Bruce Hammonds on using the immediate environment for expressing and learning

Personal writing is a means to let the children affirm that their own lives are significant and worth recording. By bringing their world into school we are in a way legitimising the children’s unique existence and, in a small way, helping them come to terms with themselves and their experiences. We are also reinforcing the idea that small scale events of one’s own life are valid things to think about and express. Many children in our school seem to mistrust their own way of thinking, finding security in the ‘right’ answers that many teachers prefer.

There are a number of activities that can help children develop their own ability to express themselves and to recognise that they all have something of value to say and share. For children who have learnt to dislike writing (even early in primary school) this at first will be no easy task and will require time. Teachers who contemplate introducing such a programme must appreciate that it will take a long time, even for the competent writers, to share their innermost thoughts with a teacher. It will be over to teachers to develop the right atmosphere and relationship so that the children will come to trust their ideas with them.

Theme selection is an important matter because many children have great difficulty in focusing on the most important aspect of an experience whether from memory or the present. Often language topics are chosen which are so broad in canvas that intensive thought is impossible. For example, an account of a day’s visit starts from the moment the child wakes and then develops into a recitation of events. To avoid this, ask children to quickly list all the things they remember about the trip (or a happy event, or beginning school …). From this initial list the children then select an idea for development.

Another useful technique is scribe writing. This has been found most successful when used with junior classes and with older children who have lost confidence in their writing ability through repeated lack of success.

Scribed writing is simply the children’s language written down by the teacher as it is spoken by the children. This last point is vital if the teacher wishes to gain the confidence of the child. Scribed writing allows the children’s thoughts to be recorded with immediacy. These thoughts can be used for the individual child’s reading and can be kept on large charts to be referred to when necessary. Obviously it is possible to work with only a small group of children. Scribed writing recognises the very important link between talking, reading, writing, and visual expression. The emphasis must always be on the value of self-expression.

We now move closer to a consideration of the quality of children’s written language.

Every child should be encouraged to see the shapes, patterns, textures, and movements of things around them.

Children should learn to be able to express their thoughts and feelings about such experiences and make comment on the network of relationships that exist on a personal level for us all. To see with the eyes of a scientist, poet, and artist is an important experience for all children. The environment is a rich storehouse of visual memories and emotional responses to be embroidered, relived, combined, and transformed by the imagination, ready to be recalled by an active mind. The teacher’s task is not to teach in this situation, but to set the children free to do their own learning. Inspiration is there for the taking.

Vital to achieving quality responses in language or any expressive form is a need to develop a reflective atmosphere, both in the class and in the field. Encouraging a reflective atmosphere in a large class is not any easy task but it is an important one. The more ‘open’ the classroom programme, the more it is a necessary.

The allowing of time is a vital ingredient in the development of work of quality in any subject field. When achieved it gives the teacher an opportunity to enter into meaningful dialogue with individual children – listening, helping and, most of all, valuing the child’s efforts. At these times, the teacher can really assist children in making their own discoveries.

Possibly the teacher’s own actions and responses to the environment is the best model. It is also important for the teacher to explore the potential study areas of the local environment. Too often teachers rush unprepared into a field trip outdoors, armed with the belief that such experiences will automatically interest and thereby involve children. The truth is that unless the children have the correct attitudes and skills, much of the time will be wasted in containing over-excited children rather than using their natural enthusiasm more constructively.

The following are some activities teachers could provide:

Looking high above us. Collect thoughts about clouds, the wind, tree branch shapes, birds, aeroplanes … Lie down on the lawn or concrete.

A search for tiny animals. Note where they are found, what they looked like, and what they did when they were disturbed. Look under stones, in grass, in flowers … Work on hands and knees.

Take out a small group and play ‘I spy’. Observations could be illustrated and made into a chart or booklet.

Feel the wind. Go outside on a windy day. Pretend to be blown around. Be aeroplanes, birds. Sit down and gather thoughts about the wind, what it does, what it reminds us of, and what it is. What makes wind? Copy the ideas on display sheets, name beside, or have the children write their ideas for display. Be unreceptive to ideas children have just repeated. Leave the sheets on display for long-term interest and adding to. Use this process as a model in consideration of all environmental activities. The immediate environment should be seen as a laboratory.

Go on a tree shape hunt. Visit a selection of interesting trees and gather observations, descriptions, and thoughts.

Look at the leaf, trunk, branch patterns. Measure height, girth, and spread. Draw shape.

Rain. Put on raincoats and explore gutters, raindrops. Collect rain thoughts. Observe raindrops on windows.

Visit after rain – when the sun is out. How has the rain changed our world?

The magic of dew. Collect thoughts about a heavy dew. Paint dew-drop paintings.

Frost. Walk on fresh frost. Collect impressions. Look at the patterns. Explore icy puddles. Break one. Describe.

Complete the paintings – white on black.

Shadows. Visit some shady areas, what are they like? Contrast with a sunny spot. Play games with your shadow.

Puddles. After a shower of rain on a hot day visit a puddle. Look into it. What can you see (reflections)? Drop a pebble into it. Draw around with chalk – observe during the day. Where has the water gone?

Playground rocks. Visit early in the morning. How do they feel? Revisit late afternoon on a hot day. How do they feel? How did they get hot? Record thoughts. What else gets hot in the sun? A bucket of water? Wooden walls …?

Kowhai in spring. Visit kowhai (if you’re lucky so might a tui!) Admire colour. Discuss shape. Collect a flower and in class explore – petals, stamens, and pistil. What is the function of these parts? When the kowhai has finished flowering, watch the skinny seed pods grow – measure growth. Make a lino cut.

Observe a flower. A simple colourful flower like a poppy is ideal. Direct observations to the young bud, a flower opening, petals falling, and seed box. Note any other areas of interest. Make a flower mural – life and death of a flower. Mime growth.

Measure. Have a flower show. Grow plants or seeds.

Observing birds. Go on a bird walk in winter or spring. Describe birds you see. Count them. How big are they? What is their behaviour? Make a bird feeding table. Make a bird mural. Name those you can. How do birds fly?

Explore a bird’s nest. Admire a nest. What thoughts come to mind? Measure. Take apart carefully, write a description.

Tree trunks and bark patterns. What is the function of bark? Visit a select number of tree trunks in the playground to feel textures and describe shapes. What images come to mind? Look at shapes, colours, patterns.

Use a crayon to take bark rubbings. Measure girth and height to first branch. Look for animals and plants on trunk – especially around base.

A number of leaf activities. Visit the environment to find a range of leaves from the very small to the largest you can measure. Another visit could concentrate on the thinnest to widest leaves. Some leaves could be traced on to squared paper and the area counted. Visit to find leaves with a variety of shapes – from simple to complex; leaves with more than one colour; leaves with interesting textures. Such activities could lead to comparisons, measurement, and classification skills. As well, leaf prints with crayon or ink and rollers can be introduced. Make a lino cut. Copying machines make excellent copies of leaves. Games such as find this leaf can be developed.

Leaf shapes in lawn or waste area. Collect at least six different shaped leaves from a limited area. Sit and discuss ways in which they could be grouped (size, shape, colour, feel …). Describe a number of the more interesting ones. Make a pressing or take a leaf print – add descriptions.

Wild flower collection. See how many small wild (weed) flowers you can find. Bring a flower from each back to class. Group them by colour. Paint or invent some flower patterns. How many different flowers? Graph common colours.

Lawn daisies or dandelions or cape daisies. In spring or summer when the fields are covered with daisies, visit to gather impressions. Lie down and look at eye level. Describe. Throw physical education hoops and count flowers. Find the longest stemmed flower. Make a flower mural. Count petals.

Autumn leaves. Look for autumn leaves. Lie in them. Throw in the air. Collect different colours. Which are the oldest? Which have the best colour? Write impressions, thoughts. Make an autumn tree mural.

Spring buds. Visit trees and shrubs in spring. Observe buds. Describe different buds – sticky, furry, pointed, scaled … Discuss what might be inside. What do new leaves look like? What function do leaves carry out? Fat buds are usually flower buds – thin ones, leaves. Make a display inside. Bring along buds from home – pussy willow, magnolia.

Insect visitors. Either visit one flower bed or one shrub which has insect visitors or check a number of plants. What animals can you see? Describe them. Collect children’s thoughts. Keep selected animals in suitable containers. Paint giant flowers and add insects and thoughts. Group insects. Count them.

Looking into lawns. A mini-jungle. Lie down on a lawn or along a fence line. What shapes, patterns can you see? What animals? What are they doing? Plan a mini-jungle mural. Write impressions. Mime. Classify finds by colour, shape, movements, number of legs …

Worms. Why are worms useful to people? Detergent and water brings worms to the surface. How many from a square metre? Place on paper and observe, listen, measure. Observe movements, write thoughts. Look for worm casts – how are they made? Find worms on the surface after heavy rain.

Snails. Undertake a snail search. Look in leaves of flax, red hot pokers, under things. Observe and describe snail trails. Place snails on glass and observe, describe, and write thoughts. Note movement. Draw. Make a lino cut. Measure speed. Have a snail race.

Slaters. Find some slaters. Note where you found them. Look under a rock, in grass around trees, under things. Put in a 3D viewer. Observe. Count legs. Write thoughts.

Spiders and spiders’ webs. Visit spiders’ webs (orb webs or cartwheel webs) on a dewy morning. Describe. Write impressions, thoughts. Count spokes. Which bits are sticky? Feed in a fly – observe. Make a giant web in the classroom. Catch a spider – observe in a jar. Count parts of body – legs, eyes. Describe. Draw.

Monarchs, emperor moths, white butterflies. Follow the life cycle of a moth or butterfly. Record changes. Describe movements. Draw caterpillars and adults.

Material used in building. Walk around the school to see what different kinds of materials are used in building. What are the properties of each? What textures? How do they react to the sun? How are they treated? Make a collection of materials. Group them. Wood, glass, iron, concrete, tiles, plastic, aluminium, bricks, blocks …

Follow the sun. Follow the sun through the sky on a sunny day. Make a note or diagram where it is at each hour. You could mark with chalk the movement of sun’s rays in the room. Where does the sun rise – and set? Write sun thoughts. What are your ideas about the sun? Night and day? The moon? Stars?

Patterns against the sky. Search the school grounds for patterns made by objects against the sky – describe (or draw) what can be seen – tree branches, telephone wires, birds, TV aerials, pylons …

A feelings walk. Emphasise the sense of touch. Go on a feelings walk to feel and describe textures. How can we group the things we feel – rough, sticky, warm …? Collect thoughts about each. Take rubbing of textures. Make a display of textures. Blindfold children and feel textures. Make a video.

A listening walk. Listen to sounds in different parts of the school grounds – under trees, by the road. Shut eyes. Record thoughts about sound – make into a sound poem. Listen to small sound (imagine a leaf falling) – distant sounds. Make a list of sound words.

A smell walk. Collect thoughts about smells. Make a smell poem. Smell smoke of the incinerator. Newly mown grass. Crush up phebalium leaves – mint, parsley. How do the smells travel? Smell crushed onion weed, flowers. Grasses. In summer collect as many grass flowers as you can. Measure the tallest piece of grass. Play ‘tinker-tailor’ with rye-grass. Lie in the grass. Smell grass. Write thoughts.

In autumn collect as many examples of seed heads, seeds, and fruits as you can. Back in class sort them out into groups. Make a display of seed heads.

Shape hunt. Walk around the school looking for as many round things as you can find – or curved things. Walk to find exciting things, delicate things, solid things, shapes …

Pattern walk. Collect as many examples of patterns as you can – weatherboard, tree branches, bricks, netball lines …

Looking for records. Find a pod with the most seeds, the animal with the most legs, the flower with the least number of petals, the shortest leaf, the narrowest leaf, the biggest weed, the longest daisy flower stalk …

Estimating. Use a stretched out hand (span) to measure a tree trunk, a flower bed, the height of a friend. What could you measure with your finger, your foot, a step? Guess, then measure.

Explore space. Find a big area. Explore as much as you can. Run to all the corners. Walk using giant steps, tiny steps, kangaroo jumps, on toes, on heels, skip – fast, slow. Swing arms. Spin. Bend. Lie down, crawl.

Map making. Use directions from children to make written instructions for getting from A to B in the school grounds. Emphasise precision. Get another adult and teacher to follow instructions.

As Bruce has suggested, when taking children outdoors we are trying to lead them into experiences that will involve them touching, seeing, tasting (where possible), smelling, and hearing things in their world, and we also want them to become involved in experiences which lead to imagining, exploring, measuring, reasoning, drawing, inventing, experimenting, investigating, and selecting so that these experiences will enrich the learner and lead to personal growth. Most of all we want the children to come to think of the environment as a place to enjoy, care for, and to learn in, and from.

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Brief comment on Wairoa College

I respond to the Wairoa Star front-page article Thursday, July 27, in which the current limited statutory manager has gone and a new one, Lex Hamill, appointed.

The Wairoa Star

There have been a number of heroes in the Wairoa College affair: one of them the Wairoa Star itself, fulfilling admirably the function of a regional newspaper; the mayor of Wairoa fought strenuously for the welfare of the teachers and students; the board of trustees has been terrific and the new chairperson looks set to ensure it continues to be so; the person called in to do the appraisal which showed the principal to be doing his best, and with some success, displayed wonderful professionalism; the administrative and curriculum advisers who supported the principal, and the teachers and students who also supported him, displayed great strength of character.

As a senior inspector of schools who was involved in difficult school situations in my departmental work, also in the numerous calls on me by principals and board for support and protection in the Tomorrow’s Schools era, there was nothing new in the basic nature of what occurred. Some may criticise me for breaking open the matter but I have found that, despite the criticism, in the current education system, that is often the only path to some final justice and resolution.

In the circumstances that have evolved, I am delighted with the appointment of Lex Hamill, both for the experience and knowledge he brings, and because it breaks the status quo.

An applicant from Australia put in for job and won it. He deserved fair, open, and decent treatment. Yes – he was up against it in that it was a school with largely Maori students and staff, so a close knowledge of Maori culture would have seemed important; and education change, no matter how good, does not always lead to immediate education substance.

But the appointed principal was a good man who wanted to do good things for the students of Wairoa and managed to do so.

The principal was not treated in a fair, open, and decent way. I am only going to talk about the system here.

The education review office visit was unfair. To say the student achievement was a concern was fatuous – the principal had clearly moved to do something about that longstanding matter. To impose a limited statutory manager without having discussed the matter with the principal and board is inexplicable if fairness is valued. Underhand things were happening here. The education review office will splutter but I have heard and seen it all before. Why did the review office suddenly let it all fall on the new principal, why were prior review office visits cancelled?

I am not going to go over the behaviours, apparent lack of education knowledge, and attitude of the limited statutory manager, who was appointed. The new board chairperson subtly alludes to the situation in the newspaper article.

I would ask this: did the head of the Napier ministry visit the school at any time the principal was there? That surely would have been the fair, open, and decent way to proceed.

The resignation of the principal was not sudden, it was the wearing down by the education system of a good and righteous person. My heart goes out to him.

I wish the Wairoa community and school well.

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The moment it went wrong for being a principal

The idea in Tomorrow’s Schools was that if the government got the administration of education right, and principals followed suit with their schools, the appropriate curriculum implementation would devolve from that. And an appropriate curriculum implementation did evolve from that – a curriculum appropriate to the way neoliberalism worked in education.

The year was early 1989, with Tomorrow’s  Schools officially imminent; the place a conference facility at Onerahi, Whangarei; the conference sponsored by the Whangarei Principals Association; the speakers Maurice Gianotti, soon to be head of the education review office, who spoke the first day, and me, to speak the second.

Principals who attended still shake their heads at the chasmic divide between the messages of the two days. Maurice Gianotti in his urbane way delivered a message of sunny vistas; I, in my barbarians-at-the-gate mode, of an education system going too far to the right and heading into series of calamitous storms. Both of us, of course, overstated our positions.

There was no doubt where the main point of difference lay: the role of the principal in curriculum matters in their schools. Maurice Gianotti spoke of the way goals should be set, administrative systems established, delegations made, reviews and accountability systems established, also systems for teacher assessment of children’s learning. He made much, of course, of the freedoms that would be available to schools, and the opportunities for initiative. In speaking of the role of the review office, he said that, in respect to the curriculum, their attention would be on outcomes; under no circumstances were officers to comment or give advice on classroom practice or the curriculum. He said that it was on school administrative systems and learning outputs that the review office would focus, and that under Tomorrow’s Schools that was where principals should be focused, too. The message was somewhat softened by his talk of the often-made distinction between management and leadership. In his references to leadership, the role of the principal inevitably became somewhat involved in setting up curriculum opportunities. While Maurice Gianotti’s talk was fairly much the standard neoliberal talk for the time, it was not as harsh as some other such advocacies. Indeed, Maurice Gianotti was only to last two years as head of the review office to be replaced by Judith Aitken: Maurice Gianotti could not force himself to be as ruthless as his political controllers required.

The argument I developed on my day to speak (I have the notes in front of me now) was the damage about to be done: teachers would be marginalised; our child-centred and professional value system demeaned; attention would be to administration and away from the curriculum; we would have accountability; and they – the government and the bureaucracies – would have the power. However, I said the tactic now is ‘to make the best of what clearly isn’t the best and to act on the implications of the changed system and turn the situation to best advantage.’ At about the same time as this conference, it is significant to note, Lange ruefully acknowledged that Tomorrow’s Schools was not about children and learning as was promised, which would now come later he promised again (but it never did). To be fair, a lot about children and learning did come later, but none of it freed teachers to be more creative and imaginative, which is what this posting is deeply concerned about.

The setting, about a year later, is the Waipuna Conference Centre; the occasion an Auckland Principals Conference; this time I had only an hour to say whatever I wanted to say. I launched into it in impassioned tones. I titled my talk: ‘Knowing who we are, knowing the new reality: Then taking the initiative and scaring the living daylights out of them.’ Fat chance, I know.

The emphasis was on the characteristics of the New Zealand way. I talked of Clarence Beeby, Elwyn Richardson, Sylvia Ashton-Warner, developmental teaching, the balanced reading system (‘I can read’), drama (potentiallly life changing), the arts (responding to the environment as a place in the South Pacific), social studies (interaction of knowledge and the affective), science (investigative), mathematics (problem solving), and writing (sincerity). Particular attention was paid to the need to engage the affective as the basis for learning, to teachers having the freedom to pursue children’s interests freely and imaginatively; and to the availability of choice (carefully set-up following a series of open-ended activities) for children in their learning. At the end, I was satisfied with what I’d said and the reception received.

When, however, I was in morning tea line, two principals in the coffee one headed directly to me; one of them spoke, the other nodded in agreement.

‘Kelvin,’ the principal said, ‘that was good, but we are past that now, the curriculum is not our real interest, administration is.’

The principals did not intend offence, and I did not take any. In fact, such comments directly from schools are a valuable source of clarity in evaluating complex situations. The comment is tellingly germane to when the role of principals in relation to the curriculum had changed. It was at that moment I fully comprehended, that yes, the role of the New Zealand principal had changed and, in my interpretation, gone wrong. From then on, principals would make decisions on the curriculum through an administrative focus rather than an informed curriculum one.

In 2016, quite by chance a retired principal wrote to me and in passing mentioned that he had heard me speak for his first time at Waipuna and that he had sat by a person who was ebulliently supportive of my message throughout; he was to learn that that person, a later speaker, was Witi Ihimaera.

Such are the small things one holds on to.

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Clay in school

Another in the very popular arts series by Chris Graham

Primary-school children find clay a wonderfully tactile medium to tell their stories.

The manipulation of clay has a universal fascination for children. When given a tennis-ball sized piece of clay they immediately poke, squeeze, stretch, and roll it into a variety of forms. They add or pull out legs, arms, wings, and horns.  With pinched out lips, noses, scales, buttons and attached pellet eyes, hair and spikes, their clay models possess a directness and dynamism that only this process can provide.

Snakes, birthday cakes, cups, fish, dinosaurs, clowns, hearts, butterflies, birds, kangaroos, trees, rugby balls, surfboards, and flowers will soon abound.

Generally primary-school children do not add particular detail to these spontaneous forms apart from those developed by fingers. However, further texture and pattern experiment can be encouraged with the use of found objects such as old pens, ice-cream sticks, screws, nails, plastic forks, and knives to impress and incise designs on clothes, hair on cats, feathers on birds, and so on.

Clay offers opportunities for personal expression for children of all ages, however, there are real difficulties for the busy teacher who has to deal with a messy material like this. Sound classroom organisation and an understanding of modelling processes, as well as preparing, drying and firing, is vital for success. A very helpful guide can be found in Sculpture – Exploring the Visual Arts in Years 1-6, pages 22-25, a Ministry of Education booklet held in every primary school.

Clay is readily available from suppliers of school art materials. It should be as soft as possible without being sticky. Children can store individual allocations in a plastic bag inside a closed plastic ice-cream container. A damp sponge inside the plastic bag will maintain a moist atmosphere and stop the clay drying out and becoming unworkable. Unfinished models can also be stored in this way and reworked as children find time.

A class collection of textural tools can be stored in a bucket and made accessible when required. Plastic rods are very useful. The ends, corners and edges can be used to make an infinite number of impressed patterns in clay surfaces.

Because clay shrinks as it dries, legs, arms, heads, handles, spikes, and spurs are liable to fall off completed models. It is essential that children learn effective methods of joining. Surfaces should be roughed up with an old toothbrush and joined with slip (a paste made with clay and water). If a hole is made in the body with a stick or fingers and arms and legs then inserted, the joint will be strengthened.

An exercise for the imagination

Inspired by Finding One’s Way With Clay by Paulus Berensohn

To reinforce children’s spontaneity and encourage those who are diffident, the following warm-up, skill-building activity is useful and should precede every project.  Give each child a tennis-ball sized piece of clay and a few clay tools. Lead the session with a series of instructions and suggestions. Be sure to encourage children’s efforts as they work. For younger children simplify the instructions and make suggestions based on familiar shapes and forms:

  • Prepare ten small amounts of clay: round balls, squares, egg shapes, or just pieces
  • Pick up your first piece. Begin to push, pull, pinch, and roll your clay to make something. This may be a free form and not look like anything you know
  • After two minutes put down what you are working on and start another
  • Let your fingers work fast and try not to repeat yourself
  • There are no rules. Don’t criticise what you have done, just keep going
  • Can you tear the clay, pleat it, twist it, plait it, wrap it, or fold it?
  • Use your fingers and the clay tools to make patterns
  • If you don’t know what to do next, look around the room until something catches your eye that you can translate through your fingers into the clay: the clock, the seven-times table, the globe
  • Or imagine things being placed in front of you as you work: a book, a sandwich, a pear, a cat, a lampshade, a button, a basketball, a buttercup, or a beetle
  • Can you make a quick three-dimensional sketch in your clay of those lines of that pear?
  • When your time is up and you have completed ten forms, spend a minute or two deep breathing and stretching
  • Now look carefully at your models and choose one that seems the most interesting. You might combine two or more of them.  Tell a partner why you made your choice.

A series of planned lessons should follow the previous experimentation. They should develop children’s skills and extend their ability to tell their stories through a sound understanding of the processes involved when modelling with clay. These lessons should teach children to:

  • Take a creative approach through a confident and relaxed attitude free from fear of failure
  • Solve problems and use clay in increasingly inventive ways
  • Use expressive qualities in their models that indicate personal thoughts, feelings, and narratives
  • Develop the skills necessary to work successfully with clay.


Slabs depicting small animals arising from a science study are a good starting point.

Use a rolling pin or dowel to roll out a hand-sized slab about a centimetre thick. (Use your thumb as a guide.)  The edges can be trimmed to provide clay for building on to the slab. Thin pieces of clay are shaped and joined to form a bas relief (low-relief) model. Small coils and pellets of clay can be added for details with texture and pattern impressed into the surface with various tools.

 Story Pots

Children enjoy making story pots that include words, bas-relief images, and models.

They often arise from the language and social studies programme.

A straightforward instructional framework helps children develop a sequence without dictating an outcome:

  • Roll out four slabs about the thickness of your thumb
  • Use small coils to make a word and join them to one of the slabs
  • Now make a picture from thin pieces of clay to illustrate your word
  • Attach it to the second slab
  • Carefully join the slabs together and join to a base
  • Add a figure or any other contextual objects to tell your story.

With experience, these basic ‘story pots’ develop in complexity and become vessels, carrying sophisticated cultural narratives.


Working in the round  

Children enjoy making three dimensional models. Pets and animals, real and imaginary, are always popular. Impressed patterns can indicate a cat’s fur or a dinosaur’s skin.

Older children are more successful in dealing with the complexities of figure modelling. A suitable narrative arising from the language programme can be utilised.

Developing an idea:

  • Consider a situation, real or imagined, in which you have felt particularly tired and dejected or relaxed and happy
  • Position yourself in a way that depicts your mood at the time
  • Carefully observe your body position and employ this information when creating a modelled figure or figures if you’re portraying a relationship: mother and baby or victorious team members for instance
  • You could work in pairs to do this.

Modelling the figure:

  • Divide your tennis-ball sized piece of clay into four fairly even pieces
  • Roll one piece into an oval cylinder to form the body (torso)
  • From the second piece roll a coil about four times as long as the body and about half the width. This coil will become the legs
  • Now for the arms roll another coil about the same length as the legs but a little thinner
  • The fourth piece can be used to make a neck, a head, and details for clothing, and so on
  • Assemble the figure making sure all joins are secure (use a toothbrush and a small amount of water to roughen and wet the surfaces to be joined)
  • It may be seated, kneeling, or reclining. If standing the model will need support – leaning against a boulder perhaps
  • It must show a mood: relaxation when reading a book, sunbathing, or playing the guitar, happiness when opening a present, fright when the dog barks, surprise when something unexpected happens
  • Consider head and shoulder positions, tilt the head to suit the pose
  • Think about the position of the back, arms, and legs, use small pieces of clay to build up shoulders, chest, legs, and arm muscles
  • Flatten the ends of legs and arms for feet and hands. Indicate fingers and toes or shoes
  • Use small pieces of clay to add hair, features, and clothing details – sleeve and trouser cuffs can be added and smoothed to suit. Create folds and creases
  • Attach your model to a suitable slab
  • Develop your story by creating at least two associated contextual objects –  suitcase, pack, stick, dog, blanket, guitar, rock, log, ball, beach towel, book …
  • These forms must be joined securely to the figure and/or one another for stability
  • Work on a piece of card turning the model frequently so that it shows the mood from every viewpoint.

Sunbathing at the beach


  Reading a book                                                                                    Pets


Children’s concentration and engagement in the task and sheer enjoyment when working with clay makes this an essential part of all primary school classrooms.

                    [Thanks to all the children whose work is featured here.]

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Independent facilitators being harassed to favour corporates and private companies: academies on way

By an independent facilitator (with my comments in bold)

I was alerted to the changes in PLD by the principal of a school where I was working in mid-2016. They wanted to apply for central funding as my PLD with the school had revealed a need for further professional development.

Searching online I eventually find the necessary forms for the accreditation process. I don’t know who designs the forms but it took me three days realigning columns so examples of practice, evaluation, evidence, and the criteria/indicators, continue to align after adding or editing text in any of the columns.

[The above were the first signs of where things were heading.]

Accreditation I initially thought was a good idea as it could lead to quality facilitators who really know what they are talking about. They would understand the teachers’ role and the needs of students and how to implement changes that actually work in a classrooms and ultimately raise the achievement of students.

My accreditation forms were completed and submitted in the first week of August 2016. An automated email was received saying my submission had been received.

Further reading on the website talked about the RFP (request for proposal) process but also stated that accreditation was required before undertaking the RFP process. [Got the trick?] It appeared the RFP process was something for organisations to undertake not individual independent consultants.

[I am not going to refer to Kafka except to say I’m not going to refer to it – but there it was: something very strange was happening with the accreditation process.]

I received no further communication until an email arrived with dates for facilitator meetings in a limited number of centres around New Zealand.

I attending a meeting (a return trip of 450km).

[When you are on the outside with the ministry there is a sense of inhumanity in the way it functions. The ministry, you can be sure, is working with the digital in mind and is really only interested in doing deals with corporates and private companies.]

At this meeting it was revealed that being accredited did not mean I could deliver centrally-funded PLD. Only organisations which had an RFP could deliver that and the RFP process had closed at the end of August.

[Are you following this cruel hoax?]

An independent facilitator had actually been told by someone at the ministry he didn’t need to complete an RFP as it was a waste of time.

On returning from the meeting another email had arrived with dates for meetings the following week – including in my home town.

[It was either give it a way or submit to an organisation.]

No individual facilitator at this point knew if they had accreditation – but organisations had the go ahead to deliver centrally-funded PLD provided the facilitator they used had accreditation.

[Close to kaput for independents.]

But the RFP process, you see, will not come up for tender for at least two years.

[Why aren’t the teacher organisations all over this one?]

All independent education consultants, even if they are accredited, are effectively closed out of delivering centrally-funded PLD.

[The control of knowledge is near overwhelming.]

A very neat move by ministry and the larger organisations as most schools have been using independent education consultants to deliver tailored PLD rather than ministry programmes with their not-so hidden agenda.

Quote from website Education Services: 

In tandem with introducing this freedom and choice, the ministry established a number of quality control measures to ensure schools, kura and Kahui Ako could have confidence in the choices available to them.

Accreditation: All facilitators who wish to deliver centrally-funded PLD must complete an application for accreditation, which is assessed by an independent panel.

[By now, you can probably work out what is going to follow.]

All facilitators who deliver centrally-funded PLD must also work for an organisation which has passed an RFP process. This process ensured that a range of professional and legal requirements were met.

[When information was requested it was revealed that organisations had a different accreditation process – their employed facilitators were accredited on a sampling not an individual basis. The reason given was that because they already delivered ministry programmes, their facilitators were covered by internal quality control.]

As results of accreditation began trickling out to individuals the number of independent education consultants – some very well-known and highly qualified educators were refused accreditation with no reasons given.

[An explanation given by my ministry source is that the accreditation process involved a machine that picked up key words in the application.]

More than 50% of independent education consultants seeking accreditation have been turned down.

Karl at the ministry said independent education consultants will have to work under the umbrella of a larger organisation.

Over the next few months the actual changes had ‘unforeseen consequences’.

Facilitators at the larger organisations had no guaranteed work as work depends on schools ‘choosing them’.

Employees at one organisation were told how many hours they had to ‘sell’ in order to keep their jobs.

Each organisation has negotiated rates of pay per centrally-funded hour. Each organisation will be ‘clipping the ticket’ of their ‘independent facilitators’ with no requirement to pay Kiwi Saver, holiday pay, or anything else required by employment law.

[This must have elements of illegality.]

[But get a load of what follows.]

Schools were told they could choose the facilitator they felt met the needs of their school and they need not worry about travel and accommodation costs as they would pay those costs separate to the number of hours the school received. A travel policy was drawn up which gave rates for different distances and quite rightly specified a minimum number of hours to be delivered if travelling out of home area. So far, so good, but a new step was added for facilitators requested by a school out of their home area – the facilitator now needed permission from the ministry to work in any school over 50 km away.  That is every school outside my immediate home town – even when I am the closest facilitator to the school.

The list of organisations that are able to deliver centrally funded PLD is now public and contains the current ideologically-biased professional development deliverers with their national standards fixation.

A list of critical friends for schools to use free of charge has been drawn up (I assume paid for by ministry) to help them work out what PLD schools require. Many of these critical friends are accredited facilitators or work for the ideologically-biased deliverers referred to.

And then there are the new ideological players – all are technology and research companies. Researching the company names shows their core business is in providing hardware and technical support and carrying out research, but with very little if any reference to pedagogical practice.

[Ladies and gentlemen our professional development prospects under this government are grim, the only hope is a change of government – all three potential coalition members are proposing an independent advisory service.

What is happening is a scandal and shouldn’t have been left to me to publicise. My thanks to the brave independent facilitator for her account.

But can you see the wider picture? CoLs are going to be taken over by business people, private companies, and corporates (that’s in the legislation), from there, schools are going to be enticed to be charter schools or academy schools as they are called in England (that’s the main reason why deciles are being abolished – to make funding more standardised) and, as shown above, knowledge will be privatised and, of course, propaganda laden.]

Posted in Education Policy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Bill writes to me: We are in the 21st century, get used to it

A very able teacher (we’ll call him Bill) from a South Auckland contributing school wrote to me saying:

Sorry Kelvin

I can’t agree with you on this one.

We are in the 21st century, get used to it.

The job market is changing, education is changing, and well-managed digital enhances learning and improves learning outcomes.

We have seen evidence of it with our kids, who are far more engaged and focused, and in charge of their own learning than in pre-technology times.



Bill was responding to a posting of mine that was headlined: Digital curriculum must be thrown out: educators must wrest from corporates

I am unsure whether Bill had only read the headline or the full posting.

Surely all in education agree that educators should have main control of the digital curriculum, and with this one being done behind closed doors by a group dominated by the corporates, that shouldn’t have put me on the wrong side of Bill.

In fact, educators under the present system, rarely get a chance to get together across curriculum lines or roles, to discuss curriculum matters. It is called neoliberalism.

Who discusses what with whom is tightly controlled.

And that is why, instead of working out things face-to-face we are forced to communicate in bits and pieces. You can guarantee those driving the corporate digital curriculum have never had to face arguments in committee rooms such as expressed here.

Note, however, that Bill begins with: Sorry Kelvin, I can’t agree with you on this one. In other words, in other matters, we have a large degree of agreement. So that’s encouraging for me.

But then he gets direct: ‘We are in the 21st century,’ says Bill, ‘get used to it.’

My views on the use and deviousness of the use of the expression ‘21st century education’ are well canvassed, so I’ll leave it there.

‘The job market is changing, education is changing, and well-managed digital enhances learning and improves learning outcomes.’

Notice the reference is immediately to jobs.

What this leaves out is just about everything else.

As education narrows and continues to decline in New Zealand, we have a striking example of how an ideological government insidiously uses administrative and digital technology to stamp that ideology on education, to the detriment of education and democratic values.

School education fundamentally is a human activity not a digital one.

My next posting is to begin with this:

This posting is about education experience of the sort that transforms children intellectually, aesthetically, ethically, and reflectively. Such experience takes children back to two fundamental cultural breakthroughs – the way things are, are not necessarily the way things are or should be; and an individual’s place in it is not predetermined: and from that the realisation of ‘I am’ and the capacity to think, imagine, appreciate, and appraise. In a sense, the individual becomes of the world he or she lives in and a step beyond it. Leading to three questions continually to be asked, wrestled with, and answered but never concluded, they are: Who am I? Why are we living this way? How can we make things better?

Are these ideas not an important consideration for education, encompassing the digital and going far beyond?

Or is this too 20th century?

Are we set on producing a generation whose narrow-mindedness and lack of heart could put our democracy at risk?

The arrogance of computer experts; the gullibility of so many in education; and the exultation of those presently in control are foreboding signs for the welfare of our education and society.

Sorry, but I’m not ready to collapse in a heap because digital experts nay-say the broad-based, enlightened, and humanistic education that most of us in education espouse.

But to move on.

I must say that the claim that the digital will lead to jobs for those who have those skills is laughable, though I agree all children need those skills.

Digitalists like to see themselves as futurists, hanging ten on that particular wave.

There is much talk about the inclusivity of the digital and the equitability.


If I was a digital futurist I would be saying that the only real future as a digitalist is as an engineer in its widest sense. The other jobs will be a dime-a-dozen.

Now what would you need to be a successful engineer? well, you are quite good at computers, so far so good; then you would need to be good at science – oh dear, science in New Zealand schools is in quite a bad way – and by science I don’t just mean using study skills to rearrange science information; then you would have to be very strong in mathematics – oh my goodness, mathematics – a  near disaster area; then technology – technology in schools is like Matariki, once a year and tick them off as done (that is technology and Maori) ; creativity – oh dear! Creativity, enough said; a good grasp of language – but reading and writing are in decline, also a second language is very helpful in understanding structures – Maori would be great, but what chance?

There are a whole lot of hoops and it is quite clear (on present form) which socio-economic grouping is going to get through them.

Digital is fine as a first step to a digital job, but digital alone, is selling a pup.

We need a strong, well-funded, creative education system as a whole and within that the digital appropriately placed and acknowledged.

Bill continues in his letter, ‘We have seen evidence of it with our kids, who are far more engaged and focused, and in charge of their own learning than in pre-technology times.’

The success of the digital in helping learning is fraught. Bill’s response in his letter is fraught too: Yes – most children are ‘far more engaged and focused’ with computers, but not invariably; I have seen classes even more engaged and focused with just good teaching; and with computers what is the quality of the learning? from my direct observation – if I match the main aims of the curriculum areas against what children are learning on computers and the degree of creativity and thinking, I am regularly disappointed.

When children are handed a computer, those things teachers have learnt about teaching and learning often go out the window: motivation and open-ended introductions; the acquisition of cohesive and significant knowledge; and the use of that knowledge in a range of ways. Yes – they are often more engaged but to what effect? Children should not be in charge of their own learning, or have it personalised, as they say – that is an abdication of function. The absence of such teaching and learning characteristics aids corporatist long-laid plans of teacher-less classrooms, though more imminently, fewer classroom teachers.

My observation is that many teachers have given up on understanding the curriculum and fled to computers for education meaning and structure which isn’t there unless you understand the curriculum.

I now remind myself, as well as this site’s readers, what I said in the disputed posting.

My source in the ministry says The Digital Technologies Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum Reference Group was dominated by technology corporates who proceeded to produce a fully-fledged curriculum abounding in steps and outcomes with a computer programme in preparation for teachers and the review office to check out ‘progress’.

It was made clear that the corporates involved wanted to monopolise services and products for the digital programme and, eventually, to extend the process to the wider curriculum such as maths, reading, science, and social studies. They are constantly talking to the government about how the programmes could mean savings to the government in teacher numbers. But the corporates are quite explicit that they can only provide their product and services at the price they are offering if the Communities of Learning are functioning in business-like way – that is, with a non-educational professional acting as CoL leaders.

What followed was a few paragraphs from the best teacher organisation leader we’ve had in years, Whetu Cormick, in which he ironically reminds the minister he was sure she would not want a digital curriculum based on ‘standardised progressions’. Then he launched a serious attack on of moves by the government to have CoLs run by an executive administrator.

My posting seemed all rather inoffensive but perhaps Bill was seeing it as a culmination of a direction that irked him.

I sincerely thank him for the stimulus.

The key idea: it takes a full curriculum and a creative education system to make a successful digitalist learner.

Posted in Curriculum, Education Policy | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Attack! 119 The government dismantling of public education: and reflections on resistance Part 2

Welcome to ATTACK! 

ATTACK! is a two-page occasional publication giving attention to the curriculum – the holistic curriculum.

ATTACK! is for you, also to introduce to your colleagues. Each issue will be restricted to two pages. A cover graphic for a file or folder to store ATTACK! issues is available.

Most of ATTACK! will be concerned with the holistic curriculum which, if acted on, is a fundamental way to undermine the present undemocratic education system. Don’t be discouraged if opportunities to teach holistically are limited, do your best, be a guardian, and act as a witness to this culturally significant and inspiring way of teaching and learning.

To get in touch for comment, questions, and the ATTACK! issues to be sent to you personally:

Attack! 119 The government dismantling of public education: and reflections on resistance Part 2

Click here to download

Posted in Attack, Education Policy, Political | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments