Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

3. Changing Schools

  • To transform a system you need: 1) A critique of the way things are, 2) A vision of how things should be, and 3) A theory of change for how to move from one to the other. In the case of the U.S., the critique was that standards were too low. The vision was to raise standards. The theory of change was to standardize in institute standardized testing. By any measure the results have been dismal with high rates of non-graduation and unchanged levels of literacy and numeracy. Meanwhile in Finland, they saw a system in crisis. Their vision was to have a system with a broad and balanced curriculum and considerable latitude for implementation by schools and teachers. They invested heavily in teacher development and principals were given wide discretion. Collaboration was emphasized rather than competition. By any measure, Finland has been successful. Critics point out that Finland is small and less diverse, but it is a big or bigger than 30 U.S. states, and there is no doubt that their plan resulted in serious improvment.
  • This chapter also contains the story of Ken’s involvement in promoting arts education in the UK. He notes that the heart of education is the relationship between the student and the teacher. Everything depends on how productive and successful this relationship is. Many other books I have summarized here make the same claim.

4. Natural Born Learners

  • The way young children learn language and other things proves to Ken that we are voracious natural learners. If only schools could create environments where such natural learning could continue. Ken tells of Sugata Mitra’s work in India that seems to have done so. The big pitch here is to personalize education in terms of pace and the ability to explore one’s interests. Schools also send too much time with sit and listen lessons and not enough where students can do and make things. (Some schools recognize this and are adding Maker Spaces.) In just about any aspect of our life we expect personalization of products and service. Meanwhile, reforms are looking to standardize education.
  • All one has to do to realize that we have a great diversity of learners is to look at what people with diverse skills have created. It is essential then that students can explore their range of abilities in school. Unfortunately, most schools provide a standard steeplechase for everyone to complete at the same time and in the same way based on their age. A group project, however, may take several hours while an individual writing assignment may take much less. Clearly, flexible scheduling is needed. Nowhere in the world of work do people switch tasks every forty minutes or so when a bell rings. We also need less emphasis on grades and more on personal interaction. Assessments should also be diverse and timely unlike the one-size-fits-all standardized tests we focus on. This system has also pushed teacher lead academic activity into preschool and cut way back on play. Ken believes that this serves to kill the spirit and stunt mental growth. Free play is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their fears, solve their own problems, and take control of their own lives. Not only does our system not work, we are not even letting the people best positioned to fix it, the teachers, do so.

5. The Art of Teaching

  • The key to transforming education is the quality of teaching. Inspiring students to learn is what great teachers do. (Finland knows this but rather than focus on making all teachers better we are trying to weed out a few low performers and driving everyone crazy.) Creative work in any domain involves increasing control of the knowledge, concepts, and practices that shape the domain. Teachers, therefore need to grow expertise and allow opportunities for creativity. Direct instruction is necessary but generally needs to be more flexibly delivered via whole class, small group, and individual efforts. The how and when takes judgement, connoisseurship, and constant adaptation on the part of the teacher. Generally, you don’t sustain real engagement by long periods of talking in front of the room. An essential part of the process is understanding where each student comes from and what is going on in their lives.
  • Students need teachers who connect with them. Personalize pace as one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. There should also be a focus on teaching something that can be taken out of school. Make sure that students know you expect them to succeed. Open-ended questions need to be prominent along with conversation and collaboration. Look to work on projects and encourage mastery before letting a student move on. At times, another student who just learned something has a better chance teaching a peer than the teacher. See Ken’s book Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative for more on teaching creativity.
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