A brief comment on the classroom application of the holistic and developmental in Magazine Years

The key definition is on page 27:

The lead in sentence is that ‘Developmental is the overall classroom practice derived from the holistic philosophy.’

‘The holistic philosophy is about the interaction of the cognitive and the affective.’

This means that knowledge pertinent to the activity, whether it is social studies, drama, art, science, mathematics, reading, writing, or physical education, is introduced and learnt in a way that motivates children to want to undertake an activity and be better able to; it is far more than getting children interested; it is about an enriched willingness and ability to proceed – that is the crucial interaction referred to. The knowledge must enhance curiosity; will answer some questions but only to open other more advanced ones.

For professional growth this is a most fertile part of the holistic – the task of getting children truly motivated whether by outside observation, art, drama, reading to them, thinking activities, sharing of outcomes, and discussion. Heavens above, being good at this was a renowned primary schools’ characteristic. Attending to this holistic criterion is a powerful but safe way for any school wanting to edge to a holistic-developmental narrative.

But one of the biggest challenges to being able to do this is the Tomorrow’s Schools’ White Rabbit phenomenon. Teachers have taken on it seems the characteristics of White Rabbit: ‘I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!’ What the White Rabbit is late for and teachers are late for, is never made clear, which, of course, is the prime source from which the behaviour gains its hold and mystique.

A well-recognised way to achieve this increase of knowledge and motivation is by integration, for instance, using art and drama with writing, social studies, and science. In choosing to integrate, great care should be taken to protect the integrity and essence of art, drama, and writing (also dance and music). (The essence of anything in the arts is always sincerity.) Drama for me, as a curriculum area, is a metaphor in itself for the holistic and developmental – yet sorely neglected. When, as a young classroom teacher, I stumbled on drama I was astonished at how deeply it involved children. No deep reasoning was needed to calculate its pedagogical worth; something existential was happening to children. Drama, without any outside aid to me, became central to my teaching. The near complete absence of drama from classrooms (a White Rabbit symptom) serves to generate another metaphor, this time one of encroaching classroom aridity.

Everybody it seems is too busy to really discuss the curriculum, consider new ideas outside the ministry prescribed ones. Where does this kind of education end, I ask.

That is why the timeless curriculum ideas from Magazine Years Five will fall largely on sterile ground – I know this; I will be disappointed, of course, but philosophical, even mildly amused, as such ideas I comfort myself await an audience, beyond my time.

Children are not being set up for highly motivated and challenging learning – so often more for reflexively-prompted computer learning which is the antithesis.

I’m asking for teachers to do more teaching, of the right kind of course (see below), as a precursor and continuing presence to ensure children are deeply involved in their learning.

At a very practical level, the timetable can be helpful in reducing White Rabbit anxieties. Starting the day with a language block, leading gently into reading and writing can be a useful move. Yes, I know, maths cross-grouping is more conveniently placed there – but only administratively convenient. When schools can teach maths without cross-grouping, then without fixed ability grouping, that will represent a pedagogical breakthrough. Can’t be done at the drop of a hat, but can be done.

All the ideas in this posting are given extra curriculum explanation in Curriculum 3 and 4. Ability grouping in maths and a way to reduce it is given a lot of attention in Curriculum 4.

‘Teaching and learning being organised by broad aims (assisted by criteria that can be seen as converted objectives).’

In Magazine Years there is a teaching unit that details the nature and detail of how this works (pages 86-101). The broad aim referred to is a dynamic one that organises everything that happens in the learning, keeping it on track, and expresses the essence of the curriculum area. The criteria are there to be observed in the array of activities undertaken in the learning. (Yes – the approach is activity based.)

‘Learning being meaningful. Exploratory, and challenging (hence the attention to discovery learning and problem solving).’

Computer learning can fit this holistic criterion but only after the teacher has carried out skilfully his or her function of deepening and refining the learning. In the description of the holistic and developmental (pages 20-47), the learning unit (pages 86-101), and on nearly every other page, the importance of learning being about discovery, openness, and problem solving is emphasised.

Magazine Years abounds in powerful activities to be taken in powerful ways. A key way is for an activity to be organised so that children have space and time to express and commit to their own thinking.

‘Learning experiences having shape extending from an introduction, to gaining information, to using that information flexibly, to a conclusion.’

Every curriculum area will have its way of doing this, but the general pattern set out is the key to challenging children in their learning and to preparing them for real inquiry and problem solving.

But have teachers lost the skill to teach? or have unmediated, shallow, generalised downloads brought about its demise?

‘Children having significant control over their learning.’

How can I go anywhere near to encompassing this?

At some stage in the shaped learning experience referred to above, a child, after discussion with the teacher and having refined the matter to explore, should be able to break off to undertake computer inquiry, also to return to class activity as desired.

Blocking the timetable, especially the beginning of the day with language, can aid this control.

So can a child:

Carrying on with an activity from a curriculum area even though the rest of the class may have moved on to activities from another

Being able to undertake an activity they have thought up or want to undertake, for instance, writing, reading, drama (with some others), artwork

Pursuing an activity to a conclusion

Working on activity at a pace that suits them

And so on.

Magazine Years is alive with both small and large ways for classrooms to be returned to children and teachers, and away from school architecture, computer misuse, principals marching to another beat, education bureaucrats, and that invidious quantity called research-based evidence. Most will turn away from the message in Magazine Years, and I completely understand, even sympathise, but others may move with some relief to another narrative, the holistic one, and either gradually with a small step, or decisively with a somewhat larger one, start out on this more spiritually rewarding journey.

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2 Responses to A brief comment on the classroom application of the holistic and developmental in Magazine Years

  1. Bruce Hammonds says:

    You have picked the eyes out your latest publication about holistic education Kelvin. Great minds thinking alike because I had decided to do the same myself in my Leading Learning blog. I will still do this- it is a valuable message and worth repeating.

    Your comments on the destructive use of ability in literacy and numeracy grouping are spot on.

    I recall classrooms that reflected the philosophy you outline but am not sure such holistic/creative/ integrated teaching is to be found these days.

    I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for my blog and include a link back to your posting.

  2. Kelvin says:

    Thanks Bruce. My goodness the postal service can be speedy. The booklet was posted Friday morning. As I know you understand we have to entice principals back into the holistic and to do that I have, in the posting, set up the possibilities of gradualism, so that, at least, the holistic narrative is part of schools’ thinking. The intention is to achieve a small value shift as some defence against incipient private capital control of schools based on narrow measurement. Your words, I know, will contribute mightily to the debate. Your posting comment was also very quick as schools have not yet been alerted to it. You’re really on the ball.

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