Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas /holiday reading. A new inspirational book about Elwyn Richardson - New Zealand's pioneer teacher

A new book about Elwyn's inspirational ideas

In my early days, a long time ago, one book inspired a group of us to develop integrated student centred learning . The book was 'In The Early World' written by Elwyn Richardson and outlined his work with his students in an isolated North Auckland rural school in the 1950s.

Elwyn's book has been recently been reprinted by the NZCER and it remains one of the worlds most inspirational educational books

All schools should have a copy

Described by one reviewer as “possibly the best book about teaching ever written”, this book is important not only as a brilliant demonstration of the creative capacities of all children but also in its profound implications as to the nature of the learning process.

Elwyn developed his school as a community of artists and scientists - more relevant than ever.

A lifetime of creative teaching
I have recently been given notice of a new book about Elwyn's ideas written by Margaret MacDonald. A year or so ago Margaret completed a thesis on Elwyn  and  it is this thesis that Margaret has referenced as the basis for her book.
Margaret Mac Donald

The book has been published by the NZCER and is available for sale this week.

International customers: Email to place order and arrange shipping

If you want more information below are extracts from the forward  to the book written by Prof Deborah Fraser University of Waikato.
Prof Deborah Fraser

'There is no doubt that Elwyn Richardson made a hugely significant contribution to education. Margaret MacDonald peels back the layers of influence of the man and the teacher whose innovative pedagogy remains an outstanding example of teaching.

There are deeper lessons for all educators in this book that are both timely and urgent.

Do policy makers today consider the education of the whole child, or are they distracted by data entries, achievement graphs and measurement by standards?

Do we value the legacy of outstanding teachers such as Elwyn, and, if so, where is the evidence of this in contemporary schools?

Where are the arts-rich schools that integrate curriculum and capitalise on children’s natural curiosity? 
Sir David

When US president Obama met with world-renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough, Sir David argued that the question is not about how to interest children in the natural world—they are fascinated by the life they find under an ordinary rock.

The question is: How do they lose that fascination?

Schooling has an important responsibility here. Do we fan the flame of enquiry, or do we contribute to extinguishing that flame? The evidence of late suggests we are eroding children’s curiosity in our rush towards completing activities and achieving results, as measured by narrowly defined outputs.

Teachers do not intend to erode children’s curiosity; they do so by default, caught up in the incessant demands of an assessment-driven curriculum. Elwyn, like Sir David Attenborough, recognised that children are mini-scientists in the making, if only they are given the opportunity and guidance.

One of Ekwyn's student's painting
Elwyn realised education should enrich who we are and resonate with relevanceHe deliberately built the curriculum around the internal and external lives of his students. When teachers forge connections with children’s lives like this, they create a meaningful curriculum.

Screen printed cloth
Weaving this web of connection helps teachers stay alert to what really matters in education.

What matters is a curriculum that places children’s natural curiosity at the heart, so that they are encouraged to explore who they are and the world around them.

This is evident in Elwyn’s use of an integrated curriculum, focusing on intriguing questions that motivated children to pursue avenues of enquiry. He encouraged the freedom to explore, the opportunity to observe closely, and the discipline to record findings in various ways. He also upheld the value of the arts as a vivid means of expression and not secondary to other subjects. He also realised that one subject informs another; that scientific understanding is enhanced by the aesthetic, and vice versa.
Magnificent art

 His school and its surrounds reflected children’s creations, constructions and projects. For educators to claim that new furniture and devices create a high-quality learning environment misses the point. It is the quality of the teaching that takes place in any space that is the litmus test of whether an environment is conducive to learning.

John Dewey
Elwyn Richardson and the early world of creative education in New Zealand While Elwyn referred to himself more as guide than teacher in traditional terms, he, like John Dewey, did not allow just any activity to count as learning. (Elwyn) challenged children to explore, ask questions, try things out, consider alternatives, and craft and re-craft to produce high-quality work: art work worthy of exhibitions, science projects like those of real scientists, vivid poetic and other writing which the children published in their regular school magazine. This is teaching at its finest.

 Children, like adults, enjoy the feeling of being stretched and achieving something they are proud of. At Oruaiti they were afforded the dignity of being taken seriously as critics, writers, artists, scientists and thinkers.

Teacher education has much to glean from Margaret’s keen analysis.

 It is to our detriment if we perpetuate ahistorical ideas that do not acknowledge the wealth of beliefs, movements and theories that have informed education. No teacher education programme can cover everything, but we need to know about the finer aspects of our past—the people, policies
and philosophies that have shaped us and continue to shape us—in order to reveal, as Margaret does, the rich soil from which our best ideas and practices came. If not, we risk a mediocre deference to—or worse, a seduction by—whatever latest trend is marketed the hardest by those who decide what counts as fashionable, regardless of its longevity and worth.

Republished book available NZCER

We risk a superficial interpretation of complex educational ideas that have been debated over time. This book explores central tenets in education and associated debates on topics such as child-centred education, the role of the teacher, progressive education and child art..

Teacher education also needs to consider what teaching as identity- work might mean. Elwyn’s early interests and influences are readily apparent in his pedagogy. There is a seamlessness between his own interests and his teaching, particularly in his abiding curiosity for the natural
world. Teachers who share their keen interests, as he did, open a wondrous world for children—a world they may not ever experience as enticing if such a teacher did not provide both pathway and beacon.

 The thing we most recall about our favourite teachers is the passion they had for a certain field or fields, and such passion, along with an enquiring manner, is contagious. It is vitally important that teachers bring their own interests to teaching, revealing aspects of who they are and the satisfaction that comes from losing oneself in a subject; that delicious blurring of self and subject, which evokes depth of focus and appreciation. In so doing, teachers also give children licence to bring who they are and what they cherish to the table of learning.

This important book brings together the strands of influences that shaped Elwyn Richardson and, more broadly, the landscape of education in New Zealand. 

Observational rooster
We need more such stories that acknowledge the complex interface between personal identity and social, cultural and historical influences. We need this timely reminder of what is possible, as teachers feel increasingly shackled by forces beyond their control. This book is neither romantic accolade nor polemic. It is a series of inter-related stories with the theme of hope—as relevant today as at any time in the history of schooling'.

Professor Deborah Fraser
The University of Waikato

August 2015

International customers: Email to place order and arrange shipping

Making drums and playing music

Friday, December 11, 2015

Educational reflections/readings for creative teachers

Sticking to ones beliefs is never easy.

By Allan Alach

As the New Zealand school year is coming to an end, this will be the final education readings for this year. Normal service will be resumed towards the end of January.  To give you something to do until then, this week’s list will be a bit longer than usual!

Bruce and I hope you all have an enjoyable festive season with friends and family.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

No Art Left Behind: Introducing a New Series
Keep an eye on this blog series by Susan Dufresne and Anthony Cody.
“In the past 13 years of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top test-driven education policies, art has been pushed to the margins in our schools. Students have lost countless hours for creating art, music and dance that expresses themselves. But artistic expression is like the seedling that forces its way through cracks in the asphalt. This blog series will explore how students and teachers use art to express themselves.”

Tablets out, imagination in: the schools that shun technology
“But the fact that parents working for pioneering technology companies are questioning the value of computers in education begs the question – is the futuristic dream of high-tech classrooms really in the best interests of the next generation?

Classroom technology 'rarely used' by half of teachers
How well are they used?
I remember this problem from my principal days.
“Nearly half of teachers rarely use the technology in their classrooms, with a lack of trainingholding many of those surveyed back, new research suggests. Over a third of teachers in primary schools, and a similar number in secondary schools, also say they are unsure about how to integrate technology into the curriculum, leading to many items going unused on a regular basis.”

Technology makes a difference
However, on the other hand, here’s Steve Wheeler.
On the other hand!
“I have often heard the argument that there is no evidence that technology improves learning. Thisis a vacuous claim that is either a) based on ignorance of the available research literature, or b) possibly the result of a deep seated fear, mistrust or dislike of technology in general. My usual response to such a claim is that children with special educational needs are a classic example of technology improving learning.”

Reflections on Teaching: The Craft of Teaching
Posted on Save Our Schools Australia:
“In Victoria, long ago, teaching was left to teachers. It was presumed that there were people skilled in the craft and they would pass on their knowledge to others. But theory has trumped practice in recent decades. Now teaching has been overtaken by education, which deals with students and clients, rather than children, and which often has little respect for the craft of teaching. But learning begins with teaching, not data collection.”

National Academic Standards – Turning Public Education into McSchools
This is happening all over.
But look almost anywhere in the US of A, and you’ll see a strip mall with almost all of the same stores and fast food restaurants selling the same crusty burgers and fries left waiting for the consumer under a heat lamp. Somehow this has become THE model for public education, as well. Corporations have convinced our lawmakers that the disposable franchise business schematic is perfect to increase student learning.”

Can Competency Based Education Be Stopped?
I haven’t included a Peter Greene article for a while…
‘Every single thing a student does would be recorded, cataloged, tagged, bagged, and tossed into the bowels of the data mine, where computers will crunch data and spit out a "personalized" version of their pre-built educational program. Right now seems like the opportune moment for selling this program, because it can be marketed as as an alternative to the Big Standardized Tests which have been crushed near to death under the wheel of public opinion. "We'll stop giving your children these stupid tests," the reformsters declare. "Just let us monitor every single thing they do every day of the year.”’

Why teacher-powered schools are picking up momentum
In teacher-powered schools, students are at the center of every decision. Teachers secure autonomy to make the big choices about a wide array of factors, such as the learning program, school-community partnerships, and budgeting. In many such schools, teachers evaluate their colleagues with peer review processes, as is so often the case in other professions.”

‘Not a Math Person’: How to Remove Obstacles to Learning Math
Prof Jo Boalar
“Recently, a colleague’s 7-year-old came home from school and announced he didn’t like math anymore. His mom asked why and he said, math is too much answering and not enough learning.” This story demonstrates how clearly kids understand that unlike their other courses, math is a performative subject, where their job is to come up with answers quickly. Boaler says that if this approach doesn’t change, the U.S. will always have weak math education.

Contributed by
Bruce Hammonds:

Can a Truly Student-Centered Education Be Available to All?
Is the public school system scared to put students at the centre of education?
“An education which doesnt use any set curriculum and is instead directed by the childs interests, is vastly different from traditional public and private schools. While the freedom inherent
in the model excites some readers, others question whether young people educated this way will learn the important information and skills they need to become productive adults in our society. Big Picture Schools use the learner and his or her interests and passions as the organising principle of school. The focus is on each and every student, not on a standardised curriculum an idea pioneer creative New Zealand primary teachers would recognise.

Why the Greatest Minds Take Long Walks
Charles Darwin.
“Walking isnt sexy. Its not the hot new trend or the most enticing productivity hack. Even so, its probably one of the most beneficial habits you could add to your routine. But dont take my word for it. Some of the greatest minds throughout history were notorious for taking walks, from Steve Jobs to Charles Darwin, walking was a part of their routine. Heres why.

Stop, Start, Continue: Conceptual Understanding Meets Applied Problem Solving
There must be a better way!!
The end of the year is the time to ask some important questions.
“As simple as these sound, they provided us a safe, predictable set of questions that became habits of mind, a way to pause and reflect before engaging in something else. Our aim was to get better at what we were doing.What should we stop doing?What should we start doing? What should we continue doing?”

Teaching By Doing Something Meaningful
Getting away from corporate testing mad Big Educationand bringing back the magic of real teaching.
Has teaching lost its magic?
“When my head is in the world of corporate education, my heart isnt fully in my job. When I am focused on how much there is to do, I lose some of my teaching magicand unfortunately, so does my audience. There are still many abracadabra moments that take me away from the sideshow of Big Education Teaching, in its truest form, is simply inspiring other people to inspire each other, and to learn and grow together.”

A Few Ideas for Better Writing Conferences
Value student's voice
Not a new idea for creative teachers or is it? Personal writing developing each students voiceand sense of identity was once a feature in New Zealand classrooms.“That perhaps this was my chance to not lead their conferences.  To not have all of the answers, but instead be ready to listen and support.  To let them tell me what they needed rather than vice versa.  So I did, and it felt like I held my breath all day, but it worked.  It worked!  And I could not be happier with the outcome.  So what did we do?”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

End of year survey tapping the wisdom of your class/school/community
“At the end of the school year it is a good idea to gather information from the students you are passing on.Not only is this a chance for you to get some insight about your teaching but it is also a great way to value the voiceof your students.What are your studentsattitudes towards areas of learning?”

What should a parent expect from a teacher in the 21stC?
Steve Wheeler
This an extract from a blog by Steve Wheeler, Professor of Technology, University of Plymouth, UK.
“In this post I'm not going to dwell on digital skills. Instead I'm going to focus on three essential things teachers need to practice, and without which children would be poorer.The first thing parents should expect from teachers is their ability to inspire children to learn.Another allied skill we should expect from teachers is an ability to understand the child's perspective. Parents should also expect teachers to give creative freedom to children.”

Teachers' key role in fostering creativity
Essential characteristics of creative teachers,are a commitment to: deepen the understandings of the world of each learner; believe in the creative ability of all students; encourage empathy in students; value creative expression in learners; teach in ways that facilitate it; adapt the curriculum to meet students individual needs.”

The corporate takeover of society and education.
“Since the early 90s society has been reshaped by a neo liberal corporate ideology. An emphasis on
private enterprise and self-centred individualism has replaced an earlier concern for collective good of all members of society.  As a result of this ideological shift a wider gap has been created between the rich and poor causing a number of social concerns. Schools as part of this shift have been transformed from a community orientation to being part of a competitive cut throat ideology.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Education Readings for creative teachers

We need to avoid the political press for standardized teching!

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Robert Sternberg
The Conversation: Why 1904 Testing Methods Should Not Be Used for Today’s Students “Testing is compromising the future of many of our able students. Today’s testing comes at the expense of validity (strong prediction of future success), equity (ensuring that members of various groups have an equal shot), and common sense in identifying those students who think deeply and reflectively rather than those who are good at answering shallow multiple-choice questions.”

Avoiding "Learned Helplessness”
“Instead of coming immediately to the teacher, we want students to experiment on their own. Many of us wonder why students constantly do the opposite instead. I've got news for you. It's our fault. We, as educators, are often responsible for learned helplessness, and we have a responsibility to change it! How can we empower our students to be self-directed learners?”

Growth Mindset: Clearing up Some Common Confusions
Carol Dweck
Recently some critiques have emerged. Of course we invite critical analysis and feedback, as it helps all of us learn and improve, but some of the recent commentary seems to point to misunderstandings of growth mindset research and practice. This article summarizes some common confusions and offers some reflections.”

Moving away from factory teaching
Levels of Understanding: Learning That Fits All
“In order to reach diverse learners, we need diverse teaching strategies. Student voice and choice lie at the foundation of a differentiated classroom. When voice and choice are honored, the one-size-fits-all model transforms into multiple pathways for student growth.”

Why Understanding These Four Types of Mistakes Can Help Us Learn
“We can deepen our own and our students’ understanding of mistakes, which are not all created equal, and are not always desirable. After all, our ability to manage and learn from mistakes is not fixed. We can improve it.”

The Global Search for Education: Just Imagine – Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith
“The Global Search for Education consistently focuses on how to better prepare students for the21st century — an age which will be all about innovating and building. Today, we’ve invited education expert Tony Wagner and entrepreneur and filmmaker Ted Dintersmith to imagine the school of the future.”

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Ditch cameras - draw!
Museum Asks Visitors to Put Down Cameras and Pick Up Pencils and Sketch Pads
“Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam, recently launched a new campaign called The Big Draw.” It’s an effort to get museum visitors toditch cameras and simple snapshots in favor of drawing the artworks in order to more fully appreciate the easy-to-miss details The tagline of the campaign is You See More When You Draw,””

Are Schools Designed to Help Children Learn?
In trying to wrap our hands around learning about learning, we  need to understand how to personalize learning by focusing on the learner first. This article discusses three space
One size doesn't fit all
that take up the space as teaching, performance and work instead of what they should be focusing on: LEARNING.
“When you see learners noticing and reflecting on their learning during their learning, that is the Wow of learning. This is the higher-order thinking skills we want our children to adopt: learning about learning and thinking about learning. This makes learning visible.”

Teacher Burnout: What Are the Warning Signs?
“It is not a matter of teachers becoming superhuman and overcoming all horrible conditions and indignities trying to succeed in doing what is virtually impossible, especially in a sustained way. The students need their teachers to stay engaged and fight for them. When the conditions of teaching are bad, the conditions of learning tend to be worse, and children suffer in lasting ways. That's why the collateral damage of burned-out teachers is burned-up children.”

Teaching By Doing Something Meaningful
The illusion of making progress in education, the continuous re-evaluating, revising, and reorganizing of educational principles and practices, and the use of flawed data to direct our course of action, are all part of a grand illusion that is producing much confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.””

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Reflection on my teaching beliefs
“There are many, including myself, who believe we are now entering a new age of creativity- some even call it a 'second Renaissance'. If this is so then many of our current organisations, with their genesis in an industrial age, will need dramatic transformation, as will, more importantly our mindsets. We will need new minds for a new millennium.We will need to create networks of creative schools so as to to be in the forefront of such exciting changes. To achieve this schools, and their communities, need to stop and think about what is required of education in such exciting and very unpredictable times. Traditional education just won't do.”
Get out for a better view

The power of visiting other schools
“It is my belief that focused school visits ( hence the need for a guide) are the most powerful means to gain professional development and, in particular, to gain insights in to what other schools/teachers feel important. This is all the more necessary as schools are increasingly under pressure to distort their teaching programmes by the need to respond to the reactionary and politically inspired introduction of National Standards.”

Friday, November 20, 2015

Make a difference:Creative teacher readings


By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

The fear of all sums: how teachers can help students with maths anxiety
“The way teachers feel about the subject also has an impact – if we think maths is hard and scary our class will too. Instead of taking shortcuts, teachers must help children see the relationship between the different challenges to ease their anxiety.”

Constructing learning in the digital age
I haven’t included a Steve Wheeler article for a while.
“From a cognitive constructivist perspective, learning is achieved through the twin processes of assimilation and accommodation. The latter implies that new learning is 'bolted onto', or constructed within, existing cognitive structures known as schemas. Learning relies on the individual construction of reality, according to Jean Piaget. Such construction of meaning is unique to each individual, and therefore centres on each learner's efforts to make sense of the subject.”

Children should be allowed to get bored, expert says
“Children should be allowed to get bored so they can develop their innate ability to be creative, an education expert says. Dr Teresa Belton told the BBC cultural expectations that children should be
constantly active could hamper the development of their imagination.”

Parents aiming too high can harm child's academic performance
All teachers will be aware of this….
“When parents have high hopes for their children's academic achievement, the children tend to do better in school, unless those hopes are unrealistic, in which case the children may not perform well in school, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.”

Art and the Mind’s Eye: How Drawing Trains You to See the World More Clearly and to Live with a Deeper Sense of Presence
Self portrait by John Ruskin
An excellent reason to include drawing in your class programme.
“Drawing, indeed, transforms the secret passageway between the eye and the heart into a two-way street — while we are wired to miss the vast majority of what goes on around us, learning to draw rewires us to see the world differently, to love it more intimately by attending to and coming to cherish its previously invisible details.”

Power, Labor, and Compliance in Education Reform: Why We Must Refuse
Does this sound familiar?
“It appears apparent to anyone who has worked in education for more than a few years that what we have before us is a never-ending avalanche of policies. Further, dedicated and committed teachers try their best to follow instructions.  They try to follow the latest round of to-do” lists hurled upon them from above by experts” and policy makers.
But there’s a catch.”

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Standardization isn’t Just Killing Students’ Creativity
Standardization is destroying the soul of creativity in our students. My subject area is about reading and writing, something a majority of my students hate doing. This is tragic because they’re both activities that I love deeply and most young kids enjoy. Older students often tell me that they loved reading and writing when they were younger, but they hate it now.”

Service Learning: Growing Action From the Roots of Passion
“Our goal was to create an educational model in which students' passions are the driving force, empowering them as global citizens. While we have limited time to cover required curriculum, we are committed to finding ways of embedding curriculum in "real-life" applications within the project.

What are your students storys
The Power of Story in School Transformation
“Human brains are hardwired to understand the world through stories. This is so true that psychologists often refer to stories as "psychologically privileged," meaning that our memory treats them differently from other types of information (Willingham). Each of us is a collage of our unique life experiences. By organizing these experiences into a story structure, we try to create order from chaos.”

How Can We Harness the Power of Learning Beyond the School Day?
“Discussions of learning tend to focus on what happens in schools, but many students are learning lots of important skills outside of school through extracurriculars like sports, music, art, politics or any other passion. Often students don’t get recognition for the learning they pursue on their own, and many times they don’t even see their passion as learning at all.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Developing a co-constructivist unit of study
Bruce wrote this after a visit to my school…sadly all this has now gone due to the switch after my departure to ‘raise achievement’ against ‘national standards’ based on the collection of
‘achievement data.’
“A plan for a school to develop a unit of work which values students' ideas and thoughts and then challenges them to 'change their minds' though interactive activities. Before starting the unit the staff need to clarify their idea of 'constructivist' and inquiry learning.”

Mavericks - our only hope!
Creative ‘mavericks’ are our only hope – but times are difficult for creative thinkers in our standardised education system.
“Does your school benefit from the talents and energy of the 'maverick' or does it seek to restrain them?.New Zealand was settled by courageous creative Polynesian and European adventurers prepared to risk all for success in an unknown world. Not for then complying to bureaucrats sitting at their desks or self interested populist politicians.It was anthropologist Margaret Mead who said that every new idea was started by a small group of committed people. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, 'Every reform was once a private opinion.”