Friday, May 25, 2018

Readings for creative teachers - Elwyn Richardson/ Sir Ken Robinson / John Dewey / the importance of play...

From Elwyn Richardson - Rooster and hens . 
Education Readings
 By Allan Alach

Every week Bruce Hammonds and I collect articles to share with teachers to encourage a creative approach to teaching and learning. I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Time again to focus on teacher creativity - the legacy of Elwyn S Richardson

Bruce’s latest article – a must read.

‘There was a time when New Zealand  primary education was internationally recognised for placing the learner at the centre of learning. When education was driven by a belief in the creative power of the learners themselves; when learning was based on the internal and external lives of the children.’

How is philosophy of education useful to education?

‘Philosophy of education is sometimes assumed to be a rather abstract discipline that is somehow
removed from the ‘real’ practice of education – but this has not been my experience. I began my educational career as a practicing teacher, and in that capacity I used ideas from the philosophy of education for practical purposes long before I became a more formal student of philosophy of education.’

Why Mean Girls Are Younger, and Meaner, Than Ever Before

‘These days, we hear of girls at younger ages exhibiting similar “mean girl” behaviors
excluding, isolating, spreading rumors verbally or posting lies online. It is disturbing to realize that very young children are acting deliberately to hurt classmates and friends. Admittedly 7-and 8-year-olds may not have the social skills or maturity to understand how their actions hurt others or how to act differently. That’s where parents come in.’

Ignore the hype over big tech. Its products are mostly useless

This isn’t about education; however it’s something to to reflect on when the
The latest 'silver bullet'
edtech salesperson arrives with the ‘next big thing’
in education that will solve problems you didn’t know you had (interactive whiteboards for example?)

‘If we do not want to live in a world in which “assistants” trick us into flimsy conversations, and human contact is a chore left to the bottom of the labour market, we do not have to. There is a basic fact about the future the figureheads of big tech too often forget: that what it will look like is actually up to us, not them.’

We should be teaching kids public speaking in school

‘For the sake of social equality, all schools should teach children the public speaking skills they need for educational progress, for work and for full participation in democracy. Our research is beginning to show that children who are taught these skills, perform better in maths, science and reasoning tests.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Who Needs Computers in the Classroom? Not Students

The money is better spent on sincere and hardworking teachers.

‘If you begin to research computers in the classroom, the search tends to bring up "the benefits of…" and article after article extols these benefits, all written on behalf of people selling computers. When you look at real research such as the OECD report on Students, Computers and Learning, the usefulness is quite sketchy and may even have a negative influence.’

Smaller Class Sizes and REAL Personalized Learning are Needed for Safer Schools

There’s another solution for schools. One that few education reformers entertain. Smaller class sizes and providing students with real personalized learning. Not sitting kids in front of screens for all of their schooling but ensuring that they are better connected to teachers and their classmates. Providing small enough classes so teachers and students can help each other adjust to life when they experience problems.’

Connecting with Gen Z

‘“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” American
philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey is said to have made this statement about a century ago. If John Dewey were alive today, would he say, “Teachers have done injustice to the present generation of learners by robbing them of their tomorrow”?

Two studies point to the power of teacher-student relationships to boost learning

Kids do better when teachers know them well.

‘It seems that the ostensible benefits of specialization were outweighed by the fact teachers had fewer interactions with each student. No one was minding the whole student throughout the whole day or providing continuous emotional support, keeping an eye on a kid who had an argument in the morning or whose mouth was achy from a loose tooth.’

The problem with our schools? There’s not enough playtime.

More wisdom from Sir Ken:

‘By real play, I mean unstructured, physical play, mostly outdoors, where children follow their curiosity, and invent and enjoy spontaneous games. This has been shown to have profound physical, emotional and social benefits. Real play also develops the neural pathways upon which other forms of learning depend. Play facilitates critical life skills such as problem-solving, teamwork and creativity. Active play is the natural and primary way that children learn.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:
Children as scientists

‘That children are scientists is a truth worth repeating with emphasis. That they are also artists,
musicians, and social beings we know. But young children particularly are more scientists than they are anything else. The child starts to become a scientist with those basic reactions that first make him and her aware of cause and effect.’

Self managing learners

‘If students are to become 'active seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' then self-managing skills need to be 'taught' deliberately as an important goal of any classroom. The best way to see if students are self-managing is when the teacher leaves the room what intelligent behaviours would you hope to see on return?’

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Time again to focus on teacher creativity - the legacy of Elwyn S Richardson

Returning to the early world of creative education
Elwyn Richardson 1925-2012
He toi whakairo he mana tangata – where there is artistic excellence there is human dignity.

Back to the future

There was a time when New Zealand  primary education was internationally recognised for placing the learner at the centre of learning. When education was driven by a belief in the creative power of the learners themselves; when learning was based on the internal and external lives of the

But sinceTomorrows Schools things have changed.  Today schools have been distracted by assessment, achievement data and measurement by standards.  The evidence is becoming clear in our rush to towards achieving measurable results children’s curiosity has been eroded.

As part of this change educational decision making has shifted from innovative teachers to political imperatives and their non-teaching policy makers. Today ‘flexible learning environments’ and access to modern information technology are seen as the answer, associated with all the appropriate words: student agency, collaborative learning and teacher teamwork.

For all this what has been forgotten that it is the quality of the teacher that ensure such modern environments are conducive to learning; it’s the pedagogy, or teaching beliefs, that teachers hold is all important.

Dr Beeby
New Zealand’s earlier recognition was based on the writings of outlier Sylvia Ashton Warner, the developmental programmes led by junior school teachers , the leadership of the then Director of Education Dr  Clarence Beeby who created the environment for educational transformation and Dame Marie Clay.

And, of course, the ideas were not entirely new having their genesis in the writings of American Educator John Dewey..

Dr Beeby appointed Gordon Tovey to develop an art advisory service who were integralto the identifying and supporting creative teachers throughout the country and in the spreading of creative teaching ideas; an education where feeling and intellect, living and learning were inseparately intertwined.

Time to place student creativity central once again

Today we have come full circle and it time to put the lives of our children and our trust in their creative power back into classroom practice.

The creativity of pioneer teacher Elwyn S Richardson

One teacher stands out as the best known exemplar of such teaching- Elwyn S Richardson. I wonder how many teachers today are even aware of the pioneer creative work achieved by Elwyn.
Thankfully he wrote, what many people still think was the best book ever on teaching and learning, ‘Inthe Early World’ first published in1964 and perceptively recently reprintedby the NZCER in 2012.

The book is timely indeed as essential elements of child centred practices have been diluted, even distorted, by those who have little understanding of how students learn and the reality of being a classroom teacher  and with their desire to assess and measure learning –  in the process narrowing the curriculum and the  side-lining  of the creative arts.

A community of scientists and Artists

Elwyn saw his classroom as a busy community of scientists and artists whose role with him as their guide to explore their natural world and the world of their feelings; students active in the process of seeing themselves as worthwhile individuals.

 Tomorrows Schools side-lined creative teachers

Before Tomorrows Schools it was creative teachers who were seen as the key to educational transformation. Today the power lies with the curriculum developers, accountability experts, and
leadership of principals. Today it is time to return the focus to identifying and sharing the ideas of creative teachers and for principals to see their role as creating the conditions for such teachers to have the confidence to return to centre stage.

The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, having been side-lined by the previous government, now needs to be fully implemented.

Developing a meaningful curriculum based on curiosity.

Elwyn forged connections with the children’s lives and created a meaningful curriculum. He placed student curiosity at the heart of all that was done focussing on intriguing questions that motivated them to pursue avenues of inquiry naturally integrating the curriculum. He encouraged the freedom to explore, the opportunity to observe closely, and the discipline to record findings in various ways, He upheld the value of the arts and realised that one subject informs another; that scientific understanding is enhanced by the aesthetic, and vice versa.

Development of high standards of excellence

Like JohnDewey he did not allow just any activity to count as learning. He challenged children to explore, ask questions, try things out, consider alternatives, and craft and recraft to produce high quality work; art work worthy of exhibitions, science projects like those of real scientists, vivid poetry and other writing published in regular school magazines. This is teaching at its finest. Children like adults, enjoy the feelings of being stretched and achieving something they are proud of. At his school, Oruaiti in the far north, his pupils were afforded the dignity of being taken seriously as critics, writers, artists, scientists and thinkers.

Breaking away from teacher dominated approaches.

Printing on cloth
Elwyn’s book outlines his own story in breaking away from the then teacher dominated approach in the process learning to trust the creative power of the children.  In this respect he is both a teacher and a learner constantly, through child and error searching for the balance between being a teacher and being a learner. The book shows that he struggles with this dual role; ‘Am in over directing or am I under directing’ and he often abandons his own planning in favour of the teachable moment. In the end the children are triumphant and the learning is based on their own lives. Real satisfaction comes from losing oneself in a subject which evokes a depth of focus and appreciation giving children licence to bring who they are and what they cherish to their learning.

This is teaching as an art form; the artistry of the creative teacher.

Observing nature
The student’s work, which is a feature of Elwyn’s book underlies how values and excellence are formed in the process of creative achievement. Elwyn’s process is based in recognising small excellences in student’s work and through discussions developing community standards of excellence. Such minor excellences were seen as stepping stones for further thinking and in-depth expression.

Developing such standards of excellence is the professional artistry of a caring teacher who esteemed the voice and thinking of the children. This is in strong contrast to today where students are judged against adult standards and criteria that impinge on student’s individuality. Such current teacher dominated approaches are the antithesis of chid centred learning, all about conformity rather than creativity.

Student creativity taken seriously

The work included in Elwyn’s book shows that his student’s took their work seriously; the
Observation to printing
sensitive poetry, the careful observation of their immediate environment, the graphic print and ceramic work and dramatic experiences.  The book makes clear the process that the teachers introduced to develop quality personal achievements.

The process was a delicate one, with the teacher leading and directing but at the same time humbly ready to learn from the children. The idea that that the end product doesn’t matter –it’s only the process, is simple minded. Children will only grow in a classroom where high standards prevail and where their work will be tested by the critical insight of others. Each new achievement is a springboards for later leaps in imagination and understanding. In such a learning community students are perpetually challenged to achieve their creative powers and the work they create becomes a record of their achievements.

Developing security for student creativity

The patterns of work in Elwyn’s classroom was akin to being a science and art workshop with enough structure to provide students with the security necessary to be creative. Sometimes

Drawing of roosters
patterns were free at other times more formal.

Elwyn’s book provides a way through the current compliance environment (for both teachers and students) that the past decades have imposed. Many teachers will not be aware of alternatives and, for them, the first step would be to acquire his book In the Early World and be inspired by the creativity of Elwyn’s teaching and his student’s creativity.

A slow transformation into a creative community

Every classroom can be transformed into a learning community and slowly more and more choices given back to the student’s as teachers gain confidence and student’s independent working skills. Going too fast might be counterproductive and every teachers needs to design their
Rooster painting 
own progress. A good time to experiment might be at the end of the term when you will have the time in the holidays to reflect on how it went and what you might do next time. And it is good advice to work slowly towards developing a truly creative classroom by the end of the school year. In this way you will be imitating the trial and error process that underpinned Elwyn’s development as a teacher. With time teachers will move towards the satisfaction of this kind of teaching.

Planning the school day link
Acknowledgment of sources.

To write the above I have unashamedly made use of phrases from the introduction Elwyn’s book Inthe Early World – particularly the forewords to the original and the recent edition and the preface to Elwyn Richardson and the early world of creative education in New Zealand by Margaret McDonald (NZCER 2016). For those interested in the historical development of creative education in NZ I recommend the later.

Taranaki developments 1970 until Tomorrows Schools 1985 group of teachers in Taranaki in the 70s developed ideas inspired by Elwyn’s writings and friendship. One teacher, Bill Guild, wrote a photo book of his student’s achievements A World of Difference a summary of is well worth a look.

Further writings about Elwyn Richardson:

Friday, May 18, 2018

The power of creativity and imagination / teacher 'burnout'/ Modern Learning Environments? / introducing technology ?......

Art from Elwyn Richardson's students
Education Readings

 By Allan Alach

Every week Bruce Hammonds and I collect articles to share with teachers to encourage a creative approach to teaching and learning. I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Why Adults Need Social and Emotional Support, Too

‘We learned quickly that educators must consider themselves and their own care in order to
prevent burnout or "compassion fatigue." Working with high-needs populations can take a toll on you physically and emotionally. Creating a school culture of reciprocal adult support is imperative for success. Teachers must be operating in a healthy way, both physically and mentally, in order to consistently meet the needs of students.’

Modern classrooms won’t fix education

‘Unless educational leaders recognise that significant changes in practice require time, ongoing support, and effective use of evidence and data for future improvements, modern learning environments may well be a multi-million dollar missed opportunity.’

Thinking about Thinking about Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner
‘Is Howard Gardner the most misunderstood and misappropriated educationalist (his preferred term) in the world today or he just the only theorist most educators have heard of?’

Secret Teacher: the exodus of older teachers is draining schools of expertise

This article is from England but applies to New Zealand and most likely many other countries.

‘There is an experience vacuum being created in our schools that robs junior teachers of the role models they need to help them improve. Formal teacher training is the equivalent of being told how your parachute works before being chucked out of a plane at 12,000 feet. Becoming a teacher takes years: it’s a lifelong apprenticeship, with best practice passed from experienced colleagues to new recruits.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

The key to fixing inequality in education? Teach kids to be curious

‘The team at Michigan defines “curiosity” as “the joy of discovery, and the motivation to seek answers to what is unknown.” Some kids might be naturally curious about dinosaurs or ancient history. But parents and educators can also teach kids to have a curious outlook on learning, notably by having them “engage in activities that are personally meaningful.”

Technology :Don’t add. Make better.

‘Having just received an email from someone starting a new “technology” position in their school, they asked me what advice I would give.  I shared the following advice:’

Ten obvious truths about educating kids that keep getting ignored- Alfie Kohn

There is no end to the debate about school reform, but there are certain things about education that seem like no-brainers. The problem is that they continue to be ignored by policymakers and in schools. Alfie Kohn lists 10 of them in the following post, which he first published in the American School Board Journal in 2011, but which holds as true today as it did then.’

Design Thinking – What is it and how can it support 21st century education?

‘Design thinking is a methodology which encourages creativity and innovation through rapid (and cheap) prototyping early in the design process. It encourages risk taking, accepts failure and depends on testing and feedback in order to reach the best final outcome. But perhaps the most important aspect of design thinking is its human-centric focus.  The design thinking process focuses on reconnecting to a person or community and to truly understanding their fundamental needs.'

An Integral Curriculum at Amesbury School

‘Ensuring that learning is real life and takes place in an authentic learning context is one of the
commonly touted characteristics of 21st century learning.  The main thinking behind this is that students will learn best when there is a real purpose for their learning. I am sure this is true. However, I am coming to understand that a much more important reason is that the complex times our children are growing into will require a much greater ability to make decisions which are very complex in nature.’

Sir Ken Robinson on the Power of the Imaginative Mind (Part One)

The internationally renowned innovation consultant calls for transformation, not just
reformation, of public education.

‘It's the most unique capacity that human beings possess, and it's the one thing we'll rely upon to take us safely forward into the twenty-first century. And the irony is that I believe in education we spend most of our times-- most of our time trying to stifle it, or to inhibit it in some way. Not deliberately, but systematically. What I mean is the power of imagination.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Creative teaching - timeless

Kelvin Smythe reflects on Elwyn Richardson  - pioneer New Zealand creative teacher 1950-60s.

An excellent book (NZCER)
‘Forget the research and current conformist 'best practice', go back and see what teachers like Elwyn did that we have forgotten about. According to Kelvin Smythe, and I agree with him, creative 'teaching in its fundamentals has hardly changed, nor is it likely to change.' Kelvin has written widely about Elwyn Richardson, a pioneer New Zealand teacher from the 1950/60s on his site and, for those curious, it is well worth reading what he has to say.

Back to the future: class organisation for student centred learning 

‘The other day I had the opportunity to visit a school I began my career in 1960 During  a discussion with the principal she mentioned the classrooms had been developed into innovative ( or flexible) learning environments. I couldn't help suggest that  I bet the daily classroom programmes/timetables haven't changed much since I first visited the school 40 plus years ago .If anything the current emphasis on literacy and numeracy had reinforced the timetables of earlier times taking up the morning time with the rest of the Learning Areas squeezed into the afternoon period. Hardly flexible teaching? Hardly progress?

Large painting from Elwyn Richardson's NZ class 1950s

Friday, May 11, 2018

Learning ought to be fun / childrens' playgrounds / learning from NZ's First Labour Government

A culture that values student curiosity and creativity above all
Education Readings

By Allan Alach

Every week Bruce Hammonds and I collect articles to share with teachers to encourage a creative approach to teaching and learning. I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Kids are not better at technology than adults.

The difference between kids that are deemed better than adults with technology is not some innate ability; it is their willingness to push buttons. To see what happens. To act on their curiosity.  That’s it.’

Should School Be Fun? (The answer is yes)

‘I also just want my students to enjoy their time in my class and school as much as possible.
Because when a student is having fun, they are engaged and learn better. Research has shown that students who are happy and feeling positive emotions are more likely to “take risks, solve more nonlinear problems that require insight, and generally perform better overall.” It’s why the best and most meaningful learning experiences are often hands-on and take place in loud classrooms, and sometimes not in a classroom at all.’

Learning Theories: Jerome Bruner On The Scaffolding Of Learning

Bruner believed that when children start to learn new concepts, they need help from teachers and He wondered whether the very structure of school is the failure.’other adults in the form of active support. To begin with, they are dependent on their adult support, but as they become more independent in their thinking and acquire new skills and knowledge, the support can be gradually faded. This form of structured interaction between the child and the adult is reminiscent of the scaffolding that supports the construction of a building. It is gradually dismantled as the work is completed.’

The skepticism threshold: is there any evidence for inquiry learning?

Interesting debate here. Read and consider.

“The problem with the inquiry approach, which is so beloved, and so fashionable in education these days is that it benefits middle class children with good vocabularies and lots of cultural capital. It really detracts from the learning of the least able, the most marginalized [students].”

It’s Not Just About Tests, It’s About Valuing Children

By Kenneth S. Goodman and Yetta M. Goodman

Fortunately the current New Zealand is moving towards a child based education system but there are many other countries still wedded to a test and destroy schooling programme.

“Disguising their aims as reform, our political decision makers have marginalized teachers, teacher educators, and researchers to the point that those with real insights and knowledge are blamed for the failures they might have avoided.”

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

It's time to land that helicopter: hovering isn't helping your kids

Same applies to school playgrounds.

‘Here's the deal: play cannot be totally safe if it is true play. Some element of danger or challenge, either physical or mental, is needed for children to feel that they are truly playing. Why is this? True play pushes children to their growing edge.’

Inside the Rise of “Risky” Playground Design

Child recreation areas with exposed nails and steep drops—placed deliberately—have caught on in the U.K. and are coming to America.

‘Educators in Britain are embracing the idea that purposeful risky play promotes resilience and builds more self-reliant young people. As a result, public playspaces there are being redesigned or newly built to actively present that risk. What that looks like—playgrounds with access to saws, knives, loose bricks and two-by-fours, and fire—is something that might sound alarms for some parents here in the litigious U.S.’

Student-Centered Planning

Planning instruction around students’ readiness, interests, and learning preferences empowers them to drive their own learning.

‘Learners’ involvement begins with how inviting the lesson appears to them. Learners evaluate a lesson based on their readiness, their sense that it’s something they can do. Does the learning experience provide sufficient supports to help them develop the skills to succeed?’

Students' Perceptions of Teacher Quality

Can there be excellence in the classroom without first-rate
Teachers are the 'silver bullet'.
teachers? We can change our curriculum, buy more materials, change the physical environment, give more standardized exams, but without quality teachers all the change in the world will not produce the desired effect. The desired effect must promote greater depths of student learning. Everyone seems to be looking for a "silver bullet;" that special program that will captivate students and arouse them to greater levels of academic achievement. Those of us who understand teaching know the teacher is the "silver bullet”.'  

The Case For Old-School Kindergarten: Why We Need To Let Our Kids Play

‘…when it comes to young children, engaging in unstructured play with other kids may be better for your child’s development than any academic task. Play helps kids learn how to regulate emotions, solve problems, and make plans. A better predictor of a kid’s academic success in the 8th grade is how well they socialize with their peers in the 3rd grade. Playtime isn’t wasted time, if you’re concerned with academics; in fact it’s just the opposite. Playtime is essential for young children, though you won’t likely see this reflected in your kids’ school.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

'Everyone has a right to an education they are best fitted for so as to develop the fullest extent of their powers'. Going back to principles that underpinned the First Labour Government

Very appropriate article, given the current Labour led government’s review of education in
First Labour Government
New Zealand

‘Schools that are able to cater for the whole population must offer courses that are as rich and varied as are the needs and abilities of the children who enter them… be true equality of opportunity… to convert a school system constructed originally on the basis of selection and privilege to a truly democratic form..’

Looking back

Dr Beeby
This article  discusses the great New Zealand educator, Dr Clarence Beeby. Again this is very timely given the current review of education.

‘Every child, Dr Beeby said, 'should leave with a sense of achievement'. We need teachers who refuse to accept that the failure of any child is inevitable. Teachers, to achieve this, need to be sensitive to the needs of every learner. If you can turn failure around, he said, 'you might get a glimpse of the school of the future'.