Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The killing of creativity by the technocrats.

John Hattie, professor of education Auckland University, confidante of the present Minister of Education. Is his influence undermining the creativity of our teachers?Kelvin Smythe thinks so and, after visiting a number of classrooms, I have to agree with him. Read Kelvin's full article on his site.

As I visit classrooms I have become increasingly concerned about the use of a number of strategies as defined by John Hattie and promulgated by the contracted advisers spreading the word about his 'best practices'.

Somehow, just because Hattie has amalgamated every piece of 'school effectiveness' research available ( mainly it seems from the USA) his findings, it seems, ought to be taken for read. The opposite ought to be the case - we need to be very wary of such so called 'meta research.'. More worrying however is that the approaches he is peddling is pushing into the background the home grown innovative creative learning centred philosophy that was once an important element in many classrooms. Overseas experts aways seem to know best - or those that return with their carpet bag full of snake oil.

Smythe,after reading Hattie's book 'Visible Learning', writes that Hattie's 'feedback' is really attached to a direct instruction process .It is more concerned with testable transmission of teacher devised content to the students and as such is antithetical to individuality and creativity. The book, according to Smythe, is 'skewed to a certain style of teaching and learning ( learning set up for measurement) and towards appealing to conservative influences'. Enter, from the right, the School Review Office to collect the evidence, and the Minister's National Standards to narrow teaching.

The classrooms I visit are evidence to this conformity. His 'feedback' ( and 'feed-forward') process leads to 'next step' teaching driven by the teacher's 'intentions'. Applied to language and art it develops into formulaic teaching and the results, though of a high conformist standard, are anything but creative.

What is developing as Hattie's idea are being implemented is a 'a narrow, controlled, teacher dominated classroom practice'. According to Smythe , it is he writes, 'delivering direct instruction' and is 'impoverishing learning'. Nothing wrong with direct instruction it its place, Smythe says, but it has little to do with developing creative students who are 'active seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' that is the vision of our 'new' cuuriculum.

And it is not as if 'feedback' is anything new. Just a technocratic term for teachers coming alongside the students to assist them in their learning. Creative teachers observe and naturally provide such information but with sensitivity. In such creative 'learning communities' problems cannot be approached in an exact 'next step' way because space needs to be given for student creativity and imagination. Hattie, Smythe writes, seems uncomfortable with the the affective, with creativity. He prefers only what can be measured.

Smythe is warning us not to be drawn into false precision and certainty of Hattie's 'next step' teaching. Hattie is not presenting bold ideas, they are at best, according to Smythe, simply 'tightening of the screws on a fairly ordinary and long standing' direct teaching approach.

So be careful when using the latest jargon: 'learning intentions', 'success criteria', 'WALTS', 'modeling', 'guided practice' or you will be leading your students to conformist learning and, in the process, limiting their innate individuality and creativity. As an antidote, at least, ensure that students appreciate the need for individual creativity and value their 'voice' in what they present.

Smythe writes that Hattie is positioning himself ( and his associates) to dominate professional development in New Zealand. We already have Hattie's 'clunky' AsTTle standardized tests. Hattie is also agitating for performance pay possibly based on his tests! As if ERO, with their 'evidence based teaching', isn't enough. Creativity and imagination will as aways be the losers when it comes to the 'measure what you can see technocrats'. Add to this the reactionary confusion being created by the introduction of National Standards. What is the bet that the Minister, to compare schools, will need 'one size fits all' national testing to be able to do this - and guess who will be waiting in the wings to develop them!

Do we really want to go down the school effectiveness, teacher dominated, style of formal assessments as seen in the USA and the 'league tables' of the UK. If students are to thrive in an uncertain future they will need more than Victorian Industrial aged litearcy and numeracy skills - they will need to have all their gifts and talents developed, their creativity, their imagination and their innate desire to learn alive and well.

To avoid this narrow teacher dominated pedagogy Smythe writes that the need is for students to think deeply about what they are learning and that feedback has always been a natural part of this process.

Smythe draws attention to three creative models for teaching where learning is developed in a more holistic and personal way.

In 'Smythe's' writing process the main aim is to write with honesty and clarity. The teacher is circumspect in making suggestion always aware that it is the students who are creating their ideas rather than being pressurized by WALTS, 'success criteria',teacher 'intentions' and 'feedback'. Smythe's teachers sensitively 'nudge' students to think more deeply. always alert to preserving each students 'voice'. Later students share their writing and, by this means, become aware of new possibilities for the future. Feedback in this process is done judicially.

Smythe's second model is in science based on the almost forgotten Learning In Science Project( LISP). This model, writes, Smythe, 'provides for Hatties "corrective information" and "alternative strategies" but in a way that guided by the teacher, gives children a sense of initiative and opportunity to make their own discoveries.'

In such a generative model it is impossible for learning to be predefined by teacher 'learning intentions'. The process begins with children's own questions and their current ideas ( theories) and then challenges them to think more deeply about what they believe. Student answers are often not right or wrong but are consistent with the evidence the student has gathered. This is creative learning at its best - ideas being continually modified by further experience. Student research should reflect the evolution of their findings and why they have changed their minds, if indeed they have.

Such student research is week in schools.

The final model Smythe brings to our attention is a holistic topic teaching. Topic teaching is used in a number of learning areas. Such teaching, in contrast to the deterministic approach taken by Hattie, and following the philosophy of John Dewey, the children will not always be provided with a clear idea of where the problem they are exploring might lead them. However as they investigate they wIll find themselves appreciating main aim of the project. This is in line with the Learning in Science Project outlined above.

Such an approach values in-depth understanding and not, as is all too often the case, only valuing the process. A quick read of student's' research findings will soon indicate if their personal understanding and 'voice' are being reflected.

Once again this is all too often missing,

In such a creative approaches to teaching space is provided for children to come up with ideas that had not been prefigured by the teacher in the form of 'learning intentions'. 'The best way to develop imagination and creativity is genuine open-endedness in the setting up of activities', writes Smythe.

Hattie, writes Smythe, comes at learning from an academic and clinical perspective of learning; he is coming from pedagogy of direct instruction. Smythe, in contrast, says he is coming from the reality of how classrooms actually work, especially making the best use of classrooms as learning communities. In such learning communities there are many things that cannot be easily measured, things simply evolve.

Smythe is happy to agree with some of Hattie' research findings but believes much of what Hattie has written about is a natural part of creative teaching. Most of all Smythe want teachers to leave spaces for children to discover things for themselves, to value their imagination and idiosyncratic 'voices'.

Smythe quotes an example about language teaching from Hattie's book to make a point. Hattie discusses the the use of 'learning intentions' and how they require explicit 'success criteria' to enable their 'performance to be judged'. In a writing example he says, ' What you're looking for is that you have used at least five effective adjectives'!!!

Smythe is in despair at such an approach completely lacking in integrity, honesty and respect for the child's 'voice'. It is particularly worrying to Smythe when there are New Zealand inspirational models of the highest quality for teachers to make us of.

Smythe is deeply unimpressed with Hattie's dominance over New Zealand education. Education is being monopolised by overseas 'experts', populist politicians, education bureaucrats, contracted advisers, and commercialized academics.

Smythe is intent on not giving Hattie a free pass to pass his formulaic ideas off as blueprint tor education, ideas complicit with conservatist educational influences including the Education Review Office.

Smythe still gains strength from the existence,against all odds, of strong vestiges of the imaginative and creative teachers in our classrooms.

He urges you all to make your voices heard.

This is my attempt - I am with Kelvin.

I am for valuing imagination and creativity.

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