A talk to Tokoroa schools
By Kelvin Smythe
Getting the best out of the new curriculum, and the context
In the course of the next hour, some, even many, of my ideas will collide with yours, I don’t, however, want you to be to become too irritated by this; it might seem otherwise but it’s not what I’ve set out to do – anyway, you can comfort yourself that though our ideas might have clashed, because my ideas will be against the status quo, they will be without ultimate significance because, by definition, the status quo prevails.
My approach to the new curriculum is based on my commitment to the holistic philosophy which took hold in the ‘40s and gained momentum from there.
I want teaching and learning in New Zealand to attend to the mind and the heart; it is when these two work in combination that children learn better, more satisfyingly, and more sustainably.
Attending to the mind and heart is not an elusive and slippery matter.
Let me illustrate this by asking you about two parts of your recent practice: In your last language experience lesson – How much of an experience was it for the children? How memorable was it? Did it genuinely move them? Was that it?
And when you took social studies, did the children gain knowledge about the people they were studying in such a way, and to such an extent, they developed a strong affective feel for them? Was there an overwhelming interest in finding out more about them? Was the experience anywhere near transformative?
By transformative, I mean those times in classroom life when children have an experience that significantly changes the way they both see and respond to their world.
In my teaching, these transformative experiences for children most often occurred in social studies (when they really grasped the idea of the underlying similarity in all human behaviour and, in this way, made the crucial step towards being at ease with cultural difference ); in expository or argument writing (when they had the satisfaction of seeing their thoughts organised into well constructed explanations or arguments), as well as in expressive writing (when they saw that truthfulness of expression was the key to that expression, no matter the form or degree of abstraction); at those times when they were able to apply a flurry of quotes to aspects of their world from memorised poetry (when they saw the usefulness of the arts in understanding their world and in sharing their culture); and in drama (especially when they had slipped into problem-solving mode).
Associated with the idea of the holistic is the idea of teachers’ knowledge. I want your understanding of the holistic to be your measure of the validity and worth of knowledge from other sources.
Yes – your knowledge will be built from an interaction with other knowledges; that’s how it should be – but I want you to be confident gatekeepers of knowledge.
I want to protect teachers’ knowledge from hierarchical pressure and that great enemy of teachers’ knowledge – fear. When teachers are fearful they tend to look past the needs of children to the stringencies of others.
As for protecting teachers’ knowledge from academic knowledge – in any research into classroom change, if you take away Hawthorne and academic self-interest, most likely all that remains is nugatory or nondescript.
There is something of a contradiction to reconcile here. An underlying argument in my presentation is that we have an unsatisfactory system, you may think OK, but hold on, I’m a good teacher and I know other good teachers; and I’m in a good school and I know other good schools. How, you might ask, can this be reconciled?
Jim Neyland an education philosopher from Victoria University has written on the matter (in the Introduction to a book under consideration for publication).We have a bad system, he says, with good people in it. The fact that the system is working, he explains, is not evidence that the system is any good. Good education survives, he says, not because it is a good system, but because of teachers’ enthusiasm and hard work to make it work.
I’m in full agreement with these sentiments. The Kiwi Principal publication from the ministry carried the amazing statistic that New Zealand principals work fifty percent harder than their overseas counterparts. Imagine what principals and teachers could achieve if the same enthusiasm, skill, and industry was applied to a good system.
On the surface and perhaps below too, I would seem to be a contradictory person to be invited to talk about the new curriculum.
For some who know my track record, it might also seem contradictory that a few years ago I was the go-to education person for John Banks’s talkback programme
I’m a liberal educationist; and he’s John Banks
He was born to be a motor-mouth talkback host; I never listen to the stuff.
I never even listened to it as I waited on my bedroom floor at 7.10 to get the call to speak to John Banks’s listeners, nor did I listen after I spoke.
But what got his listeners going?
Well – any changes to the curriculum seemed to stir John Banks and his listeners to a frenzy: this time it was changes to the health curriculum.
What do you think Kelvin? What do teachers think about the changes? (All in a tone that seemed to indicate the fate of Western civilisation was at stake.)
My point in reply was to get across the idea that teachers, in response to extraordinary pressures, colonised the official curriculum to develop an unofficial curriculum.
On this occasion, someone sent me a transcript of my reply. [The talkback episode occurred about 14 years ago, but the observations still mainly pertain.]:
John, don’t worry about it.
Big parts of the official curriculum are copied into school documents, but teachers flick over those parts to the school’s listing of topics.
They do take in some messages about any new curriculum, but only a few they feel comfortable with.
And some of the objectives pop up for teachers to play ticks and crosses with.
They are hugely amused at the way the public and politicians take any changes to the curriculum so seriously.
As for curriculum areas themselves – reading has a life all of its own, with teachers handing on from generation to generation the New Zealand way.
Language is just getting the children writing, with any discernible trends being a little more expository writing and attention to technical aspects; but teachers still love expressive writing.
Coverage in social studies and science is desultory, with integration the magnificent smokescreen.
Physical education is a spasmodic refresher and sometimes time filler.
Music, dance, drama are mainly famine, though with the occasional feast.
The visual arts are much done and with some success, though thinking about visual arts’ ideas, as urged by the curriculum, almost completely absent.
Technology is a strand that runs through the programmes – believe that John and make my day. [There is an irony in this, in the light of a suggestion I make for technology later in this paper.]
As for health, the education panic for this week, teachers will, perhaps, take two topics a year, safety (either road or fire) and nutrition (exercise might be thrown in).
The official curriculum is taken more seriously in maths as teachers seek to establish linkages in maths, especially from y.3 onwards.
For y.1 and 2 teachers it is usually reading, reading, reading.
John, behind all this response to the official curriculum is the unofficial one which New Zealand teachers, given the system’s oily rag funding, do pretty well.
[All this time John Banks was doing his best to get a word in edgeways.]
John, your listeners need to understand that teachers end up with programmes like the ones they have because official documents don’t talk their talk. This is mainly because education bureaucrats, responding to politicians and public pressure, keep cramming more and more into the curriculum.
So to cope, teachers develop their own decidedly different version of the curriculum. Then, to protect themselves from the review office, schools build an elaborate paper trail and maze.
All this forces teachers into a benign neglect of large parts of the official curriculum.
What always needs to be remembered, John, is that classrooms are jittery affairs; we are talking 25 modern-day children or more, in a room, five days a week, with all sorts of interruptions.
The reality of teaching is, that anything planned on paper that looks as though it will take 15 minutes, will take an hour.
John, you can assure your listeners that they do not need to worry about the sex part of the health curriculum, because there is virtually no health curriculum for sex to be part of.
John, it’s been nice talking with you.
Where secondary schools sit in all this is something of a mystery to primary people, but they can roughly assume that compared with exam prescriptions, official curricula are of little significance.
There is one big exception this time: to the chagrin of most secondary teachers, their principals will be forced to take the competencies seriously. (I do have a little admission to make here, just recently, for a couple of years I was asked to take some secondary students for NCEA English, and thoroughly enjoyed it.)
Whenever I talked about primary schools on talkback, I was always praising of what primary teachers achieved – in their own way.
I want, however, to raise a matter here that will be at the core, later, of what I want to say about the state and direction of primary education today.
The matter is raised in the form of a question: How is it, knowing that NEMP was surveying science, I was able to predict months before the results came out, that science education would be revealed as going backwards in both performance and children’s regard?
I think the full significance of the NEMP results needs to be appreciated: Science in primary schools going backwards? In the 21st century (that curriculum developers feel they need to keep reminding us we’re in), we’re going backwards in science? … science? In the age of science and technology, we’re heading in the wrong direction?
An early indication, though, of my thinking about this question is in my last posting (‘Beyond reason: the argument for the holistic’). In that posting I said if learning was going to really mean something to children, if it was going to be sustained and sustain them, it needed the duality of the affective and cognitive (in other words the holistic). The big lack today, I wrote, is the lack of sufficient affective context, an affective context grounded in detail and reality.
I said early on that I was a rather contradictory person to be talking about official curricula because, as will have become clear, in many ways I don’t place great store in them.
However, it becomes even more contradictory when it is realised that, outside some ministry officials, I have probably written more about the new curriculum than anyone else. My web site has nearly 50 pages of comment.
Curricula still interest me for a number of reasons: as artefacts to show where official education thinking is going; as artefacts to show how socio-economic matters are influencing education; as sources of education statements which (from my point-of-view) can be turned to good educational effect; as sources of education statements which (from my point-of-view) should be opposed.
The main purpose in the first part of this talk is to engender in you a healthy disrespect toward the new curriculum (indeed, all official documents) so that you are in a mind to do what this rather genial document allows you to do: shape it to suit your needs and interests, and the children’s. (Though, as I will point out, this geniality comes up short in one fundamental matter.)
The time for general statements about the new curriculum has just about passed but, to put the document into context, I want to make a few more comments.
Any curriculum document is political; it’s just a matter of in what way.
The most obvious example: At the beginning of the process, following Brash, the Treaty was a case of: treaty – which one was that? By the end of the process the Treaty was a hallowed document.
The new curriculum is not strongly ideological, more ingratiating. It reminds me of a dog standing on its hind legs, begging for a scratch.
As mentioned, the Treaty was back (it should, of course, never have gone away); business groups were given considerable business-speak; Greens sustainability; computer advocates an abundance of coded words and the enquiry-learning process; editorialists coded words like ‘excellence’; conservatives and liberals alike values which are all over the document like a rash; primary teachers integration and skills; and all teachers brevity in document size, the invitation to interpret the document reasonably freely, also the beginnings of an enlightened assessment statement. Unfortunately, however, the review office also got what it wanted.
Some of these curriculum characteristics are political in themselves; also, taken as a whole they are political, in that the intention was to make the document non-controversial, that is widely politically acceptable.
The way the curriculum was presented over the course of the development process is a story in itself. The main focus was to soothe the most feared of the education lobby groups, the conservative business one. The curriculum was repeatedly presented as skills-based, back-to-the basics, and business oriented.
The other big focus of the presentation was on ideas held by the post-modern clique in the ministry (new knowledge developing from the characteristics and possibilities of computer use), and the rather similar ideas held by many primary school teachers (default post-modernists as it were). The shared view of those in the ministry and many in primary teaching is that knowledge is so transitory it is hardly worthwhile going about its systematic teaching, the important thing being to teach computer and enquiry skills so that when the mood strikes children they know the keys to push – it is process that matters not product.
The new curriculum, however, is no more back-to-the basics or skills focused than any other recent curriculum; admittedly it does use a fair number of business buzz words, but mainly in the guff parts.
Neither is the new curriculum any less concerned with knowledge, or more concerned with computers, than any other recent curriculum. References to computers are made in a rather strangulated way using coded words. On the other hand, with the learning area statements and achievement objectives, knowledge has as sure a place as ever.
Let us attend to the following: to useful statements in the document – ones that encourage flexible use and should have a prominent place in your school documents; to retrograde statements – ones that are educationally restrictive and should be manoeuvred around the best way possible; and to in-between statements (like the ones for the competencies) which can go either way but with adroitness can be turned to good effect.
The document says that the ‘specific way’ values ‘find expression in an individual school will be guided by dialogue between the school and its community.’ (p. 10) Even more usefully it goes on to say that the values for teaching and evaluation ‘can be expanded into clusters of related values.’ (p. 10)
Then another useful statement. The main contestation in the new curriculum will be over the significance and implementation of the competencies. The document invites flexibility in the teaching and learning of the competencies and of values. In the Design and Review section (pp. 37-8) various ways the competencies and values could be taken are suggested, but the key statement, in what is emblematic of the new curriculum, says, ‘Wherever possible, schools should aim to design their curriculum so that learning crosses apparent boundaries.’
I will give you my ideas on how to deal with the competencies and values later.
The developers of the curriculum have bought in strongly to the primary school orthodoxy of curriculum integration, in effect, sanctioned and provided protection (from the review office) to what is already in effect. (There are many statements throughout the document encouraging curriculum integration.) This, on the whole, is a good thing because it provides considerable latitude for decision making. My qualification about integration, though, is that it can become routine, undermine curriculum validity, be a source of imbalance and learning ordinariness, and a cover for the flight from knowledge. The statements supporting integration are useful but, as pointed out, I have concerns with some expressions of integration.
I am more excited by a statement that addresses a major contemporary learning obstruction: rushed, small bite learning. This statement reads: ‘… when curriculum coverage and student understandings are in competition, the teacher may decide to cover less but cover in greater depth. (p. 34) Excellent stuff.
To support this statement is another: ‘… each school’s curriculum should allow teachers the scope to make interpretations in response to particular needs, interests, and talents of individuals and groups of students in their classes.’ (p. 37)
Another key statement to highlight in your school curriculum documents is the one that says: the new curriculum is ‘a framework rather than a detailed plan. This means that while every school must be clearly aligned with the intent of this document, schools have considerable flexibility when determining the detail.’ (p. 37) All right, there is a dollar each way feel to it, but, surely, there’s many a potential opening between detail and intention.
In discussing achievement objectives, and mainly to support curriculum integration, a statement says that teachers should select achievement objectives across learning areas ‘to fit the learning needs of their students’. (p. 39) The important and wider point here is that it is an encouragement to use achievement objectives flexibly.
In my series of postings on the draft curriculum, I praised the learning area statements and suggested they be the starting points for schools in establishing their main aims, with the achievement objectives ranged in support; even better, I suggested, and at the heart of my view of the curriculum, an holistic curriculum, is to transform the achievement objectives into criteria. (Most of the learning area statements are sound philosophically, and because they are written as small essays, less mechanistic than the achievement objectives, and more open to interpretation.)
Much to my surprise and satisfaction, the final curriculum had a change of position, recommending the pre-eminence of the learning area statements (I suspect Lester Flockton’s hand in this as in some of the other worthy curriculum characteristics): ‘These statements, rather than the achievement objectives, should be the starting point for developing programmes of learning … Schools are then able to set achievement objectives to fit these programmes.’ (p. 38)
I also point to a development in one curriculum area which could be used as a model for all curriculum areas; an out-of-left-field development. The science developers have provided, in the separate fold out, a set of aims besides the listings of the achievement objectives. This sets up science beautifully for lessons to be planned and implemented on the basis of a main aim (or aims), a range of activities to move the children toward the main aim, and a selection of achievement objectives transformed into criteria for observational evaluation. Hey presto! An expression of holistic teaching.
(My green planning and evaluation book was constructed specifically for holistic evaluation and, even in these computerised days, still used in a number of schools.)
Then there is a statement supporting the primary school orthodoxy of strands being undertaken on the basis of a yearly rotation policy. The statement says: ‘… none of the strands in the required learning areas is optional, but in some learning areas, particular strands may be emphasised at different times or in different years. Schools should have a clear rationale for doing this and should ensure each strand receives due emphasis over the longer term.’ (p. 38) Yeah right!
With the review office ever present in principals’ consciousness, the matter of evaluation is always a fraught area. The matter comes to a head on page 39, under the heading ‘Achievement objectives’, followed by ‘Assessment’.
And there it is – in the ‘Achievement objectives’ section – we knew it would be slipped in somewhere; but it is still chilling to encounter it in reality – all the more so because of the document’s generally genial setting.
As elegant as the statements are that follow in the ‘Assessment’ section, they have no hope of repairing the damage. This means the new curriculum, with all its good intentions, is complicit in primary education’s damaging direction.
Teaching and learning ‘expectations,’ the statement says about achievement objectives, ‘should be stated in ways that help teachers, students, and parents to recognise, measure, discuss, and chart progress.’ (p. 39) In this one statement, if followed exactly, is encapsulated the withering in schools of imagination, creativity, intuition, the divergent, the aesthetic, the immanent, and the affective.
We have in this one statement the enemy of our holistic education tradition made clear. We have the triumph of the technicists, the atomists, the bureaucrats, the contemporary Gradgrinds, the measurers, the controllers. Learning should be organised they say so that it can be measured. There is the vision for education for the 21st century set before us; there the goal to strive for; there is the teaching and learning they want; there is the command: plan for it to be measured, teach it, measure it, chart it.
Could I ask these people: Is this the kind of education you want for your grandchildren? Is this really what you want? [My guess is that different ministry teams developed the two irreconcilable stances.]
After this, a statement of considerable elegance, but the damage has been wrought; in these technicist times measurement always trumps the affective. This elegant statement, however, should feature in your documents. With what appears a straight face the developers feel able to state that the ‘primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching …’ (p. 39)
The elegant statement gets even more so: ‘Analysis and interpretation often take place in the mind of the teacher, who then uses the insights gained to shape their actions as they continue to work with their students.’ (p. 39) ‘Analysis’, ‘insights’, and ‘interpretation’ – but how is this to be reconciled with the previous requirement for learning to be set up for measurement?
In this contradiction lies the new curriculum’s fundamental flaw.
Now for a quick trawl through the learning area statements and achievement objectives’ listings. As stated above, the learning area statements (because they are statements) have the advantage of requiring interpretation and feeling to reveal their meaning and intent. Such statements, I suggest, work better for teaching and learning, especially holistic teaching and learning, than achievement objectives.
An issue for all achievement objective listings is the way achievement objectives have much the same meaning through their sequences but, to communicate the idea of progression, use jargon accretion. Some curriculum area listings, to combat this, reduce the number of achievement objectives, sometimes by combining the levels. Well done, but the issue is always there to a greater or lesser degree. (These jargon accretions as part of the movement to what are called ‘standards’ are set to loom large in our future.)
One example from English will be used to demonstrate the nonsensical learning sequences that result: ‘uses some oral, written, and visual language features to create meaning and effect’ Level 1; ‘uses oral, written, and visual language features to create meaning and effect’ Level 2; ‘uses oral, written, and visual language features to create meaning and effect and engage interest’ Level 3: ‘uses a range of oral, written, and visual features to create meaning and effect and to sustain interest’ Level 4, and so it goes on. I won’t go into this in any more detail, except to say, I can’t see the difference in intention for the children at Level 1 and the children at Level 4. Perhaps, on second thoughts it might be illustrative where this sequence ends up at Level 8: ‘uses a wide range of oral, written, and visual language feature coherently, fluently, and with control to create meaning and command attention.’
There are shades of meaning that hint at progression and might be marginally useful, but the sequences are mainly word games that play to an atomised, technicist curriculum, not an holistic one. Why not just use the Level 4 statement to encompass all levels? Why play such games bamboozling teachers who have far more important things to be doing? But more on the holistic way later.
The arts’ learning area statement was substantially changed from the draft and has ended up as a powerful elucidation. Achievement objectives and the arts, though, make an uneasy alliance. For the arts to work, particularly to develop in children an understanding of arts’ ideas, a resort by teachers to other publications is needed. Two recommended publications for this are He Papahuia Toi Maori (Years 1-6) and He Wakahuia Toi Maori (Years 7-10).
In health and education, I have difficulty matching the reality of what is stated in the learning area statements and achievement objectives with what occurs in primary school health and physical education programmes.
The mathematics’ statement and objectives are impressive.
The science statement and objectives are also impressive and, as mentioned above, the science developers have sprung a major surprise: in the first column but only in the separate fold-out (not the fold-out that is part of the book), they have written some beautifully formed aims encompassing all levels. I am moved and gratified by this listing of aims. In this one action they have unified the science curriculum area, provided a model for teachers and curriculum developers in all curriculum areas, and struck a blow for teacher professionalism. I urge teachers to teach to these science aims, using selected achievement objectives as criteria – in that way teaching and learning is more likely to become holistic. As well, the science developers have set out some particularly insightful and philosophically poised ‘objectives’ relating to the nature of science. These objectives are really aims, and though sequenced, could also be used as aims in an holistic way.
In social studies the learning area statement is satisfactory, the achievement objectives lack cohesion.
I have a major problem with technology as a curriculum area, how it is taught in schools, and the wider implications of embedding such a curriculum in programmes.
In this and the previous curriculum, and dominantly in practice, systems’ theorising has replaced practical activities that used to characterise technology. I could use any one of these areas of practical activities to characterise technology, but I will choose home economics.
The emphasis in home economics has shifted from the preparation and cooking of food, to the production and marketing of food. The emphasis has shifted from healthy food and life skills, to the marketing and consumer nexus. Consideration of the learning statement and achievement objectives (especially the learning objectives) makes it clear that the technology curriculum area is mainly about the process of transforming natural products into goods that can be marketed. Sustainability is put forward as a major concern in the new curriculum, yet here is curriculum area out of line with that message. And, it should be remembered that along with this food production and marketing is associated advertising for consumption, often encouraging people to make unhealthy choices. All at a time when obesity and unhealthy food choices are major issues.
Food is taken out of the family setting, away from the empowering characteristics home economics to the production line. Quality control is not about healthy food for families, it is about regulatory standards for the market.
I suspect that technology is near untouchable because the label ‘technology’ seems to be deterministically associated with such ideas as progress, modernisation, production, vocational opportunity, being entrepreneurial, and economic growth. Nevertheless, I believe technology should be substantially returned to its practical roots of home economics, and commercial, and trades’ activities – with greater attention to the theoretical part of technology as children get older. For contributing school children, technology should be integrated into the functioning of other curriculum areas (and thus make the crowded curriculum slightly less crowded); and, for middle school children, technology should be returned decisively to its practical roots.
As I said, values and comments about values are all over the new curriculum like a rash. The profusion results in confusion.
The new curriculum encourages schools to make their own listing of values, the following is mine, with the most important values being the first and last.
Applying the challenge of fairness to behaviour is immensely powerful in effect and, when supported by the willingness and ability to accept responsibility for that behaviour, I ask: what else is there? The very subjectivity and lack of prescription in the challenge to be fair is the key to its unsettling power. Other values in the list, however, should be seen as interacting, contributing, and modifying its potential effect.
A willingness and ability to:
Appreciate individual and cultural difference
Accept responsibility for actions
My main concern about the competencies is that they will become areas of bureaucratic contestation, leading schools to resort to thinking, questioning, and value packages; various taxonomies; and, idiosyncratic and artificial procedures. If this happened, it would be a significant distraction from fundamental issues relating to teaching and learning.
The principle to follow, I suggest, is to integrate the competencies into the everyday functioning of the school and classroom. The degree to which schools do this and seamlessly, without losing sight of the key elements of the competencies, would be my measure of success. I do accept that for review office protection, there will be a need for a certain show pony element, especially for the fifth competency which is likely to have a strong out-of-classroom component.
The distinction can be fine, but my argument is that what is aspired for in the competencies should be met by developments and refinements within existing learning processes, not ‘clever’ insertions or add-ons from outside. Many of these developments and refinements should be structural – such as providing more space for teaching and learning (space in time, and space for divergent thinking within activities); and modifying the school’s learning process along the lines suggested in the model below. It is this kind of development and refinement that is suggested as the best way to encourage the kind of thinking, feeling, behaviours, relationships, and values encompassed by the competencies.
(Though somewhat in the handy hint category, if I was asked for two quick ways to provide more space in learning I would say, first, if a question is a good question, it will make an even better activity; and second, use the non-evaluative reception of responses better and more often.)
The second competency, in particular – ‘Using language, symbols, and texts’ – looks rich in teaching and learning potential. My strong suggestion here is that this competency be given greatest attention, with special attention being paid to the use of language, symbols, and text in the arts, and from there, how they can be applied to the wider curriculum. The recommended books to help you do this are ministry publications: He Papahuia Toi Maori (Years 1-6) and He Wakahuia Toi Maori (Years 7-10). (The two publications are brilliant – congratulations to all concerned.) As well, teachers could consult some postings on my web site, for instance, ‘Teacher Diary’ 1-7; or the 11-part series ‘Elwyn Richardson – Lessons to be learned’.
In a recent posting on networkonnet (‘Beyond reason: the argument for the holistic’ ), I argued that the affective, the aesthetic, the symbolic, the intuitive … are at the heart of successful classrooms, not at the periphery; and that a clear recognition of their role could be the missing link for some teachers, indeed for the system as a whole.’ (p. 1) The second competency has decided promise for bringing these qualities to the heart of teaching and learning.
So my overall suggestion for the competencies is that unit plans for curriculum areas include criteria derived from the competencies, and when a child does something significant in relation to a competency criterion, significantly bad or good, a note be made in that regard. What I’m suggesting here is that an encompassing criterion for each competency be developed for this function. (As an alternative to including all competency criteria in unit plans for all curriculum areas, some of the criteria, especially the more value-based ones, could be listed on a class competency criteria sheet for general class observation.)
Before I suggest some encompassing criteria, I want first to express a reservation about the first competency (‘Thinking’). My reservation arises from the way the word ‘metacognition’ (a vogue word of recent origin) has come to dominate discussion about the competency, leading to it being called the metacognitive competency. The research claims made for the metacognitive process are on shaky grounds, and its usefulness in classrooms as another layer of thinking is highly questionable. My suggestion is that we just concentrate on good thinking – that is divergent, imaginative, and creative thinking, and let metacognition, whatever that is, look after itself.
The ‘Thinking’ competency statement says ‘Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency’ – so there you go; that would nearly do for me as an encompassing criterion; but not quite; not quite because it doesn’t do justice to the affective part of thinking. As a result, my suggestion is that the criterion refer to ‘intellectual and affective curiosity’. This reference, however, does not submit to my usual stem of ‘willingness and ability to’ so I’m suggesting the criterion be: The nature and extent of intellectual and affective curiosity shown.
The third, fourth, and fifth competencies are easy to find encompassing criteria for, so I will leave those to you; the second competency would probably need the most work to establish a widely accepted and understood criterion, which is why that competency excites me, but for a starter I would suggest the willingness and ability to ‘interpret and use words, number, images, movement, metaphor, and technologies in a range of contexts’ (p. 12) would do the trick.
In considering the more values-based competencies (3-5), I remind you of my suggested list of values set out above. They may be of some use in your considerations.
From time-to-time (perhaps twice a year) someone with the delegated responsibility for gathering competency information should make a report. Associated with this task should be professional meetings to deepen teachers’ understandings of the criteria to make them informed observers of children’s competencies’ behaviours as they occur.
And now for the final section on getting the best out of the existing context, which I have tied in with the question I asked near the beginning: Why was I able to predict correctly the decline of science education in primary schools?
This in turn, ties in with my concern (discussed in a recent posting: ‘Beyond reason: the argument for the holistic’) with pressures on schools that result in less space for the aesthetic, the affective, the imaginative, the creative, the intuitive, the feeling for, and so on.
You can see I’m itching to launch myself at the matter, but I know that this is not the time or place, so I’ll boil it down the best I can.
The review office concern with curriculum balance based on curriculum time allocation is resulting in a serious curriculum imbalance between reason and the affective.
Related to this is the matter of the crowded curriculum, actually more the cramped curriculum.
Holistic, creative, imaginative teaching and learning needs space – space of two kinds: space in the form of time that allows an experience, in whatever the curriculum area happens to be, to develop; and space within activities for the children to be divergent, in other words, the teacher’s thinking, the activities’ organisation, should not communicate what the ‘right’ answer is or even that there is a ‘right’ answer.
The holistic approach – main aim, activities, and criteria (transformed objectives) – is an alternative to WALTS now vogue in schools. In the holistic approach, the teacher does not set up with the children what they are going to learn, then after the lesson discuss with them what they did learn (making the process vulnerable to parroting); in the holistic approach such a discussion would occur, but the timing of it would be sensitively thought through so that discussion would not interfere with feelings and ideas still in development. As well, by not setting up objectives before the activity, plenty of space is left for the children to be divergent, intuitive, and imaginative in the course of the lesson. Creativity often occurs, I believe, after the work deemed important has been completed, and there is time to dream. If teachers want to stick with WALTS I suggest restricting them to certain activities, or broadening the WALTS so they are not so mechanistic.
The enquiry learning model in the new curriculum (p. 35) has given impetus to a learning process already dominant in schools (instigated by the crowded curriculum, the pedagogy surrounding computer use, and planning and assessment pressures on teachers) for short term studies, rapid fire activities, routine use of computer downloads, and attention away from the affective. Its prevalence, in my view, is why science and other unit-style curriculum areas are in difficulty. (As an aside, in respect to social studies, I find something distancing about the label ‘enquiry’, something detached, even condescending. Indeed, in learning more generally, rather than the learning being enquiry learning, the idea I want to get across is the idea of the child as a participant in the drama of learning, more appropriately called engagement learning.)
There are I know, teachers who can still get the balance right but, in general, the meanings attached to the label ‘enquiry learning’ are proving harmful to the integrity of science learning, and learning in other curriculum areas. John Faire, principal of Mt Eden Normal gained a sabbatical to investigate enquiry learning in a number of schools that claimed to be exponents of it – he found, if you take the word ‘enquiry’, seriously it hardly existed. (See the posting on networkonnet, ‘Report on e-learning of inquiry’.)
Look – I’ll get straight to the point. Teaching, in my view, is about providing an environment that increases the likelihood of children being involved in powerful transformative experiences; by definition that means that the affective must be a central part of the process. The affective, however, only occurs with genuine effect, I argue, when it is grounded on focus, detail, information, and reality – so I’m not talking about airily effusive teaching. (The reference to 'focus' should be seen as an expression of the role of the intuitive as well as reason.) Do any of you remember my ‘feeling for’ approach? It was about developing an affective response on the basis of focus, detail, information, and reality. The learning structure it was based on, long established in our education tradition, needs to be returned to as the model for all curriculum areas.
When I strongly criticised the new curriculum’s enquiry model in a posting, the response from the ministry (in a subsequent ministry video presentation) was that other learning models were quite acceptable – so there you go. (By the way, in that video presentation they also picked up on my suggested stem: ‘a willingness and ability to’ which I strongly recommend for use – ‘willingness’ covers attitude, and ‘ability’ knowledge and skill, so it is a holistic stem.)
The learning model I recommend is: Introduction; Developing understanding; Expressing understanding; Conclusion. The key stage, though, is Developing understanding – this is the stage at which teachers and children should stay until a strong affective response is evident; they should stay with attention to focus, detail, information, and reality. (Don’t put the steak in the pan until it’s hot.) In social studies, the affective response I look for is a feeling for the people in the human situation under scrutiny (an intimate tone in the children's voices when they speak of the people involved can be an indication); in mathematics, a keenness and ability to apply ideas gained from their learning to a range of situations; in science, a compelling curiosity to want to push on . (This learning model, I suggest, should be incorporated into the functioning of the first and second competencies.)
To distinguish this learning model from the enquiry one, and while still acknowledging its traditional antecedents, I'm suggesting calling it the 'feeling for' model. The 'feeling for' model will have a different quality and expression, in say, mathematics from social studies, and a different quality and expression again in science, but the important thing is that an assured place is given to the affective in learning; and an assured place to focus, detail, reality, and information as the way the affective gains that place.
I think you can sense that this is what I want to go on, and on about, but I have to stop.
Science, I would sum up, is suffering from children not being given enough space for their emotions to be engaged, their curiosity to be aroused; and divergent, imaginative thinking to emerge.
Well, to sum up: My intention in this talk has been to encourage you to be confident in the way you approach the new curriculum. I want you to recognise, as for all curricula, that it is a political document with a mixture of education pluses and minuses. I want you to continue to colonise official documents (along the lines described to John Banks). I want you also to recognise that the document is a genial one that in many respects actively encourages you to shape it to suit your purposes. I want you to recognise the many holistic and liberal education ideas in the document that will encourage enlightened practice. I want you also to recognise the major destructive idea in the document, the idea on which our system now turns – the requirement that learning be set up for measurement. As well, I want you to recognise that the affective and the imaginative are being squeezed out of classrooms by pressures resulting from the crowded curriculum, an unsatisfactory learning model, and insufficient attention to detail and reality on which the true affective and imaginative are based. I want you to recognise that if the competencies are treated as something separate from everyday classroom functioning they will be a significant impediment to teaching and learning. If, however, they are integrated into everyday classroom functioning in a naturalistic way, and if the review office lays off a bit, then they could serve to enhance teaching and learning.
Finally, I want you to recognise that as New Zealand primary teachers you are inheritors of an ideal; an ideal that began even before Beeby, that was picked up by Richardson and Ashton-Warner, and countless other teachers, some of whom I have had the privilege of visiting in classrooms in my 42 years of going into them; an ideal in which the cognitive and affective can interact to make learning for children a compelling transformative experience; an ideal which has been passed from generation to generation. I was deeply moved to find that this ideal, our ideal, finds contemporary expression in He Papahuia Toi Maori – it is Richardson; it is us; it is our ideal. This ideal is your knowledge, teachers’ knowledge – contemplate respectfully the knowledge of others, the knowledge of academics, the knowledge of bureaucrats, the knowledge from those elsewhere, but don’t be humble with your knowledge before theirs.