Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Thoughts about the future of education in New Zealand

A view from the edge.

I have been asked to share my thoughts about education to a group of rural Taranaki principals. Thinking about it I am not sure if I am a relic from  a past age or a person thinking of what might be. I certainly am not impressed with the standardized, target centred direction of the current government; Free market Stalinism.

Whatever I say  will need to be considered advisably

Sir Ken Robinson's new book
I think I have a good 'backstory' to use an in word. Over the decades I have been a school adviser in science and art, a classroom teacher, a school principal, Teaching Fellow Palmerston North Teachers College ( now Massey University School of Education) completing my career as an independent school adviser. I have also presented ideas about quality teaching and learning throughout New Zealand and at several International Conferences. My swan song was a keynote  presentation at the Inspired Impact Conference in Palmerston North 2011 at which Sir Ken Robinson was also a key note speaker.

Over the decades I have shared the ideas of creative teachers through magazines ( Primary Arts)  E-zines ( leading and Learning) and currently through this blog so although I am well and truly retired I still love reading and thinking about education - or what it could be if only....

An idea we need to keep  in mind; we are born to learn
Born to explore, learn and make sense of experience

We are programmed to learn from birth. If students appear not to learn then it is over to schools to present an environment to ensure this drive to learn is kept alive. I appreciate, however, that the difficult home circumstances of many children makes this a challenging task particularly as the government seems to ignore poverty as an important factor.

The big question is what  attributes or dispositions to we want our students to leave our classrooms or school with?

The big challenge is to identify and amplify the gifts and talents our students have. To ensure all students leave school with a positive learning identity.

To do this requires the establishment of stimulation learning environments that expose students to a range of opportunities to explore. Jerome Bruner has written 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation' and 'people get good at what they get good at'.
Standardized  education

Achieving this challenge  is in conflict with the imposition of National Standards and NCEA targets which narrow  curriculum choices and ignore other equally important aspects of learning.  As well it is all too easy to 'game' the system! Business 'guru' Margaret Wheatley has written 'the trouble with targets is not that the ones you achieve bit the ones you miss because you weren't looking' and to quote Albert Einstein ' If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid'.

Our schools are full of such 'stupid' people and rather than introducing behaviour programmes to control such students we need to focus on how to engage them,

Ask teachers or parents.

I am impressed with the curriculum of New Tech High  ( check out this link). The principal Larry Rosenstock asks teachers to think of two or three positive learning experiences they had at school and after sharing them figure out the common elements.  From this develop a school curriculum based on
such ideas ; an idea for education at any level.

Worth doing at a staff  or parent meeting.

Better still what about asking the students themselves .
 (This is a link to  extract below)

The kids right in front of us often have the most useful information within them -- information that can help us reach and teach them, help us engage them, and that can help us have a fantastic year together.

What to Ask?

Here are several of my favorite questions to ask kids of all ages:
Neglected resource
  1. What would be the most useful thing for me to know about you as a student?
  2. What do you wish was different about school?
  3. Describe a moment in school last year when you felt really engaged. Why do you think that moment was such a positive one for you?
  4. What do you think teachers think about you, and what do you wish they'd think about you?
  5. Tell me about a teacher who you feel knew you well. What kind of student were you in his or her class? What did he or she do to get to know you?
  6. If you could build a school, what would it look like?
  7. What do you wish I would ask you so that I can be a good teacher for you?
  8. What makes a weekend day great for you?
When we ask questions, and when we're genuinely curious about what students say, we are communicating an authentic desire to get to know who they are beyond their test scores and beyond what other teachers may share. The questioning and the quiet listening communicate our care for our student
Some  schools make use of the ideas of James Beane to develop a curriculum based on students concerns and questions.
None of the above is new . Creative teachers past and present have develop 'emergent' curriculum
based on such ideas.  Unfortunately current Ministry requirements and the power of the status quo means that such creative school programmes are not common.

Imagine starting a school from scratch!

'If all your dreams came true in schools what would happen' Joseph Drieson National Radio 26 July

The 'wisdom of the crowds'; 10/4 voting.

A few years ago I was involved with local school that combined primary and secondary students. The development was led by consultants Dr John Edwards (Aust) and Dr Bill Martin (USA).

 The staff were individually asked to list all the things the school needed to do to make it a 'great school' . The staff then went around a circle giving their ideas, one at a time, ( no interaction from other staff members). After all the  ideas were listed some were combined but only  with the agreement of those who provided them.

The consultants then introduced 10:4  voting as a democratic way of deciding which actions to further research and implement. Each member had 10 votes and could place their votes wherever they liked. They could only use  4 votes for two  rounds and 2 in the final round.

Staff volunteered to for action groups and had two term to research and come up with ideas to implement school wide. A great process if done properly.
Learning is personal

'The three Bucket' curriculum;  do fewer things in depth.

One idea Bill Martin introduced was for things required to be taught to be placed in three buckets :  things are really important/ important./ less imp[ortant.  Then throw away the last two buckets. Martin used  this model in his failing American high school resulting in excellent success.

Final thoughts.

Already mentioned - do fewer things in depth. I see schools as a continual .
Imagine a new school
process of projects similar to science , maths and technology fairs, art performances and displays.

Place the focus on implementing the New Zealand Curriculum. The phrase that I like is for students to be able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'. Endure full range of Learning areas are covered. (Link to New Zealand Curriculum challenges)

Appreciate that there is not an 'achievement gap' but more an 'opportunity gap'. This requires stimulating curriculum challenges.
Stop constraining learning

Integrate Learning Areas as appropriate. Check to see all the strand in each area are covered . Exposure to all  Learning Areas is vital if all students talents and gifts are to be identified and valued. This is particular challenge for secondary schools and  for school developing MLEs/ILEs or FLEs.

Get rid of ability groups in reading and maths in primary school and  fragmented subject teaching in secondary. 'Re frame literacy and numeracy to provide skills to be used in content studies as much as is possible. An interesting link for integrating learning)

Develop an inquiry across the curriculum approach. All Learning Areas have a common inquiry 'how to learn' process. I am a believer in the Learning in Science Approach ( what questions do the students have/ what are their current theories or'prior ideas'./ plan activities or experiments to  prove or challenge ideas/ reflect on new understanding.
Larry Rosenstock New Tech High

Make use of the multiple intelligence ideas of Howard Gardner when planing studies

Make developing the NZC  Key Competencies a feature of all learning. ( Link to onschool integrating Key Competencies well.)

Integrate modern information technology into learning as appropriate. Oversold and under utilized?

Value creativity/personalize learning. Move away from formulaic teaching.  WALTS,  learning criteria, feedback and the like, if overdone, produce clever conformity. Add one extra criteria 'is my work different from the others?'
Two great books

Develop more appropriate means of assessing students. Assess students through presentations ( where students have to explain and defend their learning), exhibitions, portfolios and demonstrators. Students can be part of developing criteria.

Help students surprise themselves. Creative teachers , through sensitive scaffolding of help and sensitive feedback are able to help students achieve their personal best. Quality learning occurs when students and teachers work together  - co- constructiveness teaching.

Develop the school and classrooms as stimulating environments that celebrates student achievement. The  school and classroom environments provide the main 'message system' for students and visitors alike. Schools/classrooms should integrate aspects of science laboratories, art studios. media centres, museums and  studios displaying  a full range of work from across the curriculum.
All sorts of intelligences

A More Informed Vision - a 21stC learning centred education.

The above ideas combine the best of primary student teaching and the depth of content of secondary education  Neither just student centred, which can result in shallow learning,  nor secondary subject centred but the best of both worlds - learning centred.

All easy to say but very hard to do.

'If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.'
Albert Einstein

Just change 'ability to climb a tree' with National Standards!

And for teachers:

'It is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in alligators'

'Teachers have two important things to take care of, their time and their energy waste it on bull**** and they can't focus on teaching.'

Tell that to Hekia and her  Ministry and ERO thought police.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great advice but not sure many schools would be able to put them into practice