Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Learning from one of New Zealand's pioneer teachers - Elwyn Richardson

Author of 'In The Early World ' possibly the best book written about education anywhere. ..

Recently republished by the NZCER
All school  should have a copy

The life and times of Elwyn Richardson  and the history of creative education in New Zealand by Margaret Mac Donald  is also available.
Margaret's  important book reveals the rich soil from which our best ideas and practices came. It is a timely reminder
of what is possible, in an era when teachers feel increasingly shackled by forces beyond their control.

In the mid seventies Elwyn visited Taranaki to meet up with teachers who were interested in his ideas about creative teaching. I have just come across some notes I made during a talk he gave in 1976 and published in 2007 before the introduction of National Standards which has distracted teachers. 
His ideas still seem as relevant as ever.
The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum

Our latest 'new' NZ Curriculum sees students as, 'active seekers, users and

creators' of their own knowledge. Sooner or later the emphasis will be placed on developing the full range of talents and intelligences of all students if we really want to be an innovative and creative country.

 Below are my 'interpretation' of Elwyn's ideas, written at the time, but you will get the 'message'.
My advice is to buy his book -and to imagine what he could have achieved with modern information media. I visit numbers of classes with lots of ICT 'bling' and 'higher order thinking skills' but with few products of genuine creative teaching to be seen.

Back to Elwyn's ideas.

'Normal' teaching, Elwyn believes, results in a loose commitment to teacher tasks and, as a result, many students develop a low level of achievement and
personal satisfaction.

A 'good' classroom should develop in students a personal commitment to their learning.

Teachers can do this through: talking, discussion, focusing students' attention, helping them look closely at things,by taking trips into the immediate environment, and by tapping their personal experiences. From such activities students develop ideas to research and share and emotional feeling to express through words, poems, paintings and other art media.

Such classrooms create a 'creative outlook' that values students ideas across all learning areas.

Teachers in such an environment develop a 'master/apprenticeship' relationship with their students and do all they can to help them to plan their own activities. Teachers need to learn to value the experiences that students bring
New Plymouth Pioner teacher Bill G
with them to school and to make use of such areas of interest in personal writing, literacy, art and, possibly, to develop studies around

Teacher expectation is important.

Students pick up feelings about what teachers value and what they expect; they are expert at reading the 'emotional atmosphere' of the room. True learning is learning how you feel about things and how to control, develop, or express your feelings appropriately. The best experiences are the student's own experiences. All too often these are ignored as teachers impose the own topics or subjects.

Class organisation

In some parts of the world some teachers have gone too far and make little contribution to helping their students develop their ideas resulting in superficial learning.  Elwyn believes there is a time for the teacher to contribute and that students need the security of a loose timetable with some fixed points. Too much freedom can lead to brand of anarchy.

(Today the problem is too much teacher input with : exemplars, criteria, objectives, testing, imposed 'intentions! . WALTS, feedback and feedforward leading to well done but hardy creative products.The teachers role has become benignly oppressive. This formulaic  standardised teaching has been destructive of student creativity)
Formulaic /standardised teaching.

Elwyn believes strongly that students need to be helped to identify with their natural environment.

To do this teachers need to collect natural things of interest and introduce them into their classrooms. By encouraging students to look closely at such things, taking advantage of their natural curiosity, students learn to make use of their senses, develop visual observational skills and become pattern conscious.

Drawings and poetic thoughts will capture such ideas and will in turn lead to enriching students vocabulary and language facility generally. With such skills in place trips to the immediate environment become far more productive, children able to notice grass movements, patterns at the beach or bush, tyre marks and shells and to respond to them creatively.

( These is the experiences that far too any of our 'modern students miss out on.)

Elwyn expressed concern that due to learning becoming over intellectualized ( and therefore available to be assessed), that intuitive thought was in danger of being neglected. There was, he felt, a danger of learning becoming too conceptualized and that this would result in damaging students' intuition and creativity. That it would result in the neglect or downplaying of the creative arts.

(Which has happened)

'Creativity has to be engendered'.

 Returning to the teachers role Elwyn said that creativity is not about letting students 'rip into things' Creativity , he said, has to be engendered - it is a way of resolving things; a kind of release. He mentioned a quote that said, 'We have no art we do every thing as well as we can'.

About year three, he believes, children begin to identify with excellence and to learn from other children. We, as teachers, need to help students develop a sense of personal excellence.Teachers ought not be too good a judge.Talk about their art, or language, but be careful not to take decisions away from the students.

Help them make their own choices and to consider what they might do differently 'next time'. But, equally, don't be too weak a judge. Be positive,
joyful,even jealous of their talents; allow yourself to speak. Our own education, Elwyn said, all too often has dammed our own aesthetic values.

Use the classroom environment to provide positive reinforcement of excellence. Display the best of each students work on the classroom walls. Publish their work. Be respectful of their thoughts. Talk with the about their work , get them to share it with others. Enjoy their creativity.

We need to help our students see beauty everywhere.

We need to get our students out into their environment but, to do this, we have to be aware as teachers ourselves.

Elwyn concluded with a few things to do:

Read poems -enjoy the imagery
Read 'powerful' pieces from books
Be consistent.Stick to your ideas.Give children consistent experiences rather than to 'dabble' in activities. 'Do fewer things well' otherwise there is no growth.
Provide students with challenging problems across the curriculum to think about.
Intensify their observations by directing their attention to: line, shape, colour, texture to feed the imagination .We need to develop students perception.
Listen to the students - help them develop their own abstractions.
Reinforce personal excellence, pray for miracles and be grateful for small mercies.
Encourage students intuition.
Trust children - be broadly accepting.Have an open mind. Students will contribute and share their experiences if we give them 'permission' and they feel you are open to their ideas.

Too many of our students have been mis -educated, we need to help them find themselves through their own creativity.

( The challenge remains)

Other blogs about Elwyn

Margaret MacDonald's book on Elwyn
NZCER Review of In the Early World
Reclaiming the joy of learning.
Personalised learning - nothing new
Elwyn Richardson 1925 - 2012
Creative teaching - timeless
Whose learning is it?
Creativity not standardisation.

One of Elwyn's students large paintings

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