Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Creating Innovators - Tony Wagner, Sir Ken Robinson and Kirston Olsen's plea for change.

A must read for educators

While schools are distracted by ensuring they are seen to do well in achieving / improving their National Standards and NCEA data they are creating the very hyper-accountability conditions that make it difficult for creative teachers.

It seems that improving education now depends on what politicians think is right and what is popular with the voters.  Now  National Standards are in place (although we wait for National Tests, League Tables and teacher Performance agreement based on the data produced) schools now are going to be sorted out by a system of collaboration ( reminds me of WW2 France) led by ‘super’ teachers and principals. On the surface this is another populist policy but essentially it is all about bringing schools into line with government policy.

Sir Paul Callahan

We will have to wait until a future government wakes up to the fact that our survival depends on tapping the talents and passions of every learner. As the late Sir Paul Callahan said we need to keep and attract all the talent we can if we are ever to be an innovative country.

A new book ‘Creating Innovators- the Making of Young People who will Change the World’ by Tony Wagner provides a real alternative if schools are really going to develop an innovation-driven economy.

 His book moves us away from current reform (really tinkering with a failing system) and leads us into thinking about educational transformation. Few of Wagner’s innovators associated their success with their formal schooling but all valued the encouragement of a mentor and their parents who gave them ‘creative confidence’.

In his book he profiles some of America’s young innovators and reveals the conditions that nurtured their creativity and sparked their imagination while teaching them to learn from failures and persevere. 

Wagner identifies patterns that educators could emulate in their classrooms. The innovative individuals all had a childhood that involved creative play and the fostering of deep-seated interests which eventually blossomed into deeper purpose for career and life goals. Play, passion and purpose are the forces that drive such innovators.

Ann Marie Murphy
Although a book focussing on secondary education Wagner writes that the best model for schools are creative kindergartens before schools begin to grade, test, measure and  sort and, in the process, consign many students to educational failure. Current reforms focussing on standardisation is not the answer. The challenge is to set up systems that allow students to follow their interests – something Ann Murphy writes passionately about.

Wagner challenges schools to emulate this knowledge to compensate for poor schooling.

He believes America needs to create an education system that will create the next generation of innovators. Finnish education is one that Wagner admires – the Finns 40 years ago transformed their education system.

Wagner identifies the vital features of innovative schools and workplaces: 

  1.  have developed cultures of collaboration
  2.  based on interdisciplinary problem solving
  3.  and intrinsic motivation.

 He asks, ‘what are the capacities that matter most for innovation and how are they best taught?’ And he worries that currently we do not measure any of the skills that matter most. We need a different answer – a system to create ‘a hyper-imagination- enabling society’.

Wagner quotes Sir Ken Robinson who describes how curiosity and creativity are ‘educated out of us’ and that we need schools to develop such attributes – attributes that are the default ways the very young children learn. It seems it is all too easy to stifle innovation Read what Alison Gopnik has to say about how the very young learn – in one word through play ( children she writes are true scientists.)

Those few creative teachers who value students’ natural way of learning ought to be the ones we ought to look to instead they all too often are ignored even within their own schools. 

 New Zealand has a long history of, all toooften ignored, creative teachers to gain inspiration from – Elwyn Richardson being one such individual. Teachers who focussed on creating a innovative student centred culture: learning through discovery, through enlightened trial and error, through focusing on children’s; interests and through the provision a balance of freedom and structure.

The innovators Wagner studied had all learnt the most important skill of all ‘the ability to learn on their own’. All couldn't stand the tedium of school.

Transforming the classroom experience at every level is essential to develop the capacities of young people to become innovators

We need to ‘give them rich experiences and develop their confidence to explore, question, test, experiment, and push on the boundaries of relevance.’ Things not valued in our current school system – and this applies to teachers as well.

We need to create a movement to combat the current press for standardisation and accountability and create the conditions to empower creative teachers – teachers who can integrate learning with the power of information technology and create a new system based on the personalisation of learning.

And if you want to learn more about how schools are failing our students – particularly those form impoverished backgrounds listen to Geoffrey Canada’s impassioned TED talk

 Canada asks why school systems look so similar to how they looked 50 years ago? Students were shown to be failing then. He believes it is because we cling to an industrial age model that clearly doesn’t work. He is asking for systemic shifts in order to help a greater number of kids excel.

Take the time to listen to two powerful inspirational TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson if you are still not convinced
Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. 
Sir Ken believes that current education dislocates students from their talents and to transform education we need to challenge what we take for granted. His advice is similar to Tony Wagner and Karen Olsen and the kind of education seen in kindergartens and in the rooms of creative
teachers. .

The talk above has been watched by over 29 million views.

 Below is his poignant, funny follow-up to his fabled 2006 talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning — creating conditions where kids' natural talents can flourish.

Sir Ken asks teachers to question what teachers take for granted. Such things: as the use of ability grouping, sorting and streaming ofstudents; fragmented subject provision, obsessive testing and assessment; and a focus on literacy and numeracy to the exclusion of  the arts, technology and creativity; and the side-lining of students interests, talents and passions

Kirsten Olsen author of the book ' Wounded by School-recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing up to the Old School Culture' brings to light the devastating consequences of an educational approach that values conformity over creativity, flattens student's' interests, and dampens down differences among learners. Olsen's book shows that current schooling does not favour all students and tends to shame, disable and bore many learners.

We need to consider how schools need to be changed based on new conceptions of learning assisted by the potential of new technology. Schools ought to models of learning organisations not monuments to past thinking


Anonymous said...

Let's hope the NZ Labour Party returns the emphasis back to the enlightened 2007 New Zealand Curriculum and gives schools ( at all levels) the challenge to encourage and foster their students talents.

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