Sunday, November 7, 2010

A small inquiry study - and some big issues.

Teachers should always be on the alert for inquiry challenges for their students. Teaching,as Jerome Bruner says, 'is the canny art of intellectual temptation'. At this time of the years, if inquiry learning has been central to learning, students ought by now to have in place all the skills to be able to do so. This presumes that the literacy time has been made full use of to develop the NZC 'seeking, using and creating skills'. Inqury skills ought to have been introduced (and 'scaffolded') by teachers during the year. The best assessment of learning is not all the tests teachers currenty give students , often out of context, but to get students to choose and complete an independent study of their own choice.

I bet few kids can! the ability to inquire is the point of real life learning!

November is the time to take a close look at a flax plant as they are now in full flower. Most schools have a few plants in their school grounds; some even are close to flax plants growing in their natural habitat.

What do your students know about flax bushes? Do they know anything of the plant itself as a species? How many have flax in their home gardens? Do they know any thing about its place in Maori culture? Do they know anything about the place of flax in early European commerce?

If not what about a mini inquiry unit - possibly a chance to introduce some real inquiry skills before the class is given a choice of studies for a final 'authentic' assessment.

If you want some help here is a link to assist you.
And another.

While I talking about 'real' inquiry it was enlightening to read Kelvin Smythe's recent comments about developing a 'feeling for' approach to learning. He comments that most 'so called' inquiry learning is more 'finding out' about rather than developing a 'feeling for' inquiry - or if studying other cultures the people themselves.

He writes:

There is another way to the curriculum, ironically, it is our way, our holistic way, which had its antecedence in the late ‘30s, its burgeoning in the ‘40s through the ‘60s, and its embedded influence in classroom practice and decision-making until the ‘80s when New Zealand education became dominated by the managerialist and quantitative philosophy imported from America, and by such accompanying metaphors as accountability, external reviews, stakeholders, provider capture, assessment, national standards, achievement objectives, skills, and education as a science.

This other way still retains influence in many of our practices and in the hearts and minds of those who have directly experienced it and who are dismayed that education has lost its soul to a system designed by politicians, education bureaucrats and quantitative academics for ease of political and bureaucratic control.

The feeling for approach to social studies.... was one of those curriculum practices influenced by the holistic philosophy and was to become a reasonably significant expression of it, before, too, it was eclipsed by the managerialist and quantitative philosophy of the ‘80s. It was an approach to social studies which had as its purpose the developing of a feeling for the people being studied by gaining a considerable amount of information about those people in an interesting way, to powerful affective effect – which is a key characteristic of the holistic.

Those interesting ways encompassed such characteristics as using real contexts, divergent and imaginative thinking, and genuine problem solving. All this organised by a dynamic main aim which permitted considerable teaching and learning manoeuvre, supported by a few aims, with achievement objectives eschewed as objectives, but embraced as criteria for observational criteria – another key characteristic of the holistic.

As well as the main aim to tie the feeling for approach to social studies together was the idea of teaching as an art in which the teacher with a feeling for the feeling for made decisions that made it all work for children.

The feeling for basis to the curriculum is based on the affective through cognitive challenge, on children gaining knowledge and understandings that combine to have significant affective effect. The holistic nature of the feeling for basis to the curriculum is based on the integration of the affective, cognitive, and skill through an overarching main aim. This main aim is so designed to provide both considerable teaching and learning freedom and definite teaching and learning coherence. Skills being given attention to the extent they are used for gaining and using knowledge.

The label ‘feeling for’ is used because it points, in the first instance, directly to the child, not some abstract programme quality. It means considerably more than children expressing interest or enthusiasm for their learning; it is about an affective response being established that is so stable and powerful as to invoke the transformational and, on occasion, to achieve it.

The way a feeling for is established, and the nature and focus of that feeling for, will, of course, vary from curriculum area to curriculum area:

1. In social studies the focus will be on getting close to the people and human situations being considered.

2. In science, often using real-life contexts, on the spirit and adventure of finding out about the natural, physical world, and the wider universe.

3. In the arts, on sincerity of observation, effectiveness of expression, and exploration and discovery (the arts can often be presented to children as something to be done rather than something to be resolved).

4. In writing, according to purpose, writing with sincerity and clarity (expressive), with persuasiveness and clarity (argument), with logic and clarity (expository) – ‘clarity’ encompassing everything from style, to sentence and paragraph structure, to grammar, to spelling, to presentation.

5. In reading, on developing an abiding love for the act of reading (yes, the ‘I can read’ emphasis of our holistic reading philosophy had it right).

6. In maths, often using real-life contexts, on the spirit and adventure of finding out about the use of patterns and relationships in quantities, space, and time (it comes as a revelation to children that maths can about ideas, not just ‘facts’, therefore disputable).

7. In technology, often using real-life contexts, on abilities that are deeply significant to them (I am referring to practical life abilities as against systems theories – for instance, on healthy cooking in the home rather than food processing in a factory).

8. In health, often using real-life contexts, on health matters as problematic

For those who are sick of the current managerial approach to learning read his full article. And get some real insight into what lies behind National Standards.

I am not so sure how many teachers and schools are currently introducing integrated or holistic studies to their children.

Most schools I visit seem to place all their focus on literacy and numeracy- and the National Standards will continue this distorted emphasis.

Literacy and numeracy ought to be seen for what they are - vital 'foundation skills' necessary to ensure students are able to continue 'seeking, using and creating their own knowledge'; inquiry learning.

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