Sir Ken Robinson is a renowned expert on creativity. He believes that creativity is a vital element of 21st Century learning. In his Teaching for the 21st Century journal interview, also at ASCD’s Educational Leadership blog, he discusses the vital connection between creativity and critical thinking, two essential 21st century skills.
The linkages between the two are quite apparent when we consider that critical thinking is an integral part of the inquiry learning process and that creativity is required to transform the elements achieved through critical thought and new knowledge gain and application into new information, new media or new technology. Of course the two are linked!
Given that creativity and critical thinking go hand in hand, why, in Australia, do we still use standardised tests and League Table websites to measure student performance and teacher effectiveness? I found myself yelling at the television last Sunday night as Ray Martin, from 60 Minutes, traipsed over to New York to discuss Australia’s standardised testing of all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, with the ‘founder’ of this approach, previous New York education chief, Joel Klein. Still committed to his system, Klein clearly asserted that poor student performance in literacy and numeracy are the direct result of poor teachers. During his time he closed the lowest ranking schools and sacked many teachers but, when asked about his proudest achievement through this program, he cited an increase in high school graduation rates! I would suggest that most students in developed countries throughout the world are staying in school longer (therefore ‘graduating’) naturally, as part of cultural norms and global economic conditions.
As a profession, teaching is not an easy job. Sure, outsiders look at the holidays (What! Am I on holidays? I’m still undertaking professional development, planning next Term’s Programs, completing my performance review documents for meeting with my Supervisor, developing a presentation on “Engaging with Texts” as part of the new Australian Curriculum and exploring a variety of new technology tools to assess these for inclusion in my program and provide practical examples for other teachers to use in theirs. Oh, yeah, planning my 6 year old’s birthday party is my down time!). All jokes aside, I can say from experience working in a number of corporations as a Manager prior to retraining as a teacher and now, as a Teacher Librarian, nothing is as difficult as teaching. Nothing that I’ve done has been more rewarding, either.
So why the bad wrap? I don’t doubt that there are some teachers who probably shouldn’t be teachers anymore. They’ve lost the passion or the motivation and, from my experience, many of these teachers have been worn down by NAPLAN. So where does the actual problem lie? Should we be helping these teachers be the best they can be, recover their passion and enjoy teaching once more, through better teacher training, like in Korea, Finland and Singapore, or should we continue to flog the dead horse that is NAPLAN?
Anna Patty’s 2011 article in The Sydney Morning Herald made just this point. She said, “The big question is why Australia would want to emulate a country like the US where academic performance standards are, on average, much lower.” As part of this article, Patty interviewed Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, who advised that Klein’s model has failed America, resulting in a narrowing of the school curriculum and teaching to the test. Again, why are we flogging this dead horse?
I remember my school days fondly. I had mostly great teachers, who were inspiring and funny and, we didn’t always follow the ‘plan’ (that was obvious to even us back then!). I performed well academically and I thank those teachers who were organised and structured (despite the turmoil of the educational system in the 70’s) but I also thank those teachers who were creative and funny and flexible and a bit disorganised, because they also taught me to be flexible, help others, be responsible for my own learning and live life to the fullest (21st Century skills?).
I think that the new Australian Curriculum attempts to embed creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, deep knowledge and understanding but with the shadow of NAPLAN ever-looming it’s efforts are limited. I commend those teachers who are able balance the two effectively and welcome them to share their wisdom with all. Teacher Librarians can take a significant leadership role in fostering creativity. We already do so as part of our inquiry learning processes and we need to share these with our classroom colleagues to gain transfer across the curriculum.