Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The history of New Zealand's TOMORROWS SCHOOLS and time for fresh thinking?

With the election of a new government maybe it is time to reflect on the history of educational change since the 1980s and also for some fresh thinking? The below blog written December 2012 

Cathy Wylie outlines new wave  of change for New Zealand Schools!

Time for a new wave of change!

In the 1980s a new political ideology swept through Anglo American countries. It was a time of dramatic change as the democratic welfare state was replaced by  what has come to be known as a ‘Market Forces business oriented’ approach based on small government, valuing self-interest, privatisation, competition, choice and accountability. This neo liberal approach was believed to be the only way to cope with dramatic worsening worldwide economic circumstances. A common phrase at the time was TINA (there is no alternative).
New Zealand was not immune. The recently elected Labour Government led by David Lange was influenced by finance minister Roger Douglas and the Treasury. ‘Thatcherism’ in the UK, ‘Reaganism’ in the US and ‘Rogernomics’ in New Zealand – continued by National’s Ruth Richardson and alive but not so well today!
The new ideology was applied across the public service and education was not immune.
In 1986 an ‘earthquake ‘hit education in the form of ‘Tomorrows Schools’; following the publication of the Picot Report self-managing schools were born.
Now, almost three decades later, A  NZCER  chief researcher Cathy Wylie has written a definitive and compelling story of school self-management called ’VitalConnections: Why We Need More Than Self-managing Schools’. For two background papers: link one - link two
Cathy Wylie
Cathy answers the questions: What was the real effect of ‘Tomorrows Schools’? Has the New Zealand Schools system improved as a result? And what changes are needed now to meet our expectations of schools?
People who were principals during the transition (as I was) will find the book enlightening and younger principals will learn that a lot of shared wisdom was lost in the process.
It is interesting to find that New Zealand was the only country to take self-managing schools to such extremes of local control and now Cathy believes that we have ‘made self-management into a barrier’ if we want all students to be treated equitably. Keep in mind our growing ‘achievement gap’.
The impression given at the time was that the then system was too bureaucratic, too centralised, to allow school flexibility and initiative.
An early chapter Principals  focuses on the situation before ‘Tomorrows Schools’. Contrary to the myth  being spread by those propagating change schools enjoyed considerable latitude in comparison to other education systems. They had on-going connections with the inspectorate, the local advisers and curriculum experts in the Department of Education and teachers often belonged to networks of teachers developing and trialling new ideas.
Inspectors and advisers could ‘connect individual teachers with expertise ….. They knew where good practice was occurring…they could identify and encourage talent’. All schools had liaison inspectors and inspectors arranged for teachers to visit other schools and to develop and share ideas. As a result there was a healthy cross fertilisation of ideas. As Cathy writes ‘they could connect the dots’ and ‘foster collective strengths of teachers working together’.
An OECD report in the early 80s was full of praise for existing educational provisions and did not find people wanting dramatic changes and was impressed with the engaging and active learning that keeps children motivated to learn. New Zealand students do well and still do, in international testing
But there were shortcomings. There was no national systematic way to support schools. The locally elected Education Boards looked after property and finance while inspectors focused on educational issues. Both were involved in principal and teacher appointment. There was growing concern with the failure rate of Maori students, communities were not fully involved with their schools and a growing number of students were not being catered for in secondary schools as students we were encouraged( by lack of jobs) to stay at school longer.
Education Boards and inspectors disappeared in the change and advisers placed with College Of Educations (later Universities) and employed on contract. In the process connections and collective wisdom was lost.
So where was the bureaucracy and over centralisation that was blocking the initiative and creativity of the system? It was in the regulations to do with staffing, with property and with resources for teaching. ’Tomorrows Schools certainly had its attraction when it came to these issues. Responsibility for such areas really appealed to principals.
‘Tomorrows Schools’ would tackle bureaucracy but this came at a price. Key interconnections were lost. Schools and Boards were on their own and this would create winners and losers.
An overseas observer described the New Zealand approach as the ‘earthquake method of educational reform’. Teacher unions were excluded. Changes were less to do with educational reasons but with political determination to restructure the economy and the role of the state. David Lange, as Minister of Education, at least did not allow education vouchers or privatisation to be part of the mix.
It seems there was not much thought given to the infrastructure needed to support the self-management of schools and the sharing of useful ideas. The general tenor was that schools were to be left to make their own decisions.
What eventuated was at best ‘fragmented freedom’. Schools in ‘better’ environments had the local expertise to do well but self-management was ‘sown on uneven ground’. Principals and BOTs learnt ‘by the seat of their pants’ and became occupied with compliance and the ‘demanding twins’ of property and finance issues and less a focus on teaching and learning. Competition between schools – the result of an emphasis on parent choice had unfortunate effects. Some schools ‘had the upper hand’. As a result self-management put one’s own school first.
The years that followed were demanding as the Ministry chopped and changed to keep schools viable. It was an era of ‘CRAP’   as the Ministry and ERO ‘continually revised all procedures’ Charters came and went. Strategy and annual plans were introduced. Growing problems with failing schools resulted in a number of safety net interventions. The introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum was rolled (and NZCEA in secondary schools) added to the confusion. Schools were clustered but schools took only what they needed. ERO were ‘the watchdog and scold’. The new curriculum with its endless objectives, and arbitrary levels, was a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’ but conscientious teachers did their best to tick off objectives taught. ERO ensured they complied.
And for all this, the very students, who were to be saved by self-management, still continued to fail. Literacy tasks forces were established and Numeracy projects, and other ad hoc projects, to try to help failing students.
Benign bureaucracy had been replaced by fragmentation – out of the frying pan into the fire! ERO and the Ministry worked in isolation. The Ministry has become risk averse. It needs a more effective engagement with schools but there is no longer the trust necessary.
The ‘too hasty and undercooked’ National Standards, a throwback to earlier days, are being imposed – the worse sort of centralisation and schools were bullied into supplying their data to the Ministry. Ironically schools that resisted were showing initiative and developing the creative programmes (based on the revised Labour introduced 2007 New Zealand Curriculum) that underpinned the ethos of self-managing schools. On the horizon lie league tables and national testing – issues that will narrow the curriculum and encourage teachers to teach to the tests and down play the creative arts.  What is to be measured will become the measure – will become the default curriculum.
The time has come for fresh thinking. We ought not to have asked schools to stand alone without being part of a supportive school district. Other countries have shown the success of supportive infrastructures to both support and share ideas. Schools can no longer work in isolation reinventing the wheel – too many schools ‘do not know what they do not know’.
The current focus on school failure, the ‘achievement gap’, has increased markedly as a result of market forces ideology which has widened the ‘winner loser’ gap. Schools can always do better but can only be truly successful if a more communal narrative (ideology) replaces the current emphasis on self-interest.
Cathy concludes her book with some hard hitting recommendations.
Schools need to ensure all students succeed to realise their unique set of gift and talents, equipped with the learning competencies to thrive in the uncertain times ahead. ‘The current New Zealand schooling system,’ Wylie writes, ‘cannot meet these expectations’. We have not been able to make the best about self-managing schools…..Tomorrows Schools has certainly enhanced school initiative…..(but) on their own they are not sufficient to improve educational opportunities and outcomes across the board…..it has been too uneven. It has yet to reach all students. Our system lacks the national and local infrastructure of connections to share and keep building effective teaching practices so that schools can do what we ask of them…The Ministry has largely played a hands off role’ providing one size fits all solutions relying on ensuring schools comply to regulations.. Between 16 to 20% of schools struggle each year’.
Schools need the’ opportunity to learn from their peers in other schools…There is an unmet need for cross fertilisation that the inspectors and advisers once played, such as arranging inter-school visits so that teachers and principals can see more effective practices and have the opportunity to discuss how these practices work, how to bring about change’.
We need a fresh approach. We need to construct a network of education authorities that support and challenge schools….in ways that make more of the schools than schools can make of themselves – ways that nurture the capacity of schools to self-manage. ‘We haven’t the time or the money to reinvent the wheel.’
The current fragmentation of government agencies are counterproductive. ‘The past 33 years have shown limitations of positioning each school as a separate island. It will be connections that increase the effectiveness of our schools.’ What is needed is ‘integrate the key strengths of what was lost with Tomorrows Schools….This means more than tweaking our current structures and ways of doing things. It means changes in the government agencies and some changes for schools and boards… I suggest more challenging support at the local level, more connections to share and build knowledge and more coherence between the different layers of the schooling system.’
Such connected infrastructures will make real difference.’ We have the experience and knowledge now to create the more dynamic schooling system that our children need. It is time to give all our self-managing schools the vital connections, support and challenge they need to succeed.’

(To appreciate the full message best to read the book particularly the recommendations)

Friday, December 08, 2017

An education for all not the few - facing up to inequality / what is personalised learning?/ an end of term survey /education for the future

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

As the New Zealand school year is coming to an end, Bruce and I are taking a break from producing these education readings. We hope you all have a great festive season and we’ll be back at the end of January.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

A Special Letter From Santa … Why Teachers Must Be Magic!

‘Please take a moment to read this very special letter from Santa! He takes a moment to describe the
magic that you as an educator make happen every day!'

3 Signs Of Gender Discrimination In The Classroom You Need To Know

There are 3 signs of gender discrimination in the classroom that you need to know which are behavioral discriminations, achievement discrimination, and developmental discrimination. This articles discusses each sign and provides key components you need to know to avoid discrimination against boys and girls in the classroom.

Why Reading Aloud Helps You Remember More Information

‘The research, published in the journal Memory, finds that the act of reading and speaking text aloud is a more effective way to remember information than reading it silently or just hearing it read aloud. The dual effect of both speaking and hearing helps encode the memory more strongly, the study reports.'

National Standards in NZ to go !!

Is your school feeding inequality?

Education is meant to be society’s great leveller. Offering public education supposedly gives everyone a fair chance to succeed in life in any capacity they might choose, but in reality … it doesn’t. In fact, I would go as far to say that it barely tries to. Now, If you’re an educator, that might upset you as I’m sure you are thinking “I try really hard to help all my students!” I know many teachers who are inclusive, flexible and cater for individual needs, but that doesn’t stop the systems they work within, undoing much of the progress they make.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

To 'seek, use and create their own knowledge' NZC 2007

Students can ‘own Their Learning Through Creating Questions

A simple read but important.

Dr Ann Milne – Why not White Boys’ Writing?

Do we think White boys have an additional writing or reading gene that our Maori kids missed
out on? Or do we think they had better parenting perhaps – you know, bedtime stories, books in the home, and all that? Or, here’s a thought, could it be that the whole system, the way we set up and structure schools, our teacher training, our obsession with copying failed policy from other countries which also marginalise their indigenous learners, the knowledge we value—and measure—is also White and it, therefore, benefits the children whose values match, and whose values are embedded in and reproduced by our schools?’

What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized

‘The idea of personalized learning is seductive – it implies moving away from the industrialized form of education   that pumps out cookie-cutter students with the same knowledge and skills. After decades of this approach, it is clear that all children don’t learn the same way and personalization seems to honor those differences. However, that term has taken on several different meanings.

'We help them flourish and bloom': using nature to keep
students in education

There is evidence to back this idea up. In 2015, Mind’s report Feel Better Outside, Feel Better Inside (pdf) found that activities such as gardening boosted self-esteem, improved physical health and benefited those at risk of developing mental health problems.’

Our education systems must focus on developing underlying human capabilities, not just knowledge and skills

It is absolutely clear that better, broader education will be essential in creating a positive future of work. However we still need to work out precisely what is the education that will be most relevant for tomorrow’s world.’

'Collaborative problem solving must be placed at the heart of our curriculum’

‘The latest Pisa rankings prove that if our pupils are to thrive in future workplaces, the importance of collaborative problem-solving, creativity and teamwork must be emphasised in schools, writes one educationalist.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Time for a rebirth of the creative spirit.

Make the most of the end of national standar
‘The time is right for a true educational revolution! We need to listen to lost voices and rediscover our own The spirits of creative teachers, long gone, will be with us. The secret is to seek out and network with creative teachers in your own areas to share their wisdom.’ http://bit.ly/1Vh3awH

Lester Flockton. Nothing wrong with being critical!

Lester wisely suggest that we need to reflect carefully on the 'over stated claims' based on this thing called 'evidence'. It is almost impossible these days to avoid 'evidence based', or 'best practice' whatever, in any Ministry document! 'Best practice', when imposed through heavy handed contracts, can 'mutate' into, what educationalist Dean Fink calls, 'educational sects' that make it all but impossible for teachers to develop new creative approaches. If we are to be creative then there will be times that we can't wait for the 'evidence'. Schools must feel free to create their own 'best practice' through their own actions. Such an approach is what some scientists call, 'enlightened trial and error' - or simply common sense.’

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 ‘voice’ of your students. What are your students’ attitudes towards areas of learning?’

Creative schools – schools as true learning communities.

When schools develop a culture of approved  ‘best practices’ such schools can be defined as ‘best practice learning
communities’. Where schools value the creativity of both students and teachers they fit the ‘learning organisation ‘definition.  Michael Fullan has written that it is ironic that few sc  hools are true learning organisations. A ‘community of best practice’ follows the guidance of experts from outside of the school or classroom while ‘learning organisations’ value the inspiration of creative teachers. The emphasis chosen makes a big difference.’

We need a new story for our future.

What we need, as we make our way into the new millennium, is a new way of thinking to align our thoughts behind. We need a new story, myth, narrative, or metaphor, to replace current thinking - thinking based on a mechanistic emphasis on economic progress, exploitation and short term thinking.’

Friday, December 01, 2017

Creative teaching: Getting back to John Dewey / Alfie Kohn on discipline / phonics! / maths and class management..

 2017 Kelvin Smythe and John Dewey 1897
Education Readings

By Allan Alach

Two important articles bookend this set of readings. If you’re not familiar with John Dewey, I recommend you read Bruce Hammonds’ article: “John Dewey - New thinking 1897!” If you want to see how Dewey’s vision can be expressed in a school, read the first article from Kelvin Smythe: “A schoolwide science experience.’

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

A NZ schoolwide science experience

This is a must read!
My intention was to provide an opportunity and context where children could engage to make
connections with science in their environment, to learn how science activity affects life, indeed their life. I delighted in the idea that that in the process of undertaking this science, the children were keenly telling their parents what they were doing, why they were doing it, and the ambitions they had for the outcome.’

Tes talks to… Alfie Kohn

‘Everything you think you know about behaviour management in schools is wrong, according to Alfie Kohn. For example, if you believe that the use of rewards and punishment improves children’s behaviour, think again, he says. In fact, the American former teacher and author of books including Punished by Rewards and Beyond Discipline believes that using these traditional techniques only makes matters worse.’

Some Schools Are Abolishing Homework In Favor Of Reading, And That's A Good Thing

‘While there is no solid evidence that homework is beneficial for academic success in younger kids, there is plenty of evidence that reading is.'

Teaching of synthetic phonics in Australia based on flawed evidence

I’ll toss this contentious topic into the fire and then stand well back…

What is phonics for? Where does it fit into an overall pedagogy of literacy? Without clear answers to these questions, the contestants in the phonics debate will continue to circle each other like blindfolded prizefighters.’

The Brain Is Wired for Math—Sort Of

While genetics and gender play a role in math achievement, classroom teaching can pick up the slack and help kids soar. Three keys? Make math understandable, useful, and beautiful. This is no small task, but you have 23 (or so) helpers in your classroom who can make the job manageable if you work with their natural abilities and motivations.’

The State of Being Stuck

‘Last year, I got the high school math teacher’s version of a wish on a magic lamp: a chance to ask a question of the world’s most famous mathematician.

The essence of Wiles’ answer can be boiled down to just six words: “Accepting the state of being stuck.”’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

6 Problems with our School System

The traditional system of education was designed in the industrial age and is now outdated and ineffective. Learn about the 6 major problems with the system.’

5 Principles of Outstanding Classroom Management

Effective classroom management requires awareness, patience, good timing, boundaries, and instinct. There’s nothing easy about shepherding a large group of easily distractible young people with different skills and temperaments along a meaningful learning journey.So how do master teachers do it?’

Critical Thinking: Keeping Our Minds Open

Critical thinking is the ability to apply reasoning and logic to new or unfamiliar ideas, opinions, and situations. Thinking critically involves seeing things in an open-minded way and examining an idea or concept from as many angles as possible. This important skill allows people to look past their own views of the world and to better understand the opinions of others. It is often used in debates, to form more cogent and well-rounded arguments, and in science.’

Neuroeducation Will Lead to Big Breakthroughs in Learning

‘All human abilities, including learning, are a result of our brain activity. Hence, a better understanding of how our brains operate can result in a better understanding of learning.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Tapping into the student's world
Every student brings with them memories and ideas gained from the experiences they have had. All too often this personal form of motivation is overlooked by teachers who seem to think they have better ideas to use - their own. It is as if students come to school as blank slates (tabula rosa) when instead they come with a wealth of ideas to share but to do so their ideas need to be valued.’

John Dewey - New thinking 1897!

If you’ve not read about John Dewey, this is a good place to start.
‘John Dewey's famous declaration concerning education was first
published 1897 and is still as pertinent now as it was then. All school communities ought to declare their beliefs about education and then work towards aligning all their teaching to achieving what they believe in. If they do not determine their own destiny someone else will. Having clear beliefs provides both security and the basis of making all choices - or simply saying no as appropriate.'

Friday, November 24, 2017

Creative teaching and learning - Managing the school day to develop personalised learning / Inspiration from Picasso, Marie Clay and John Holt

A good time in NZ for creative thinking
Education Readings

By Allan Alach

The demise of national standards in New Zealand schools opens the door to a return to more progressive, child centred learning. In the first article, Bruce Hammonds gives his take on the possibilities in the post national standards classroom. All progressive teachers should read this.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Organising the school day for 21st Century Teaching - the Craft of Teaching
Bruce Hammonds:
Class management
What ‘message’ does the timetable, or the day’s organisation, in your classroom give? Does it reflect past expectations or future thinking? Which learning areas are given the most prominence? Which areas are neglected? With the termination of the reactionary National Standards the time is right for progressive thinking re classroom organisations to be considered.’

Progressive Education Is Not Just Child’s Play 
Despite the incontestable evidence of what is best for young children, our society continues to tolerate – often celebrate – schools and educational methods that directly contradict several hundred years of evolving knowledge. At least among sensible educators, the importance of play and discovery for young children is a consensus belief, despite policies that often make it hard to teach that way.’

The importance of keeping a beat: Researchers link ability to keep a beat to reading, language skills

Anyone want to have a go at trying this in their classroom?

‘Because hearing sounds of speech and associating them with the letters comprising written words is crucial to learning to read, the Northwestern researchers reasoned that the association between reading and beat synchronization likely has a common basis in the auditory system.’

Why Art And Creativity Are Important For Kids

Schools that eliminate art programs are doing so at their peril. No one questions foundation
subjects like reading and math for the development of competent citizens, but not enough people are inquiring about how important art and creativity are for kids.

The importance is paramount. Arts and creativity nurture well-being and assist learners in creating connections between subjects.

Always asking questions

Hopefully, in most cases, the entire experience is about asking questions. But the curriculum often militates against good question times. It is so stuffed full of unnecessary content, there is far too little time left for teachers to help children to frame their questions. They must make time, because the bloated curriculum shows no signs of going away just yet. Questioning is far too important to gloss over or push into a corner. Give the kids time to ask questions.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Creative by Nature

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” ―Pablo

'All human beings are creative by nature. Young children know this in their hearts, but as we grow older most of us begin to have doubts. We live in a culture that discourages creative thought and wants us to believe that artistic ability is rare. Over time, most of us learn not to color (or think) outside the box.

What Should Schools Teach?

In the UK, decades of political meddling in the curriculum have resulted in endless lists
Enuf lists!!!
prescribing what – and how – teachers should teach.
How refreshing then, that unlike many educational policy prescriptions, What Should Schools Teach? does not offer a dazzling list of innovative academic hybrids, along with an interactively inspirational flowchart of how to deliver them.’

Genius Hour in Elementary School

Educators know a good idea when we see one (even if Google eventually ended the program). We want that vibrant creativity pulsing through our classrooms. We can visualize the end, filled with projects in which our students have connected with experts, filled journals with intelligent thinking, and explored with curiosity. How do we get from this euphoric idea to a classroom reality.'

Have we forgotten that children are still just children?

We seem to be so desperate to jump on the next bandwagon, to shape our classrooms for the future, to teach these supposedly 'different' learners, who are so 'different' to how we were, in progressive ways. But what is it that has made them so different? My thinking has now meandered to this point....children are no different to how we were....they are still just children.’

Here’s How to Apply the 4P Approach to Building a Creative Classroom
‘What is a creative classroom? Creative learners are not linear thinkers. Contrary to popular belief,

P for Passion

while others have a plan from the beginning, creative learners are different. They might need to play first and experience the medium before they begin to com
e up with ideas of their own. That’s why the students in a creative classroom strive for innovative solutions to unexpected problems.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Learning is about constructing meaning.

Marie Clay was more than about reading

Marie Clay was 'constructivist' or more accurately a 'co-constructivist' believing, like such researchers as Jerome Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky that students create their own meanings and that this is best achieved by sensitive teacher interaction, always leaving the responsibility of learning in the child's hands.'

John Holt quotes on learning - more pertinent than ever
The freedom and anti-authoritarianism movement of the 60s challenged traditional views in all
areas of life. Creative teachers of the time had access to a number of writers spreading the message of an alternative approach to education. I am reassured that there are still  many creative teachers doing their best; unfortunately far too few innovative principals. With this in mind I thought the sharing of John Holt's quotes are as relevant as ever.’

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Organising the school day for 21stCentury Teaching - the Craft of Teaching

The challenge of managing a diverse group of individuals

How to organise the school day for personalised learning.
There are a lot of exciting ideas about teaching these days but one thing that gets little mention is how the day is organised to make best use of them.

I don’t visit classrooms much but in my day, as a school adviser, I must have visited as many classrooms as anyone else. The first thing I used to look for is the quality of the student’s thinking on display (science/technology work, creative language, mathematics and art etc.).Taking respectful relationships for granted I then like to focus on how the day is organised and which learning areas get the most attention.

The Ideal Classroom

Ideally classroom organisation should be based on helping students achieve in depth quality learning across the curriculum amplifying or uncovering, every student’s unique gifts and talents to ensure they have the skills to become lifelong learners.

A close look at the daily classroom organisation /timetable is a sure way to get an idea of what is seen as important by the teacher – or the school. All too often today’s daily organisation still reflects past expectations.
 A little bit of history
I was taught in the days when the timetable was posted on the wall and outlined exactly what was to be taught as the day progressed. Every aspect of the curriculum had its specific time – a time for  reading, spelling, handwriting, speech training,  aspects of arithmetic ( all in the morning) and in the afternoon specific times for nature study ( later science) social studies ( previously history and geography), physical education, art and music. Students sat in straight rows, often two to desk.
 New child centred ideas - John Dewey rediscovered
Post World War Two new child centred ideas began to spread to New Zealand encouraged by the First Labour Government led by Dr Beeby. There was a recognised need to organise classrooms to take
Dr Beeby
advantage of such liberating ideas - ideas with their genesis in the writings of John Dewey. Pioneer teachers, likeElwyn Richardson, saw their classes as a community of learners exploring their immediate environment, expressing their ideas through language, art, drama and music.  Such creative teaching required a more flexible approach to timetabling
 Junior teachers introduced developmental ideas
Anotherstrong influence were the developmental teaching ideas of creative teachersworking in early education centres and infant classes (year 1 to 3 classrooms) in the larger urban schools. Even today the most innovative classroom programmes are often to be found in the early years of education and the most fragmented timetables in the secondary schools.
 The exciting days of the 60s and 70s.
Elwyn Richardson's book
By the late 60s and 70s teachers throughout New Zealand, with the encouragement of schooladvisers (particularly the art advisers), were exploring such student centred ideas but, it would be true to say, mainly in smaller rural schools. Timetables still ruled supreme in the bigger urban schools. Open plan schools, introduced in the 70s provided further motivation to develop more flexible organisations but many failed because of organisational difficulties but some were brilliant. Lessons were learnt in the 70s in such schools that apply to the current introduction of flexible learning environments.
So this brings us to today.
What ‘message’ does the timetable, or the day’s organisation, in your classroom give? Does it reflect past expectations or future thinking? Which learning areas are given the most prominence? Which areas are neglected?
With the termination of the reactionary National Standards the time is right for progressive
thinking re classroom organisations to be considered.
I’ve recently been privileged to visit some very creative early education centres and in the best of these the belief is that if students are given a rich experiential environment and appropriate help and direction as necessary, they can be trusted to learn. Creating such an environment ought to be the challenge for all educators at all levels. The difficulty in the early education centres is the pressure to introduce too much explicit teaching (usually in literacy and numeracy) to get students ready for primary junior classes leading to the neglecting of vital exploratory play based learning.
 The canny art of intellectual temptation.
Jerome Bruner
I’ve always like the quote from Jerome Bruner ‘thatteaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’. The challenge is for teachers to provide such tempting environments. Teachers working collaborative in flexible learning spaces have an advantage in this respect in that they can take advantage of the specialist knowledge of each other.
The current dominance of literacy and numeracy
Unfortunately as students’ progress through the school system teacher planned programmes take precedence. National Standards have had the effect of continuing the dominance of literacy and numeracy and aligned with the use of ability grouping (which are more for the benefit of teachers than the students) has made the development of integrated inquiry based programmes difficult.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, the current emphasis on literacy and numeracy has narrowed the curriculum and limited the opportunities for student creativity. With their removal teachers will have the opportunity to develop more innovative integrated programmes. The ‘new’ flexible learning environments challenge teachers to focus on the appropriate pedagogy to make use of them and in turn new thinking about organisations to take full advantage of the opportunities they offer. 
The need for  benign routines to develop freedom and responsibility.
It would be foolish to move too fast as was the case in the 70s when some teachers introduced a fully integrated day although this remains as an ideal goal. As New Zealand’s pioneer junior teachers Sylvia Ashton-Warner wrote,’ without containment, spontaneity, and exhalation and freedom could seep into licence and anarchy, where the day has no shape. A benign routine help our child to gain responsibility and stability’. She continues ‘it is kinder to keep the lid on the school for a start, lifting little by little, simultaneously teaching responsibility, until the time when the lid cast entirely aside and only two conditions remain – freedom and responsibility’.
 The need to 'reframe' literacy and numeracy.
My advice would be  for teachers to  ‘reframe’ literacy and numeracy to see them as ‘foundation  skills’ and  then to take every opportunity to integrate them with the current content studies by developing necessary skills ( and content) for students to make use of during their inquiry studies. Now isthe opportunity to dust off the all too often side-lined 2007 New ZealandNational Curriculum and ensure, as it says, that all students are ‘seekers, users and creators of their ownknowledge’.
American educator Harry Wong has written’ the number one problem in the classroom is not discipline it is the lack of authentic learning tasks, procedures and routines’
The success of any programme will depend on the students’ ability to complete quality work in whatever area chosen- an important concept it to slow the children’s work down (so much work is spoil by students rushing to be first finished) and for both teachers and students to do fewer things well. It is worth listing the skills you wish your students to have and to deliberately teach as required. By the end of Term Four students ought to be able to undertake and plan studies independently.

 The success is the production of quality work
Past educationalists of the 70s, Silberman and Weingartner, wrote ‘happiness has got to come from achievement and success and not by having a good time’ reminding teachers of the time that new approaches need to result in observable quality learning not just fine words about collaboration and team work and the provision, today, of modern educational technology.
 The class as a mini Te Papa - or science or maths fairs
The teacher, or teachers, need to establish areas of their room to featuring different learning areas/topics to attract’, ‘tempt’ and inspire the learners. I envisage a class as a mini Te Papa with the students as researchers, scientists, mathematicians etc adding their finished work to the original motivational display, sharing their achievements with others, their parents and the wider community. A good model for such informative room environment would be the excellent work to be seen at science, technology, maths or art fairs. 
Good advice is to see the current class inquiry, or inquiries, providing the intellectual energy  relating/integrating as much literacy and numeracy to it as possible. This would seem easier in secondary schools where there are subject specialists to call on particularly if there are teachers with literacy and numeracy skills to withdraw students for special help as required.
Authentic studies
A strengthof current primary teaching is the used of groups with children working independently and collaboratively – a weakness is, as mentioned above, the debilitating use of ability grouping. Most primary teachers are already expert in developing a four group rotary system with a task board to assist their students in literacy and numeracy.
The school day ought to begin with the expectation that students entering would automatically go on with unfinished work – or reading quietly until the day formally begins
The morning programme might feature the language arts period (a more expansive title than literacy) with students working in mixed ability groups completing negotiated tasks – many relating to the current study but not exclusively. Students with particular needs to be withdrawn for help as required or one group might be designated as a teaching group. Opportunity ought to be taken to introduce poetry, literature, handwriting, word study (associated with the current study) as
required Teachers normally have four language groups and one group could allow students to be complete work possibly for display. Information technology   integrated as required.
Aftermorning break a maths block could use a similar group process. Developing a positive attitude towards maths is vital. Students need to see the differencebetween real maths and practice maths.

To really complete in depth work in the current study requires a similar approach to the defined group work undertaken in the language arts and mathematics blocks making use of skills taught in the early part of the day.
Now and then there will be times for whole class teaching perhaps to run over the day’s tasks, to pull ideas together at the end of a session or to introduce important motivational content. Teachable moments will often take precedence over planned work.
 A more integrated programme as year progresses.
As the year progresses and skills are put in place then it would be possible to have a day revolving
around four groups; an exploratory maths group, a language arts group, a science/technology
group/ an art group. Any individual finishing set tasks could go on with any uncompleted work, read, or do a free choice activity. When confidence develops, and skills are in place teachers might like to allow students free choice for periods and even the whole day – truly self-managing learners.

‘What we want’ writes Howard Gardner, ‘is for students to get more interested in things, more involved in them, more engaged in wanting  to know, to have projects that they can be excited about and work at over long periods of time, to be stimulated o find out tings on their own’
A workshop, studio, research and media centre.

By providing elements of structure in the school day and ensuring skills are in place (best learnt in context) we provide the opportunity for students to become increasingly responsible for their own learning. Language expert Lucy Calkins has written, ‘It is significant to realize that the most creative environments in our society are not the ever changing ones. The artist’s studio, the
Science research
researcher’s laboratory, the scholar’s library, are each kept deliberately simple so as to support the complexities of the work in progress. They are deliberately kept predictable so the unpredictable can happen,’
In line with this quote the metaphor for a modern classroom (or a flexible learning environment) is an amalgam of a studio, a workshop, a research area and media centre. If teachers’ plan a day in which different activities can take place this would provide a range of choices for the students – the choices would depend on the skill levels of the students involved. To keep track of progress students could work with checklists or with negotiated learning contracts. This would take considerable skill if teachers were working in a flexible learning environment.
A untimetabled day
With confidence and experience teachers, once the students have the appropriate attitudes and skills in place to finally develop an untimetabled day – if students are able to work and manage themselves in such an open ended environment this would be the ideal. Even if such a free choice situation was only for a set period of time (towards the end of the school year) it would provide the best assessment of the programme.
 We shape our environment and it shapes us.
It is common sense to believe that the everyday environment we live in determines our beliefs and, with this in mind, teachers have a great responsibility to ensure that their classrooms present a really active and challenging environment. As Churchill wrote, ‘we shape our buildings and they in turn shape us’ and this would particularly apply to the new flexible learning environments.