A threshold timetable Part 3 – Choice

National standards have gone, but how will schools react, will it just be much the same but minus official national standards? will it be many scratching their heads? or will it be a return to holistic values, our education cultural heritage?

Some will express concern about a fall in standards occurring; others will know that standards have already fallen (as the inevitable effect of that imposition of standards). 

On the narrow measurement of standards in international tests, even though we moved our programmes to focus on those narrow standards, New Zealand is at or near the bottom of the Western world – so it is because. High stakes inflation has worked to mask New Zealand’s true performance. The Dunedin Monitoring Unit, for instance, has our true results and that is around 20 per cent lower than our reported ones.

The holistic, based on a broad, rich, and informal programme, had its origins in the Beeby-Fraser period led by New Zealand’s senior teacher of junior classes. As a result of neuroscience, what New Zealand’s educationists knew about education has now been proved scientifically right; neuroscience has proved that a narrow, formal programme reduces a part of the brain and, in some children, makes them highly resistant to learning (children likely to be heavily represented in lower-socio-economic groupings); and a broad, rich, informal programme expands part of the brain making children highly receptive to learning.

(Please note: in three weeks my holistic publication – The File – will be available for purchase. It will include amongst other things a detailed description of two teachers and their holistic programme, one junior and the other senior).

About the threshold timetable

These are the expanded notes I used as I travelled the country after I had left the education system in 1990 to put forward a simple framework to encourage and enable teachers to get on to the holistic continuum. They are largely pre-computer times so, for today’s programmes, teachers would have to insert useful computer work into the various parts of the programme. These are not necessarily sophisticated curriculum ideas because the main intention is to get teachers and children going on a timetable that flows and provides children with the choice as to when, where, and how they undertake learning. Large numbers of teachers used this threshold timetable as a starting point then proceeded from there at a pace and direction that suited them and the children. 

Some key points 

  1. Once you have stepped over the threshold of the holistic, what is suggested, and what you devise, should be considered moves along the holistic continuum
  2. You do not need a modern learning environment (as commonly understood) to develop a broad, rich, and informal programme
  3. You need to work within the realities of your situation – realities such as the degree of freedom likely to be afforded by your principal and senior teachers; your curriculum understandings, abilities, and personality
  4. A key part of a threshold timetable is the generative effect of timetable blocking
  5. The timetable, from time-to-time, should be blocked for all parts of the curriculum including mathematics, ways to use the computer, and physical education activities
  6. The holistic continuum is characterised by choice, productive choice
  7. A key way to generate productive choice within the overall programme is using blocking
  8. In art, for instance, children should have days developing knowledge about printmaking, clay, painting, and so on, to enable them subsequently to make productive and varied choices
  9. Choice does not mean fragmentation of learning: when children do science blocking in preparation for choice, the emphasis should be on the main values of science, that is curiosity, hypothesising, and honest investigation; this can be done informally or formally – an observant teacher can soon detect that a child has resorted to google 
  10. In social studies blocking, cohesiveness should be sought by children gaining ideas that get them close to the lives of people and, in the process, discovering that people have similar basic needs but different ways of meeting them, and by that means establishing a bond of humanity with the people being studied
  11. Blocking for drama should establish the need for sincerity and concentration, also the various drama techniques, as way for children in the choice programme to prepare honest drama for everyday presentation. 

Introduction

In the context of a discussion on developmental, a threshold timetable is one which places teachers conceptually on the developmental continuum. This writing is not intended as a deep discourse on curriculum areas but a way of encouraging teachers to make key curriculum decisions, and a timetable to suit, based on the holistic philosophy.

Developmental is the holistic in classroom practice – in another discussion, the whole school education system could be discussed in relation to the holistic, as Peter Fraser did with his main aim – but it is learning in classrooms that is addressed here; the holistic being teaching and learning organised by dynamic aims that are a combination of the cognitive and affective. An outcome of this is that evaluation occurs using criteria not objectives, meaning the dynamic main aim is systematically supported as the unifying driving force for teaching and learning, a single main aim for a curriculum area or an integration of areas (but care has to be taken with this last). A dynamic main aim is a main aim that has a powerful, unified, though discriminating effect, on teaching and learning. For instance, in expressive writing, a main aim could be writing with sincerity – dependent matters occurring in the course of pursuing that main aim then expressed as criteria – if they are not dependent then they should be omitted. A dynamic main aim is powerful in guiding what should be both included and excluded. (In reading, a main aim could be children becoming independent readers; or in mathematics, children’s ability and willingness to solve mathematical problems.)

For the teacher, developmental is a state of mind, that once held allows the teacher to go in many directions but unified in overall effect by the holistic philosophy.

Choice time

It is suggested a highly individualised time follow reading:

This time could be called choice time, extension time, contract time, challenge time:

Choice time might appeal as a label to children

Extension time to parents.

There are three main purposes for choice time –

1. Choice time provides an opportunity for various contracts to be carried out:

Contracts to meet skill needs

For instance, those arising from printing or handwriting, grammar, punctuation, tables, and so on.

2. Choice time provides an opportunity for extension work in all curriculum areas:

Particularly in mathematics, science, social studies, language, arts, drama, music, and physical education

The timetable might have been blocked to go deeply into social studies, or an art topic, say, printmaking

Then, following the blocking, the children in choice could complete activities or explore ideas of their own in the topic

Or the teacher might have planned a topic on snails in science on the basis of, say, three days of individualised exploratory activities with the children doing more or less the same things, but at a pace, and in order, that suits them individually

Extensions could occur in choice time by having children select an aspect of the topic to investigate.

Choice time provides teachers and children with the opportunity to try things out:

To generate ideas and ways of doing things and thinking about things

To break the bounds of what is considered usual for children at a particular class level

It also provides an opportunity for children to explore various technologies and resources – computers, libraries, sports equipment, videos, music equipment, and so on.

3. Choice time provides an opportunity for children to continue and complete work begun earlier in various curriculum areas:

The blocking of the timetable is undertaken to get a topic going in a continuous and insightful manner and to set up productive choices

Science can sometimes be a relaxed investigation of the life, say, of a piwakawaka, at other times a structured science investigation – but at all times the science should be carried out in accordance with central science values

Mathematics should be unstreamed and based on problem-solving – with a learning entry provided for children of all abilities – a mathematics corner should be established setting out all kinds of challenges, for instance, problems relating to big mathematical ideas, fuzzy problems, puzzles

Social studies should be the ‘feeling for’ approach because of the affective and cognitive challenge it poses, the way it works as well for new entrant children as it does for older children, and the way it avoids undue pressure on reading ability in the gathering of information

Physical education should break away from children standing around waiting their turn and be based on individualised task cards

Arts and crafts should be blocked to introduce teaching points and to set up activities that lay the basis for communication, expression, and problem-solving. Children should concentrate on their own local environment which should lead to an intensive use of Maori stories, culture, and values

Maori language should introduced in interesting ways using timetable blocking with an emphasis on how it can be used in throughout the day (including children’s names).

In choice time:

  • There would be children doing contracts to meet particular needs, often using task cards prepared in discussion with the teacher
  • There would be children doing extension work in response to teacher-prepared wall charts, task-cards, displays, carded displays, carded pages from books, child-prepared charts, and so on
  • There would be children doing activities following the blocking of the timetable
  • There would be children working at challenges they had decided for themselves
  • Finally, there would be children completing work from a number of curriculum areas.

Suggested for the threshold timetable so far have been written language, then reading, and choice time and, of course, a whole lot of choice, variety, and informality throughout influenced by timetable blocking.

Continued in Part 4

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A threshold timetable Part 2

Reading continued

Yeah-how!

National standards gone. Well – all-but. 

My principal and senior teacher already give me a pretty free rein. I’m going to go for it.

Back to me: These are the expanded notes I used as I travelled the country after I had left the education system in 1990 to put forward a simple framework to encourage and enable teachers to get on to the holistic continuum. They are largely pre-computer times so, for today’s programmes, teachers would have to insert useful computer work into the various parts of the programme. These are not particularly sophisticated curriculum ideas because the main intention is to get teachers and children going on a timetable that flows and provides children with the choice as to when, where, and how they undertake learning. Large numbers of teachers used this threshold timetable as a starting point then proceeded to take in various directions that suited them and the children. Full-scale examples of such directions will be made available. 

Introduction

In the context of a discussion on developmental, a threshold timetable is one which places teachers conceptually on the developmental continuum. This writing is not intended as a deep discourse on curriculum areas but a way of encouraging teachers to make key curriculum decisions, and a timetable to suit, based on the holistic philosophy.

Developmental is the holistic in classroom practice – in another discussion, the whole school education system could be discussed in relation to the holistic, as Peter Fraser did with his main aim – but it is learning in classrooms that is addressed here; the holistic being teaching and learning organised by dynamic aims that are a combination of the cognitive and affective. An outcome of this is that evaluation occurs using criteria not objectives, meaning the dynamic main aim is systematically supported as the unifying driving force for teaching and learning, a single main aim for a curriculum area or an integration of areas (but care has to be taken with this last). A dynamic main aim is a main aim that has a powerful, unified, though discriminating effect, on teaching and learning. For instance, in expressive writing, a main aim could be writing with sincerity – dependent matters occurring in the course of pursuing that main aim then expressed as criteria – if they are not dependent then they should be omitted. A dynamic main aim is powerful in guiding what should be both included and excluded. (In reading, a main aim could be children becoming independent readers; or in mathematics, children’s ability and willingness to solve mathematical problems.)

For the teacher, developmental is a state of mind, that once held allows the teacher to go in many directions but unified in overall effect by the holistic philosophy

Reading

If reading is, indeed, a highly valued activity:

Then the freedom to read should have considerable precedence throughout the day

Of course, it is not absolute freedom of choice

But teachers should go out of their way to accommodate that choice.

In a threshold developmental reading programme, children should have considerable choice in the materials they read:

A central reading philosophy will be the ‘I can read’ developed so beautifully developed by stjcs – a gift

Younger children should choose their Ready to Read and supporting reading materials, and have an even wider choice in their independent reading

Older children should always have an independent reading book on hand

And teachers should make it their business to know what it is, and celebrate it when completed

They should challenge children: What book are you reading at the moment?

They should further challenge children by encouraging them to widen the scope of their reading.

There are plenty of other opportunities for choice in reading:

If thematic reading is being taken, children should choose from amongst a list of journals, bulletins, books, articles, and so on

For activities at the end of reading there should always be a choice

Children should never do worksheets, templates, book reviews, written analyses, written-question answering, unless they have chosen to do so.

Children’s reading is enriched by having the stimulus of other children’s ideas –

As a result there should be:

  • Shared reading using enlarged print books or sets of books
  • Language experience
  • Story reading to children
  • Thematic reading
  • Drama
  • Partner reading
  • Interactive reading using computers
  • Story reading from tapes
  • Song and poetry reading
  • Investigative reading (using reference books and other reading material)
  • Reading material on display around the room (often associated with partner reading)
  • Certain reading activities within context (cloze, alphabet, matching, and construction of sentences
  • Own written language reading.

This variety of reading brings further opportunity for choice:

Children can choose to continue with an activity in preference to a subsequent activity suggested by the teacher

Or choose to do an activity produced on their initiative.

The concepts of print should occur throughout the reading programme in a contextual way:

There is a tendency for teachers to become overly involved in the ‘pathology’ of reading

That is, analysing and making moves to correct reading failure

Care should be taken not to allow techniques developed for children with serious reading problems to become techniques for general use in regular reading programmes.

Children with dyslexia (and all children with serious reading difficulties) should be taught reading within the same reading philosophy as all children are taught within, that is holistically, in context, and with meaning:

But there should be generous amounts of one-to-one reading (one-to-one provides a magic all of its own) with the same person, and the reading should maintain meaning and interest – compared with some other readers, though, more attention will need to be given to the parts of words

On the understanding that children with dyslexia should be taught holistically, children, if possible, should be taught reading within schools rather than through outside organisations (I know this can be very difficult to maintain given the meagre allocation of special teaching funding, but that would be the ideal).

The greatest challenge in reading is not to teach children to read, it is to get them to enjoy reading:

A major cause of children not enjoying reading is a lack of fluency in reading

And a major cause of a lack of fluency in reading is learning to read in a highly structured, rather than a holistic, naturalistic way

Highly structured teaching is an impediment to reading fluency and enjoyment in the longer term

Teachers should focus children on clusters of words and their meanings

Rather than on single words and their insides.

The best way for children to build up letter-sound associations is by participating in a range of holistic, contextual reading language activities.

The best way to achieve a holistic, naturalistic approach to reading is to:

  • Build on, and maintain the ‘I can read’ attitude to reading
  • Make reading enjoyable
  • Undertake letter-sound association and word study subtly
  • Encourage independence in reading
  • Allow reading to occur at most parts of the day
  • Use a variety of reading materials and experiences: enlarged print, shared books, individual readers, writing of language, reading of own written language, songs, poems, comics, language experience, tape recorders, computers, word processors, and so on
  • See language as something that occurs throughout the curriculum and the day
  • Make reading a highly valued activity.

That’s the threshold timetable so far.

Continued in Part 3

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A threshold timetable Part 1

Yeah-how!

National standards gone. Well – all-but. 

My principal and senior teacher already give me a pretty free rein. I’m going to go for it.

Back to me: These are the expanded notes I used as I travelled the country after I had left the education system in 1990 to put forward a simple framework to encourage and enable teachers to get on to the holistic continuum. They are largely pre-computer times so, for today’s programmes, teachers would have to insert useful computer work into the various parts of the programme. These are not particularly sophisticated curriculum ideas because the main intention is to get teachers and children going on a timetable that flows and provides children with the choice as to when, where, and how they undertake learning. Large numbers of teachers used this threshold timetable as a starting point then proceeded to take in various directions that suited them and the children. Full-scale examples of such directions will be made available. 

Introduction

In the context of a discussion on developmental, a threshold timetable is one which places teachers conceptually on the developmental continuum. This writing is not intended as a deep discourse on curriculum areas but a way of encouraging teachers to make key curriculum decisions, and a timetable to suit, based on the holistic philosophy.

Developmental is the holistic in classroom practice – in another discussion, the whole school education system could be discussed in relation to the holistic, as Peter Fraser did with his main aim – but it is learning in classrooms that is addressed here; the holistic being teaching and learning organised by dynamic aims that are a combination of the cognitive and affective. An outcome of this is that evaluation occurs using criteria not objectives, meaning the dynamic main aim is systematically supported as the unifying driving force for teaching and learning, a single main aim for a curriculum area or an integration of areas (but care has to be taken with this last). A dynamic main aim is a main aim that has a powerful, unified, though discriminating effect, on teaching and learning. For instance, in expressive writing, a main aim could be writing with sincerity – dependent matters occurring in the course of pursuing that main aim then expressed as criteria – if they are not dependent then they should be omitted. A dynamic main aim is powerful in guiding what should be both included and excluded. (In reading, a main aim could be children becoming independent readers; or in mathematics, children’s ability and willingness to solve mathematical problems.)

For the teacher, developmental is a state of mind, that once held allows the teacher to go in many directions but unified in overall effect by the holistic philosophy.

Written language

First, the day could begin with written language (yes, of course, you might prefer maths.)

If this becomes routine:

• Children can come in before school and carry on with their writing or some other activity they are engaged in

• Good use can be made of the part of the day when children are freshest

• Children’s enthusiasms and experiences brought from home can be a source of motivation

• And language needs that become apparent can be attended to later in the day.

Written language offers a straightforward way to involve children in independent learning in an emotionally supportive atmosphere.

And it fits comfortably with reading, the next curriculum area on the timetable.

But if a child begins with something else other than writing and wants to continue, that can be worked out or simply accepted. (This is what I call the fraying of the timetable – I love it.)

Written language in a developmental classroom provides children with many choices:

• What topic to write about

• What language form to use

• What presentation form to use

• What pace to write at

• What spelling approach to use

• What to do to make the writing effective and technically correct.

Various lists could be available to the children to help them with their choices.

The lists could be to do with:

• Language form

• Presentation form

• Good writing

• Correct writing.

In the good writing, writing with sincerity and clarity should be given main attention:

• Also the determination to find just the right word

• The need to be affectively stimulated

• The need to avoid florid writing (in other words, the minimum of adjectives and adverbs.)

• The need to focus and feel.

Naturalistic, holistic learning occurs as children learn about writing by wanting to write and from the boundaries and contexts established by teachers.

These boundaries and contexts can be made through:

• Stimulating motivation using discussion, reflection, art, drama, outside exploration

• The arrangement of the room environment

• Various lists challenging children to do good and correct writing

• The teacher moving around discussing children’s written language with them

• Written language being made a highly valued activity

• The encouraging of children to edit (if resisted, then class editing can supplement or supplant)

• The use of individual contracts to meet children’s language skill needs

• The use of informal evaluation practices

And what is done with the writing (it is this last that is most powerful in effect).

At the timetabled end of written language some children will already have moved to reading, others will decide to continue with it.

Reading

Reading, like written language, offers a straightforward way to set up independent learning in an emotionally supportive atmosphere.

Reading in a developmental classroom provides children with many choices.

An important part of that choice comes from the arrangement of the physical environment:

There should be a snug, relaxing reading area

A lively class and school library

At all teaching levels there should be plenty of reading on the walls around the room.

Complementary with the organisation of the physical arrangement:

Should be the freedom to use it

Children should be able to use resources and to get out books and read them on their own initiative

If they are in doubt about the propriety of doing so, they could make a request on the request board

No templates and no written comprehension

And reading should be seen as an all-day activity or writing, or whatever (of course you will be keeping an eye on it all)

Throughout this writing, the term contract is used to describe an informal agreement between teachers and individual children for certain activities to be undertaken by the children at a time, and pace, that suits.

Some teachers might prefer the less formal connotations of agreement instead of contract.

Reading continued in Part 2

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What I want from Chris Hipkins (also Tracey Martin, Kelvin Davis, and Jenny Salesa)

First, I want to commend Chris on his brilliant ministerial beginning with the bold declaration of the abolition of national standards – followed up by the education comeback comment of the decade:

It was Friday (I think) morning and TV1 breakfast: Chris announced in his typically jaunty manner the abolition of national standards; there followed some questions from Hilary (oh in her we have a believer!) and then Nikki was in front of us, looking more like Cossette than ever, to produce a brand new saying now certain to be engraved in analytical history ‘The devil is in the detail.’

I stopped, took a deep intake of breath, and shouted – ‘The official curriculum, you sad looking figure, its ideals and stages, is the detail. That is the why, the how, of education, and the reporting to parents.’

And Chris nailed it. You beauty! (I think I heard the swelling sound of Fats playing ‘Blueberry Hill’.)

Chris and I have had an uneasy relationship, I have sensed a caution, lack of philosophical structure, and timidity I have ascribed to the NZEI influence – but also, I readily acknowledge, his deep commitment to children and his determination to do best by teachers.

But I’m bent on being different, beginning a new relationship.

Before I do though, I have to acknowledge my disappointment at Tracey Martin not being the minister. She has been the bravest, surest, and soundest person in political power since Peter Fraser. I’m glad she will be around the table and hope she will be carefully listened to by her colleagues.

  1. The principle governing education should be valuing variety. Valuing variety would mean changes to regulations and supervision to enable a wide interpretation of the curriculum – within broad guidelines – in school charters and evaluation practices. Eventually the present curriculum document would need to be revised to concentrate on principles and aims, leaving schools to decide how to interpret those – at the moment National Administrative Guidelines (NAGS), the demands of the education review office (using national standards), and curriculum decisions from other parts of the bureaucracy have, in the totality of their demands, displaced the curriculum document, and exerted a stultifying control of classrooms
  1. I am determined on this one: a fund must be established to which schools can apply for the teaching of Maori (so voluntary and gradual), involving a teacher of Maori. Appointments would be made by the school with local whanau and iwi. A formalised structure should be established for appointments, conditions of work, review, and oversight. And a national system for teachers of Maori language should be established to enhance professional development and collegiality. Smaller schools would share a teacher. This policy is about living in a democracy and shared world views.
  1. From this writer, there is considerable concern about the typically simplistic responses to the learning needs of Maori and Pasifika children. Attention, of course, to alleviating poverty and home-school relations is a priority but I want to refer to learning needs in particular. First, to dismiss simplistic ones: an overreliance on computers; and children being described as needing formal work to keep them in line. Look – yes – formal work is better than rowdy chaos, but a formal classroom won’t provide the much wanted learning and engagement catch-up; it will just keep children in a holding pattern. The children need an holistic classroom in which learning is interesting, cohesive, has an organised informality, is intellectually engaging and challenging, and is broad and rich in reach. Neuroscience shows us in dramatic fashion that when children have repeated failure in an unsympathetic context, a key part of their brain screws up and is the very devil to loosen, but with interesting, rich learning in both the 3Rs and the arts, the outcome is the brain sending out probes of satisfaction. I have spent my whole life on the holistic, explaining its gathering origins in New Zealand (Beeby and Fraser) to be bravely carried on in sometimes hostile circumstance, especially by stjcs, until nearly finished off by Tomorrow’s Schools – but it still survives. [For the following please believe me, my motives are pure: Within the next five weeks, after two years of arduous work with my team, I will have for sale a File compendium devoted to the holistic, with many starting points suggested and the philosophy made clear.]
  1. We are starting at a low point for achievement as measured by the Dunedin Monitoring Unit (genuine national standards results – these on average are about 15-20 per cent below reported results), and international tests. Also a low point for NCEA results as characterised by the super-devious surrounding manoeuvres. All these matters should be formally looked at so that the coalition and public know  where we are from the beginning. If the new government doesn’t do this, then teacher organisations (in salary negotiations), the old government, also the media, will be on to it big time and the new government will have to wear the whole of the disastrous past. This is where Labour is so naïve – take my word, I can remember what has happened in education since Stuart Nash’s grandfather, or was it great-grandfather, was in government. At 18 years I was writing letters to the newspaper defending ‘playway’. Labour – wise up.
  1. The National Education Monitoring Unit should be re-established as the main way of evaluating achievement nationally – its main characteristic is that it monitors the whole curriculum in a holistic way. A call should be made for a grouping of countries to join together to develop an international testing system that functions transparently and concentrates on a broader view of the curriculum. (However, the government should stay in the present international system until that is achieved.)
  1. The NCEA is a complex rort doing much harm to secondary education, the key thing to introduce is a form of qualification (with listed strengths and accomplishments) for children who might otherwise struggle in NCEA (especially a more honest one). NCEA level 2 should not be a benchmark for the functioning of the system and secondary schools should be staffed to enable them to set up tutor systems in the first two years of secondary.
  1. The education review office should be radically restructured and renamed to better express the implications of that restructuring, and integrated into the ministry at all levels from head office to the districts. The neoliberal prescription of separation of administration (ministry) from evaluation (education review office) is specious and in being so, a harmful bureaucratic entanglement to the system and the functioning of schools. The review function should be carried out (though it can be varied according to the size of the schools to be visited) by teams comprising one permanent member, two principals (one the principal of the school) and two teachers (one a member of the school). Training centres to prepare reviewers for the role should be set up at universities and outposts.
  1. Communities of Learning CoLs) should be objectively investigated and teachers and principals brought together to discuss whether they want to continue with them (or in that form) or not, with the promise of increased school funding and a pay rise if they were abolished. Collaboration cannot occur in a non-collaborative system which means CoLs might be marginally more successful under Labour but the education system would be imperilled when National returned to government. We have, after all, just had the closest of escapes from a horrendous misuse of the CoLs. The millions of dollars should be returned to schools for increased school funding, a pay rise, and the setting up of an advisory service. The increased school funding would be sufficient, along with some seeding funding to be applied for from the ministry, for schools to set up collaborative patches as they decide.
  1. A committee of inquiry should be established to investigate the matters surrounding the appointment of a commissioner at Rangiora High School. The investigation should be both in particular and in general. The inquiry, in particular, should investigate the already court-proven employment wrongness that occurred at Rangiora High School and the ministerial behaviour in and around that decision; but in undertaking that investigation general principles should be drawn that would mean never again would such monstrous behaviour occur in New Zealand education.
  1. There should be a substantial restructuring of the ministry in head office and districts (as mentioned above the review function should be made an integral part of the ministry). Nearly all positions should be re-advertised with present holders free to re-apply. The media section should be considerably reduced and the requirement for successful former experience in the appropriate part of education be a key criterion.
  1. Substantially increased funding to meet children’s special needs should be a priority. There should be a substantial lift in support teacher numbers as well as moves to make support teacher staff better paid and to provide them with a greater sense of permanency.
  1. Schools and colleges of education should develop a better balance between general education courses and ones directly related to classrooms (though both should be considered equally important) – this might mean rehiring some academics who possess both academic and classroom knowledge. (I know that this would seem too late for the direction schools and colleges of education have taken but given the changed philosophical and political circumstances, the directions should be urgently reconsidered and compromises made within structures established or being established.)
  1. A permanent advisory service should be re-established and attached to universities to function within broad guidelines (an independent advisory service is an important source of practicable knowledge). Private advisers should be free to provide a service unrestricted by the need to be licensed or have government approval, support, or funding. In the meantime, with the abolition of national standards, temporary advisory groups should be immediately established to give advice, on request, on how to best take best advantage of the new circumstances.
  1. EDUCANZ, controlled by the government as it is and providing another unwanted layer of bureaucracy, should be abolished, and a Teachers Council controlled by teacher organisations established to concentrate on teacher professionalism and the safety and welfare of children.
  1. The major teacher and principal organisations should be represented as of right on all policy, curriculum, and administrative groupings. (Smaller organisations should be represented in a dispersed way throughout the system or where they have a strong particular case for representation.)
  1. The School Trustees Association (STA) should be restricted in its work to providing direct services to members. The School Trustees Association should have written into its constitution the need for it to act and be seen to act independently of the government. As well, a much greater proportion of its funding should come from schools, which should have an allocated amount provided for them to organise their own counselling and legal services or, as they choose, to subscribe to STA. There should be a review of school governance, in particular restricting board of trustees’ right to interfere directly and specifically in teaching and learning. As well, appointment responsibilities should be shared more widely, and unnecessary demands such as property removed.
  1. Computers:  while computers are important to the lives of children in their transactions with the world, and will be central to their lives as adults, doesn’t mean computers should be central to their lives in school education. Making computers central in school education would be to place computers above all other parts of education to damaging consequence to those other parts and to children’s developmental growth. The place of computers, if a new and more significant place is justified, should be as part of valid and thoughtful education change drawing from the vocational to the pedagogical to the philosophical not, as the case now, from ideological groupings, profit-interested industry, vote-seeking politicians, and computer-education enthusiasts. As children get older, direct vocational matters should assume a greater significance, and so should computers as part of that, but there is far more to education than direct vocational matters (as important as they become) for instance, the ever-continuing preparation for the broader life. Computers should be used where they enhance learning, not by the curriculum becoming the tool for computer learning. All this should be part of the big (but much wider than just computers) education discussion. However, what we should know above all, and we should hold on to as something real and solid amidst the ephemeral and flux, is that the fundamentals of children’s learning – if purposes are humanistic, enabling, and democratic – remain substantially the same. The best way to prepare children for the future is to meet their needs in the present.
  1. The curriculum area of mathematics should be given special attention (including a changed curriculum document): a curriculum committee could be established, meanwhile, conferences could be organised around the country and extra finance made available to schools working on innovative ideas. (It will, of course, head down the holistic road with problem-solving, non-formal grouping, and big mathematical ideas predominating.)
  1. The ministry should develop a number of basic models for school architecture ranging from a school of mainly enhanced single rooms; double rooms with a large door between; and large space schools. When a school is being partly or significantly rebuilt the models could help a school community make an informed choice.
  1. The new digital curriculum, which was largely written by corporates without due curriculum development process, that is without recognised teacher organisation, curriculum, child-learning, and philosophy expertise in its membership, should be dumped and begun again. It is a caricature of curriculum development that is both comical for its ineptness and inappropriateness, and horrendously sinister for our democracy.  To think it is supposed to be in action in nine school weeks – what a shambles. Where the hell were you teacher organisations and principals and academics when something of monumental significance like this in both outcome and process was occurring?

On that cheerful note I will leave it at that.

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A tribute to all those brave, brave principals and teachers who stood up for what was right

It was November, 2009.

In normal times websites like networkonnet should leave schools alone to survive the end of year, but these are not normal times – what has happened, and will happen, in the year’s concluding weeks will be decisive for the inevitably tumultuous and decisive events of next year.

Friday, November 27, was a gorgeous day: the place was Kawakawa School in the Bay of Islands; the occasion a meeting of Tai Tokerau principals; the purpose to discuss national standards. Over 80 principals were in attendance; the redoubtable Pat Newman was in the chair; three people from the ministry were there – the Auckland second-in-command whose name I didn’t pick up, Alison Dow, and Mary Chamberlain (a last minute call in); and there was Bruce Hammonds. In the audience, with his attendance much appreciated, was Kelvin Davis, the Far North Labour list mp. His attendance could well have contributed to a subsequent significant development in what turned out to be an auspicious period for the campaign against national standards.

Pat in black (looking rather like a local mafia chapter leader) in his introductory comments, left no doubt of his point-of-view, but promised to chair the meeting fairly (which he did to the extent of hauling me in when I was expatiating with considerable enthusiasm on how bureaucrats earned brownie points by demonstrating their staunchness in going against the expressed wishes of teachers).

Alison Dow spoke in stolid fashion (which was, for the ministry, appropriate for the occasion) for about ten minutes; then came Mary Chamberlain. As I said afterwards, Bruce and I thought we had done quite well in undermining the national standards’ case, but we weren’t within a bull’s roar of doing this as well as Mary Chamberlain had. The anecdotal inconsequentiality of her speech was so extreme that, in a transcendental way, it became almost an art form. Perhaps, two points amidst the away-with-the-fairies absurdity. The ministry apparently sees national standards as a kind of education AA providing signposts for education (OK, but where are they pointing?); and with desperate googling they have located an article that seems to be saying that while nearly all national standards are disastrous, there is one kind that might not be (though no living example was provided).

Mary Chamberlain sees herself as explaining national standards, but her judgement is letting her down, she is justifying them.

The audience spent their time shaking their collective heads and quietly murmuring, but were, and continued to be, polite.

Then Bruce Hammonds spoke in his characteristically eloquent and humanistic way.

I thundered away for about 30 minutes.

In my introduction I shamelessly tried to ingratiate myself by pointing out how I had taught at Maromaku (during the latter years of when Elwyn Richardson was over the hill at Oruaiti); then with striking irrelevance felt the need to inform the principals that I had represented the north in sport; then with even more irrelevance spoke of how my auntie had been matron at Rawene for decades working with Dr Smith and how we used to go blackberrying wearing surgical gloves and gowns; perhaps the most likely convincing winning point was how my son-in-law’s father owned the nearby freezing works’ meat shop (Mac’s Prime Meats) and that anyone who wanted a good deal need only call in at Moerewa on the way home. I even scored with the principal of my granddaughter’s school at Hurupaki who, when I mentioned my granddaughter’s attendance there, asked me if I had visited the school’s wetlands. I was able to say that indeed I had, just the day before and, as well, I had also admired the school’s new logo.

I am not going into any detail of what was said because early next year I will be sending a posting giving an overview of the situation.

In the afternoon, the meeting was thrown open to questions and statements. There is a saying about the north: Every hill a chief. After listening to the questions and statements, for me, it was every school a philosopher. The analyses and questions were clear-eyed and penetrating. It was inspirational. Tony Hamilton spoke forcefully and cogently for the NZEI principals and Peter Witana for the Federation. Then there were the equally excellent contributions from others from the floor. As I listened, I saw our future leadership. None more so than when Keri Milne-Ihimaera, Moerewa principal, had her say, concluding with the question: ‘What are the implications if I just say no to national standards?’ I parried that a bit at the time but noted her as a genuine prospect for stirring and leading debate. (Which she has proceeded to demonstrate: yesterday morning she was on national radio saying how inappropriate national standards were for Maori children.)

With the meeting in good heart, Pat put a series of motions to the meeting, the first that schools should do nothing with national standards until the teacher organisations had consulted their members in the first term.

All motions were passed unanimously.

As I walked down to central Kawakawa to where I had parked my car, it was a wonderful memory to see the cheery waves from a van full of far Far North teachers. But then I looked across the road to under the spreading oak and I felt a chill. The ministry delegation was clustered around their public service car in deep and serious discussion. I sensed then a different message leading to a different mood to be delivered to head office. It reminded me of the change of mood after the Springbok tour match at Hamilton – a change of mood from finding us mildly comical to one bordering on hatred. The body language of the ministry officials was a signal – inevitable if our struggle was lifted to the real – that the New Year was going to be a terrible one in our education history with the education of a generation of children at stake, the professionalism of teachers, and the humanism of our system.

Oh the heroism of so many. You were wonderful. The pain you felt. 

And oh the damage to the education system, to children’s learning, curriculum understanding – and with national standards gone, how prepared are we to fill the curriculum and education system vacuum.

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Do you pass the test for a leader under Labour? Part 2: My response

New digital curriculum a corrupt education disaster

Labour and the coalition have won the election, but now they need to act urgently to save our education system.

The education system is on the brink of being snapped up by neoliberal anti-democratic forces – CoLs now have ministerially-appointed executive leaders – the neoliberal hand has been revealed (quelle surprise); and with an utter lack of noise from the teacher organisation crucial to having those CoLs imposed (quelle surprise). With this organisation so farcically wrong – do we have the leaders to put things right?

And the wider job? We would have to be lucky. There is much talk about helping Maori and Pasifika children, and children from lower socio-economic classes – money can do much, especially in giving individual attention, but it won’t work unless the philosophy embraced is the holistic, the philosophy that was decades ahead of what neuroscientists are telling us today about how children learn best. Are our leaders bold enough?

Now we have a horribly perverse curriculum being forced on us, a system marauder – in the form of a digital curriculum. A curriculum almost completely developed by non-educationists – with teachers entirely unrepresented.

I wrote the following in 1988, just before I left the formal education system to advocate for the holistic curriculum:

‘Power should be shared throughout the education system, and various checks and balances be in place to stop it becoming too concentrated. It is only in this way that children will gain some protection from the vagaries of educational and political ideas and the human drive to control and dominate. The powerlessness of the young, the fact of them being young, makes school-children tempting targets for those who want to turn schools into battlegrounds for competing visions of what society ought to be. Teachers are unsettled by the possibility of curriculum and administrative ideas being able to be passed quickly down the hierarchical chain without those ideas requiring teacher involvement at all stages of their development. The best ideas for education come from teachers and those close to teachers. The part of the education system that is important to teachers is the part close to them. The part further away has the capacity to do much harm, but little capacity to do much good. The nature of the education system should be to protect teachers from hastily conceived ideas – no matter their potential benefits. Good ideas are only good if the process for their development has been good. The last thing teachers want is the kind of efficiency that has someone in the hierarchy having an idea, and then using the chain of command to force it on them without due process.’

It is obvious I failed in my task.

The neoliberal idea that teachers should be kept out of education decision- and policy-making in the interests of children because teachers would inevitably act self-interestedly is one that teachers and teaching organisations seem to have accepted without demur. But it is a neoliberal idea they should have fought, no matter how long it took, no matter the cost, with unyielding opposition.

The teacher organisations have been morally weak and intellectually shallow. Plenty of comment, and brave talk, but always after the horse has bolted. It should have been no co-operation without representation. Mixing with the ‘bigwigs’ just too much for their ego to resist. Presidents and former presidents have been bees around the honeypot regarding the Education Council, not willing to recognise that taking a stand against something on principle has terrific symbolic power. Watch them now puffing themselves out with pride at that bad-egg Education Council being demolished and replaced.

I can remember throwing everything at teacher organisations for being willing to attend Parata’s humiliating forums. I hunted one particular organisation up hill and down dale, shaking them, but never quite getting commitment. Then, while the president and vice-president were in the air flying to attend their first forum, after not having attended earlier ones, I obtained some devastating information which I quickly sent out, and the membership went wild – on landing the two changed policy and just attended as visitors. (Later of course to quietly become members.)

Enough of that.

We are on the precipice with the digital curriculum (leaving aside for a moment the CoLs) – which organisation can act decisively?

Can we trust Labour in education, dominated for so long by Trevor Mallard? His influence, I can assure you, continues. It explains why Chris Hipkins can act well but never boldly. And boldness is needed; anything but boldness in the current context is failure.

The use of computers in school education, for what purpose, and in what circumstances is extraordinarily problematic. I don’t think there is much doubt that the introduction of computers into classrooms has lowered learning performance, but that could be compensated for in the eyes of some by what is learnt about computers in themselves for future advantage. Others would say that computers should not be forced on to curriculum areas unless their use enhances learning. Then there are moral and philosophical issues around computer use.

A little more of that later:

The principals and the teacher organisations, when they spoke to the newspaper about the digital curriculum should have gone further than matters of money and training to fundamental matters of the appropriateness of the digital curriculum as a whole:

  • Teacher organisations, teachers, academics were not significantly involved in the development of the digital curriculum
  • The Digital Technologies Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum Reference Group was dominated by technology corporates
  • This group proceeded to produce a fully-fledged curriculum set out in precise steps accompanied by outcomes
  • It also produced a computer programme for teachers and the review office to check out ‘progress’
  • The corporates made it clear that they wanted to monpolise services and products for services and products
  • Eventually extending to maths, reading, writing, science, and social studies
  • The group made it clear that the programmes could mean savings to the government in teacher numbers
  • It was explicit that it could only provide their products and services at the price being offered if Communities of Learning are functioning in a business-like way – that is with an executive acting as a leader.

This is a curriculum development scandal; one that should have had the teacher organisations firmly announcing: No co-operation without representation.

You will note that the NZEI executive member who spoke to the newspaper was quite clear, indeed enthusiastic, about the use of the digital throughout the curriculum. Whether the NZEI spokesman knows it or not, the use of computers in curriculum areas, if staying true to curriculum area values is held to (more often than not it isn’t, which explains the harmful curriculum swathe computers are cutting), is fantastically problematic. But the digital curriculum was formed without anybody present being expert in curriculum areas, no-one of eminence from either schools or universities. (You can be sure if curriculum people are brought in they will be carefully selected to corporate ends.)

What kind of education rubbish is this?

Actually, even more seriously, there were no people present from schools or universities able to bring up philosophical matters; matters likely to be contrary to financially-incentivised corporates and therefore controversial and demanding deep and sustained system-wide discussion.

This an education horror. It is worse than Tomorrow’s Schools, the education review office, and national standards, though philosophically spawned from them.

(I’m happy enough to have something like the digital curriculum for a technology part of the curriculum, but I will not have the digital using the wider curriculum as its tool. For goodness sake we were promised exactly the opposite.)

This is a kind of education endgame.

Hundreds of our best teachers will be driven out, as occurred when the education review office began to function under Judith Aitken. They will be driven out on the ostensible grounds they couldn’t change, were education dinosaurs, when the real reason was every fibre in their body resisted something they knew was harmful to children’s learning.

I believe it will seriously damage public education. I would want my grandchildren elsewhere.

The digital curriculum is supposed to be in action in schools in 10 school weeks. What kind of shambles is this? Principals have no idea of money to be allocated or what is involved in the curriculum and who will be there to provide professional advice but, actually, that is not my concern, my concern is for the origins and nature of the curriculum itself – as it stands the digital curriculum will, if implemented, be pernicious to our education culture and injurious to our democratic values.

I would like to pose my education philosophy, perhaps you share part of it, as against what the digital curriculum represents.

I believe in 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?

The arrogance of the corporates and digital experts; their sense of entitlement over the curriculum and the future are foreboding signs for the welfare of our education and society. Sorry, but I’m not ready to collapse in a heap because corporates and digital experts nay-say the broad-based, enlightened, and humanistic education that most of us in education espouse. And I’m hacked off with computer experts talking down to teachers as though they, the computer experts, have it all worked out when, in reality, about education and children’s learning, they are often deeply ignorant. We need a strong, well-funded, democratic, creative education system as a whole and within that the digital appropriately placed and acknowledged. This digital curriculum must be excised and another constructed with a broad-based and diverse membership.

The lesson for being a ‘success’ under Labour is the same as for any regime: Be forever deeply sceptical and, for any education change, if the process isn’t right, no matter the attractiveness of the intention, the change won’t be right. In other words, the charge of provider capture against teachers and their representatives, must be consigned to the dustbin of history.

 

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Do you pass the test for a leader under Labour?

Where did the leaders go wrong in their responses (though they were pretty good as far as they went) as reported in a provincial newspaper on 20 October; responses that if asked of education leaders generally, would, I think, be characteristic throughout the system and explain to quite a degree why New Zealand is near or at the bottom of the Western world in international performance? In what ways did the responses of the leaders characterise the previous era and contrast markedly, we hope, with the coming one?

And to you directly – if I am right, how ready are you for the times ahead?

I report without (much) added tone.

This posting is setting up the test – my reply will be sent out midday on Tuesday.

Will you pass it?

The reporter starts off metaphorically: ‘A digital dawn is fast approaching the nation’s classrooms, but teachers remain in the dark, [provincial place-name] educators warn.’

She goes on to say: ‘Next year schools can begin teaching a new digital curriculum from years one to 10, but it must be in use by the start of 2020. Education Minister Nikki Kaye announced in June.’

Liam Rutherford [who had a fair bit to do with the better than average Labour Party manifesto] comments that ‘educators knew little about the content and breadth of the curriculum, and what extra support and paid release time would be provided …’

‘… the new curriculum,’ he adds, ‘isn’t just another strand, it’s not something that should be seen as isolated, and this isn’t just a tweak.’

So that was NZEI.

How do you think things are going?

Now to the Principals Federation ‘In June [it] told Stuff they believed only 4000 of New Zealand’s 100,000 teachers had the skills to put the curriculum in place.’

Because this came from the Stuff files we have no way determining if that was the main idea they wanted to get across.

Back to the ministry.

‘Ministry of education deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement Ellen MacGregor- Reid said [from Treasury and prime minister’s department with absolutely no classroom experience but, I want to say, clearly significantly able] after “extensive consultation” the new curriculum would be published in December, ready for term, 2018.’

She went on to say, ‘We’re confident this programme will give all teachers the opportunity to be ready for the new curriculum.’

Now the school sector:

The first principal said money was already targeted to the digital but for this there was a need for ‘direct resourcing to schools to support this curriculum’, and ‘He was planning to do a formal “needs analysis” of what the school needed to do to respond, once more was known about the curriculum.’

The second principal ‘was also concerned about the lack of information about the rollout and professional development.’

‘There are always private providers, but these are expensive and don’t guarantee consistence of messages and practices across schools.’

Not bad responses, but why do they fail the test in a way that, in my view, largely explains the plummeting of performance in our primary schools.

Will you pass the test to be ready for Labour: anything else you would have wanted to say, recommend, or make general comment about?

My reply around midday Tuesday.

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