Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Beginning the school year with the end in mind ( Steven Covey)

By next week teachers in New Zealand will all be beginning a new year. Some are back already. My last blog had some practical ideas to select from  - the blog below asks an important question.

A few years ago Steven Covey wrote a popular book called 'The Seven Habits of Effective People'. One of Covey's effective habits  was  to 'begin with the end in mind'.

I think it very important advice for teachers starting with a new class.

What would you like your class to be like at the end of the year? What habits, dispositions, attitudes, competencies and behaviours would you ideally like to be in place?

1970s educationalist John Holt was once asked a question. 'If schools were to take one giant step forward this year towards a better tomorrow, what would it be?'

Holt replied, ' it would be to let every child be the planner, director and assessor of his own education, to allow and encourage him, with the inspiration and guidance of more experienced and expert people, an as much help as he asked for, to decide what he is to learn, when he is to learn it,  and how well he is learning.It would make our schools....a resource for free and independent learning...'

Holt eventually gave on schooling and became an important 'guru' in the home schooling movement.

Idealistic perhaps - but worth keeping in mind?

Our New Zealand Curriculum has as its vision all students leaving as enthusiastic 'life long learners'.
Seek, use and create.
One phrase clarifies this vision with greater definition stating that all students should leave able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'. Not far away from John Holt.

That last phrase is worth keeping in mind. The teacher's role is to ensure all students can 'seek, use and create their own knowledge..

Holt writes that 'almost every child, on the first day he sets foot in a school building, is smarter, more curious, less afraid of what he doesn't know, better at finding out and figuring things out, more confident, resourceful, persistent, and independent, than he will ever again be or, unless he very unusual and lucky, for the rest of his life.'.

Many other educationalists have expressed the same thoughts.

 Alison Gopnik  in her excellent book has written that the very
 young child is a true artist and scientist and that this innate , or default. way to learn is all too often lost as a result of schooling.

  Educational psychologist Jerome Bruner  echoes this thought writing that the very young and the scientist are both working at the 'edge of their competence'.

So what is that gets in the way of this amazing learning ability?

 Students soon pick up on the hidden messages of school.

 One new entrant, when asked by her mother what did he learn on his first day, replied, 'I learnt that there are good children and bad ones'. I guess he had observed children who do as they are told are the 'good' children. This will be confirmed when the 'message' of ability grouping hit home.

Holt writes that children learn  that it is school learning that counts - not the real out of school learning of earlier days.

The teachers curriculum decision are now what counts ( and measured)..
Student also learns that they are  no longer trusted to learn in their own way  - they need to learn in the way the teacher has decided

The school , writes Holt, is saying to the child, 'Your experiences, your concerns, your needs,what you hope for, what you are good at or not good at - all this is of not the slightest importance, it counts for nothing'. They soon 'come to accept the teachers evaluation of them'. Compliance with narrowing effect of National Standards comes to mind.

I think , if this message is to avoided,  Holt's ideas need to be kept in mind. Creative teachers, past and present, were  well aware of this need. And such teachers capitalize on students questions, concerns and experiences - and their immediate environment.

In contrast to pre-school learning students now learn to gain teacher defined achievements rather than learning for its own sake.

Learning in its true sense is making sense of ones experience - at any stage of life.; that is if we really want to be 'life-long learners'.

It is worth keeping such thoughts in mind if we don't want to turn off learners.

The challenge for teachers how to make  their classroom a place where students want to go..

 We need to tap their questions and concerns and value their question and as importantly their current, or prior, views.

 In a truly creative classroom a curriculum 'emerges' and my own experience is that most curriculum areas will be covered. Jerome Bruner has written that 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.'  Holt comments 'It is worth remembering that we all remember only what interesting and useful to us; and we all like  the help of a caring adult to help us think more deeply'.

So a fixed teacher planned curriculum and the use of ability grouping are both areas of concern as is the current obsession with literacy and numeracy which in many classrooms 'have all but gobbled up the entire curriculum'.

These areas, as important as they are, need to be 're- framed' as 'foundation skills' and, as much as is possible, integrated into the individual , group and class inquiry projects.

Holt wrote that students face an uncertain world (writing in 1970) and need to thrive in such an uncertain, and potentially exciting environment. Schools to do this need transformation from their past orientated industrial aged system. As mentioned Holt has given up on the possibility. We need new minds for a new millennium - current tinkering will not suffice

Holt however writes that the young child is born equipped to cope with such uncertainty without fear. The young child is 'eager to reach out into this world that doesn't make sense... he is willing to tolerate misunderstanding, to suspend judgement, to wait for patterns to emerge.. the young  do the things  adults find it hard to do. The child is continually build a mental model of the world and checking it against reality, tearing things down and rebuilding as necessary.

'Schools have to learn to do what the young child is already good at; what every child is born good at doing. At the very least they should do no harm.- no student should leave schooling feeling a failure.

One thought that might indicate away forward is to see your classroom as one continually  involved as if producing material for:  personalised portfolios of achievement, for displays, exhibits, demonstrations  as currently seen in science, technology , art and maths fairs.  The classroom might be a thought  as a mix of a scientific laboratory, an artists studio, a art gallery or a  museum. Such
an environment could  easily involve groups of teachers working together to share their expertise.

If teachers kept such 'ends in mind' then , unlike John Holt, there may be no need to give up on schooling. We must not give  students the message that , 'Your experiences, your concerns, your interests, they count for nothing. What counts is what we are interested in, what we care about, and what  we have decided what we have decided you are to learn' .

My vision is to create classrooms as communities of young scientists and artists fully occupied in searching for meaning in all they do, encouraged to express their ideas in as many ways as is possible. There have always been a few teachers who teach with this thought in mind. In such a learning community  every opportunity is given to the full range of students talents to be recognized .

Unfortunately such ideas seem in conflict with the standardized audit accountability agenda of the current government and in turn far too many schools.

 Those of us who challenge this view are, it seems, a small minority. The future depends on the development of learner centred personalized learning

So, back to Covey's habit 'of keeping the end in mind' and to work towards such a vision in small steps until the vision becomes an accomplished fact.

All student need to be actively involved in 'seeking, using and creating their own knowledge'

To achieve this  is why I  and others keep on blogging.
We ignored John Holt but now we have Sir Ken

Selected links

'Young Children as Scientists'. by Alison Gopnik

Check out Guy Claxtons 'What's the Point of School.

And 'Wounded by School' by Kirsten Olsen.

Or watch TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson.

For a pioneer teacher who developed his classroom as a community of artists  read about Elwyn


The power of interest Anne Murphy

Howard Gardner on creativity

Finding the genius in every child - Diane Ravitch

Transforming school through project based learning

Who do your kids want to be?

What identity do you want your students to develop

A must read - recently reprinted by NZCER

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The concept of Growth Mindset is so important for student learning and, really, for all of us to keep learning! I liked how the author showed that praise of intelligence shifts students into a Fixed Mindset, while praise of process can shift to a Growth Mindset.

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