Sunday, February 27, 2011

'Seeking, using and creating' -education for a creative age .Tapping the intellectual curiosity of the learner.

The title of this interesting book sums up what learning ought to be all about - students as explorers of their world.

I would like to think that creative teaching is alive and well but I am not sure I believe that anymore.

Being creative has always been a hard road to follow particularly since the introduction of the curriculum and accountability and assessment demands imposed on school in the mid eighties. And this has only escalated with demands for schools to focus on the 'three Rs' leading up to the most recent reactionary concept of National Standards - themselves one step away from National Testing and League Tables.

Creativity can only develop in environments of trust and adventure that favour the trying out of new ideas. Surveillance cultures and standardised expectations kill creativity - simple as that!

What is the basis for a creative or personalised classroom?

For one thing the philosophy behind such classrooms is anything but new but the revised New Zealand Curriculum provides new impetus for those left with the courage to be really creative.

The key phrase for me is to be found in the thinking competency (and also on the vision page) that confident life long learners are 'Students who have well developed thinking and problem solving skills are active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge. They reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.' Elsewhere it states students should have a '"can do" attitude' and 'know who they are , where they come from , and where they fit in'. The principles, curriculum statements and effective pedagogy section expand on these ideas.

The trouble is that few teachers/schools have challenged the basis of their own assumptions and perceptions .Unless teachers see learner as their own 'seekers, users and creators' then little will change. And nothing much has.

The 'seeking, using and creating their own knowledge' phrase needs to be unpacked.

The teacher's role is to help all student acquire the necessary skills to develop their own knowledge.

Perhaps the most important function of the teachers is to ensure students are involved in learning they see as purposeful. Jerome Bruner has written that the 'canny art of the teacher is one of intellectual temptation'. Tempting learning shouldn't be difficult - children are all born with an intense curiosity and desire to make sense of what they experience. It is this default mode of learning teacher should tap into.

As it says in the New Zealand Curriculum 'intellectual curiosity is the heart' of thinking ..or learning. It is this curiosity that teachers need to tap into rather than imposing their own curriculums. The need to learn comes from within.

What 'seeking skills' do students need? Children with well developed seeking skills need to have an inquiring mind open to all sorts of possibilities.

Curiosity is developed through involvement with the senses-each sense providing its own special contribution. Teachers, at all levels, need to develop their students skills in using the senses - children who see more ( or hear, touch, smell, or taste more) ask more questions, develop greater awareness, sensitivity, vocabulary, expressive language , art , music and dance.

Students need to be taught to 'seek ideas' using a range of perspectives or frameworks.

And students also need to be 'taught' to see through the eyes of an artist, of a scientist, a poet, through drama ,mathematics. Any experience can be interpreted in all sorts of ways and this is the basis on integrated programmes. All these frameworks make up the traditional disciplines or learning areas. Imagine exploring a tree in the school ground through each way of seeing/seeking.

Obviously students need to be taught to seek ideas through the use of other people, book resources, pictures,photographs and the Internet but all in purposeful contexts. This is where the literacy block ( I prefer language experience block) comes in - but with all activities tied to meaningful inquiry learning.

After 'seeking' comes 'using'.

This is the point where students need to be helped to critically interpret what they have seen, heard, or read. Critical literacy skills need to be taught in all areas of learning. Not only do students need to be open to ideas they must ,at the same time, be skeptical and question what they find. They need to validate ideas and, where possible, note where they found them if they are undertaking research.This is the essence of research in science and other learning areas. Literacy time has an important role to play here. Critically assessing maths/science data is equally important and as much maths as is possible should be linked to inquiry studies or at least be developed as applied maths explorations based on realistic contexts.

Critically using information gained through the seeking process is at the heart of an inquiry based personalised classroom and integral to every learning area.

Teachers who develop 'critical using of knowledge' skills, need to make very effort to value their students prior ideas . The creative role of the teacher is one of coming alongside the learner helping the students construct their own knowledge. This requires a light touch and good listening skills so as to apply appropriate feedback/feedfowards.

The final step - 'creating their own knowledge'.

A quick look around any classroom will show if the learning belongs to the students. It is just a matter of reading their finding to see if they are answering their own questions in their own 'voice'. And what is read ought to have a tentativeness about what has been learnt - learning is forever. Real learning ought to develop more questions than answers. To develop in depth creating it is good advice to do fewer things well so students gain feelings of success.
Teachers have a vital role to play in the creative process. All too often teachers , through the use of their intentions and goals, their criteria, exemplars and their heavy handed feedback crush students creativity. As a result there is a sameness about what students produce . And sadly this even extends to students creative art work. All too often creativity is completely absent - real creativity is about individuality, uniqueness and often has within it an element of surprise .

Creative teachers value their students individuality, 'voice' and uniqueness and, with this mind, any help they give is couched in terms of, 'what else could you do or, 'you could things like this', rather than 'this is how you do it. Such teachers recognise and celebrate differences and encourage their students to explore ideas further.

Creative teachers exhibit a true artistry, assisting students intuitively based on their prior experiences. This artistry takes time to develop and is easily crushed by heavy handed school expectations.

There are obviously things students have to learn but at least these can be negotiated to share the ownership. But if 'seeking, using and creating the own knowledge' were to be taken seriously things would have to change in most classrooms. All students, writes Jerome Bruner, 'have to create an interior culture of their own' ...every student ' must be his own artist, his own scientist, his own historian, his own navigator'.

All students must believe they are their own 'seekers, users and creators' if they are to become, 'confident, connected, actively involved, life long learners'.

This is not the case at present.

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