Thursday, June 28, 2018

Looking back to the past - or ideas for the future ?

The Taranaki Environmental Approach
 of the 1970s

Last week I was at a meeting attended by Andrew Little Minister of Justice in the Labour Coalition Government. During our conversation iot arose that  I had taught Andrew's secretary in the mid 70s! I said I would find a photo for him to pass on to her.

I remembered that there was a photo of his secretary in an article I had contributed to an N ZEI  Forwards to Basics  book edited by Jack Shallcrass in 1978

Jack was a well known commentator on progressive educationalist at the time and contributed regular article to the NZ Listener

The purpose of the book was share the range of successful educational practices in primary schools. Jack writes in the preface he had 200 contributions and I remember him visiting my classroom at this time. Jack wrote  encouragingly about the quality of the teaching he was privileged to observe .

Maybe its time for a modern version of his book?

My own contribution took the form of a  short photo essay . Since  its not too long I can include
Jack Shallcrass
all I wrote and include the photographs including the one featuring a photo of Andrew Little's secretary. The photos were in black and white but I have found some colour shots of the same photos to include..

So below is what I wrote: 
( with comments added in italics)

'Throughout the 1970's I've been lucky enough to work with a group of teachers( I had previously been an Education Board Science Adviser) who have shared and developed each others in a language arts approach to education. John Cunningham, Bill Guild and Robin Clegg have been the core of the group. This article draws heavily on our joint interests and experiences'

 ( for an insight to the creative teaching of Bill Guild and John Cunningham click on the links)

'We all learn from interacting with our environment. The classroom is not only part of the child's environment but is a base from which to explore it. From this base we can focus attention, develop new interests and extend learning skills. Every attempt should be made to develop the classroom as a challenging environment which encourages children to grow in ways appropriate to them. In our experience an integrated curriculum is a prime necessity'..

The teachers job is to establish his ( or her) room as a rich learning environment.

( Our approach became known as environmental education but this refers to the physical, emotional and intellectual climate of the rooms - although we exploited the local environment as well. Our main influences were the writings of Elwyn Richardson, the Junior Nuffield Science Projectt,the work of the art advisers and the English Junior Schools that I had had the great fortune to visit. One English teacher we admired was Henry Pluckrose.)

This display of household;d artifacts arose from a study of early colonial architecture.
( Teachers involve introduce studies by motivational displays to which students completed work was added to. The displays  focused on a language themes, or an art process like printing, science, maths or social studies as above,)

A display of  birds as a part of a study of conservation

(The young lady in the the display , now in her mid 40s, is Andrew Little's secretary. We tried to introduce all studies with provocative displays to tap into student curiosity).

'Finished booklets show real quality and reflect the children's pride in their work. Work of this excellence deserves to be displayed to the best possible advantage.'

At work on the Marae

(This young girl recently wrote to me to thank me for her time in our class and she is now an accomplished artist. To be honest I would have picked her to be a dancer or poet but just goes to show teachers have to be careful about classifying students.)

'The immediate environment provides a wealth of starting points for realistic studies
- geology, natural history, architecture, occupations and so on. Emphasis is placed on small group work and parent involvement wherever possible.'
Painting done by a group of girls shows many things seen on a mountain visoit

'Completing study booklets is away of combining all the learning and study skills. At first we work on class themes in which we teach the skills that are the basis for further development. Then we move on to group work and finally to individual work in which children select and plan their own topics.'

Teachers involved believed in doing fewer things well to encourage in in-depth thinking.)

(The key to quality work is to slow the pace of children's work. To often children think first finished is best. We helped the students slow the pace by teaching careful observational drawings, teaching layout and presentation skills and by encouraging drafting of their written work.  If a things worth doing it's worth doing well)

( Children with encouragement show tremendous design skills - this young lady was at one time a visual illustrator for an English newspaper. This is the cover for her bird study booklet. )

( Student undertaking a science experiment centered around sound and communication. The sound of the jangling forks and knives reaches the ears as loud chimes. This student later made a large painting of the experiment)

'Mathematics can provide an ideal means of developing a sense of pattern, form and relationships if it is taught as mathematics not mere computation. It has the same appeal as language, science or the arts once children perceive the purpose.'

( Developing high standards of presentation in student book work was an emphasis in our teaching. Not only does it encourage careful work by slowing the pace it is also an excellent way to visually show students  and their parents their growth. Books included math books, study books, personal writing and language - which included handwriting.) 

(I was determined that my students developed a positive attitude towards maths so I spent a lot of time developing interesting maths activities. As part of a study of triangular number we visited pipes nearby ready to be used.

I didn't use ability grouping  in maths (nor reading) as it was counterproductive to developing positive attitudes and emphasized that if we did textbook maths this was practice maths not real maths )  

( We made lots of booklets to share the student's personal language with each and their parents, )

(A selection of completed study booklets. The students were taught simple design  layout skills and also became skilled using a range of art media)

Topic book work after Marae visit - Maori Study and Autumn walk

(I still think the ideas we developed are still valid today and that the introduction of modern technology would be an advantage in such programme Today I would add student research questions to displays and their prior theories before research undertaken).

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