Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A walk around a creative school - the juniors

The walk down to the Junior School
This mural assisted by a retired Art Adiser

Junior classrooms in earlier (pre  Tomorrows's Schools)days were where one saw the best child centred classrooms. They were run along developmental lines, based on centres of interest and integrated language/arts based experience programmes. Exploring the immediate environment through their students senses with the belief that before the word the the experience was a strong feature of such rooms. The writings of Sylvia Ashton Warner and later Marie Clay were important references

Welcoming new children and their parents
Since Tomorrow's School;s educational change has been imposed from the top often by people with little classroom experience and , worse still, by politicians with competitive intentions contrary to the collaborative culture of schools. In recent years National Standards were introduced that were neither national or standard, and along with them tedious assessment and accountability requirements.
The Junior corridor gives visitors a clear message

The time has now come to recognize the creative teachers in our school system and to share their idea

As mentioned in my previous blog there are schools that still value creativity with principals that see as an important part of their role protecting teachers from the demands of current hyper assessment and Ministry and ERO requirements.

Junjior classes exploring bush on the mountain ( from school photo)
Now is time to replace compliance with creativity , fine down the assessment, and make teaching more fun.

 My walk around Vogeltown School shows me it can be done
Drawings , thoughts and information

Along with the more visual aspects the writing of the young students showed that teachers value their students voice, questions and ideas.Along with a creative principal Vogeltown has a very creative leader of the junior team.

Great weta drawings an stories
Once again I have had to limit my photographs but you will get the impression.

Junior tui studies and language

A little bit of imagination.

Continue to walk around the senior school

A walk around a creative school - the senior school

Many years ago I was part of a group of Taranaki teachers who developed activity based programmes emphasizing  quality student work, displays to motivate studies and room environments that  valued and celebrated student work.

Vogeltown School
The programmes were , to a degree, extending the developmental choice philosophy of the junior classes combined with the creative approach written about in Elwyn Richardson' In the Early World which has been recently reprinted by the NZCER.  Added emphasis also came from the UK Junior Nuffield Science Project (which emphasized open science studies) and from English junior schools that encouraged their students to do quality work and for this work to be displayed with care

It is a short walk to nearby native bush
The emphasis on stimulating room environments became a feature of local schools and can still be seen to this day even if the original developments have been long forgotten.

Of late , after observing classrooms shown during the lead up to the recent strike, and from what people have told me displays., I  began to think that such environments based on study topics had been replaced by an emphasis on literacy and numeracy

With these thoughts in mind I visited my nearby school ( of which I had been a principal in the 90s ) to see if I could have a walk around. The school has a creative principal so I was hoping for the best. I left totally impressed with what I saw , and with their permission, I  share some of the photographs I took.

I am sure there are many other local schools, and schools throughout NZ that follow a similar teaching approach - an approach that with the removal of National Standards will encourage teachers to be more creative and to implement the all but sidelined New Zealand Curriculum

I took so many photographs that I will write two blogs - one featuring the junior school the other the senior classes.

 This blog features the senior school. The school is on two sites but it is clear that a very clear philosophy unifies all classes.

The teacher in this room is the only remaining teacher from my time!

Classes had visited Maunga Taranaki and local bush

A lot of 'evidence'; of science studies

Focused observation throughout the school

Plenty of 'evidence' of the Maori dimension

Clear class organisations - and impressive art work in all classes

Continue to walk around the junior school

Friday, August 24, 2018

The New Zealand Curriculum / Creative teaching tips / and all you wanted to know about MLEs

New Minds for a New Millennium 
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 allanalach@inspire.net.nz

We won’t publish o ur readings next week as Bruce will be off travelling. The readings will be back the following week (  Actually I  might do a quick post featuring a creative school I recently visited! Bruce)

Are you engaging with the New Zealand Curriculum?
Most great conversations start with a really purposeful question. A question that’s simple but not
simplistic. A simple question posed in conversation recently was, ‘Are you engaging with the New Zealand Curriculum?’ Before you answer, think carefully about what that question actually means. In my humble opinion the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) is one of the finest documents created. It has guidance, it asks questions, it can define your view of education. In any purposeful conversation or debate, there is usually a catalyst.’

Ako: The little bush school in the big city
‘Based at Awataha Marae on Auckland’s North Shore, it promises education with a difference: “play-based, child-led, passion-driven and outdoor-centered.” Children here will learn as much from the native bush as they will in the classroom.’

The Swedish for-profit ‘free’ school disaster Also known as charter schools, academy schools (England) and partnership schools (New Zealand.)
‘It’s the darker side of competition that Milton Friedman and his free-market disciples tend to downplay: If parents value high test scores, you can compete for voucher dollars by hiring better teachers and providing a better education—or by going easy in grading national tests. Competition was also meant to discipline government schools by forcing them to up their game to maintain their enrolments, but it may have instead led to a race to the bottom as they too started grading generously to keep their students …’

School runnings: Why Kiwi kids are better off in barefeet
‘A bee-stings-and-bullrush childhood spent running about in barefeet seems a thing of yesteryear New Zealand.But new research has suggested Kiwi kids' contemporary choice of footwear - or lack of it - isn't too far from that at all.What's more, plenty of time spent barefoot has likely been bringing them big benefits.’

“I don’t believe I left teaching. Teaching left me”
 What the experts have in common is considerable distance from schools. Far too many have a
blinkered view of what kids are and what schools could be. They rarely have the inside view that teachers have. But teaching is an all-consuming profession: good teachers are immersed in where they are and what they are doing, and rarely get the chance (or make the time) to step back to see the bigger picture.  At the end of the school day you don’t reflect, you recover.'

Tony Gurr, from Turkey, is a great source of educational articles. Here are some that he recently posted on Facebook.

20 Tips To Promote A Self-Directed Classroom Culture
What separates good teachers from the excellent ones? The excellent ones are handing out fishing poles; creating a culture in the classroom of independence and self-reliance. These students don’t just recite facts or regurgitate information- they have learned how to learn. They know that if the answer isn’t in front of them, they have the tools to do the investigation and research. So how do you cultivate a culture of “I can…” in your classroom?’

Why do we group students by manufacture date?
‘Grouping students by age or manufacture date is a contrived sorting mechanism. It assumes that same age kids are alike in their intellectual, physical, emotional, and social development; that they have commonalities in addition to their age. Academic standards used by almost all schools are based on the false and incorrect belief of the average student. Todd Rose quoting Mike Miller’s research on brains found that “not a single one was even remotely close to the average.’

Questions can be extraordinary learning tools.
Tony: “I've always said that it's QUESTIONS (not answers...esp. when they are spoon-fed) that 'drive' LEARNing...So...What methods and approaches are there to help students learn how to ask better questions?”
“A good question can open minds, shift paradigms, and force the uncomfortable but transformational cognitive dissonance that can help create thinkers. In education, we tend to value a student’s ability to answer our questions. But what might be more important is their ability to ask their own great questions–and more critically, their willingness to do so”

Need to look beyond the buildings themselves to the learning 

Here’s a selection of articles about modern learning environments. While the long term outcomes of these is yet to be determined (there seems to be opinions either way on their effectiveness), we support a holistic integrated approach to teaching and learning – one that develops the gifts and talents of all students. This needs to underpin both the traditional single room model and modern learning environments.

To MLE, or not to MLE, that is the question: An open letter to my colleagues
So, another MLE story has been put out by Stuff – students in MLEs as guinea pigs this time; and
another deluge of negative comments about MLEs, not just by parents or the media, but by our very own, in forums such as The New Zealand Teachers (Primary) Facebook page of which I am a member - comments that are often dismissive of MLEs as failing and worthless.  Now we see some teachers aligning themselves with some parents and the media against teachers-in-MLEs. The focus of “teacher bashing” just seems to have shifted.’

Modern Learning Environments: Not ‘any colour as long as it’s black’
‘When Henry Ford said of his Model T cars ‘You can have any colour you like… as long as it’s black’, he could just as easily have been talking about high school when I was young. Apart from a few amazing teachers who were as inspiring as they were enthusiastic, most lessons were pretty black and grim. Thankfully, Henry-Ford-style learning has disappeared from most classrooms, but there’s no escaping the fact that we ask many of our best teachers to inspire and engage young people in buildings designed around the time Henry Ford was making cars.’

All MLEs are not the same: Towards a "high level" definition
‘So many people have opinions to proffer and comments to make about MLEs (modern learning environments) or ILEs (innovative learning environments). To be honest I am not a fan of either term. . The assumption that all MLEs are the same is not true and neither is it helpful because it leads to a binary view of us and them – a false dichotomy that may not really exist. I have often felt invisible, sitting across from people who say MLEs are this and that. Well, I am here and we are not!’

Secret Teacher NZ: Why I left teaching?
The trials of teaching in a MLE.  
‘Imagine a large hall-like space with three teachers in different areas, each reading with a small group of children. Scattered around are more groups of children, some on laptops, some on tablets, some with board and card games, some sitting in corners together working in their exercise books. You might imagine its harmonious, a buzz of children learning, both independently and supported by teachers. Unfortunately, for the majority, this is not the case.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

What are Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) or Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) really about?
‘Education is about an ‘ecosystem where learning is personalised across a range of institutions across a range of institutions and spaces …. And it is a move away from the mind-set of school as a “be-all “and “end all”’.  This obviously refers to the idea that with modern technology learning can occur anywhere, anytime from anyone.’

How to organise the school day for personalised learning and MLEs
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.’

Friday, August 17, 2018

Why are teacher's striking? What are the conditions stressing teachers? A letter to the Minister.

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. We welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Secret Teacher NZ: Why I left teaching?
‘I sat down to write this and had to start over many times. I’m not sure how to go about explaining
why I left teaching in a way that doesn’t come off as judgy, or blamey or a woe-is-me tale. I suppose many educators feel like this. Teaching seems to be the one profession everyone feels qualified to have an opinion on, seeing as we all went through a school at some point.’

The Destruction of New Zealand's Public Education System
Dave Kennedy wrote this back on 2014. Has there been any change? Worse? Better? About the same?
This government is destroying our amazing collaborative, holistic public education system that recently led the world. They are determined to implement systems that have failed spectacularly overseas. Professional knowledge based on evidence and research should lead education, not political ideology. What angers me the most is what is being denied to our most vulnerable children when they should be the real focus of spending and any systemic change.’

Time for a rethink about the role of education in a democratic society.
Bruce’s latest article:
“I write this in a week primary teachers are to go on strike for better pay.  Concerns about the workload expected of teachers is just as big a concern. Both issues need to be sorted if teaching is to become an attractive career – a career that values teachers as the professionals they once were. If conditions are not resolved then improving salaries will not solve the issues of workload and associated stress. As one wise old rural adviser once said, ‘teachers need to protect their time and energy, if this is wasted on b/s then they will have no time left to teach.’”

An open letter to Minister Hipkins - 13 Reasons Why EVERY teacher deserves a pay rise!
‘Too often the narrative around why we need a pay rise can become focused on how hard the job is. The act of teaching is hard, however be assured, a career in teaching is a privilege. That said I do believe each and every teacher in this country deserves a generous pay rise, not because it's a tough job, but because it is a bloody important and complex one. Here are my 13 reasons why…'

'We're not being trusted': Teachers drowning in paperwork at expense of teaching
"Demands upon teachers are very substantial, potentially debilitating, and growing - particularly in administrative work." Teachers who filled out the survey said their work hours had increased significantly over the past five years. Some 97 per cent reported an increase in administration, and 89 per cent said their teaching was hindered by it.’

The 5 Elephants of Education
Pay, Resources, Expectations, Red Tape, and Lack of Respect

10 examples of how ‘DEVICE fetish’ is ruining EdTech
Device fetishism has been a destructive force in research, procurement, projects and outcomes. So here’s some blowback. Note that I’ve been implementing and writing about the use of tech in learning for 33 years, so I’m speaking, not as a philistine, but a convert.’

Top Ten Cognitive Dissonances That Give Teachers Headaches
But the cognitive dissonance doesn’t end with the idea of pre-planning.  The meetings themselves are full of cognitive dissonance. I often come away from district meetings, state DOE emails, and faculty meetings with splitting headaches. These headaches are caused by the cognitive dissonances I find in these places. Here are  just a few examples of some of the cognitive dissonances I live with in teaching every day.’

TTWWADI - A Culture Killer
‘However, there is another significant impediment to change that doesn’t get as much focus as it should and that is tradition.  What this then morphs into is a mentality of ”if it’s not broken why fix it”? However, the underlying reason for not changing can be
chalked up to TTWWADI – That’s the way we’ve always done it. Tradition, combined with the comfort of the status quo, forms a plausible excuse for not changing. As a result, the learning culture does not evolve or becomes stagnant for both learners and educators. TTWWADI is also a characteristic of a fixed mindset.’  

How welcoming are your school environments?
‘Have you ever walked through your school and asked yourself, “Who would feel welcome and comfortable here? “I am sure we have walked into a space where we immediately felt comfortable and, conversely, have been in spaces that do not feel welcoming or comfortable. What is it about thosespaces that engender those feelings?’

Dear Parents, It's Not Always the Teacher's Fault — It's Your Child
I love teaching. To me, there's nothing quite as satisfying as helping my students understand the material and enjoy learning. However, that job will continue to get harder and harder if we all don't
accept the fact that children are capable of making mistakes. Lots of them. And what's so bad about that? Making mistakes is a huge part of growing up, so parents, I beg you — please stop blaming the teacher for every problem your child encounters.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

The NZF curriculum nautilus
The shell of the nautilus is a symbol, or metaphor, for beauty and proportional perfection . First
used on a New Zealand Curriculum in 1993 it has become a familiar symbol for New Zealand teachers. Or has it?The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum introduced to schools in 2007 comes with a redesigned nautilus shell.To introduce the ideas of the curriculum to students (and teachers) it might be worth giving thought to the reason for the selection of the image.’

Learning from Michelangelo
‘Each human being arrives in this world trapped in a block of marble and it is
the job of the educators – parents and teachers- to free the individual from the imprisoning stone and reveal its true form without disfiguring or damaging it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

New minds for a New Millenium

Time for a rethink about the role of education
 in a democratic society.

A crisis in education

I write this in a week primary teachers are to go on strike for better pay.  Concerns about the  excessive workload expected of teachers is just as big a concern.

Time for new thinking
Both issues need to be sorted if teaching is to become an attractive career – a career that values teachers as the professionals they once were.

If conditions are not resolved then improving salaries will not solve the issues of workload and associated stress. As one wise old rural adviser once said, ‘teachers need to protect their time and energy, if this is wasted on b/s then they will have no time left to teach.’

With this in mind the following is a look into a possible future.

It all began with Tomorrows Schools

The workload and associated stress has increased dramatically since the introduction of the competitive Tomorrow’s Schools reforms of the late eighties. These reforms were part of the dramatic political changes of the times based on a belief in ‘market forces’, individual responsibility and choice (for parents) would encourage greater initiative. It hasn’t quite worked out to plan

As part of the reforms a New Zealand National Curriculum was introduced along with documents for every learning area that outlined learning objectives to be achieved and assessed.  requirement placed impossible demands on schools and eventually, with a change of government, was replaced 2007 by a revised New Zealand Curriculum which did away with the problematic Learning Area booklets with their  impossible assessment demands but before this could be implemented another change of government saw the introduction of the reactionary National Standards in literacy and numeracy which required greater  intensive assessment and reporting to parents and as a result a narrowing of the curriculum.

And now a new government has been elected and, by removing National Standards, have signaled a return to the highly regarded (but side-lined) New Zealand Curriculum.
The techno- rational model is the problem

The past decades have seen a techno-rational model of teaching replace an earlier more creative holistic humanistic developmental model. Sadly current teachers have only experienced the current techno rational model based on standards, testing, levels, outcomes, targets, hyper assessment, measurable evidence and a narrow focus on literacy and numeracy. Teachers now have an opportunity to escape the pressures created by hyper assessment and evidence based teaching.

Time for new thinking

Time now for some fresh thinking and to place the focus on creating a ‘high trust’ environment
A 'high trust' culture
to allow teachers to get on with teaching guided by the vision of the innovative 2007 curriculum

This of course is not to say that there are not teachers and schools already involved in developing more imaginative and creative approaches to teaching and learning. It is to such teachers and schools ‘we’ ought to turn to for inspiration and in the process share their ideas in a more collaborative future environment.

Need for a 'high trust' environment

For schools to be developed as learning communities, premised on creative teachers and active learners, all current workload expectations need to evaluated, streamlined or abandoned. Teachers need to have a 'high trust' environment  for them to be able to use professional judgement to assist their students.  The current stressed and overworked teachers are a sign of an unhealthy system 'low trust' system.

Learning is an innate disposition.

The basic premise that teachers need to hold in mind is the belief that all students have an innate desire to learn and that, as educational psychologist Jerome Bruner has written, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation' to ensure all students are positively engaged. Sadly, as
Jerome Bruner
teachers well know,  many children  arrive in class (at all levels) with their desire to learn damaged from early experiences placing ‘learning recovery’ a priority for such learners.

The ‘artistry’ of teaching

The challenge for teachers is to create a ‘tempting’ environment to capture the innate curiosity of their students.  Active learners need authentic tasks that require them to use inquiry ‘how to learn’ skills making use of appropriate learning areas.

Teachers need to come alongside the learner (s) to help as required – making suggestions, challenging student preconceptions and helping sort out necessary resources.   the fast changing future requires of future citizen’s creativity, imagination and individuality to achieve this students need to ‘go beyond’ what is expected.
Valuing students ideas

This is going well beyond current formulaic standardised ‘best practices’ such as ‘learning intentions’, ‘success criteria’ and WALTs. Such practices infer that teachers know what students require and this too easily results in results lacking individuality.

Authentic learning challenges

Teaching teams could devise provocative topics or themes for students to explore that relate to, or combine, the various strands of the New Zealand Curriculum. This would not preclude topical studies that ‘emerge’ that students might want to study. Themes could cover language and mathematical studies and, as well, these areas will be integrated into all studies.

The future emphasis will need to be on inquiry and talent development rather than the current literacy and numeracy.

It might be possible for workshops (at various levels of expertise) to be offered to the students selected from the Learning Areas – drama, music, cultural experiences, mathematical explorations, ecological studies –the possibilities are endless  Students could get credit for their achievements level
and outside expertise could also be involved if required.

At all levels students could keep learning journals  expressing personal ideas as well as content from learning areas covered – such journals  could be kept in electronic portfolios or developed as personal blogs

Need to value the ‘voice’ of all students.

Teachers need to value the ‘voice’ and identity’ and areas of personal interests of all students as central to all learning. Students need to feel their questions, concerns and their lived experience are the vital ingredient in all their learning. Schools needs to provide opportunities for students value their strengths rather than have their weaknesses identified.

The teacher’s role is to provoke students to ask their own questions, to encourage to work collaboratively, to allow them go at their own pace and to value the diversity of their students. This is the essence of personalisation  . Over time identified talents would be amplified, new areas recognised and  recorded on their learning profiles and included in the portfolios.
Value multiple intelligences

Personal writing journals could be also kept to record student’s inner thoughts and shared with teachers if agreed to by the students.

Need to dig deeply into curriculum

The curriculum, whether arising from student’s interests or negotiated by the teacher needs to assist students dig deeply into  areas chosen and result in worthwhile learning artifacts. It is important to do fewer things well to achieve the students ‘personal best’.

The curriculum is itself a search for meaning and a mean for students to expand their perspectives, to challenge their thinking and to provide opportunities their potential talents to be recognised.

Students as active learners

When students are treated as active learners (the 2007 NZC states that students should be ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’) they will, through their actions, discover the value of craftsmanship and honest work and in the process provide teachers and parents with authentic assessment of their achievement.

As students work together to solve problems their combined efforts creates a true democratic learning community where all the diverse voices are valued and appreciated.  We are talking about classrooms in which the students are moved to imagine, to extend and renew their ideas creating in the process their own learning community.

Student achievement can be assessed by means of demonstrations of knowledge, exhibitions and displays, presentations and portfolios of completed work.

A creative role for teachers

Teachers have a vital role in creating such learning communities by providing opportunities for students to express their ideas through exploring a range of media. Teachers help students realize their own images, their own vision of things helping them develop ideas they never (nor the teacher) knew existed. This creative pedagogy empowers both teachers and students and prepares all
involved to thrive in what will be an exciting and ever changing future.

All interactions with students provide opportunities for evaluating achievement and, if necessary, students can be withdrawn for ‘catch up’ help and then returned to the tasks at hand.

Ideally schools need to appoint teachers with a diverse range of talents for enable them share their talents with their students including teachers with special qualifications in helping students with particular learning difficulties.

Class and school organisations

The shape and organisations of such learning communities will challenge the creativity of teachers.  Classrooms (or work spaces) need to be envisaged as an amalgam of an artist’s studio, a science laboratory, a media centre/workshop, and exhibition gallery. 

A class /school could be imagined as an educational version of a modern art gallery/museum such as Te Papa – with students researching topics and creating interactive displays for visitors encouraged by their tutors. Such schools already exist to some degree.

Industrial age remnants

Today’s classrooms all too often reflect a past industrial age with students moving from subject to subject or , at the secondary level, from room to room following a set timetable. This fragmentation is further fractured with the use of ability grouping (usually only in literacy and numeracy) and further fragmented by isolating such things as phonetic instruction in language. As a result it all too often is hard to see evidence of real creativity and student ‘voice’.

Re-imagining the school day

It will require a dramatic mind set to re-imagine flexible new organisations. It would be possible to block times for certain activities (as long as they were integrated with current study topics) and, as
Valuing imagination
teacher and students skill develops, times for various activities could be negotiated with the students – some schools currently do this.

With time students could take responsibility for arranging their own timetables determined by requirements for their negotiated individual learning plans – a form of contract learning.

An imaginary visit

 A visitor entering such a learning community, particularly if they reflect on their own more traditional school experience, will be in for a real surprise , particularly if the school is an open modern learning environment with no traditional classroom spaces

Visitors (provided with a student guide) would be amazed by the quality and the range of the work on display. If visitors have attended a science, maths or technology fair, combined with an arts festival, in the past, they will get the idea. The majority of the displays will interactive and involve the use of a range of computer controlled activities.

Nothing is new -the future is already here. 

We already have teachers and schools at all levels well along the way; it just needs for the ideas to spread throughout our education system. There are plenty of educationalists to provide inspiration such as Sir Ken Robinson who has stated that ‘creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy’ and Guy Claxton replaces Sir Ken’s ‘creativity’ with ‘learnacy’ in a similar quote,

The diverse programmes outlined tap into the ‘multiple intelligences’ ideas of Howard Gardner and also Eliot Eisner who, echoing Gardner, writes that we all interpret the environment with different ‘frameworks’. It’s time to face up to the issue of student disengagement for far too many students.

Elwyn Richardson
In the 1950s pioneer teacher Elwyn Richardson developed the genesis of such a learning community of scientists and artists.  It is timely that his inspirational book, ‘In the Early World’ has been recently republished by the NZCER.

It was John Dewey who wrote over a century ago that ‘children grow into adults as they live today’, that they learn through doing and reflecting on their experiences and that, if we want to ensure democracy endures, we need to have democratic schools.

If such a transformed ‘high trust’ education system were to eventuate (combined with appropriate salaries) talented individuals will want to become teachers and to be part of the unfolding adventure of learning; what better job could there be?