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?

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