Bruce Hammonds : “Towards a 21stC School…[Extract]

Extracts from Bruce Hammonds: TOWARDS A 21stC SCHOOL FOR ALL LEARNER {Teachers Today magazine,NZ, July 2010} ….with interruptions from an Australian commentator in italics.

Bruce Hammonds is a New Zealand education consultant, author of   “Quality Teaching and Learning.”


The NZ government’s response to schools’ failure and poor teaching is to implement National Standards aka Naplan in Australia and NCLB in the US, strategies that look back to the past for inspiration. This ‘rear-vision thinking’ is too simple and diverts attention.

Time for a public conversation. The biggest concern is that there seems to be “…no urgency for change…in schools…where disengaged students are reaching frightening proportions”. The standards agenda is “… rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to get a better view. The confusion around national standards actually makes ensuring all students achieve success difficult by distorting teacher energy, narrowing their teaching and making it difficult for teachers to focus on developing inquiry based learning.”

A Vision for New Zealand. ”We could do worse than follow the lead of Singapore with its ‘Thinking Schools, Thinking Nation’ motto. According to the Ministry of Education ‘thinking schools will be learning organisations in every sense, constantly challenging assumptions, and seeking better ways of doing things through participation, creativity and innovation…the spirit of learning should accompany our students even after they leave school… A Learning Nation envisions a national culture and social environment that promotes lifelong learning in our people.’ Singapore’s Education Minister explains that the big adjustment for teachers is the way we educate our young to develop a willingness to keep learning, and an ability to experiment, innovate, and take risks.” [If only Australia’s Minister for Education had visited Singapore in 2008, instead of New York!!]

Our schools could achieve such a vision if all their energies were focussed on implementing the current New Zealand Curriculum rather the standards. The same is true for Australia. Schools need to focus their collective energies on developing environments in which students and teachers’ creativity, in-depth understanding and thinking can flourish.”

Personalised learning. “We need teachers with the in-depth understanding able to help children to learn on their own, or as our currently side-lined NZ Curriculum says, to be their ‘own seekers, users and creators.’

Daniel Pink, in his latest book Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, writes “the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing – is essential for high levels of creativity. And, quoting research by Deci and Ryan on the self-determination theory, he writes, “We have three psychological needs – competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When these are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive and happy… [and] if there is anything fundamental about our nature, it’s the capacity for interest. Some things facilitate it. Some things undermine it.”  [ Australia’s passion for  a blanket testing regime certainly ‘undermines’ it]

Pink’s three conditions for success. The three conditions required for the motivation of all learners are : Autonomy – the provision of authentic choice;  Mastery – the desire to get better;  and Purpose – which provides the context for the next two. … The most powerful energiser of all is purpose – as seen through the eyes of learners.”

Having a winning mind-set. According to Carol Dweck [Stanford Uni.]: “People hold one of two views of their own intelligence. There are those who believe they are born talented [or dumb] and others believe in effort and practice. Those with a ‘fixed mindset’ give up and …those with a ‘growth mindset’ do not interpret mistakes as failing but merely as a means of improving.

Perkins [Making Learning Whole] outlines seven research based principles of teaching that can transform education, one of which is that students need to practice the ‘hard bits’ so as to achieve mastery in whatever they are attempting.”

The School As The Home of the Mind.  “Art Costa’s powerful metaphor is well known to New Zealand schools and are similar to Guy Claxton’s ideas of ‘learning power’ and his reference to ‘the mind as a muscle’ which grows with exercise… ideas which underpin the key assumptions of the NZ curriculum…The intentions of Costa, Claxton and the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum are all about cultivating thinking dispositions. Costa calls them ‘habits of the mind’; and Claxton ‘learning power’. Guy Claxton of England visits NZ occasionally. He has visited Australia, but Joel Klein with his hard-data system, became Ms Gillard’s favourite.

Inquiry learning. Student thinking and purposeful teacher interaction cannot develop in a vacuum. Learning needs meaningful contexts…Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory encourages teachers to explore chosen content through a variety of ways – through the arts, the sciences, mathematics, language, music, and physical activity. Integrated learning is natural to the very young [who are not aware of subject divisions] and teenagers today explore the world through technological media crossing subject boundaries with casual disregard. Secondary schools remain locked into compartmentalised and fragmented learning with their genesis is a past industrial era while their students experience and interconnected evolutionary real world.

The Big Picture. Schooling ought to be seen as central to the development of New Zealand as a ‘cutting edge’ society. Enough is now known about teaching and learning that no student need fail. The current NZ Minister’s emphasis on compliance [Hello, Julia] through national standards is characteristic of yesterday’s assembly-line thinking rather than looking towards the unknown challenges of the future. The real literacies of tomorrow entails the ability for students to  be their own navigators able to thrive in unpredictable situations supported and guided by the positive dispositions they have hopefully gained through their educational experience.

This is not a summary. It quotes extracts from a catching article that is printed in NZ journal, Teaching Today.

While schooling and Australia’s real future has remained a non-issue during present electioneering, it seems alive and well across the ditch.

Simon Crean, have you purchased your ticket to Singapore ?