UDLs and things

Treehorn Express:

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UDLs & Shaping Things

Yesterday, 9 January 2013, I was driving along, listening to the latest newscast. Mr. Garrett, it reported, was adding a new subject to the primary school national curriculum for Years 5 & 6., called “Shaping of the Australian Curriculum : Economics and Business” both of which, said Mr. Garret “...are fundamental for a productive economy and the well being of all Australians.” Well! I do declare! I didn’t know that! Did you? Silly moo. Fundamental? Well-being?

My thoughts ran wild. Who the dickens persuaded our great Minister that the curriculum is such an easy thing to handle that our teachers have plenty of time to do more? I later learned in the ACARA literature, that “…it can be taught within 80 per cent of the available school time.” – whatever that means . These ACARA curriculators were able to compute 20 hours per year = half-hour per week as a guide to ‘fitting it in’. ‘Not much’ they must suppose; but some teachers may think differently; especially Year 5ers with the first half-year concentration on ‘Passing Tests 102’. [They can reclaim lost, wasted time when NAPLAN goes, of course.] Meanwhile…

Where did this business-based notion come from? I read a teachers’ union journal each month, a principals’ journal, educational articles in a number of newspapers and educational magazine or good book that I can read about schooling in general and primary schooling in particular. I read a lot. I had not read of any great call from front-line primary school teachers, professional associations or unions for such an addition to the working day. Perhaps, I hadn’t noticed the news foretelling its introduction. When Norm Hart, president of the Australian Primary Principals’ Association came ‘on air’, I thought he pointed out how over-crowded the present curriculum was and that, maybe, this new ‘thing’ could be integrated into something or other.

I’d mis-heard. Of course. Representatives of a primary principals’ association [Norm’s APPA] would have been ‘in’ on the ground floor because it is about the best source of the effects of curriculum additions on school time tables, on NAPLAN test preparation during first term, on the kinds of school work that will mix well, on the resources and literature required, on the teacher development programs required and the like. Not only that, they represent the heavy lifters of professional ethics, protectors of children’s rights. Their advice would be invaluable. Principals would have been quite conspicuous amongst the “…input from a range of stakeholders, including state and territory and non-government education authorities, teachers associations, schools, universities, teachers and parents.” ….just as they were with NAPLAN. Their ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay’ is final.

Besides,any curriculum innovation that does not have the full support of their classroom teachers is doomed. [Yes. NAPLAN is a tough nut, but it is on its way out. Heading for the rubbish bin.]

Searching for answers, I read the ACARA website http://www,acara.edu.au , couched in the language of high-flying, ideal-seeking curriculators. Not enough. One has to search deeper for a source of this persuasive text. I’d reckon that its origins are in the thoughts of some influential business person and the flavoured test came from the current curriculum bible: http://www.cast.org/udl  Practitioners will be familiar with it. I wasn’t. Using the special language of a UDL – Universal Design of Learning – which seems to be a special box into which some influential Americans have packed all that is known [sort of] about learning; as Americans are wont to do. Yep. Check it out. It is so typically American that such knowledge can be wrapped and packaged, using the language of a UDL in one packet located in one place, called CAST- Centre for Applied Special Technology, located just outside Boston. [We move a little further north each year!] There is also a link to PREZI that helps know-it-alls persuade audiences that they should become true believers in the product.

I visualised some bright young folk, fresh from a Ph.D., in a Melbourne or Canberra office, wearing their Joel Klein tee-shirts doing the best they can with this curriculum one-off peculiarity. Not that it wont be useful. Don’t get me wrong. It’s introduction is the perplexing bit…. and its language.

The super-abundance of office-wallah talk combined with clichés, acronyms and meadow-mayonnaise was too much for me. I needed respite; perhaps the words of some person who talks with the real meaning of SCHOOL CURRICULUM : guiding children through learning experiences. I needed a fix. It came to me. I wanted to read Sir Alec Clegg. I’d visited his schools in the West Riding where the atmosphere in each classroom that I visited was thick with zest for learning. I suppose one has to have experienced it to appreciate what I mean. I mean ‘thick’. When Sir Alec visited me in Brisbane, we talked about the issues of the day…”open plan”, ”integrated day”, “family grouping”, “team teaching”, “subject integration” and I recall that we talked from the child’s frame of reference. I found one of his talks. It was a breath of fresh air after reading about testucators’ ‘fundamentals’, “achievements’, UDLs… https://sites.google.com/site/teachchoice/siralecclegg He talked about ….

THE EDUCATION OF THE MIND AND SPIRIT [Sir Alec Clegg] :

“From whatever point of view one contemplates the education scene one see at once a marked division between the development of the mind and of the spirit. Now as soon as one mentions the spirit, folk tend to withdraw and to be shy because they do not know what it is.

As I see it, my mind has to do with my ability to see cause and effect, to follow a logical argument, to reason, to calculate, to memorisse facts, to infer and deduce; and it is these attributes of man more than others which have enabled him to make the Concord and the nuclear bomb.

But my spirit is different; it has to do with my fears and joys, my enthusiasms and apathies and my loves and hates. It is this side of my nature which more than my mind I think decides when I shall release the bomb and whom I shall kill with it. It accounts for the emotional mess in Northern Ireland as well as the compassion of Oxfam, and for the fear that Dockers have, not merely of losing their jobs but of being of no account in our society, and it accounts for the driving force of men like Gandhi, Schweitzer, and a whole army of martyrs and saints.

In the school and the classroom the difference between mind and spirit shows itself in simpler ways which are within our grasp. There is for instance the difference between the mechanical process of reading and the enjoyment of what is read; between the mechanics of musical notation and sensitive playing and singing; between writing on a prescribed topic from notes on a blackboard and telling someone in your own written words of something that has excited you; between lessons on perspective and giving the child the urge to draw or model or paint what he sees in his way; between the child whose interest is aroused by how his grandfather and grandmother lived when they were young or by the origins of the local railway or canal or factory, and the child who is made to do the Tudors or do the Stuarts or start with the Ancient Britons in the hope one day of arriving at Elizabeth II; the difference between the teacher who tries to obtain a purely superficial result by frightening children and the one who encourages the child’s ability to achieve; between the teacher who adjusts his own abilities to the needs of the child and the teacher who merely follows the syllabus; between the teacher who tests, ranks and grades children solely on their achievements and the one who can make allowances for handicaps and judges effort; between the head of a school who sees the timetable and the framing and observation of school rules as his main task and the one who, by the use of recognition, expectation and encouragement, draws the best out of colleagues and pupils.

These differences are of course very largely the differences between the Old and New Testaments of our religion. The Old Testament relies on the law, on an eye for an eye, on the promotion of fear of failing, all of which rest in the belief that if a child is trained up in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from that way. The New Testament message is less concerned with the mind and the law. It proclaims that love is the fulfilling of the law, that knowledge puffeth up, that charity edifieth, and that whosoever should offend one of the little ones, etc.

Now the interesting distinction between the Old and the New Testament attitudes in education is that one can more often than not measure the things of the mind, the things governed by law and regulations – spelling, punctuation, calculations, the facts of history and geography, science, technical proficiency, the accuracy of the perspective, the effectiveness of the timetable, even the degree of submission achieved by promotion of fear. But you cannot measure the love of poetry, the sensitivity to music or art, the zest or initiative with which the peculiarities of nature are investigated, the extent to which encouragement and expectation and just treatment breed trust and compassion and concern in a child.

Now of course one cannot divide the curriculum into the things of the mind and the things of the spirit. But it is a fact that in our education system we tend to attach more importance to the things of the mind that can be measured, to the subjects that traffic in these things, to the teachers who can teach them and to children who are good at them, than we do to other activities which deal mainly with what I have called the spirit,and whose manifestations defy measurement.

It is because you principals are less likely than any others in the teaching profession to make these harmful distinctions and because you above all others recognise that a child matters for what he or she is at least as much as for principles and practices and beliefs, all of which I suspect will be tested and questioned by the examiners, the measurers and the structures whose practices are spreading over the land like the plagues of Egypt.”

You have no idea of how much relief that I felt when I returned to the unpackaged real world. Thanks Sir Alec.

Now. Believe this. After all this personal trauma yesterday, I searched this morning’s press to learn how the innovation was treated……..

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When Sir Alec considered the attributes of the best ten principals he had met, he listed the commonalities of their beliefs:

  1. There is good in every child, however damaged, repellent or ill-favoured he or she might be;
  2. Success on which a teacher can build must somehow be found for every child.
  3. All children matter.
  4. Happy relationships between every one around a school are all important.
  5. The life of a child can be enriched by the development of creative powers.
  6. Encouragement is far more important than punishment.
  7. Teachers just as much as pupils need support and thrive on recognition.

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“When Michelangelo was going to Rome to see the Pope prior to his being employed to build the great dome of St. Peters and paint the Sistine Chapel, he took a reference with him : ‘The bearer of these presents is Michelangelo the sculptor….his nature is such that he requires to be drawn out by kindness and encouragement – if love be shown him and he be treated well, he will accomplish things that will make the whole world wonder.’”

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Click: ‘Care for Kids’

Phil Cullen

January 10 2013

treehorn@bigpond.com

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