Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Time for some heresy?

The word heretic simply means having an alternative point of view. Unfortunately new ideas have a way of upsetting those who hold the power or the status quo. To make things more difficult education, being essentially conservative, is always slow to change; schools are slow learners.

According to some writers we are poised on the edge of a new renaissance -a rebirth of creativity beyond our imagination . This post modern world will be an age of ideas and education systems that focus on developing the creative capital of all their citizens will lead the the way.

And, according to others, the world faces problem of sustainability that are beyond current thinking and if we don't develop new mindsets that appreciate the ecological complexity and connectedness of all aspects our lives them then the future of humankind will be placed at risk within decades.

If we want to develop 21stC education systems then we will have no choice but to re-imagine education dramatically. We need to implement some heretical alternative thoughts to transform current systems with their genesis in an industrial age an age well past its use by date. Strangely enough none of the idea being considered are new it is just that few school have put them all together. School are inherently conservative and some schools, secondary ones in particular, seem impervious to change. Those that transform themselves will be leading the way; the others will remain, like dinosaurs, relics of past thinking. Increasingly students, with access to powerful information technology will simply bi-pass schools that do not have the capability to transform themselves. Worldwide students are already disengaging from traditional schooling.

In New Zealand our 'new' curriculum provides an opportunity for schools to take creative steps to transform themselves. Ironically our new government's desire to introduce national testing may divert such positive energy and add to inherent school conservatism just when we need to value school leaders with the courage to be creative.

It would be a shame if the intentions of the new ' curriculum to focus all learning on developing all students as 'confident life long learners' who able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge' were to be overwhelmed by the political imposition of national standards.

Now for the heresies.

1 The focus from the earliest days should be on recognising and amplifying whatever gifts and talents students bring with them at every level of the system. This is the essence of the desire to personalise learning to replace the current mass industrial age 'one size fits all' emphasis. This emphasis places diversity, creativity and imagination as important as traditional literacy and numeracy.

2 An emphasis on develop every students gifts and talents places 'learnacy' ( keeping alive the desire to learn )as more important than the current over-emphasis on literacy and numeracy. 'Learnacy',a phrase coined by UK educationalist Guy Claxton, is all about ensuring all students retain their inbuilt evolutionary 'learning power'. These future learning dispositions, or capabilities, are defined as 'key competencies' in the 'new ' curriculum.

3 Schools need to be re-imagined as communities of inquiry based on students being actively involved in 'seeking, using and creating their own knowledge'. For this to happen students question, concern and interests need to betake seriously and be used by teachers to create an 'emergent' curriculum. Teachers , of course, would not just rely on student's questions, but would need to introduce studies to broaden an enrich their students. To be successful such studies would need to be 'rich, relevant,and rigorous' and negotiated with the students to ensure engagement and ownership. To develop in depth understanding it would be advisable to do 'fewer things well', in depth, as our 'new' curriculum suggests. Schools need to build on the natural disposition to inquiry students are born with. Inquiry studies will naturally integrate the various learning areas calling on subject discipline as required. This has implications for secondary education. Students need tobeable to intepet and express ther idea baoyut therworls in a range of ways - fron maths to the creative arts and not as framented subjects.

4 Although the inquiry, or learning how to learn process, is vital it is equally important that students are helped to produce the best work they can do. It both process and product. Whatever students produce should value their own 'voice', creativity and individuality. Students should be assessed by what the can do, demonstrate, exhibit, or perform. Teachers should never underestimate the power of an transformational experience - an activity, or situation, that literally changes ones mind in the process.

5 Thee learning philosophy that underpins transformational learning is a constructivist one where children, through experiences, literally change their own minds. This does not leave students to learn for themselves; teachers need to see themselves as 'creative learning coaches' providing diagnostic guidance ,assistance, challenge and feedback as required. The approach, in this respect is a 'co-constructivist' one relying on respectful relationship between learner and teacher.

6 Currently, in primary schooling, literacy and numeracy programmes have all but taken up all the available learning time. There is a need to 're frame' these 'traditional' areas so as to to place the emphasis on 'learnacy' or inquiry. Both these areas are important ways of gaining and expressing meaning and are best 'learnt' in the process of doing something that makes sense to the learners. Literacy and numeracy ought to be seen as a time to develop skills and understandings that students can use during their inquiry studies. Many teachers already do this but the real change is to see the inquiry studies a central and reading and maths as means to an end - 'reading to learn' and to 'be critical' and 'counting to learn' leading to considering 'what counts'.

If we are to place the focus on developing the 'gifts and talents' and 'learning power' of all students for primary schools the challenge will be to 're frame literacy and numeracy', for teachers at the secondary level, it will be developing flexible organisations to allow for integrated learning experiences.

Both just require a change of mind.

Both require teachers to be learners

As Amelia Earhart, the American aviator said, 'the most effective way is to do it'.

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