Saturday, November 09, 2019

Teaching the Best Practice Way - Methods That Matter

Its been a while since I've posted on my blog but I thought the below was worth sharing - Bruce

Teaching the Best Practice Way

By Harvey Daniels and Marilyn Bizar.

A valuable book for teachers wanting to develop a modern learning environment.

The other day I heard an interview on National Radio expressing the sad fact that a great number of students leave school with no idea about what they want to do.

It made me wonder about what’s the point of school? For me, school ought to be premised on developing the gifts, talents and interests of all students.

Sadly, primary education is still centred around literacy and numeracy, all too often taught as self-contained subjects, and most secondary schools are still based on fragmented subject centred timetables. No wonder so many students leave without know the direction they want to head when they leave school!

 With this in mind I thought it might be useful to share the Seven Best Practices presented in the book ‘Teaching as Best Practice’. by Daniels and Bizar (Stenhouse Publishers USA).

 The books great strength is that it combines a progressive education philosophy (in line with the intent of the NZC) with practical examples of the philosophy in action across all levels of school. The book relates to the ideas of such educators as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, James Beane, William Glasser, Howard Gardner etc. and the examples are based on experiential hands on learning fuelled by the passion of extraordinary teachers. The book is antidote to the standards movement and hyper accountability of past decades.

The Seven Best Practices.

1 Reading as thinking.

 Reading is seen as transcending debates about phonics and is more about reading as thinking embedded in the context of broad and interesting integrative units where students are continually representing to learn in writing, art, and performance. 

Since reading is thinking students need to be provided with rich text worth thinking about, and strategies to help them think. Proficient readers are seen as ‘co-creators of meaning’ Context is everything; it’s about getting students ‘to think like historians, mathematicians, and scientists.  Practical classroom examples in the book clarify the approach.

2 Representing to Learn.

This method is based on the premise that humankind has always had an impulse to represent experience and that this goes beyond using words including strategies that are commonly classified as art, drama, dance and music, and today multimedia

There are a range of genres to explore and opportunities to extend and amplify a full range of intelligences (as researched by Howard Gardner). A range of practical examples are covered in the book.

3 Small group Activities.

Students need to be given opportunities to practice democracy and work together to solve problems (the writings of John Dewey). Many structures are provided, and practical classroom examples given to ensure groups work productively.

 Group tasks must be ‘have enough inherent structures to operate automatically, to remain engaged, on task and relevant’.

4 Classroom Workshop.

The authors see the classroom as a workshop a useful metaphor or ‘working laboratories or studios, where genuine knowledge is created, real products are made. and authentic inquiry is pursued.’ 

 In the workshop, learning laboratory classroom students choose individual or small group topics for investigation, inquiry, and research using long chunks of classroom time to do this.

 Teachers take on new roles modelling thinking, conferencing, offering well timed compact mini lessons and providing help as required. In the early days of workshopping teachers keep the time short lengthened as students become more independent. In workshops students learn to act, plan and question like a scientist. Classroom examples clarify the approach.

5 Authentic Experiences.

For many students schools need to get real and many people from John Dewey onwards have argued for school to be more lifelike, more genuine, more authentic.

 Just as in real life these experiences are inherently multi-disciplinary and messy problems; these problems need to be identified, complexity needs to be faced, and solutions found. Inquiry into authentic questions need to be generated from student experiences. Students need to become researchers, gathering data, asking questions, conducting experiments, recording information and discovering

This kind of inquiry becomes possible when the conditions that support Best Practices are in place; when the classroom is a community with students eager to take responsibly for hands on experiential learning and with opportunities to express what they are thinking,  and able to use technology to advance their inquiries. 

The authors believe ‘that technology can leverage some of the best teaching if used widely ‘and that it can ‘play a lead or supporting role’ once the appropriate pedagogy is in place.

 Once again a range of practical examples are provided.

6 Reflective Assessment.

Students need to be helped become self-monitoring, self-regulating, able to be in control of their own learning, able to set ambitious goals, keep their own records, adjust their efforts, make good decisions and grow by healthy and measured feedback.

This is in contrast to the toxic current accountability movement which the authors state simply correlates to student socioeconomic status of students, is inconsistent with what is known about how students learn and distort teaching often resulting in streaming, tracking and ability group segregation. A range of practical alternatives are provided.

7 Integrative Units

The writers save the best for last. 

The last best practice blends all the other six methods into days or weeks of rich, cross disciplinary investigations driven by student interest and scaffolded by teachers who model, coach, and manage the inquiry process

With integrative units teachers step emphatically out of single subject instruction and
lead their students into inquiries as complex and multi-disciplinary as the real issues grown-ups face as workers, parents and citizens.

Teachers believe that students can learn subject matter (including basic skills) amid holistic, integrated experiences. This approach doesn’t mean that traditional subjects are disrespected or abandoned. On the contrary, as James Beane writes, ‘the disciplines of knowledge are useful and necessary allies of curriculum integration with knowledge being called upon to support student investigations as required.


Nome of the above will be new to progressive primary teachers and those secondary teachers busy transforming their schools, often in new purpose built environments.

 For many the book will be a practical inspiration to confirm or transform their teaching.

If widely applied in our school system students will leave with their talents, interests and passion tapped and amplified, equipped with appropriate learning skills, and will not leave schools not knowing what to do with their future – they will have seen the point of their schooling.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

A lost voice for creative education - time to call it a day?

Time to call it a day?

Readings week 2 July 2019

Our Leading-Learning blog has a long history.

 It began as Primary Arts Magazines set up by Wayne Morris and Bruce in 1980. Over 25 editions were printed. They were hand compiled and posted and when subscribers got over 500 it was all too much.
Some of the 25 Primary Art Magazines

The premise of the magazine was to share the ideas of creative teachers – teachers who were developing student centred programmes with an emphasis on using the local environment, the importance of the creative arts and develop stimulating room environments featuring student work.

Wayne and Bruce then developed a website in the 90s with an associated e-zine which was sent out to 4000 members – this worked well until, with a change of web master the e-zines were rejected as spam by many schools.

At this stage Bruce established the Leading–Learning blog in 2004 and in later years Allan Alach joined him in this. 1569 blogs have been posted with a total of 2 million visits.

Let's do it!

Tomorrows Schools have had a corrosive effect on school collaboration

End of sharing
Public schooling has been distorted by the competitive ethic of self centred Tomorrows Schools and, in particular the corrosive effect of National Standards.

We now feel that it’s time to call it a day as we no longer have any real contact with schools and we also feel that schools have been hi-jacked by standardised teaching, an over emphasis on literacy and numeracy (nine years of National Standards has all but killed real creativity in primary schools). We wrote about this sharing Professor Peter OConner’s view in our last blog.

The last straw.Above a impersonal school report with a antiquated narrow focus from a large school. The sign of a system gone terribly wrong. What gifts and talents have been developed? What key competencies have been identified and amplified?

Matt Damon teacher mother - see report above!!!

It is an interesting challenge to reflect on the influences that have contributed to your educational philosophy - this would make an interesting staff meeting topic?

 Bruce’s creative education journey

Bruce has had a long career as a school adviser beginning in the 60s – first in science then in art. Bruce and Allan Alach were both influenced by philosophy expressed in the inspirational book In the Early World written by Elwyn Richardson.  Thankfully the book has been recently reprinted by the NZCER and we recommend all schools buy a copy.

Some of Bruce's publications
As an adviser, in the mid-sixties, Bruce was influenced by teachers, mainly in small rural schools, who were implementing similar ideas to those written about by Elwyn. Central to this creativity (it was the 60s!) was the influence of Dr Beeby who had introduced a developmental teaching philosophy post WW2.  Also behind such ideas was the philosophy of American educator JohnDewey.

TheArt Advisers, established by Dr Beeby, assumed an important role in spreading the ideas of creative teachers. The art advisers ran related arts programmesthroughout New Zealand, one of which Bruce attended. The arts are vital to ensure students a positive sense of self – through art, language, music and dance.

Teachers in rural schools introduced the first integrated programmes moving away from the heavily timetables programmes, with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy, of the day. Schools, under the pressure of National Standards, have move back to these programmes.

Four other influences.

The Taranaki Findings
Firstly, the English child centred primary schools (sadly lost under the pressure of the National Curriculum, testing and league tables) that Bruce experienced while teaching in England in 1969. This experience taught Bruce about the importance of slowing the pace of student work to develop quality, teacher displays to attract student curiosity and of displaying students work.  Bruce worked with a group of Taranaki teachers in the 70sintroducing the open ended integratedinquiry programmes using the Nuffield Junior Science Project as a resource.

The second influence was the open education movement from the United States which had a similar student centred inquiry philosophy and led to the development of open plan schools. John Holt’s books HowChildren Learn and How Children Fail were key books and more relevant than ever.

 The third influence came from the lateKelvin Smythe and his holistic developmental approach. Kelvin believed strongly in the importance of the affective in education and deplored the current fetish of objectivity.

The final influence was Bruce’s involvement with the University of Waikato School of Education Learning in Science Project – essentially an inquiry model that valued students’ prior ideas and set out to challenge them.

It was an amalgam of the above ideas that Bruce developed as a classroom teacher, school principal and later working as a school adviser for Massey University School of Education and then independently throughout NZ and internationally. At this point Bruce met up with Allan Alach, then a school principal, who shared similar ideas. 

The centrality of the creative classroom teacher.

John Holt gives up on schools
Central to this philosophy is the centrality of the creative classroom teacher to any real lasting innovation - a position that has become almost untenable under the last decades of compliance and standardisation. Time to call it a day?

In the late 70s one of our open education ‘gurus’John Holt, (author of How Children Learn and How Children Fail), disappointed us by giving up on schools ever being transformed in his book ‘Instead of Schools’.

It didn’t deter us them but we have now almost reached the same conclusion. Almost, because we know there are still teachers out their battling on, and with the change ofgovernment, maybe the spirit of the 2007New Zealand Curriculum will be implemented. Maybe? We have done our best.

What has really changed the past three decades - not much in our opinion - that is if you ignore the false promise of modern technology which is no 'silver bullet' and more often a distraction an also the recycling of open plan schools of the 70s with modern learning environmnts.

Not Literacy and numeracy and not tiresome assessment

The other day Bruce was asked what would he do
if he had a magic wand to transform schools?

The first thing would be to ask the question of what’s the point of school? And what teaching beliefs would underpin such a school?

Bruce has always believed the challenge of schooling was to identify, develop, amplify and enhance to gifts and talents of all students.  The word education comes from ‘to bring the gifts out’. This view is reflected by Sir Ken Robinson’s quote ‘creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy’ and also Guy Claxton who has said ‘learnacy is as important as literacy and numeracy’. 
Making certain students’ developed positive attitudes towards all areas of learning would need to be assured.

The role of school is to create those conditions that make students want to learn; not have to learn but want to learn more about self, others, and the world. The teacher’s role is to help the learner
forge connections between what he or she wants to know and what a learner wants to learn.

What if we started with the premise that school could be the most interesting place in a young person’s life? The challenge is to create experiences and contexts in classrooms where students can discover things they don’t know they love by implementing project that spur creativity, ownership and relevance.

Learning experiences would need to feature real experiences
through the senses and that information technology can be integrated in such learning but that it is no ‘silver bullet’ in itself. 

Projects would be based around students’ questions, value their current theories, and challenge
Valuing student questions and theories
them to consider new views.
This does not leave studies to students to decide – the teacher’s role is best summed up by Jerome Bruner ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’.

Literacy and numeracy would be learnt through real contexts and help given as an when necessary.The current emphasis has not improved our reading scores on international tests and maths still creates a feeling of maths anxiety. So much current teaching is based on the premise that without teachers students wouldn't learn - time to create the conditions and trust students do what they do naturally - learn!

Literacy and numeracy need to be re-imagined as foundation skills best learnt in real contexts .

The artistry of a creative teacher.

Bruce believes that the feeling from completing an excellent piece of learning - exceeding ones personal best - in any Learning Area is the most powerful motivation of all.  Helping students who exhibit lack of ability/interest achieve a sense of pride in any activity is the artistry of a creative teacher - a teachers who is able to slow the pace of work to allow positive interactions

Bruce also believed we do not have an ‘achievement gap’ but more an ‘opportunity gap’ – the school’s role is to create the conditions to give every learner the opportunity to learn through having positive experiences (this would mean the banning of ability grouping). 

The teachers appointed would need to align all their interactions with their students behind such ideas. Teachers would be selected also for their diverse set of interests because Bruce believes that we learn from the company we keep areas of learning would need to be assured.

An exciting room

The total environment is the ultimate teacher.

Bruce sees the total culture developed as the best teacher. Establishing a ‘tempting’ environment to attract students’ curiosity is the challenge for teachers.  To achieve this the schools needs to be envisaged as an amalgam of an artist’s studio, a science/technology lab, a media centre, drama and music areas, and plentiful areas to exhibit and display student creativity – an educational Te Papa – where students and teachers work together in teams solving problems and displaying their results for all to see.

And as for assessment – just check out the portfolios of the students’ involved. The concept to be valued is for every student to better their own ‘personal best’.

Imagine how schools would be transformed if such ideas were implemented?

Bruce Hammonds
Allan Alach

Current education

Display of work

This week's Readings

Professor Peter O’Connor’s article about the killing of creativity.

Educational Transformation.

The importance of the arts in the development of the self
Most important question   

Helping the students answer the question who am I?

How to organize the school day in a 21st Context

The need to slow the pace of work the key to quality

It's our responsibility to keep the creative arts alive
Schools must ensure that the creative arts aren't squeezed out and that the temptation to narrow the curriculum doesn’t win

Schools are rethinking classroom design to encourage collaboration, creativity

In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 3

Another instalment from Kelvin Smythe’s ATTACK series that he completed just before he died:
The pure, uncomplicated expression of education values that follows has its origin deep in our
culture. But, particularly from the mid-thirties, there was a coming together of events, ideas and people including the depression, the election of a Labour government, the political education leadership of Peter Fraser, the ideas of John Dewey, progressive education thinkers from England, the influence of New Zealand educationists like Clarence Beeby and, tellingly for what follows, Gwen Somerset, a New Zealand-born primary teacher and infant mistress.’

Maybe, one day,  all schools will truly be student centred and creative - developing the gifts and talents of all students.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The need for creativity in our schools - time to be centre stage again

Real creativity
 – the missing element in education
Readings 24th June 2019

We are coming to the thought that we are speaking to a minority in our efforts to encourage an education system that places creativity and the creative arts central  to teaching and learning.

Confirmed by views seen recently on TV

The views of classrooms on show (with a couple of exceptions) through the teachers’ strike
indicated to us a system featuring an emphasis on literacy and numeracy with work on display more to do with teachers than celebrating student creativity.

 As well, postings on the Teachers’ Facebook page seem to illustrate creativity more as decoration often clone like in appearance.  And the issue of workload seems to relate to an obsession with testing, assessment and associated documentation once again focused around literacy and numeracy – areas that seem to take up most of the morning leaving little time for equally important Learning Areas. And to make it worse associated with demeaning ability grouping.

Let’s leave current formulaic teaching models.

Formulaic teaching
Formulaic teaching seems entrenched. WALTs, learning intentions, success criteria, the over use of feedback, the growing emphasis on phonics indicates a teacher orientated approach to learning, one in which creativity is at risk.

Where is the emphasis on developing the gifts and talents of students?

We do recognize areas that value student creativity such as: play based learning (with its similarity to 1950/60s developmental teaching); the concept of student agency; place based learning; Project Based Learning; and personalized learning (which, however, has been captured by ‘thin’ or fragile’ learning via Google) and the potential of Flexible Learning Environments.

Where has the creativity gone?

Professor Peter O’Connor (Faculty of Education Auckland University) has written "Schools as we know them were originally designed at the same time as mass industrialization began. Not
Prof Peter O'Conner
surprisingly factories and schools centre around the testing and standardization of the products they make and value conformity and uniformity.

The need to take risks

Creativity in these environments shrivels because its fundamental includes a willingness to take risks, to be curious, to be playful with ideas and to consider possibilities to make something not seen or imagined before. This approach has never been a feature of New Zealand schools except in isolated instances and for a brief period in the 1950s, when progressive education philosophies were introduced.

Art and well being

The vitality of schools at the time was based on the twin ideas that the arts train the imagination, and the social imagination is vital for social progress, social justice and national wellbeing. There was a belief that the arts and education were a strong foundation stones for a strong democracy.

The need for creative empathetic citizens

It was understood that one of the school’s primary functions was to create critical, creative empathetic citizens as a safeguard against the rise of extremism.”

Creativity killed by National Standards and STEM

O’Connor continues, “I believe nine years of National Standards essentially killed off creativity in New Zealand schools. The overriding focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) was highly effective in dismantling the arts across the whole education system…”.

“The arts curriculum is the vital tool for teachers to be creative with their children and be creative themselves.”

We couldn’t agree more with ProfessorO’Connor
Sir Ken Robinson - a similar challenge

Sir Ken Robinson writes a similar story about the need to move away from current standardization. He writes one role of education is to help people develop their natural talents and abilities’. ‘We have the opportunity to rethink the whole ecosystem of education. We need to reinvent schools…..We need to stir the motivation , vision, optimism and political commitment’.

The Modern Learning site – and Seymour Sarason

The Modern Learning site always provides valuable inspiration for teachers willing to move into creative teaching. Their writers often quote Seymour Sarason about his need for the artistry of teaching who says teachers need to create ‘those conditions that make students want to learn;
not have to learn but want to learn more about self, others, and the world… seek to help the child forge connections between what he or she wants to know and what the child wants to learn’.

What if ....

So, the Modern Learners write ‘what if we started with the premise that school could be the most interesting place in a young person’s life given our curious, connected, self-directed modern learners are truly capable of doing what was previously unimaginable.’

 From a New Zealand site: Number Agents

In contrast New Zealand site Number Agents write, ‘we need to stop constantly measuring children against so called benchmarks. Measuring and gathering data does nothing to help the child’s growth, but does take up time that could instead be used for fostering and inspiring the joy of learning.

An old Rural Adviser once said ‘teachers have two important attributes, their energy and their time and if they waste in on b/s they can’t teach’.

The artistry of the creative teacher - Modern Learning site

‘The question is’, Gary Stager writes in a Modern Learning posting, ‘how can we create
experiences and context in classroom where kids can discover things they don’t know they love? This is done by implementing good projects that spur creativity, ownership and relevance'

One of our favourite quotes comes from Jerome Bruner, who says 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'.

.Another favourite writer of ours is Frank Smith who writes, ‘we become like the company we keep, we learn to be like them .. the identification creates the possibilities of learning. All learning pivots on who we think we are, and who we see ourselves as capable of becoming’.

A metaphor for a classroom.

We see classrooms as an amalgam of a museum, art studio, media centre, laboratory and exhibition gallery populated by interesting talented teachers

In such a rich and challenging environment students will learn – it’s what they do.

No need for the current tiresome assessment models – the work the students complete, their portfolios, will be evaluation enough.

Bruce Hammonds and Allan Alach

This weeks readings

Professor Peter O’Connor – the killing of creativity in our schools

‘I believe nine years of National Standards essentially killed off creativity in New Zealand schools. The overriding focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) was highly effective in dismantling the arts across the whole education system.'
Sir Ken Robinson – time to personalize education

Standardisation broke education. Here's how we can fix our schools. "The movement towards personalisation is already advancing in medicine. We must move quickly in that direction in education, too”’
Critically Endangered: The Art of Teaching from Longworth Education site ( NZ)

In the face of so much science, a critical but overlooked, component to teaching is becoming increasingly rare in the classroom - creativity.  An area that is not easily quantified into numerical data, inputs and outputs, the use of creativity by a classroom teacher to ensure a level of joy in learning and teaching extends the science of teaching into the art of it.’
The Benefits of Cultivating Curiosity in Kids

‘Despite the centrality of curiosity to all scientific endeavors, there’s a relative dearth of studies on the subject itself.
Fortunately, scientists are actively unraveling this concept and, in the process, making a convincing case that we can and should teach young minds to embrace their inquisitive nature.’

Teachers need to get students involved in open studies with no known answers

Here are ten criteria for ‘wicked problems’”.
This is Why We Must Be Teaching With Imagination, and How to Do It

‘Imagination is what stays when teachers are gone from their students’ lives. It’s what students have taken from a creative classroom and into real life. While basic knowledge and facts are important building blocks, imagination is the synthesis of that knowledge. It’s the vehicle that gets learners from point A to point B on their own.’
In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 2

Another instalment from Kelvin Smythe’s ATTACK series that he completed just before he died:
‘Except as a chronological expression, 21st century education is nothing special, remaining part of a continuity that, despite considerable twisting and turning, remains just that, a continuity; the technological disruption predicted for that chronological expression being just a further example of ideological disruption that is always there or near in the sensitive and value-laden area of school education.’
Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play.

‘But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.’
For more information about the need for educational transformation, creativity and talent development in earlier blogs: