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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have just given the advice I need at the very time I need it. Thank you for the inspiration to take my next steps NOW.