Saturday, 23 September 2017

Slow Down Now - Join A Growing Movement

There have been a few triggers for this blog post, which has actually been going around and around in my head for the last few weeks, but I have been pushing it back, in the hope that we would be given the ability to once again embrace our fabulous NZ curriculum.

So there are several triggers for this post:

1) A post on facebook about data walls (horrific things)
2) The debate that resulted around the need for children to be able to see where they are going and reflect on their process and the need for this to be visible. (through the narrow lens of literacy and mathematics.)
3.A discussion as a staff about the slow school movement
4. Last but not at all least, the very real likelihood that we will be stuck with another National Government who, bless their cotton socks,  have worked tirelessly to narrow our curriculum, undermine teachers and increase anxiety and competition in our learners and promote shallow, fast learning.  Hey they have even coined the horrid phrase 'accelerated learning.'

What have these things triggered, well they have triggered a hugely emotional response in me.  A fear for all I hold dear and hoped for education over the next three years and a real reluctance to continue working under such a system.

Many say you can not blame National Standards, they say that it is up to schools to work with them and frame their own curriculum, and many schools, like us have done just that.  Worked around them, given them as little attention as possible while still being compliant.  However I talk to and hear from enough teachers to know this is not common.  From what I hear many schools have truly narrowed their curriculum, they are overly worried with assessment, they are causing great anxiety for the children they work with and go completely against what the research tells us to do.  They test children from the moment they step through the classroom door, to the moment they leave.

I am left wondering now, with the proposed National Standards plus, how schools like ours will be able to continue to give them as little thought as possible.

Let me be clear, this testing culture is destroying learning for our children.  They learn to define themselves by their test result, and  this is then how they see themselves going forward.  Children learn to work within the system, they like to please, they may even appear to be happy with the constant measurement.  The reality is that they know no different, and we do!

These horrid data walls people have been speaking of make my blood run cold.  This public shaming is bad enough, but I ask you what happens to that child who has always been at the top, how does their perception of themselves change when they drop back, when someone else is ahead, when dear I say it, they struggle? Research tells us they are inclined to give up, to sit within their comfort zone, and only do those things they know they can achieve at (I refer to what I have read in Jo Boalers books.)  Is that the type of learner we really want to produce from our education system?

Ok, so we could take the measurement line away and make learning visible in other ways.  That sounds great, but does it not still narrow what children see as learning?  We all know learning does not happen in a bubble...authenticity of learning is crucial, if we are going to make up displays, surely these displays should be showing learning in an authentic context.  Children need to see themselves, their talents, their urges displayed.  Children need to see how what they are learning relates to the real world.   The quiet truth that is not spoken about enough is that children are natural learners, they are mimics, they want to learn, they are naturally curious, their brain is designed that way.  They will take in learning around them and naturally want to improve, they don't need us to push them, what they do need from us is help with developing the dispositions to make this possible.  We will not create these dispositions when children fear being wrong, or judged.  When they see us as the fountain of all knowledge and a display on the wall as the high water mark.

My ultimate goal would be for all schools to embrace a slow school movement.  A notion that has been around for while now.  This is a good starter article. 

To allow children time.
To truly listen to their voice and allow them opportunities to just go with it.
To have time to revisit, to engage in authentic learning situations, to give children more control of what they are learning and how they are learning.  Our senior classes quite often spend a few days or even a week solving a problem in maths, and believe me, the results are so rewarding, the learning is deep, challenging and real.
To construct programmes that give the teacher time to sit and talk to children, to give them individual feedback, to praise the process of learning.  I would love our system to stop squeezing everything and the kitchen sink into what we have to do in a day.
To embrace a more play-based approach.
To embrace brain research and allow children outside to move more often than they are inside.
To reward teachers that allow children to follow their learning urges with our trust and respect.
To set six and seven year olds free of a prescribed line that they must meet.  Timed tests, would be gone, blanket assessments for everyone would be gone, we would use assessment to benefit our learners, not to measure them.

Over the last couple of years I have come to realise that by slowing down, children will come to their next learning steps in their own time, in fact I have found that they are often ready far earlier than I would have previously thought for their next learning steps.  Do you have to be a great teacher, have deep pedagogical understanding, of course,  in fact far more than in a narrow prescribed system that dictates what you do.  But this also happens naturally, just like the children we are natural learners, I have never been more interested in learning about how children learn, than I have in the last two years.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of play-based learning for all ages, it is also no secret that I love Mantle of the Expert, these two approaches have re-defined learning at our place, they make slowing down possible.

It is also no secret that I am a massive fan of the education system of Finland.  I believe many of the answers to our issue lie in this system, and just wish that someone in power would choose this path rather than the narrow, test driven one we are currently on.

And as a last bit of food for often do you write?  How often do you compare what you have written to a sample that is better than yours?

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