Treehorn: Why can’t we kids have a test-free, pupil-centred, achievement-oriented, holistic-learning-based-curriculum? Why? Why?
Testucator: We prefer the profit-based, stress-laden, teacher-squirming, unreliable test program, thanks to Murdoch & Klein. We won’t change it. That’s it.
Treehorn: Why can’t you replace tension with challenge, fear with encouragement, ritual with creativity, teacher-bashing with professionalism, subject-hate with love-of-learning, time-wasting-tests with shared- evaluation ?
Testucator: Simple : We don’t know HOW.
The Treehorn Express
Treehorn is the hero of a children’s book called The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heidi. It’s about a small boy with enormous problems, who remained totally ignored by all adults, including his parents, teachers and principal during an important period in his life. Like all young school pupils, he came to learn that adults don’t take much notice of school kids, no matter how dire the circumstances. Children are left on their own to survive, despite the stress that some very cruel adults impose on them – like the operators and users of NAPLAN the Wombat tests. The Shrinking of Treehorn is a powerful story with a morally-stunning conclusion.
Friends Peter & Horrie have reminded me of a talk that I once gave to a Primary Principals’ Conference in the pre-NAPLAN era when Australian schooling was teetering on the edge of greatness, but, sadly, it was the early days of managerialism. Client capture made sure that the course of schooling became based on fear. Murdoch and Klein took over. The smarties went with them. We’re now stuck with whatever it is.
Here’s a re-play of my talk. It’s long. It was a keynote address. It’s a pity we went the wrong way, don’t you think?
THE PUPIL IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR EYE
“In schools, the continuity of development of children’s conceptual and existential knowledge is paramount. Schooling should ignore, as far as possible, any age/grade year classifications and any arrangement that infers block/ development. The school program should be based on holistic, pupiparous modes that maintain correlative and interactive processes of teaching and learning for students during their vital years of compulsory schooling. There needs to be a development of aspects of associative, replicative and interpretive knowledge in a non-graded, seamless fashion through the use of motivational strategies that range from the didactic modes to the maieutic.”
How about that ?
These words constitute an only-slightly-altered group of words originally composed for a public document by a successful non-educated, bureaucratic educator, who was anxious to be promoted. He was.
Such meadow mayonnaise doesn’t have the fertilising qualities that the author intended. Little wonder! Despite its quality, mushiness has its limits. If he had said what he intended to say – that schools need to provide the kind of spirited teaching that suits the learning styles of the unique individuals within – we would have understood him. We would have agreed with him; for the questions that we ask ourselves are about how to provide such teaching and, especially how to adjust our own attitudes so that we can feel satisfied that we are helping our clients in the best way possible.
As practising teachers, we do review our personal philosophies, when we feel like it. We have changed our attitudes over the years, and we try to hold on to our more precious commitments no matter how severe external pressures would have us return to the drastics of former years. Society is slow, sometimes, to understand what we do and why we do it, but it slowly becomes accepting.
We know the content of the present day messages from industry, for example. At present, industry’s support becomes more heartening each year. The near disappearance of employment from the rural industries, the sharp overall decline in most secondary industries and the startling increases in the information and service industries means that the world is now appreciating the different kinds of brain power it needs to exploit. (The way you say this last sentence is important)
The world undoubtedly needs citizens who can think.. The education fraternity has been trying to provide these for a long time, and it is getting better and better at doing so. It could do even better if it was able to sort itself out from its present stalemate instead of trying to copy inadequate models of organisation from inappropriate sources.
Restructuring a human enterprise on business lines has been a disastrous intrusion to the present time.
The education industry will eventually receive big blessings from the profit-oriented industries and from the general public when it universally undertakes activities that far-sighted practitioners have been doing for years. Nevertheless there are still some of our colleagues who have yet to take notice of those who have held to a vision of the true role of schools in a society that keeps changing over the years. By ‘true role’, I mean to infer that the school’s role is seen as part of the life process itself….a school as a place of beauty, challenge, pride and joy wrapped around the pleasures of learning.
In contemporary society, schooling is conducted in an artificial setting – in the sense that it attempts to actualise learning processes in a more rapid way than they would if children were not forced to go to school. Compulsory, institutionalised learning is a factor of modern society.
Attendance at school is a modern day, industrial economic imperative. Schools have been established to secure the continuous development of the kind of society that we live in at the time. Crash-bang-wallop techniques were in vogue through the thirties and forties., and, as they faded during the period of ‘Biggles…long division and multiplication tables’ (Steinle), didactic teacher-dominated techniques changed to the sponsorship of active self-motivated learning. Proudly, one can state that our generation of teachers took the greatest step ever undertaken in the history of schooling. We unscrewed the desks….but let me not dwell on the implications of what we did.. That’s a tome in itself..
Schools have always been centres of learning – and we have been re-discovering the real purpose of them. Confused ? Let me illustrate this, first by reference to some of the terms that we use.
PUPIL TO STUDENT
Whilst we often use the word ‘pupil’ to refer to primary school attenders and ‘students’ to post-primary, the words have far deeper meaning – real life meanings. A pupil is not a young student
The word ‘pupil’ has no age relationship at all. Melba was a pupil of Madame Marchesi.; Michelangelo a pupil of Bertoldi; Greg Norman of Charlie Earp. The relationships were based on the understanding : ‘I will teach. You will learn.’ This important contract establishes a close relationship based, first and foremost on learning and teaching. Two people are involved. Whereas the pupil may have greater potential than the teacher, the teacher is clearly the authority figure, the leader, the curriculum determiner – expertly guiding the learning experiences of the pupil. It is a very, very serious business.
So…since learning is institutionalised in schools, pupils need to know why they are at school and what sort of relationship is intended during the schooling efforts. Too often do we overlook this. Children believe that they go to school only because someone says that they have to go. The excitement of learning has been understated. We teach in the schools because we are more expert at the teaching act than other people in the community and we want to honour the contract of helping children to learn how to learn.
Of supreme importance is the classroom message that says,’ We are here as a group to learn how to learn about Science or Art or…..’ whatever words we use to describe a subject that deserves our combined attention. We are not here to ‘learn science’. The teacher is not here to provide fish, but to teach pupils how to catch them.. This is the real purpose of schooling , which slips from our focus at odd times, but undoubtedly the world depends on our ability to get it right. Of course there are schools where mere management of ritual and time-serving is the end-all and be-all. “Within such mechanistic organisations, “ says Doug Ogilvie, “people are socialised to behave normally (rather than uniquely), to accept authoritarian directions and authoritative interpretations (rather than being self-responsible), to seek extrinsic rewards (rather than intrinsic pleasures), to value institutionalised status (rather than personal development) and to be ignorant of the alternatives that are disguised from them in the process.” (Doug Ogilvie:’The Purpose of Schooling’ Unicorn,Vol.14 No.2, May ‘88, P.103). Doug describes such schools as ‘Schools for Retardation’.
Schools of today need to accept clients, quite sincerely, as pupils , and endeavour to maintain the pupilling for as long as possible during the twelve years or so that they are involved in institutionalised learning. We can come to grips with real personal development by assisting pupils to develop their learning potential so that they become self-motivated human beings who become students of those aspects of our civilisation (perfect or imperfect as it may be) that they find most interesting – whether these aspects be vocational or recreational or academic.
PRIMARY TO SECONDARY
Primary schools are essentially pupilling institutions. They are usually organised for a teaching-learning one-to-one relationship that lasts for a full school year or more. It is an extremely difficult and highly responsible arrangement. The pupilling role extends into secondary schooling for the pupils do not suddenly become self-propelled students from their first day of entry. But there are difficulties – for an increasing emphasis on some fondly regarded subjects-for-discourse, demands new organisational arrangements. Teachers and pupils have to tolerate …..
* isolation of subjects from each other, handled by an expert in a particular subject.
* a responsibility to assessment procedures imposed from beyond the classroom.
* having to establish a pupilling arrangement with different groups whom they see only for brief sessions..
At all levels of schooling there is real difficulty in balancing the attitude of ‘teaching a subject’’ and ‘teaching a person’, even though each teacher realises that teaching the child to love a subject is the best way to teach the subject. Good teachers aim to make themselves dispensable as their pupils surge ahead towards student-hood..
Dewey recognised the difficulties that teachers have when he spoke of their efforts ……’to keep alive the sacred spark of wonder and to fan the flame that already glows. The problem is to protect the spirit of inquiry, to keep it from becoming blase from over-excitement, wooden from routine, fossilised through dogmatic instruction, or dissipated by random exercise upon trivial things.’
Given, then, that keeping these sparks alive can be dampened by over-subjectisation and assessment – a couple of institutional villains and bullies – what reasonable measures can be taken to enable a thinking school or a thinking classroom to fan the glowing learning embers ?
Institutional teaching and learning places enormous power in the hands of each teacher. Each shares with parents, for an important period of time, the development of the lives of growing human beings who are going to take over this world from us. Do we reflect, often enough on this power and how we use it ?
Kathleen A. Butler (“Learning & Teaching Styles’ Maynard,1984)
says, ” I’ve came to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanised or dehumanised.’
Suppose we are able to give some of our thinking time to the consequences of some of our actions ? You do this, don’t you ?
Really ? Surely we can afford the time ! Can’t we give some of our time to forgive ourselves for some of our previous actions and to try something more positive ?…have a mea culpa moment and soldier on? Have we a plan, a strategy that might, at least, help us to maintain the stimulating atmosphere that we that every pupil deserves ? We muck it up sometimes. It happens. How do we compensate ?….
Or…don’t we bother ?
A teaching nun once told me of a pupil who had told her , “Get f…..!” My instinctive reaction would have been to flatten him. (I’m a product of the 30s /40s schools of retardation). Our present day teacher, however, said, “That’s not a nice thing to say to someone who loves you, Danny.”
“Nobody loves me.”
“I love you Danny.”
Wisely, it seems to me, the conversation with Danny did not go much further than this. When she was telling me about it, she was searching for ideas on how to show Danny that her love was genuine – without over-doing it. She was planning for the next encounter that would provide a happy, non-disruptive learning climate for Danny and all of his (future) friends.
This teacher was exhibiting great power and was using it in a healing way on a being who had been severely injured.
ATTRACTIVE LEARNING CENTRES
It is likely that Danny really didn’t want to be at school. The school and classroom situations do not hold an enormous attraction for all pupils.
In the language of today, schools and classrooms need to possess robust cultures with attractive , well-resourced learning centres. The marginal, test-crazed stake-holders aren’t too fussed about this. They say, with confusing rhetoric, that they want ‘performance indicators’ and ensured ‘standards of excellence’ to be revealed during ‘environmental scans’ and ‘periodic testing’ so that their ‘strategic planning’ can be best served. They want to have their bet both ways and if they don’t say things this way, people will think that they don’t know what they are talking about. Would they ever dream of scanning from the pupilling-needs level ?
Back at the school, teachers are trying to cope with enormous odds as they search for ways to improve their classrooms and the activities that take place within them .
They want to put that sparkle into the everyday activities, so that pupils will want to come to school; and will be anxious to get into the classroom because of the challenging learning experiences that are offered there…not to muck around; not to have fun just for the sake of having fun; not to seek some boring relief from the excitement of the extra-mural activities.
Indeed, if they don’t know that they are at school to organise their learning abilities with a particular person or persons, their schooling is a waste of time.
Children have to appreciate, dignify , honour and enjoy their role as PUPILS. They have to know what the word means before the teaching-learning contract can be effective. “Pupil’ is not just a name for a school attender. The name confirms that learning is an absorbing, stimulating activity that goes on for all of the waking hours, but, at school there is a teacher in a resource rich environment who has a special place in each pupil’s learning life.
If children do not know that they are at school to learn how to learn, they are not at school. IT ISN’T A SECRET ! If they are anxious to be there because of this then, quite simply, you have an effective school, a school of excellence. Such a school usually possesses a rich culture that openly pronounces those items of pride – the mottoes, messages, icons, heroes, traditions – that enrich and encourage the learning process. If they don’t do this,we have to throw them out and start again.
The intention of the teacher reigns supreme and needs to be openly shared with everyone. Again, put simply, the teacher is there to empower pupils, just as administration is there to empower, genuinely, all the people on the campus – children, teachers, ancillary staff, visitors. In the long run, everyone is dedicated to helping everyone else to improve the quality of their lives.
Empowerment may be a contemporary vogue-word but it describes one the most crucial roles of the teacher and of administration. Its meaning is not simply to authorise actions, but to put meaning into them. Certainly, in the school, pupils are the foci. It is the school that endows the pupil with the power to take control of their own lives, to put quality into it, to learn how to learn about life and its crucial stepping stones……to become students eventually. Thinking about ways to help Danny to respond to love, to help him to love other people and things, to teach him about cope-ability are important parts of the learning-to-learn process. The unloved, after all, need your love the most ; the unmotivated need your care the most. When you empower others like this, you are teaching.
Not only the Dannies of this world are in need. Each pupil has an equal right to your time, your affection and your teaching, even though some may seem more demanding than others. Each innately wants to be an Elisa Doolittle. Each wants to live up to your expectations of them. Each of us in this room, in fact, is good at something simply because someone once told us we were. This power of the self-fulfilling prophecy is now being applied in fair-dinkum ways as an integral part of teaching and learning. It’s such a powerful motivator. Only fear of failure can quell it.
Much is made of teaching styles. There are style differences. You know this and I know this. There are some things that Mary does with her class better than I do. Jim seems to get more positive cooperation than I do. I am more authoritative than most of my colleagues. I command situations well. What I am really searching for are more effective classroom management techniques to make my learning centre sparkle. I need more hints, perhaps more coaching in certain aspects, more help, more suggestions. As a teacher I need to expand my repertoire of abilities and seek for a greater variety of learning situations. Perhaps I am too comfortable with some strategies and haven’t assiduously tried others. I know that I can improve myself by working at it, but I do need help.
This is the major challenge for administrators of today – how to help fellow teachers to teach better. It ought to be the all consuming passion of all administrators from class teacher to director-general. The most important administrator of all- the school principal – has the most important and busiest role of all. I wonder do principals realise the responsibility that they possess and the power that they have ? Really do?
Our personality is integral to our teaching style and our leadership style, isn’t it ? Have a look around this room…you appreciate the different personalities…you know how successful some have been, perhaps because of some aspects of their personality. Personality cannot be easily changed, but attitudes can adjust.
Perhaps there is some difficulty in trying something new if we are the kind of person who runs a comfortable disciplined classroom. Why should we change ? Who dares influence us ? We are the hard-working, ‘experienced’ members of the staff. In terms of changing our attitudes, we are very hard nuts to crack.
Quality teachers usually share some common traits. Have you noticed certain traits as being evident in teachers whose teaching activities are the most effective ?
They are usually happy people, able to hide the frustrations that they have brought to school with them or those that arise during the day. They are busy people who do not mind what school task they undertake. Their hours at school and at home on planning, preparation, resource design and construction are endless. They are friendly to all, especially to children, and they elicit cooperation because they are prepared to cooperate. They set high standards in a cheerful way and convey the message that they expect high standards – of courtesy, effort, presentation and achievement.
They realise that each child is different, so their expectations are related to the social, moral, aesthetic and academic level of each child. They can challenge the high flying eagles, urge the patient plodder and kiss the forlorn frogs. At whatever level they teach, they know what sort of activities appeal to children of that level and they share with children the creation of a learning environment that appeals to its occupants. They love learning themselves, talk about it constantly and infuse pupils with a desire to learn how to learn. Their inquisitiveness in their efforts to solve problems and seek new challenges becomes infectious.
They search constantly for new ideas and try them out. If they don’t work so well, they try something else. At the end of each day, they say, ‘That wasn’t so bad. What’s on my plate for tomorrow ?’
In their planning, there is little doubt that they will describe their activities in terms of known subjects – Mathematics, Art, etc. –
‘ covering the syllabus’ we used to say. They know the importance of planning strategies for cognitive activity, and we do it better these days than it has ever been done before.. We use better descriptors, too – because we know what we are talking about..
SUBJECTS AS THINGS OF BEAUTY
But – for the remainder of this century – we shall probably continue to use the word ‘subject’. It’s a funny word. I wonder how it started ?
Probably as a shortened version of ‘ a subject for thought, discussion and investigation .’
In the future we shall probably call our ‘courses of study’ by different names. If our pupils have to learn how to learn, why can’t we study Process, Affects and Concepts ? New age subjects ? Let’s look at them and their possibility for being termed ‘subjects’ in our new age curriculum.
Processes have common ground in various sorts of learning, don’t they ? Efficiency in various processes rounds off our abilities to think. Problem solving is an integral part of life, for instance, and its elements need to be taught even though people may solve some problems differently. Inferring, organising, classifying, validating etc. are some of the processes that need to be taught in all kinds of learning activities.
Affects refer to those personal attributes that teachers also teach. Children have innate qualities that form the building blocks for their attitude towards learning and for fulfilling their need for self-esteem. Confidence, persistence, initiative, creativity, enjoyment, cooperation are some of the things that need to be supported, enlarged and prophesied about.
Concepts are the bones of any area of thought or study or investigation. They become part of each pupil’s personally organised store of knowledge and understanding. Concept acquisition incorporates impressions, actions, thoughts, feelings and sharing with others.
Whilst we persist in emphasising the teaching of ‘courses of study called subjects, it is important to convey their attractiveness for study by actually indicating their beauty….. and their challenge to our cognitive abilities. Each is, in itself, a journey of exploration that involves a search for meaning within each topic or sub-topic. Each enriches our conversations because we accumulate easily understood terminology that enlarges meaning. Indeed , the excitement that quality teachers arouse through their teaching of learning processes and affects attached to concept development, enhances the excitement of attendance at a thinking school or learning centre.
It is absolutely essential that we concentrate on teaching ‘the how’ and impressing our young friends with the beauty and joy of things (subjects) that others enjoy ——others, such as teachers, whose enthusiasm for and joy in learning experiences is contagious. It is a daunting challenge, but it is needed if we have to shape up to the needs of the citizens of this coming new 21st century.
JOY OF LEARNING
Enjoyment does not imply a sort of giggle-headed approach to learning and teaching. Learning needs to be a pleasurable undertaking that is serious in its outcomes. It needs to be openly discussed as this. The activities associated with learning need to be of a kind that do not hurt your feelings ..especially those that are associated with inadequacy. They need to convey a sense of pride in accomplishment where errors constitute a challenge and do not sponsor despair ; where the desire to pursue an interest seeps into your being – not a passionate hedonistic crazy pursuit – but a balanced desire to want to learn and keep on learning about learning.
The institutionalisation of schooling ( aka pupilling) ought to mean that this joy of learning has been centred in one place – where it has to be, because that is where the experts in teaching processes, affects and concepts attached to learning how, are located Their pupilling strategies focus on extending this joy so that, after ten, twelve or whatever years’ presence in the institution, they will exit school with a googolplex extension of the enthusiasm that they had when they entered school.
You know how enthusiastic the little pupils are in their early days at school. Holt, The Underachieving School , suggests that schools inhibit this enthusiasm for learning. “It’s a rare child” he says, “who can come through schooling with much left of its curiosity, independence or sense of its own dignity, competence and worth.”
Well, we have to turn that sort of opinion around.
Parents want their children to learn and we all want them to love learning. Why ? When you love learning, the individual acquisition of knowledge is limitless. The partnership between teachers and parents has taken enormous positive strides during the past couple of decades. Still has a fair way to go, mind you. Perhaps few of us have a real vision of what dedicated pupilling in a school context is capable of achieving. Ask some parents what their view is of what a school should contribute. Ask some parents who have survived their children’s adolescence . Ask some whose children have settled down to their place in the world and have children of their own. You can be sure that each generation may have a different view of schooling, but the common ground would be their belief in pupilling as a basic concept. Ask them, too, to describe a school as a pupilling institution.
A simple description of a school would be ‘pupilling institution’, that would be in accord with some famous comment on schools.
John Goodlad, in a article called “The School I’d Like to See.” said that he would encourage processes of thinking in a school (Shades of De Bono !). Learning to think would be the prime focus of the entire school His school would be arranged in phases, not grades or year levels. It would be multi-aged to give every child the chance to be amongst the oldest and the youngest in a group. Phases would be guided by teams, composed of more than qualified teachers. The literacy of learning would transcend any other form of literacy. There would be different adult models available. There would be a great deal of self-selection of activities – no scores, marks or grades ; no report cards; no external rewards. The school would be a 24 hour school, reaching out to all children and youths. The school would be concerned with the processes of personal realisation and fulfilment of individual identity, the development of individuals able to participate in all the richness that could lie ahead.
Sir Alec Clegg sees a school as a place of orderliness, involvement and courtesy….where anger would be minimal….with constant sharing and mutual help….with surroundings that add interest and stimulus, places where work is a joy, where there are full opportunities for conversation. There would be an emphasis on play ( with physical skill being available to all but not ruined by excessive competition);….‘ a haven from fear where honesty prevails, a place to be shared where thought, reason and logic will be pursued in the desire to discover, a desire which will be shared by the teachers who have a similar liveliness of curiosity. Standards of excellence will be pursued by all.’ (Sir A.Clegg: “Some Primary School Matters”)
I have seen some schools that would gladden the hearts of these northern hemisphere commentators. Placed in an emerging context in our great south land, we Queenslanders could summarise a generalised view of pupilling in a learning situation called school as being a place where .
- definitions are clear and meaningful.
- all adults on the campus think about their place in the scheme of thing. Thinking time is a part of each person’s time-table.
- progress through school is marked by increasing joy in the acts of learning as new thresholds are crossed. Such thresholds are not marked by school years but by growth in experiences.
- there is plenty of shared opinions about activities and efforts. The sharing of helpful opinions represents the limit of evaluation processes. Shared opinions between teacher and pupil lead to positive forms of self-evaluation.
- ways are found to develop talents as part of the normal learning processes. Times for unique interests are found but not over-ritualised. Pupils exit school with a great love for a skill or interest.
- when decisions are made, they are based on a simple Four Way Test, not unlike the Rotary Test…………….
- Does it help children to learn better ?
- Does it help teachers to teach better ?
- Does it economise on efforts in the teaching/learning act ?
- Does it provide the greatest good for the greatest number?
So, there are three opinions.
How would you describe a good school ? Describe your own !
When you have the pupil in the middle of your eye, you can’t miss describing an effective, quality pupilling institution. You’d also end up describing three major aspects :-
PROCESSES OF LEARNING
LEARNING HOW TO LEARN
If I could conclude with the question with which I started, ‘How can we help our clients in the best way possible ?’ I should end with this summary…….
We can help best by……
¨ Thinking more about how we teach;
¨ Eliminating those things that are not learning focussed;
¨ Seeking some help in improving our teaching repertoire;
¨ Sharing our plans, desires, strategies and intended outcomes with our pupils, no matter what age they are.
- Institutionalised pupilling is here to stay.
- Pupilling is the only real mandated responsibility of schools,
- Pupilling means that somebody teaches somebody else how to learn.
- Pupilling is about loving, caring, motivating, knowing …..
- Pupilling develops overall learning capacity.
- Achievement is an outcome of desired and developed learning capacity.
- If pupils don’t know that they are at school to learn how to learn, to learn and to achieve, they are not at school.
- Teachers are curriculum experts with special power and ability to teach their pupils how to learn.
- The joy of learning increases, the longer the pupilling processes persist.
- The joy of learning has a profound positive effect on the other pupilling processes.
- Pupils are anxious to be at school because of the expanding levels of joy, ability, self-esteem, confidence and challenges presented by the learning act.
- Pupils know that such pupilling processes will expand, and they will expect greater things.
- Isolation of subjects, assessment procedures and large class numbers can close on this expansion.
- Pupils, at some stage of their late-adolescent or adult life, become self-motivated students of some self-selected interest(s).
There’s a pupil in the middle of your eye.
Postscript: While I said these words at the time with confidence in the reactions of participants, I feared that, by 21st Centurry, I’d end up with that elderly Jew at the Wailing Wall.
You know and I know that pupils do not need to be threatened to achieve to the highest limits . You know that test results are, more often than not, artificial outcomes unrelated to achievement.