Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflections on diary thoughts; the artistry of teachers.

This painting arose because the student concerned wanted to make a painting of an experiment from the class science study on sounds. It features the experiment where bell like sounds from the swinging spoons reach the ears.It is also a an excellent painting showing a great use of paint.

As I was reading and then writing about the thoughts in my diary of my first months teaching I recognised the same challenges that face creative teachers today.

My experience in the classroom -which lasted three years - was my attempt to put into practice the beliefs about teaching and learning I had come to believe in and which I had helped other teachers implement as part of my role as an adviser.

Today we need to return to valuing the ideas of creative teachers and to capture and spread their ideas to other teachers and hopefully for courageous principals to develop schools around 'new' visions of teaching and learning.

Not so 'new' in reality as there have been precursors who had pioneered such approaches from way back in the 50s in NZ ( see Elwyn Richardson's book 'In The Early World") and teachers who courageously developed similar ideas through out the world right back to the days of John Dewey .For myself I was heavily influenced by the English Junior schools of the 60s and the US Open Education movements of the 70s. This was a time, before 'Tomorrows Schools' when creative teachers were valued, if not fully encouraged.

Since '86 distant curriculum experts, technocrats, assessment 'freaks' and politicians have held the upper hand. We need to return to valuing the artistry of creative teachers and to share their ideas.

So if I were to return to the classroom ( perish the thought) I would face the same situation as I did all those years ago. To be honest it is worse today as our schools are full of 'managerialism', and 'scientific' management procedures - none of which represent science - science, according to Professor Brian Cox Adviser to the UK Government, who says, that 'science is about being comfortable with the unknown'.

True creative teaching is about exploring the unknown not confirming the present. Being creative is the default mode of humans until 'flipped' by school experiences.

A look at the days programme in any school will show that traditional subjects still eat up most of the school day and that inquiry, or creative,learning is almost an afterthought. Assessment processes confirm this bias and Nation Standards will simply add to the problem. The reverse ought to be true. Experiential learning, inquiry, creativity, and personalised learning ought to be the default mode of learning.

So what are the attributes of a creative teacher - the beliefs I tried to implement during my teaching experience I have been reflecting about?

For one thing creative teachers respect the real world of the young people they 'teach' - they take their feelings, ideas, queries, theories, and lives seriously. They listen to young people and believe that, given the appropriate learning environment they all can learn in their own way

They believe that the power of learning ought to be shared with their students - they try their best to create their classrooms as democratic inquiry communities by negotiating learning, activities assessment criteria with their students.

They appreciate the diversity of their students and avoid a 'one size fits all' mentality - or a 'four groups fit all'. They believe in personalising any assistance according to need.

They want their students to being involved in 'digging deeply' into significant learning experiences rather than working through pre-planned progressions in subject areas.

They believe in personal excellence. They want all their students to be able to show growth and for all students to demonstrate their 'voice' and creativity in all they create. They believe strongly that all students can achieve personal excellence.

They see any Learning experience as: a chance to develop deep personal understandings; as an opportunity to tap individual student's' gifts and talents ;and to develop the dispositions ( or 'learning power') to be able to continue learning. True learning can only be seen ( or assessed) when the ideas are transferred to a new situation.

They see the curriculum as emerging from: the interests and concerns of their children; or arising from the local environment; or 'negotiated'; or introduced through, what Jerome Bruner calls, 'the canny art of intellectual temptation'. But however inquiry is introduced it needs to done deeply and well. Students' finished products, (and the room environment) need to demonstrate continual growth in intellectual understanding and aesthetic awareness.

Achieving such a personalised, inquiry based, creative programme in the future will require considerable courage. The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum demands a fresh look at how we organise our schools and classrooms - it is just not about 'rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to get a better view' which most most school seem to be doing.

A clue is see how much time is given to literacy and numeracy
, or at least, to see how much such areas have been 're framed' to serve the needs of student inquiry and creativity.

If we want our students to develop their personal set of gifts and talents, and to develop the competencies to become 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' as expressed in the NZC, then schools really need to be transformed. Schools need to leave the world of prescribed academic subjects and mass education processes and enter the world of personalised and creative learning.This is the world where their students are heading and where many already live today. It is no wonder that so many students currently fail today in schools not suited to them and no surprise to see which student are currently the 'winners'.

In the future all students need to leave schools as 'confident life long learners'.

The spark of hope is that such an education has been achieved in the past (even if in individual classrooms) and that there are still teachers and schools today who believe strongly in such a transformational vision.

Such teachers have the responsibility to continue their efforts - often against the odds. Creativity is never easy but aways exciting

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