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


Anonymous said...

Nice post.

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

A great post! We are always learning from the past and I find it really interesting that more and more schools and teachers are looking taking inspiration from the work that Dewey did all those years ago. This book about Elwyn Richardson looks really interesting and seems like something I should read asap as it links really closely with the work that I'm planning to do this year with both curriculum integration and inquiry learning.