Monday, August 1, 2016

Creative Schools by Ken Robinson

I was first introduced to Sir Ken Robinson through an animated video he did on education. It was the first time I had seen a video like it. Both the content and the whiteboard animation were riveting. I asked people to watch it for just a short time for the entertainment value alone, but all kept watching the full 10 minutes because the content was so interesting. He has also given some TED talks on education and one of them became this book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education.

He declares, “The revolution I’m advocating is based on different principles from those of the standards movement. It is based on a belief in the value of the individual, the right to self-determination, our potential to evolve and live a fulfilled life, and the importance of civic responsibility and respect for others… As I see it, the aims of education are to enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.” (p. xxiv)

He further states, “The great irony in the current malaise in education is that we actually know what works. We just don’t do it on a wide enough scale. We are in position as never before to use our creative and technological resources to change that. We now have limitless opportunities to engage your people’s imaginations and to provide forms of teaching and learning that are highly customized to them.” (p. xxviii) And all of that is just in the introduction. He’s off to an exciting start! As a veteran of homeschooling, I have known for some time now that it is possible to customize and education to the student. I’ve been advocating that as well. Now it’s about how to do it.

While he is a political liberal, I believe he probably eschews labels when it comes to his educational theories. In fact, his first chapter is called, “Back to Basics,” but it’s not so much a call for a return to knuckles rapped by a ruler with each wrong answer. Rather, he wants a return to the basics of what teaching and learning are. “Whatever the reasons, research and practical experience show time and again that the critical factors in raising student achievement on all fronts are the motivation and expectations of students themselves. The best ways to raise them are to improve the quality of teaching, have a rich and balanced curriculum, and have supportive, informative systems of assessment. The political response has been the opposite: to narrow the curriculum and wherever possible to standardize content, teaching, and assessment. It has proved to be the wrong response.” (p. 24-25)

He believes that education has been built on the metaphor of a factory. “ The students who feel alienated by current systems of standardization and testing may walk out the door, and it’s left to them and others to pay the price in unemployment benefits and other social programs. These problems are not accidental by-products of standardized education; they are a structural feature of these systems. They were designed to process people according to a particular conception of talent and economic need and were bound to produce winners and losers in just those terms. And they do. Many of these ‘externalities’ could be avoided if education genuinely game all students the same opportunities to explore their real capabilities and create their best lives.” (p. 38) We need to change metaphors. He suggests that of a garden in which students are plants given all they need to thrive.

We need to change the way our schools function. “Modern education systems are cluttered with every sort of distraction. There are political agendas, national priorities, union bargaining positions, building codes, job descriptions, parental ambitions, peer pressures. The list goes on. But the heart of education is the relationship between the student and the teacher. Everything else depends on how productive and successful that relationship is. If that is not working, then the system is not working. If the students are not learning, education is not happening. Something else may be going on, but it’s not education.” (p. 71-72, emphasis mine)

Students are “natural born learners,” and yet we have manages to sap the joy of learning. He describes a typical high school where, “students sit at desks, facing the front, while the teacher instructs, explains, and sets assignments. The mode of learning is predominantly verbal or mathematical; that is, students mainly write, calculate, or discuss with the teacher. The curriculum is a body of material to be learned. It is arranged into various subjects, usually taught by different teachers. There are frequent tests and a lot of time spent in preparing for them. Inevitably students grasp some material more quickly than others, but the class is intended to get through the material at the same rate and over the same amount of time. Whether individuals keep up with or fall behind the class as a whole is taken as on indication of their general ability.” (p. 75) Maybe the problem is not a lack of ability, but a lack of engagement. We must figure out how to allow students to interact with the world and those around them in a way that goes beyond conventional academic work.

Next, he explores “The Art of Teaching.” Going back to his garden metaphor, he states, “The job of a gardener is to create the best conditions for [plants to grow.] Good gardeners create those conditions, and poor ones don’t. It’s the same with teaching. Good teachers create the conditions for learning, and poor ones don’t.” (p. 102) He advocates that teachers use every tool in the wheelhouse, whether it’s direct teaching of facts or facilitating exploratory group activities and projects. “Getting that balance right is what the art of teaching is all about.” (p. 103) 

He then lists the core competencies that schools should frame their curriculum around. 
  1. Curiosity — The ability to ask questions and explore how the world works.
  2. Creativity — The ability to generate new ideas and to apply them in practice.
  3. Criticism — The ability to analyze information and ideas and to form reason arguments and judgments.
  4. Communication — The ability to express thoughts and feelings clerkly and confidently in a range of media and forms.
  5. Collaboration — The ability to work constructively with others.
  6. Compassion — The ability to empathize with others and to act accordingly.
  7. Composure — The ability to connect with the inner life of feeling and develop a sense of personal harmony and balance.
  8. Citizenship — The ability to engage constructively with society and to participate in the processes that sustain it.

The key is to recognize that while the teacher may be teaching many things, is anyone actually learning it? As these competencies are woven throughout the curriculum, the students become true learners. 

What about testing? It’s all important in the educational system we have today. He tells one interesting anecdote of a teacher who abolished grades altogether. He felt the students were working for grades and not learning. Although the school does require a final grade. So he collaborates with the students and together they determine what their grade should be. This is a fascinating idea! He advocates a more holistic form of assessment than traditional standardized assessments. In addition, he provides the purpose of assessment in the first place, “Properly conceived, both formal and informal assessments should support students learning and achievement in at least three ways: 
  • Motivation: Effective assessment spurs students to do well. It provides constructive feedback to help them understand how they’re doing and to encourage them to improve where they can. 
  • Achievement: Effective assessment provides information on what students have actually done and achieved. It also provide relevant comparisons with how others have done against similar criteria so that students and others can make their own judgments of their progress an potential. 
  • Standards: Effective assessment sets clear and relevant standards that can raise students’ aspiration s and contribute to the guidance and practical support they may need in reaching them.” (p. 180-181)

The last few chapters of the book are words of wisdom for administrators who are seeking to change the educational environment they find themselves in. I didn’t mark anything in these chapters because right now my focus is on my training as a teacher. Maybe someday, I’ll need to review them!

No comments:

Post a Comment