Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Let's celebrate those few creative teachers -and even fewer creative schools. They are the future.

The dam builders - how to control the flow of a river?

The process of developing a truly creative classroom.

'The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young.'    Bertrand Russell

If teachers have in their minds the need to develop their class as a learning community of scientists and artists then during the year, as skills develop, greater responsibility can be passed over to students.

During the first term teachers and students focus on how to work with each other so as to develop relationships of mutual respect.

The success of any class will depend on the expectations, attitudes and skills the students bring with them ; what they are able to do with minimal assistance.

If the school has a clear vision of the attributes they would like their students to achieve then there will be a continual growth  of  independent learning  competencies from year to year.   Schools that achieve such growth in quality learning usually have spent considerable time developing a set of shared teaching and learning beliefs  that all teachers agree with and see purpose in. Underpinning such  beliefs are assumptions about how students learn and the need to create the conditions for every learner to grow towards their innate potential.

If the big picture of learning is clear then making choices to achieve the end in mind is simplified.

Unfortunately, unless there is decisive leadership to keep agreed belies to the forefront, it is easy for busy teachers to slip back to counterproductive behaviours.

There are two basic positions teachers can take. One is to see their role as 'teaching' students what they need by introducing activities to assist students learning. In such classrooms, no matter how friendly they look, teachers are in control  and determine activities.

In contrast, to the above 'soft' transmission approach, creative teachers hold the view that the students must do their own learning . Such teachers see their role as ensuring all the necessary skills are in place so students can control their own learning.  Such teachers see learning as a personalised process, one where students have to create, or construct, knowledge for themselves.

There is a world of difference between the two approaches and the latter approach is hard to find.

Most classrooms are heavily determined by the teachers. In tuch heavily controlled classrooms literacy and numeracy take up most of the day  -   other learning areas seem to offer only  a little light relief from the main teacher tasks. And in such schools individual  classrooms look remarkably similar  as teachers are expected to follow agreed formulaic  'best' practices. This is not helped by an obsessive need to test students progress in literacy and numeracy and will be compounded by the introduction of National Standards.

In creative classrooms, or those moving in this direction, the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum gives excellent support. The important issue for such teachers  is whether every students is developing a growing sense of confidence and responsibility for their own learning. Growth in resilience, adaptability, perseverance and creativity  are seen  as important as literacy and numeracy -  these being seen as 'foundation skils' necessary for students to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'. At the heart of a creative approach is the need to ensure  that every opportunity  is given for every learners special set of talents and gifts to be  developed.  .

In a creative classrooms teachers do their best to ensure every learner is an active contributor, has the skills to work in teams, and  is able to exercise initiative and personal creativity.The teacher's goal is to ensure every  student develops a positive learning identity

In my experience teachers in  such classrooms believe in negotiating all learning and tasks with their students and, where it is not possible, are open about imposed requirements. Such teachers believe in doing fewer things well  to allow their students to dig deeply into whatever they are studying individually or in groups. The energy for all learning is provided by the engagement of students in learning tasks in all learning areas students see the point of.

To achieve such a creative classroom teachers need to have knowledge in the various learning areas ( or know where to access such information) and to be able to work together to share ideas and to learn off each other.

The teacher's role is one of being a creative learning coach -  aways being careful not to take responsibility for learning away from the learner.

In a creative classroom of scientists and artists I would expect to see:

Powerful learning experiences taking priority over literacy and numeracy tasks.

Learning tasks to be negotiated with students and many originating out of students questions and concerns.

Students working in self managing groups ( caring for and challenging each other) independent of the teacher.

All around the room (and  in students' book work, in their computer portfolios) quality  examples of their finished work across all learning areas, usually displayed as part of a group or class investigative study. The whole learning environment a celebration of students' talents and gifts.

Close reading of whatever is displayed showing individual 'voice' or creativity.

For a creative school  all that  is required is to replace 'teacher', in the above description, with  'principal' and 'students' with 'teacher'.

'Each learner is new puzzle for a teacher to unlock.' Matt Damon Actor

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel you are right Bruce - for all the rhetoric about developing each learners full potential the reality is that most schools and teachers work on the premise that without them students wouldn't learn. I guess it suits the clever conformists?

Creativity has always been a rare thing in schools and will get worse as schools head down the trail of standardisation.

Haven't we been there before?