“Imagination is more important than knowledge” ~ Albert Einstein
A revolution in modern education has brought with it an increasing change in mindset amongst many educators in regards to the purpose and direction of learning. Having broken away from the shackles of a traditional mindset in regards to education I have found myself questioning and evaluating my purpose as an educator, driven by the questions, ‘How can I best serve my learners?’, and ‘What if?’
During the last academic year in particular I have been inspired by my classroom neighbour and friend @artwithron. Ron is our school’s visual art teacher and a strong advocate of the philosophy of teaching artistic beviour (TAB).
‘Nothing in education is more powerful than authentic, student directed, student centered learning experiences constructed from the bottom up. The TAB art education concept allows students opportunities to take ownership of their art experiences from conception to completion with teacher acting as classroom manager, environmental designer, art expert, facilitator, and student mentor.’ Clyde Gaw
Having been a regular visitor to Ron’s classroom I have been witness to the whole process and outpouring of independent creativity and exploration of the students. Ron spends less time teaching the specific skills of art rather than allowing students to recognise themselves as artists. The students were completely in control of the process from idea to creation. I began to wonder if these same principles could or should be transfeered to other areas of the curriculum e.g. spend more time exploring the process of becoming a writer rather than specific skills involved. In particular skills that had little significance or importance to the creation of writing.
We were provided an opportunity within the year to allow the students to create and design their own learning environment. We discussed the various areas of learning and the resources that we would need. This provided the chance I needed to allow the students to see themselves as part of the process rather than a passive bystander. A writing table was created with discussions around what resources we would need as writers rather than what resources we would need to learn. Most of these would have been the same but it is how we approached the problem that was significant. It allowed the students to see themselves as writers and involved in the process rather than just learners. Yes we would need letter sound cards and displays, yes we would need whiteboards to write but these were now resources that we would require as a writer rather than just for learning. We were encouraging the students to develop the mindset of a writer rather than just as a learner. For myself in particular this is a very important point. I believe that when we are discussing changes in modern education the most important step is the change in mindset of both educators and learners and how we approach stituations rather than complete change. A change in values and of what is important to the learning process. These would obviously be different when considering the individual learner so it is vital that we create flexible learning opportunities that allow for personalised goals.
With development of technology within the modern world it is clear that the acquisition and demonstration of traditional skills is becoming increasingly less important than the adoption of positive learning behaviours. When developing these learning behaviours it is therefore important that the students become part of the process, mapping out, recognizing and implementing what is important to them. Involving the students within the process allows opportunities for them to personalize and take ownership whilst developing a natural curiosity and motivation to learn. The process and the active participation within it therefore becomes much more important than teacher expectations. There should be no end goal in learning other than the joy of learning. By helping to develop positive learning behaviours within our students we are helping to support a life-long learning journey.
If we take creative writing as an example we clearly see that correct letter formation or even a good understanding of letter sounds can play little importance in the grand scale of things in the creation of a classic novel. In fact I am sure that if Oscar Wilde or Lord Byron had become preoccupied with handwriting rather than a creative outpouring then much of the creative endeavour may have been lost. This is not to say that good letter formation or spelling play their part but arguably play an insignificant role in the creation of great literature compared to creativity. Unarguably great literature would survive messy handwriting and bad spelling but without the love of writing or the spark of imagination it would be lost.
It is not the writers main concern to produce neat and accurate spelling but the story or idea itself. This is only part of the process as the work then goes to draft, numerous editing before the final piece is made available. This is not to mention the increase and availability of auto-correct and voice recognition technology that allows writers to create great work without the need of neat writing or correct spelling. So what do we really want our learners to become? Creative and imaginative writers or part of the editing team? The answer matters as the skills required for each position are different.
The acquisition of knowledge and skills should no longer be the driving force of modern education but the development of a love of learning. Forced conscription to traditional ideals can quickly dissolve the love of learning but if a love of learning is developed then the acquisition of knowledge and skills will occur naturally. Desire to learn should come naturally and motivation should be intrinsic and seem from deeper roots. If the children enjoy what they are learning they need no artificial motivation. Conformity to learning only leads to conscription and will not lead to authentic student action. Teaching skills as standalone and outside of the learning process develops a mindset of conformity. It also does not support the transfer of skills to a real-life experience. Allowing our learners to become part of the process rather than passive observers of it creates a learning environment that allows personalization, ownership and creativity of learning to happen. This in turn supports our learners in taking positive action.
‘Quality learning is risky and stressful and requires much more energy and effort from students than the passive learning that is so common in schools’ (Baird & Northfield, 1992).