Thursday, June 18, 2009

Written in 76 - so what is new?

A display featuring work from students studying the symbolism of Churches. After visiting local churches students researched famous churches from around the world. This was typical of the teachers I worked with in 1976. The background made up of potato prints. Teacher John Cunningham.

I was visiting a school recently and while looking at their teacher resource shelf I came across an NZEI Yearbook No 6 published in 1976.

I remembered that one of the writers ( John Clough) had included some words from me in his article so it was interesting to read what I was saying in 1976.

As is aways the case the author was commenting on the need for schools to change to cope with the future that lay ahead of the students. After reading the artice, full of exiting ideas about the future shape of education it seems little has changed. Let's hope that our 'new' NZ Curriculum fares better.

The author begins by quoting John Holt a writer that had a great influence on us all in those days -and whose ideas are as pertinent as ever. Holt wrote:

'Oh, we make a lot off nice noises in schools about respect for the child and individual differences and the like. But our acts, as opposed to our talk, say to the child, "Your experience, your concerns, your curiosities, your needs, what you know, what you want, what you wonder about, what you hope for, what you fear, what you like or dislike, what you are good at or not so good at - all this is not the slightest importance, it counts for nothing. What counts here, and the only thing that counts, is what we know, what we think is important, what we want you to do, think and be." The child soon learns not to ask questions; the teacher isn't there to satisfy his curiosity. Having learnt to hide his curiosity, he later learns to be ashamed of it.Given no chance to find out who he is, and to develop that person, whoever it is, he soon comes to accept the adults evaluation of him.'

Clough say Holt's emphasis on acts rather talk is crucial as much sense as been spoken and read but classroom practices remain unchanged from decade to decade.

Clough goes on to quote William Glasser who writes, 'very few children come to school failures, none come labelled failures; it is school and school alone that pins the label of failure on children.Most of them have a success identity, regardless of their home or environment. In school they expect to achieve recognition....the shattering of this optimistic outlook is the most serious problem of elementary schools....We may wish to blame failure on their families, their environment, or their poverty, but we would be much wiser to blame it on their experience in school.'

That we still end up with over 20% of our students failing means we cannot ignore Glasser's words.
In 1973 50% of children who sat School Certificate failed! Glasser writes a lot about preserving every student's confidence to learn - an important part of the vision of our 'new' 2007 NZ Curriculum.

Then Clough comes to me! Saying Bruce Hammonds has for some time inspired and and encouraged a group of teachers in Taranaki. The teachers I worked with have long retired but the good work still goes one but now the emphasis is on whole school development. In 1970 it was all about individual creative teachers.

One quote sums up 'our' approach in those days, 'the classroom is seen as a development and extension of the child's own environment. Outdoors , children explore bush, stream, seashore and waste areas, look after pets , make models, read books, play games and talk. A major breakthrough comes when the children come to realize that this sort of learning , within limitations, is to be continued in the school'

Making use of students own experiences, question and concerns as the basis for learning is still an important issue, as is making full use of the immediate environment. This is all the more important these days as far too many children spent too much time receiving a second hand edited world through TV and computer screens.

From their own questions and concerns, and through environmental explorations, 'emerge' real reasons to write , read, to count and measure, and to make art. All students need are teachers with the 'artistry' and confidence to take advantage and amplify such learning opportunities.

All teachers would be well advised to read Holt's quote and to spent time in developing an authentic curriculum, one that 'emerges' out of their students question and visits. Developing every child as a 'confident life long learner', able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge', as our new curriculum asks, might be the real answer to avoiding school failure?

Or is it just more more fine words ? It is time for reality to back up the rhetoric. It can be done - today, as in the past, there are teacher already doing it. Such teachers however are aways at risk by imposed simplistic answers to school failure , like National Testing , so loved by populist politicians.

As Holt wrote -'whose education is it'?

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