“Creative Schools” should focus on these 8 C’s

I’m currently reading Sir Ken Robinson‘s latest book, “Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education” and he sums up what schools should focus on with these 8 C’s. Forego ABC’s or forget the 3 R’s, these 8 C’s are the core competencies that children should be able to develop and wherein all curricula should focus on:

CURIOSITY: The ability to ask questions and explore how the world works

Remember when all we hear in the classroom is the teacher’s voice because we were told to keep quiet the whole time? The learning process is a 2-way street. Encouraging learners to ask questions in the classroom, deepens their curiosity and makes them more engaged in the topic being discussed.

CREATIVITY: The ability to generate new ideas and to apply them in practice

The most downloaded and watched TEDTalk is Sir Ken Robinson’s “How Schools Kill Creativity”. Let’s be part of the statistic and watch it because it sums it all up..

CRITICISM: The ability to analyze information and ideas and to form reasoned arguments and judgments

Schools should focus more on critical thinking rather than information. Robinson says that they should be data-driven and not data-informed. Kids these days are in the middle of information explosions. They are bombarded with so much information online and even offline. They need to strengthen their critical thinking to know how to make use of these data, how to incorporate it correctly in his life and how to determine the truth from fallacy.

COMMUNICATION: The ability to express thoughts and feelings clearly and confidently in a range of media and forms

Children should be able to communicate their thoughts and express their feelings well. They should also be allowed to express it not just in written and verbal form but also in other media like the arts, dance, theater, etc.

COLLABORATION. The ability to work constructively with others

Children are social beings and an important skill is for them to be able to work/play well with others. Bouncing off ideas with one another not only strengthens their social domain, but also encourages good communication and critical thinking.

COMPASSION: The ability to empathize with other others and act accordingly

Major behavioral problems like bullying, prejudices, and violence stem from the inability of a child to empathize with others. Together with Collaboration, schools should have a culture of Compassion all the way from teachers being able to understand the plight of their students up to students being sensitive to the needs of the people around them. A lot of times, Conduct is only based on how the child behaves in the classroom, during class. Conduct is how a child conducts himself whether the teacher is looking or not.

COMPOSURE: The ability to connect with the inner life of feeling and develop a sense of personal harmony and balance

There are a lot of cases these days of children going through depression, anxiety and severe stress. Children need to develop not only compassion for others but also compassion for themselves. Schools focus more on the outside world when there is an inner world that kids dwell in daily which is built by their ability to control, understand and connect their feelings with what is going on around them. Socio-emotional development should be as important as cognitive development which is why schools should have programs that encourage kids to digress, step back, assess and express how they feel.

CITIZENSHIP: The ability to engage constructively with society and to participate in the processes that sustain it

The progressive theorist John Dewey said, “Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” Children should be sensitive to the current events of the world around them be able to understand and have an opinion on their rights, on the responsibility of government and the laws that protect them. Schools should not just talk about this in Social Studies but rather develop a sense of citizenship (not necessarily conformity) and love of country.

How a progressive curriculum is implemented OR Why playing Minecraft is a good example of the learning process

Okay, so I caught you on the clickbait. Bear with me. Minecraft will eventually appear on this post. In number 4 to be exact.

The scope of any progressive school is the same as any traditional school because we are all under the Department of Education. The department hands down a curriculum that guides schools on content. Then what differentiates the progressive school from all others when they need to follow the same scope? Actually , even progressive schools may have different APPROACHES on being progressive but the following are the general definitives on a progressive approach:

1. They maintain small class sizes. Even if there is a set scope provided by the Department of Education, the small class size allows the teacher to check out the individual strength and weakness of each child and can check if the class in general can assimilate the curriculum.

2. The teachers are given freedom to implement the curriculum based on class skill level. If they find a child that has difficulty even with a developmentally appropriate curriculum, the teachers recommend for a developmental-pediatric consult to rule out any learning disability. On the other hand, if they find that their students are ready for concepts in the next level, they are exposed to such concepts in class.

3. Activities are planned to make the curriculum more experiential for the students. Learning through experience is the Dewey mantra. If I ask you what you remember most in school, it is usually wrapped around a story.. “I remember the story of The Little Prince because  I had so much fun drawing the snake eating an elephant which everyone thought was a hat” or “I remember the order of the presidents because a teacher sang a rap song in class! Hilarious! ” I hardly hear anyone say, “I remember the poem that Jose Rizal wrote because of a Social Studies exam I studied for”!

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To learn road safety and traffic rules, these students went to a Child Safety simulation place for their Social Studies lesson on Community.

 

4. The teachers use creative ways to pique the interest of the students. So much so that the students themselves are interested enough to research on their own and deepen or advance the concept. This is crucial. Finland’s excellent education system is based on internal motivation. They create lesson plans that makes the learner more curious of the topic to willingly research about it on his own. Check out the kids who play the computer game , Minecraft. They know every detail of the game! This is because it piqued their interest, they researched on their own and they have a community of other learners to bounce off ideas with! Now if every school concept can be creatively planned like this game, more kids can enjoy the learning process more.

5. There is peer-to-peer learning or group work. As described, playing Minecraft is a perfect example in today’s children’s learning process. An important part of the process is peer-to-peer learning. Children playing any computer game, starting a hobby or reading a book, usually consults the internet for other children doing the same thing and they learn from each other! The student then becomes a teacher. And that is crucial in a progressive classroom — the opportunity for students to bounce off ideas with one another with effective mediation from the teacher. This is why progressive classrooms are set up with the opportunity to group chairs and tables together and group work is a major part of the lesson plan. This not only encourages peer-to-peer learning, it also strengthens the student’s socio-emotional skill of working well with others.

6. Their developmental checklists (specially at the preschool level) is revisited annually to check if the skills are still applicable to the current age level. For samples of developmental checklists, check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children. For the elementary and secondary levels, most schools follow a prescribed curriculum by the state. All have the same goals, the difference is in the method of achieving the goals.

Ultimately, the question is, do children who have undergone progressive programs reach their full potential? They do! I have witnessed all of our students go on to different secondary schools and one thing is common for all of them. Because we have encouraged their strengths and helped them with their weaknesses, because we molded the curriculum around them so they can better understand it, because there is a sense of trust between teacher and student, they have gone on and conquered whatever curriculum they are faced with, whether traditional or progressive.

How an ‘Advanced Curriculum’ can actually ruin learning

This started out as a summary of progressivist John Dewey’s writing on Traditional VS Progressive Education entitled Experience and Education. But when I was writing it, I realized that each point needed their own post!

Let’s start with this:

“..to imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality”

There are many schools known to impose skills and information that is not age-appropriate to their students. “It imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity. The gap is so great that the required subject-matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young. They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed; even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.” (Dewey, Experience and Education)

A lot of parents are hooked into this perceived “advancement” a lot of schools sell that their students will be taught skills way above their developmental capacity. I’ve seen moms pretending to gasp in disbelief, “Imagine they’re teaching Algebra in the 3rd grade!”** saying it with a secret smile of pride that their 8 year old is already finding the value of X.

What happens ? The students will either seem like geniuses for a short amount of time and forget everything they were taught OR they will be stressed in the process of learning all this information and hate school altogether.

You may say that in a class of 40 children, there are only a few who can’t cope with an advanced curriculum. They are then labelled several things: lazy, slow, or diagnosed instantly with Attention Deficit Disorder. The parents try to figure out what is wrong with their child when in fact, most of the time, it only comes with the burden of a curriculum way outside their developmental capacity.

The teachers are frustrated that their students just don’t get it. “Even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.“, said Dewey. I have spoken to a lot of teachers who have no choice but to implement a lesson plan way above their class’ ability. They’re positive that the kids won’t get it. And yet they continue on and even make tests and exams that cover the impossible because it is in their job description to do so. Even the teachers are giving up!

So does this make the students who pass these advancements geniuses? Maybe. Definitely, there are children whose strength is the retention of information, critical thinking, etc. I believe that there are children who can be given advanced concepts. But it has to be determined if the student is having high grades because he totally understood the concepts, comprehended the topics OR just MEMORIZED the information. Because believe me, a lot of students get high grades from memorizing facts … and then completely forget about them a minute after the exam. So where’s the learning there?

I am also for the exposure of advanced concepts to students who are ready for it. Why not go the next level if a student is obviously ready to do so?  But what about the other students whose strength lies in the arts or sports?  Unfortunately, the current curricula of advancement focus only on the academic subjects such as Math and Science. The purpose of which is the filtering out of supposedly of “slow” students instead of aiming for every child to learn.

**This is an invented example. Heaven forbid there is such a school teaching Algebra in the third grade!

Why are parents asking for more HOMEWORK?

Recently, I asked a friend why he was transferring his daughter back to a traditional school even if his daughter is clearly having a great time in a progressive school. His answer floored me, “I want her to have more HOMEWORK.”

Wow.

Really?!

You would transfer your child to a system that clearly is not a good fit for her because you want her to have more homework. Of course, I bit my tongue and decided to write about it instead.

First let’s list down what parents THINK homework is:

  1. It is an activity at home that will improve their child’s self-discipline and study habits.
  2. It will lengthen a their child’s focus and attention span.
  3. It will increase their child’s academic standing or grade.

But what if all these are not true? Or at least not based on any significant data or study? Just a practice passed down from generations of teachers and students to the point that it became a permanent structure in itself?

On a progressive standpoint, homework or assignments are part of the curriculum ONLY if it will benefit the learning process started in the classroom. It is not mandatory that teachers give it. Progressive teachers would rather have the child spend his time at home interacting with family members and spending time with an activity they are passionate about like a hobby or reading.

Doesn’t this make sense?

In my experience as a teacher, I have come across a number of homework mediocrity and family discussion. There are parents who do their child’s writing homework (c’mon, fess up parents, they don’t just magically change the way they write paragraphs), projects, etc.

Most of the time, homework becomes a source of stress between the parent and child. Child wants to play, parent automatically says, do your homework first. This is fine as long as the homework is an integral learning experience for the child. Worse is when the parent attempts to tutor their child and end up fighting with them. Is this a significant interaction with your child?

Speaking of significant interaction, I had one year of giving out homework wherein the child asks the parents certain questions. For example, when the children were learning about Philippine Games, I asked them to interview their parents what games they used to play as children. The goal was (1) to research about Philippine games by interviewing their parents (2) to appreciate the games because what better inspiration is there than having your parents talk about them and (3) to be able to write the instructions and relay it to the class the following day.

Great homework I must say. Not according to one parent who wanted me to revise the homework and have her child Google it instead. Great..

So what do we make of the Homework Dilemma?

The ideal situation is that the child in class is so interested in the lesson that he would want to learn more about the the topic when he reaches home. I remember one student who was so fascinated with our Volcanoes lesson, that he gave me a printed copy of all the volcanoes, dormant and active, in the Philippines. I didn’t assign this. He did it all by himself.

Another ideal situation is that the class is so interested in the lesson that an hour in class isn’t enough and the teacher gives them relevant questions to think about at home.

Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth, suggests the following to make a change in the homework dilemma:

  1. Design what you assign. Teachers should make the homework that they assign rather than relying heavily on textbooks. This makes sure that the homework is indeed relevant to the curriculum.
  2. One size doesn’t fit all. Truthfully, a class of 20-40 students do not have the same skill level.
  3. Bring in the parents. The purpose of homework should be clearly defined to parents. In our school orientation, we always explain that homework is not mandatory and should be linked to the lesson but we still get requests for more homework.. I still can’t explain that phenomenon.
  4. Stop grading. I see parents and teachers fainting so this deserves a separate post all together..
  5. Address Inequities. Kohn suggests that students be allowed to stay longer in school or the library so they have access to teachers and other resources to complete their homework.

For parents, here are my suggestions.

1. Chill. Really, chill out and spend time with your child. Enjoy their presence.

2. Tons of homework does not mean great curriculum or lesson. It may really just be tons of homework.

3. Ask your child’s school about their Homework Philosophy. Hopefully, they have one.

For my friend who’s transferring his daughter to a school with more homework, no amount of homework can replace a child’s happiness while learning in place where she thrives. If you still, don’t get it, read this post over and over again… as your homework.

Q and A: Are you a TRADITIONAL parent in a PROGRESSIVE school?


Alfie Kohn, one of the proponents for progressive education wrote that one of the problems of progressive education is having traditional parents in progressive schools. Since almost all parents were educated the traditional way, they usually have traditional expectations in their child’s progressive school. Why did they choose the progressive school in the first place if they are traditional in belief? Well, they THINK they believe and understand the goals of a progressive school until that nagging feeling sinks in…

Why aren’t there more homework?

Why aren’t there more quizzes and tests?

Why is my child always “playing”?

Why isn’t the school like my nephew’s school? Why isn’t my child having the same lessons as my nephew who’s in the same grade level?

And the list goes on…

It’s like the parent has morphed back to the traditional leanings even after multiple parent orientations, parent interactions, explanations and workshops. That nagging Traditional voice always come back and haunts not only the parents but the school as well.

So are you a traditional parent in a progressive school? Or are you a traditional parent thinking of putting your child in a progressive school? Help us out by posting a comment if these questions resonate in your mind. We’re setting up a Parent Education Seminar with this topic in mind and we want your help by knowing those questions that haunt you.

As an added bonus, we will choose a comment at random and give a special gift for your participation. Random choosing will be on September 15, 2010.

Thanks for your help!

The Progressive Elementary Classroom

When I checked the statistics of this blog, a lot of searches that end up viewing the site is looking for the learning environment in a progressive elementary or grade school classroom.

Here in the Philippines, most classrooms have a traditional set up. Unfortunately, even some of the progressive schools have adopted a traditional set up wherein all the chairs are facing the teacher and have no opportunity to have learning centers or to be decentralized. Why? It costs less and the administration assumes that the class can be managed better. There is a way to make a classroom progressive in an efficient way.

In our school, we decided that the elementary students move from one classroom to another depending on their subject. Why?

1. Every classroom becomes one learning area and the students have an opportunity to visit each area. For example, the subjects Filipino and English are in one classroom called Communication Arts room.

2. Since each classroom is set-up as a learning area focused on that particular subject, the teacher of that subject can design his/her classroom to have elements to encourage learning for that subject. For example, here’s our Communication Arts room..

Yes, the teacher is in front and all the chairs are facing her however, check the varied the positions of the chairs and tables. The tables are long and can sit 4 students to encourage group work. They are movable in the event that the teacher needs to change the lay out of the classroom when the curriculum calls for it. She can move all the tables to the side and have one big group in the middle or separate the students into smaller groups.

Every classroom, regardless of subject, has a reading area. Even the Math and Science room has one. Why? A progressive classroom houses a progressive curriculum. A progressive curriculum is integrated, meaning all subjects are connected with one another (this is intended for another article in this blog). Since this is the Communication Arts room, it SHOULD have a reading area! This particular area have the all traits of a progressive reading area: covers out, varied titles, culture- and curriculum-based and the students can TOUCH the books!

Every classroom displays various projects of the students. Why the net? Here’s a tip: the net makes it easier to change displays because the projects are not taped to the wall. Those awful tape marks also add cost because you have to repaint your walls more often. Save in tape, save in paint :)

The learning environment is crucial to be parallel to the progressive curriculum. Let’s harness our teaching creativity to design a unique and progressive classroom even for the elementary-aged student!

Curriculum Design: The Learning Environment

Browne (2000) define the school’s environment as the combination of the physical and human qualities, creating an area in which children and adults work and play together. In the study of Rios (2002) regarding predictors of effective preschool, wherein 94 private preschools from the National Capital Region were studied, the learning environment came out as the best predictor of effective preschool performance. It further explains that an effective learning area is a reflection of a good preschool administrator who is responsible in the over-all planning of the facility.

The physical setting is the equipment and learning materials, the classroom’s arrangement and the playground facilities. The planning of the physical space reflects the program’s goals and encourages play and interaction between children. The physical design also encourages the child’s self-confidence (Feeney, Christensen & Moravcik, 2000).

The progressive classroom exudes beauty and hominess (Washburne, 1952). The progressive classroom encourages more freedom of activity and more chances for exploration. The UP Child Development Center (UP-CDC) which espouses a developmental-interactive approach to progressive education breaks up its classrooms into learning areas (Alcantara, 1994). There is a math area, housekeeping area, a manipulatives area, an art area and a reading area. Cenedella’s article “Organizing a decentralized classroom” (as part of the DFLCD Early Childhood Education Seminar Workshop handout, 2002) defines breaking up the learning environment into different areas as the “decentralized classroom”. Cenedella states that a decentralized classroom reflects the Progressive stream. This set-up allows the teacher to manage the class in smaller groups, gives the children the opportunity to decide on an activity and allows the flow of learning to be fluid and uninterrupted because the various materials are available in their own distinct area.
The materials should reflect the philosophy of the school and respect the developmental needs of the children (Sciarra & Dorsey, 1995). Since the children’s interests are in focus, specially designed teacher-made materials are usually seen in progressive preschools. Not only are they tailor-made to fit the children and the curriculum but are economical for the preschool as well.

The learning environment also concerns the temporal setting or timing for transitions, the routines and the activities (Gordon & Williams-Browne, 2000). The UP¬CDC has a balance of quiet and active, group and individual plus outdoor and indoor activities. It is harmonious with DECS Order 107 in regards with allotting time for self-exploration and a balance of different activities as seen in the prescribed sample of activities.
The interpersonal setting of the environment is composed of the number and nature of teachers, ages and numbers of children, types and the style of teacher-child interactions (Gordon & Williams-Browne, 2000). The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the largest organization of early childhood professionals that is dedicated to improve the quality of services for children and their families, states in its “Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs” (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997) that the group size and ratio of teachers to children should be limited to allow individualized and age-appropriate programming. For example, a class of four-year-olds should have a maximum of 20 children with two teachers managing the class.

Thuermer (1999) says that a progressive classroom usually has an air of informality. The teacher’s voice is not the dominant one in the room but rather that of the children. The kids are often in small groups but even when they’re together, the whole-class discussion encourages the children to interact with one another.