Saturday, July 23, 2011

Under-Imagined and Over Taught

The two artists Mondrian and Pollock represent two sides of learning. Mondrian represents formality and precision and Pollock imagination freedom and spontaneity. To me the best teaching comes from having a foot in both camps - but moving forward into the realms of imagination. Unfortunately schools are being pressured to stay firmly in the 'over taught' approach to learning just when we desperately need imagination and creativity.

I have to be honest I picked up the heading 'Under Imagined and Over Taught'  from an American blogger but it fits the bill for education in New Zealand as well.

Education in the West has become obsessed with the measurement of achievement.

Achievement in what can be easily measured  and in areas that put conservative pressures on schools to narrow their curriculum and to use 'best prctices' as defined by the state.

The standards movement, so loved by politicians to close the 'achievemnt gap', is all part of this need to assure progress in the designated areas - literacy and numeracy of course.

All this pressure on schools, which by their nature are innately conservative - and more so as you go up the school system, transforms the purpose of education. The approach to education changes dramatically from early education to secondary schooling. Choice , creativity and imagination are slowly drained from the students as they are sorted out by their ability in literacy and numeracy.

The American blogger wrote . 'We seem to have become a culture obsessed with programming our kids for success through instruction rather than acknowledging that real learning is mostly about exploration and discovery.' Referring to an an article in the Science Daily called 'Don't Show, Don't Tell? Direct Instruction Can Thwart Independent Exploration' which looks at research on the earliest periods of human development, showing that instruction applied to play and learning among young children. The results of the study  shows that in many cases instruction limits imagination and time spent on self discovery...' Explicit instruction makes children less likely to engage in spontaneous exploration and discovery.... thereby discouraging independent discovery'.

My visits to schools show me that the formulaic teaching, which all schools seem to use - WALTS, intentional teaching and predetermined criteria are resulting in destroying students idiosyncratic 'voices' and crushing imagination. In areas such as art. there is a clone like sameness in too many rooms - consistency has overwhelmed imagination and creativity.

No one is suggesting that students ought not too receive assistance but any help should  be given lightly and only when students have exhausted  their own ideas. Any any suggestions ought to be phrased ' you could do', rather  than, 'this is how you do it'.  'Scaffoding' assistance  is a useful concept but all too often 'scaffolds' become permanent features!

What students need at all levels is an enriched curriculum based on self discovery  - a curriculum  full of activities to attract their curiosity and to extend their imaginations.

The teacher's role is to ensure students are equipped with the learning habits and strategies to ensure they  achieve in depth understandings of whatever content they are studying. To do this all students need to be able to make use of literacy and numeracy in authentic contexts.

Focusing on closing the  achievement gap , a gap created by the widening gap between the rich and poor, is diverting teachers from a real solution ( other than solving the  poverty issue) by  giving all students programmes that value  students talents, gifts,  creativity and  imagination.

With such programmes in place students will develop positive learning attitudes  and, such positiveness,  will be reflected in improving the achievemnt data that the politicians (and many principals) so love.


Anonymous said...

Schools have been captured by what you call 'formulaic best practice' teaching and a lack of imagination has been the price paid.

Allan Alach said...

This quote, from an Oliver Sacks book, sums this up very well.
"… some predisposition or potential is built in genetically but requires stimulation, practice, environmental richness and nourishment if it is to develop fully. Natural selection may bring about the initial disposition, but experience and experiential selection are needed to bring our cognitive and perceptual capacities to their full realisation."

Debra said...

Often, the less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.
~ Mark Twain

I agree 100% with your article "Under Imagined and Over Taught."

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Allan and Debra for your two quotes. As your quote says Allan it is those first years that make all the difference - to develop a creative learning environment that leaves agency in the hands of the learner applies to all levels - and in the innovative business world. Overdo the help, and evaluation, and you lose imagination.

And Debra, as Twain infers, the power of the status quo is hard to overcome - being taken for granted as the way it is done. As another saying goes, 'fish are the last to discover water'.