Sunday, June 28, 2009

We want the 'wow factor'( back)!

Illustration from a Guardian article 26th May 09 showing the teacher with her class cooking Chinese food as part of a literacy lesson based on a Chinese story.

It seemed , for a while, that New Zealand, with its 'new' 07 curriculum, was a leader in the creative educational field. That vision has been put on hold by the new government's plan to impose National Standards on primary schools. The imposition of National Standards , a concept already shown to be failing in the UK and the US, will have the effect of distracting teacher energy away from implementing the 'new ' curriculum and, more disturbing, could lead to the development of 'league tables'. We are becoming followers of failed imported ideas again!

Ironically, in the UK, a new creative curriculum is being introduced which doesn't sound too far away from our own 'new' curriculum.

The UK 'new' creative curriculum is encouraging teachers to 'engage children in learning everything
from maths to drama' as part of integrated themes; 'most subjects are to be taught through a broad theme, used for up to one term at a time.'

In the illustration above of a seven year old student is talking about next weeks medieval day where she will go dressed up as a maid or a princess, not just for fun, but as a way of themed learning system her school has adopted. The over-arching theme of the class was castles. Students are shown eating stir fried vegetables and rice that they have prepared as part of a literacy lesson. This is a bit strange - I would have thought they might have been studying medieval cooking? The idea of integrating literacy time to contribute to providing content ideas for current studies is a vital one.

This way of teaching was once well established in New Zealand classrooms until the imposition of the National Curriculum of the 80s with all its impossible learning objectives to be assessed. Ironically this technocratic curriculum was modelled on an earlier UK National Curriculum. It seems our Ministry loves to be second!!

Another school in the article reports that in response to a growing awareness that children were not enjoying learning as much as they could the school concerned decided to review their national curriculum and the time it was spending on different objectives. In this we were well ahead with our 'new' 07 New Zealand Curriculum - well up until now.

Plans for an overall of the primary curriculum was drawn up by former Ofsted chief Sir Jim Ross was published last month. Ofsted is the UK equivalent ERO. He recommended 'six areas of learning' designed to allow more flexibility and to encourage cross curricular teaching. The areas are : understanding the arts; understanding English; communication and languages, historical, geographical and social understandings; understanding physical development, health and well being, mathematical understanding; and scientific and technological understanding.

It might have been simpler for the UK to take our 07 curriculum in exchange for their National Standards testing and league tables? in the UK their 'new' curriculum ( their is nothing very new about their suggestion for those who can remember the 1967 Plowden Report)is to be implemented by 2011.

Many schools in the UK (as in New Zealand) already have a more creative curriculum.One UK school has decided to introduce an 'inquiry- based' curriculum- so called because 'every lesson starts with a question.' In this school most subjects are taught through broad themes that run for between half a term and a term. Topics covered are castles, space, water and mini-beasts. Each theme has a history or geography element, and uses discussion and debate to extend pupils' emotional and social development. Schools still have to meet national curriculum objectives and sit the UK national tests. Such schools, teaching in this creative way report that their students attitudes have been transformed.

Teachers in such schools are including the students in planning their own work and teachers report that the new curriculum gives them more flexibility with the timetable. Tne key is to develop in students the confidence to tackle whatever is required.

New Zealand teacher, who have read the NZC, will resonate with such ideas - so will older teachers with memories that reach before the imposition of the bureaucratic curriculum of the 80s; for such teachers it is 'back to the future'.

The article asks why are not more schools moving towards such creative approaches?

New Zealand teachers will soon have their own answer to the question but in the UK Tim Burgess author of the report 'Lifting the Lid on the Creative Curriculum' says schools, 'are often reluctant because of an oppressive data -police mentality and fear of standards agenda'. He writes, 'that although schools had been given the green light to be more flexible at the same time they were under huge pressure to meet targets and adhere to standards. Moving to a creative curriculum involves taking risks - some schools don't believe it will improve results'.

In Burgess's report to the National College for School Leadership he looked closely at creative schools and found all had good results but more importantly the approach had 'given teachers back a sense of ownership and behavioral problems had evaporated.'

He believes teachers are at the heart of the creative curriculum and that overly prescriptive approach of the last 15 years had had a de-professionalizing effect. The lack of emphasis had turned teachers into technicians.if teacher are empowered and enthusiastic, that rubs off on the children.This is an exciting time if you have passion, vision and are prepared to take risks.'

If only our populist government had such wisdom - instead they are leading us back into the past.

One school written up in the article says that the new creative curriculum has brought a 'wow factor' to their school. This school says it want its children to 'have a chance to learn by doing rather than just by reading and watching videos.' The principal writes that 'the word creative can be misinterpreted as woolly , but this is a child-friendly and extremely rigorous curriculum. We want the children to be outside as much as possible, doing hand-on activities and getting dirty.'

The operational director of the NCSL ( National College of School Leadership) says the debate around engaging children in learning should focus on the quality of teaching and school leadership rather than the type of curriculum a school follows.' He continues, ' the important thing is that children have deep and rich learning experiences whether their school follows a creative curriculum or a more traditional one. However the pressure on principals often 'mean they lack time to talk to staff about how to provide the best learning experiences for children.'

The last school refereed to had had a creative curriculum for six years and maintains that the point of a creative education is that school can still teach all key skills but in ways that use the interests of the children and teachers and reports that parents are as enthusiastic as the children.

So, while we are being lead back to a conservatist Victorian 'three Rs' mentality, in the UK schools are moving in ways that we were once seen as leaders in.

Who would want to be a teacher in NZ?

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