I’m a bit confused. I am aware of a tension. Well, at least I think I am. But regardless, I’m quite ok with that. Because that’s what keeps me curious and that’s what keeps me in my happy place… when I am learning on the job. I now understand that my job is about trying to make sense of what is taking place in my classroom and trying to figure out what levers to pull and which buttons to push.
These days I see myself as a problem solver. This insight has really encouraged me to be creative. And I read somewhere recently that creativity is about making the complex, simple. I like that. The classroom is a dynamic and complex place. Full of humans with competing demands and interests. I need to remove that complexity, remove the unnecessary, remove the barriers to effective learning. But most importantly, I need to find the humanness. And liberate that spirit. It always exists but sometimes it is hidden and you have to dig around for it.
I am now more aware than ever, that I can make a difference. I can make a difference through my deliberate acts of teaching. And that that is achieved by building strong relationships with the students. From trusting relationships come good learning conversations. That’s the hierarchy. The foundations must exist for effective learning to take place; to unleash the real learning.
So, what is this confusion and tension that I refer to? It all stems from the introduction of national standards and the international trend towards standardised testing in primary schools. My original position, like many with a vested interest in education, was to criticise and resist the introduction of this kind of regime. The arguments against standardised testing are compelling. Yong Zhao describes the standards as “too narrow, too impersonal, too linear and too focussed on the short term. It’s a model that stifles creativity and discriminates against many students.” Ken Robinson describes the need for an education system that is responsive to the needs of a modern world. He argues that the education being offered and delivered by schools currently, is only good at “killing creativity”.
You can imagine my shock then, when I discovered recently, that it was John Hattie who was responsible for the introduction of the standardised testing regime into New Zealand primary schools. I have been a big fan of the Visible Learning approach to education for some time. I have been endeavouring to apply the findings of his research into my classroom on a daily basis. How has this situation arisen? Is it a ‘situation’ at all, I wonder? Are these academics actually contradicting one another? I for one, would love to find out. But in the meanwhile, I am going to propose my own understanding and interpretation of the situation.
I now propose that a standardised testing regime and creativity can co-exist in the classroom. I believe my experiences and observations in the classroom over the past few years can validate this. (I would love a researcher to come into my room and really test this – any takers?) I am becoming increasingly aware that it is not the standards that are the problem. The real problem is in the way that teachers approach learning (in general) and how they approach (specifically) the achieving of those standards. From my observation, teaching has not changed since the implementation of the standards. It’s not the standards that are acting as a ceiling to effective learning and creativity. That ceiling is being imposed by the prevalent teaching practices. The teaching practices that you will see in the majority of classrooms throughout the world. They are pretty much the same teaching practices that you and your parents and grandparents were subjected to during your time at school.
I no longer fear those “evil standards”. I embrace them. By enhancing creativity through play, it has made the achievement of the standards for the children in my classroom easy and accessible to everyone. Prioritising creativity through play has been the equivalent of putting the standardised academic learning on steroids. It has been truly remarkable. It’s a completely different approach to teaching. It works. And it’s ready and waiting to be embraced and shared.
Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.