Friday, February 20, 2009

Notes for developing a creative school

As we escape from the conformity of the previous curriculum teachers, and schools, have the opportunity to develop some new thinking and to create school more suited to the demands of a new creative era? Or will they?

I have the task next week to outline some ideas to a school staff about how to develop a creative school where all the gifts and talents of all students are valued. A school where all students leave 'confident, connected, life long learner - all able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'.

I thought I would share my 'emerging' thoughts; a work in progress.

The last big change in education happened in the period between the 1950s and 1970s. During this time straight rows, with the teacher all powerful at the front, was replaced by the discovery of the individual and group teaching. Little has really changed since then. In secondary schools the 'transmission model' still continues even though it is obviously failing. So far modern technology has not yet dramatically changed the teaching patterns established in the 60s.

Is developing really creative school possible?

What would it mean for teachers and students? consider the changes that happened in the 1960s.

What would have to change?

If we accepted that learning, the disposition to inquire and make meaning, and to be creative were inborn how would this change our roles? If these capabilities are inborn how come so many students seem to have lost this natural love of learning? Are schools part of the problem?

There are schools that already believe their role is to provide experiences to amplify ( or 'recover') this natural desire. The Emlio Reggio schools of Milan and the writings of James Beane come to mind. And of course the writing of progressive educators over the ages led by John Dewey.

The research of Piaget and Vygotsky led to the changes in the 50s and the concept of developmental or learner centred education. In NZ pioneer teachers, like Elwyn Richardson, actually developed such creative learning environment. Elwyn's book 'In the Early World' is still available from the NZCER.

New knowledge about how students learn now points to new transformational developments in schooling but so far little has changed.

Imagine a school led by students' questions and concerns; a school seen as a 'community of inquiry' ensuring every student leaves with a positive learning identity.

A school that made full use of their immediate natural and man made environment as a source for 'rich' integrated studies along with pertinent studies of other culture in time and space.

Schools that use student curiosity to develop 'learning power' ( 'key competencies') so that they have the capacity to 'know what to do when they do not know what to do', to quote Piaget.

Such a school would focus on 'doing fewer things well' so learning results in 'deep' understanding and positive attitudes.

Such a school would value the education in students of sensory awareness and value observational skills so as to develop language, students questions and to lead into imaginative expression of their ideas.

Such a school would provide students with a range of 'frameworks' to interpret any experience( covering the Learning Areas or 'multiple intelligences').

Whatever was learnt, or expressed, would be 'done well' with the thought that achieving personal excellence develops positive attitudes and feeling towards learning. All the expressive arts would be given full value and individual interpretations encouraged.

In such an environment modern technology would be integrated, as required, to research, express and share ideas gained.

Such a school would require 'artistry' from teachers to assist learners gain the skills required to achieve personal excellence. 'Teaching', to quote Jerome Bruner, would be 'the canny art of intellectual temptation'.

An inquiry approach would be integrated into all learning - essentially 'enlightened trial and error'; trying things out and keeping what works.

Teachers, with their focus on developing the gifts and talents of all learners would be aware of the 'multiple intelligences' research of Howard Gardner and would appreciate the individual learning style of each learner - 'personalised learning'.

Teachers would make use of a co-constructivist approach , one that values students questions and 'prior' ideas. An approach that challenged student's views and provided learning assistance as and when required. An approach that respected the learning style of each learner.

One big change would have to be made.

Literacy and numeracy blocks would have to be 're framed' so as to place the emphasis on developing the skills and depth of content to be used in the inquiry topic that would now be the centre stage of all learning.

While there would need to be processes in place to assure basic achievement in maths and reading the emphasis is on applying the skills in the service of inquiry learning. this would make both reading and maths more relevant for learners.

As for assessment the 'evidence' would be what the students can do and how they act. The whole school , the grounds, the room environments, student learning journals, the school website, would speak louder than any so called 'learning targets'. There would be visual 'messages' shouting out creativity wherever you looked.

Parents would cue to enrol their children and teachers would line up to involved.

I am sure that many teachers would want to do this? Few enjoy the 'surveillance culture' they are currently exposed to which is killing the joy of teaching let alone learning.

If we want all students to develop all their gifts and talents, to develop positive identities as 'confident life long learners', able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge', we have little choice.

It is beyond the current system still locked in the 1970s.

The intent of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum provides with an opportunity to develop such creative schools but only if we have the wit and imagination to take up the challenge.

We will have to wait and see.

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