Sunday, November 18, 2012

The challenge of creativity in a compliance environment

Difficult environment for creativity
I was recently asked how would I run a classroom if I was still a teacher!

 To be honest the majority of my blogs make my ideas pretty clear but I have to admit that I very rarely observe such ideas in practice - one of the reasons I have given up visiting classrooms.

Teachers are naturally conservative and the pressure to comply to school  and Ministry requirements make creativity difficult. School principals are even more conservative and most seem to simply go along to get along. As a result politicians have had no trouble pushing their ideological ideas on schools - the standards agenda a good example. To make things even more difficult most schools,  by opposing compliance requirements, simply end up defending the status quo.

As a result of such internal and external pressures  creative thinking is missing in most primary classrooms.

The conformity of Nat Standards

I guess education has always been conservative - the only real innovation comes from the few creative teachers prepared to stick their necks out. The ideas of Elwyn Richardson come to mind.

All school should have this book!

Creative classrooms ought to be seen as communities of inquiry where students act as scientists and artists ( and historians, poets mathematicians etc) inquiring into whatever has attracted their attention. This sense of community underpinned Elwyn Richardson's classroom.

In creative classrooms students and teachers are  continually assessing their progress and  making new choices on the basis their reflections. Attitudes , or 'feeling for' the various learning areas, would be in the forefront of teachers minds not just recording sterile achievement. Assessment would largely be seen in the work of the students compared to their previous accomplishments. Creative teachers can show evidence for improvement.
Creative teachers could take to heart the phrase from the New Zealand Curriculum that their students need to be able to, 'seek, use, and create their own knowledge'  and as a result, do their best to focus on developing the talents and gifts of all their students along with ensuring that all students retain the innate learning attributes they were born with. Creative teachers understand the importance of relationships and work alongside their students to help them value their lives, thoughts, and views through language and the arts. The work on display celebrates the diversity and 'voice' of all students and the quality of their thoughts. Room environments  continually change as students complete a range of inquiries.

Creative classrooms are true personalised learning environments  while traditional classrooms are still stuck in the standardised  ethos relying on harmful ability grouping to instruct their teaching.

A personalised classroom is one where helping students develop their own ideas is more important than achieving what a teacher , or outside agency,has determined they should know.

In such  schools is leaders need to create the conditions for both teachers and students to be creative learners - within agreed teaching beliefs that they have come to believe in.

Creative classrooms, let alone schools, are far and few between but they hold the genesis for a creative future; creative teachers are rare and endangered.

My own agenda is clear

To place in depth student inquiry studies central to all learning and for such inquiries not only to focus on the inquiry process but also to develop in-depth understandings.

First hand inquiry learning

To place inquiry central there is a need to 'reframe ' literacy and to a lesser degree numeracy so as to ensure all the skills  necessary for students to undertake in-depth inquiry are in place.

To develop an inquiry based classroom students need all the relevant skills in place to 'seek and use' information. As for mathematics it needs, as much as is possible to be based on real life or interesting inquiries to develop real 'feel' for mathematics. The key to maths is to do less maths and what is done to be done in depth.

Conventional teaching places literacy and numeracy as the most important areas of learning and this will be further reinforced by National Standards.

It is important for literacy and numeracy  to be seen as 'foundation skills' that are vitally important to allow students to complete their inquiry studies. I am strongly  opposed to ability grouping and 'streaming' of such learning areas. I cannot see the latter suggestions being taken up by teachers- quite the opposite schools are reverting to such unethical

In a creative classroom the 'voice' and imagination of all students needs to be valued as this is important means to identify and extend every student's unique gifts and talents ; every student's needs their own Individual Learning Programme.( personalised learning).

Schools need to tap into a wide range of intelligences

It would be interesting for teachers to contrast such ideas with their current practice and to consider what ideas  conflicted with their current ideas in their own schools?

For teachers who believe in inquiry based classrooms , classrooms that value in depth understandings and student creativity, is to begin with 'the end in mind'. This can be achieved  by considering  the outcomes, classroom displays, students' book work, and students' competencies required, and then to plan for all the various skills  to be in place for students to develop and take responsibility for their own quality work - both process and content.

Completed  and ongoing inquiry studies need have key questions , processes, and quality examples of finished work including research , language and art - both descriptive, or observational, and associated creative work.

Inquiry based teachers do their best to base  studies on students' questions and concern and to negotiate with their students inquiry and learning tasks and also the criteria for evaluating their achievements.

With observational and descriptive writing skills in place, in particular how to write 'research writing', students can complete quality results.  With skills in place such as the  writing up of experiments or activities including   how to acknowledge sources of their information students can work independently. Such skill teaching ought to be the focus of the  'reframed' literacy and numeracy programmes.

Students need to be taught design /presentation skills so as to present their work in pleasing ways. If such 'scaffolds' , 'wizards' , or guides are developed students need to be encouraged to make use of their own creativity. Many students have never been taught how to layout their work. Best models are exhibits for Science or Maths fairs. Visual language skills need to be included in literacy programmes.

Creativity lies  between order and chaos

If students are to achieve quality in depth work students need to work in safe secure organisational patterns. Such  group working patterns are best seen in the literacy and numeracy blocks but the group task idea needs to be extended to the afternoon inquiry studies. Few school do this. Ability grouping has no place in inquiry based classrooms - students need to be helped at point of need.

Information technology ( ICT) is best integrated as a natural part of inquiry studies. New technology skills could be introduced as a part of the literacy programme.

 Another important aspects of a creative  classroom is ppersonalised writing about students' own lives. Student's need to be encouraged to focus on  small events in their lives and to write thoughtfully about them. Personal writing is the best way to ensure each child's voice is acknowledged. Such writing could also be part of the literacy programme - with one piece completed , with an equally focused illustration, each week. Such writing could be an important part of any early reading programme.

Last thoughts:

Do fewer things well.

Slow the pace of students work.

Ensure students have skills and time to complete work

Value student's perseverance, effort or 'grit'.


Allan Alach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allan Alach said...

Good one, Bruce. Very timely, given the increasing glimmers of hope that the GERMs will be eradicated after the next New Zealand election. We can start reclaiming NZ education from the politicians and their corporate allies, returning the focus back to children and gifted and creative teachers. I'm including this in next week's readings.

melulater said...

I am trying very hard to hold on to this in my teaching. But I do bite off more than I can chew and need to keep it simpler!!

Bruce Hammonds said...

I agree - you need to keep it simple - focus on the important things ( for you) - and whatever you do do it well. Too many classrooms are unfocused and this reflects in the lack of quality work seen.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your blog Bruce about the challenge of creativity in an increasingly compliance orientated system. What is it simply that you don't like about current primary teaching? A shorter blog?

StephaniePumphrey said...

In contrast, schools operating under a community learning approach to planning for student achievement use teacher discussion as a springboard for improve teaching strategies.

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