said "Today we’re going to draw."

"Good" thought the little boy.

He liked to draw lions, tigers, chickens, trains and boats.

He got his color-pencils and started drawing.

"Wait!! Don’t start yet." said the teacher.

She waited until all the students were ready and then said ...

"We’re going to draw flowers."

The little boy started drawing beautiful flowers with his pink, orange and blue pencils.

"Wait" said the teacher. "I’ll show you how to do it."

And the flower she drew was red with a green stem.

"Ok" said the teacher "now you can do it."

The little boy looked at the flower the teacher had drawn , looked at his own flowers and liked his best. He couldn't say that so he turned the sheet of paper over and drew a flower just like the one the teacher had drawn - red with a green stem.

Another day the students were having class outside and the teacher said ...

"Today we are going to play with clay."

"Great" the boy thought.

He liked to play with clay.

He could make things like elephants, mice, cars and trucks.

He started to take some clay in his hands and make a big ball.

Then the teacher said ... "Wait ! Don’t start yet."

She waited until all the students were ready.

"Now" she said "we’re going to make a plate."

"Good" thought the little boy.

He liked to make plates of different sizes and shapes.

The teacher said ... "Wait !! I’ll show you how to do it."

It was a soup-plate.

"Ok" she said "now you can start."

The little boy looked at the plate the teacher had made, looked at his own plate and liked his best. He couldn’t say it so he got his plate, made it into a big ball and started it again.

He made a soup-plate just like the one the teacher had made.

And since early in his life he learned not to do things by himself but to wait for a model.

And then the little boy went to another school.

This one was even bigger than the other one.

One day the new teacher said ... "Today we’re going to draw."

"Good" thought the little boy.

He waited to see what the teacher would draw.

The teacher didn’t draw anything.

She only walked around the room.

Then the teacher approached the little boy and asked "Don’t you like to draw?"

"Yes" he said "but what are we going to draw?"

"I don’t know" said the teacher "draw whatever you want."

"How can I do it?" he asked.

"Any way you want." said the teacher.
"But what colors should I use?" he asked.

"You choose. If everybody makes the same drawing with the same colors how can I know which drawing is yours?" she said.

"I don’t know" answered the boy.

And he draw a red flower with a green stem.

Many times we want our children, friends, relatives, people we love, to do things the way we believe is the correct one.

Are we right?

Other times we sit and wait until someone tells us what to do.

Is that right?

If you have time read the poem, 'What did you steal from your children today?' written by John Edwards one of the Inspired Impact Keynote speakers.