Wednesday, March 28, 2018

We are at the beginning of a new educational era. The challenge now is to reimagine the school day to ensure all students’ gifts and talents are identified, amplified and valued.

In the latest Principals’ magazine the National President of the NZ Principal Federation Whetu
Whetu Cormack
writes that we are at the ‘start of a new educational era’. ‘Standardisation has gone along with the competition it engendered, the narrowed curriculum, the obsession with data, and the endless comparison.’

Business ‘guru’ Steven Covey’s advice, writing about habits of effective leadership, was to ‘begin with end in mind’. What do we want our schools to achieve for their students? What do we need to change to ensure the unique range of gifts and talents of our students?
 Lester Flockton , in the same principals’ magazine, makes the point that New Zealand’s rankings in international tests have been falling commenting ironically that this is at a time of considerable literacy
Lester Flockton
and  numeracy intensification.  In the 70s New Zealand was a world leader in literacy – now, it seems, we are 32nd Tomorrow’sSchools (1986), Flockton reflects was implemented by the then Labour Prime Minister David Lange on the grounds ‘good people poor system’.
Lester write that 30 years later we have wasted excessive amounts of time and resources replacing approaches of the past that weren’t broken and didn’t need fixing. It time, says Lester ‘to put the shine back on teaching’ to create a nurturing environment for both teachers and students. ‘For too long our system has suffered from those who mistakenly think they know better’.

So what is the ‘end in mind’ for teachers in the 21stC?

 A respected educationalist Sir Ken Robinson, who has recentlypresented in New Zealand. Says that creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy’. Another educationalist, well known to many New Zealand teachers, Guy Claxton writes that learnacy is more important that literacy and numeracy.’

 New Zealand pioneer creative teacher Elwyn Richardson proves inspiration forteachers today.

His book ‘In the Early World’ should be in every primary classroom and thankfully has been reprinted by the NZCER 2012. Elwyn saw his class 'functioning as a community of artists-scientists- each person counted and was expected to make a contribution to the class community'. Elwyn Richardson gave his students 'the opportunity to
Elwyn Richardson
reach their full height as artist, as craftsmen, as scientists, and as students, through the establishment of a community based on mutual self-respect'.

The last three decades have compromised the unique child centred approach that was highly respected world-wide up until the introduction of Tomorrows Schools followed by technocratic curriculum and National Standards and the associated assessment requirements.

If schools were to focus on developing their classrooms as communities of learning based on developing the gifts and talents of all students what would need to change?

A brief visit to most classrooms will illustrate that literacy and numeracy rule supreme. As one commentator has written ‘the evil twins of literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the entire day’. The shape of the daily programme provides a message of what is seen to be important and this is reinforced by the narrow scope of achievement data collected.

John Holt
n the 1970s progressive educator John Holt wrote
, ‘school must become communities in which children learn, not by being preached at, but by living and doing, to become aware of the needs of other people.’ There is a need to make schools, 'a place in which a child has so much respect for his own work that he will respect the work of others and will be naturally concerned to make the school a place where everyone can do best at whatever kind of work he wants to do.

 John Holt was once asked a question. 'If schools were to take one giant step forward this year towards a better tomorrow, what would it be?

'Holt replied, ' it would be to let every child be the planner, director and assessor of his own education, to allow and encourage him, with the inspiration and guidance of more experienced and expert people, an as much help as he asked for, to decide what he is to learn, when he is to learn it, and how well he is learning. It would make our schools....a resource for free and independent learning’.

Guy Claxton
The writings of Sir Ken, Guy Claxton, Elwyn Richardson, John Holt and many others ask for a transformation of our classrooms. 

There are those who believe that this might be beyond the capabilities of teachers whose only experience is post Tomorrow’s Schools (1986) but, in contrast, there are others who believe that many teachers are teachers are looking for a ‘new direction’, one that really values their professional involvement.
Jerome Bruner, another resected educationalist, wrote many years ago that teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation bringing up the question how can we ‘tempt’ our students so that they can realise the ideas expressed by John Holt. This would be an ideal topic for a school Teacher Only Day.
Transferring this ideal of a community of learners to the daily programme is the challenge.
Jerome Bruner
n the60/70s many teachers (mostly in junior classes) were experimenting with whatwas called developmental programmes in an attempt to extend the way young children learnt before formal schooling. Classrooms were set up with stimulating activities for students to become involved with. Later in the morning the day morphed into language arts activities and maths tasks. Centres of interest studies provided motivation and natural involved language, creative arts, maths.

Such organisations still form the basis of many junior classrooms and align well with modern ‘play based’ programmes.

Developmental education forms the basis of Kelvin Smythe’s writings.

Kelvin is an ex Senior Inspector of Schools and shares his ideas through his Netkonnect Website.  Kelvin sees learning as a holistic or integrated experience and has dedicated much of his efforts sharing the ideas of Elwyn Richardson, Sylvia Ashton Warner and creative teachers he has worked with. He believes that it is the sharing of the 
deas of creative that is the best way to move forward. He worries that in past decades we have sacrificed the affective side of learning by overemphasizing cognitive achievement.

Link to Kelvin's Attack documents mentioned below
See Attack 6 for Sylvia Ashton Warner's approach.
For developmental junior classroom programme Attack 71 72 73 74 75 76 77
For senior room developmental programmes see Attack 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85
Threshold timetables are described in Attack 87 88 89 90
.The transition to a community of learners
It’s obvious that developing a classroom as a community of learners along developmental /holistic lines is difficult to define as it depends on a number of factors, the teacher’s confidence in various learning areas, the independent learning skills of the students and, most importantly the leadership of the school. Programmes will necessarily be evolutionary and it is good advice to proceed slowly – as Steven Covey says to keep the end in mind’
Some good advice about class programmes
Creative class management is the art, or craft, of creating the conditions that provide students with enough security and structure for them to take the learning risks required to develop personalised learning. Too much chaos leads to disorder - too much structure reduces the learner’s ability to
Class management
make decisions and choices. Most current classroom management procedures are determined by unquestioned routines and habits that reflect a past age.
'If there is any other situations fraught with danger for mental health as that of a class held rigid by fear, it is a class exposed to the anxieties engendered by unlimited freedom. There is nothing as terrifying to the immature human being as a completely unstructured situation. Without a recognisable structure they feel the teacher has abandoned them - and so he has- to their own impulses, all of which are by no means always constructive.' B Morris
'I would caution student teachers to always be flexible with kids, but not to leave them with no structure, because many times we are the only structure these kids have.' Kouzes and Postner 
'It is significant to realise that the most creative environments in our society are not the ever-changing ones. The artist's studio, the 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.' Lucy Calkins

'Without containment, spontaneity, exhalation and freedom of the mind could seep into license and anarchy, where all day has no shape. A benign routine helps our child to gain responsibility and our school to stability.' Sylvia Ashton Warner  
'The word 'freedom' can never be uttered unless accompanied hand in hand with the word responsibility. It is kinder to keep the lid on the school for a start, lifting it little by little, simultaneously teaching responsibility, until the time comes when the lid can be cast entirely aside and only two conditions remain - freedom and responsibility'. Sylvia Ashton Warner
The need to ‘reframe’ literacy and numeracy.
One easy step to take would be integrate literacy and numeracy (renamed language arts and
Creativity as important as literacy
mathematics?) into the current class research study. Ability grouping is counterproductive to the development of a learning community and students need to be helped at point of need individually or in small groups as required.  Many language and maths tasks can themselves be research based but, sounding heretical, if maths is activity based it is better to do fewer things well.
The key role of the inquiry programme.
In a learning community the main source of intellectual energy is provided by the studies the class undertakes. Such studies need to cover the main strands of the Learning Areas – many studies will integrate a number of strands from different subject areas. 
In line with a developmental approach inquires might need to be, at first, determined by the teachers, but as teachers confidence develops more choice and responsibility can be passed on to the students.
The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) asks teachers to help their students become ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’ which is in line with the thoughts of John Holt expressed
earlier.  This problem solving approach underlines the requirements of all the NZC Learning Areas.
There are a range of inquiry models for schools to make use of.

The wider the range of content explored the more opportunity to tap into, uncover, or amplify students’ unique gifts and talents.
It is good advice to do fewer things well and in depth than to cover lightly many areas and it is also good advice to ‘slow the pace of students work’ to give you time to come alongside them to assist then to challenge them  dig deeper as needed. Much work is spoiled because many students have internalised the idea that first finished is best. Process is important but so then is the quality of the finished product.
John Dewey wrote about his experimental school  early last century, 'every child in some sense was turned into a researcher whose duty was to discover and satisfy his or her own capacities and needs and then, also to discover how this had been done.'
The need to reimagine group work.

Ability grouping needs to be replaced with more focussed group work – each group requiring different requirements. Four groups seem a sensible arrangement. One group working with a teachers doing an introductory activity – perhaps a science experiment relating to the current study; a following group writing up their findings; a group researching using computers; and another doing a creative activity based on the study.

Two great practical books

Some classes have experimented with four groups rotating through the day: language arts group; a maths group; a group completing work for presentation; and a group doing creative work.  Group
More than literacy and numeracy
tasks will depend on what is currently being studied. 

With expertise some teachers might, for brief times when independent learning skills are in place, move into a free choice integrated day.
It is good advice to move into experimental organisation in the last weeks of a term giving time to assess progress over the holidays!
Teacher displays and room environments.
Part of the tempting learners (Jerome Bruner) can be achieved by setting up a range of displays to capture students’ curiosity. Every Learning Area provide ideas for displays.  From such displays students’ questions arise and can be added to the display. As students computer tasks these questions (and later researched answers) can be added to the displays to inform visitors of class
I see the a modern school as an amalgam of an artist’s studio, a media centre, a science laboratory, an art gallery;  an educational Te Papa with students being the researcher planning and developing displays
John Dewey wrote early in the 20thC  The only way in which adults consciously control the kind of education the immature get is by controlling the environment in which they act and feel. We never
educate directly, but indirectly by means of the environment. Whether we permit chance environments to do the work, or whether we design environments to the purpose makes a great difference.’

Guy Claxton’s ‘learnacy’ and the New Zealand Curriculum’s competencies

The New Zealand Curriculum emphasizes the need to develop in all students the key competencies to become lifelong learners. In a class undertaking a community of learners’ model such competencies are implicit but students’ attention needs to be drawn to them when appropriate.
Claxton’s message is that schools must change. ‘We ought not to put up with students enduring a passive depersonalised assembly line experience’. 'We now know enough that no student need fail if we' , as Claxton says, 'attend more successfully to cultivating the qualities of character and mind that modern life demands; curiosity, imagination, disciplined thinking, a love of genuine debate, scepticism. These are the learning dispositions that students can use their whole lives’.

If education has lost the plot', Claxton writes, ‘we need 'a narrative for education that can engage and inspire children and their families - a tale of trials and adventure, of learning derring-do and learning heroism. Let's fire the kids up with the deep satisfaction of discovery and exploration. They are born with learning zeal; let us recognise, celebrate and protect it, but also stretch, strengthen and diversify it’
 Jerry Starratt, an expert on school leadership, has written. 'In a very real sense...human being create themselves and school can be stage on which children work through the plot, rehearse their roles, learn the cues, create social functions, try out their 'ideal selves' for size, play hero parts which demonstrate their capability for greatness.' This is the essence of personalised education
Final words to American business ‘guru’ Tom Peters (who has holiday home in Golden Bay) from his book ‘Re-Imagine.
'I imagine a school system that recognizes learning is natural, that a love of learning is normal, and that real learning is passionate learning. A school curriculum that values questions above answers…creativity above fact regurgitation…individuality above conformity... and excellence above standardized performance….. And we must reject all notions of 'reform' that serve up more of the same: more testing, more 'standards', more uniformity, more conformity, and more bureaucracy’.

How do you imagine the shape of education system able to ensure all students thrive in an ever changing, uncertain but potentially exciting future?

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