Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Layer 162 Social Intelligence and Creative Classrooms.

Reflecting on human groups (Layer 161) brings me back to the subject of social intelligence, and, looking back, I notice I referred to Daniel Goleman's book called Social Intelligence in Layer 22. A year's gone by and I've still not finished the book!

Goleman sub-titled this book “The New Science of Human Relationships.”

Here's a taster.

"In this book I aim to lift the curtain on an emerging science, one that almost daily reveals startling insights into our interpersonal world.

The most fundamental revelation of this new discipline: we are wired to connect.

Neuroscience has discovered that our brain's very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us affect the brain – and so the body – of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.


To a surprising extent, then, our relationships mould not just our experience but also our biology.

That link is a double-edged sword: nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can act like slow poison in our bodies.

The spotlight [of this book] now shifts to those ephemeral moments that emerge as we interact. These take on deep consequence as we realise how, through their sum total, we create one another.

Our enquiry speaks to questions like . . . Can we do a better job of helping our children grow up to be happy? How can a teacher or leader enable the brains of students or workers to do their best? What helps groups riven by hatred come to live together in peace? And what do these insights suggest for the kind of society we are able to build – and for what really matters in each of our lives? (My italics)


Today, just as science reveals how crucially important nourishing relationships are, human connections seem increasingly under siege. Social corrosion has many faces.

To the extent that technology absorbs people in a virtual reality, it deadens them to those who are actually nearby. The resulting social autism adds to the ongoing list of unintended human consequences of the continuing invasion of technology into our daily lives.

Email and cell phones penetrate essential barriers around private time and family life. The cell phone can ring on a picnic with the kids, and even at home mum or dad can be absent from the family as they diligently go through their email every evening.

Of course the kids don't really notice – they're fixated on their own email, a Web game, or the TV screen in their bedroom.

The social brain is the sum of the neural mechanisms that orchestrate our interactions as well as our thoughts and feelings about people and our relationships . . . The social brain represents the only biological system in our bodies that continually attunes us to, and in turn becomes influenced by, the internal state of people we're with . . . Whenever we connect face to face (or voice to voice, or skin to skin) with someone else, our social brains interlock.

By repeatedly driving our brain into a given register, our key relationships can gradually mold certain neural circuitry. In effect, being chronically hurt and angered, or being emotionally nourished, by someone we spend time with daily over the course of years can refashion our brain.

Thus how we connect with others has unimagined significance.


The social responsiveness of the brain demands that we be wise, that we realise how not just our own moods but our very biology is being driven and moulded by the other people in our lives – and in turn, it demands that we take stock of how we affect other people's emotions and biology. Indeed we can take the measure of a relationship in terms of a person's impact on us, and ours on them.

The biological influence passing from person to person suggests a new dimension of a life well lived: conducting ourselves in ways that are beneficial even at this subtle level for those with whom we connect.

Relationships themselves take on a new meaning, and so we need to think about them in a radically different way. The implications are of more than passing theoretical interest: they compel us to reevaluate how we live our lives.


The education section of The Guardian today is a real dog's breakfast. There's good stuff in Phil Beadle's column, 'On Teaching': “The Human Cost of Exam Success”.

“Routinely kept in after school and bawled out for their own good, their once bright eyes have taken on a harried nervousness. They are corralled, lectured, cajoled, told it's all in their best interests, and led in the direction of the epiphany that the best preparation for a joy-free life of institutionalised overwork is a joy-free life of institutionalised overwork.

Jemma, who was delicately pretty at the beginning of the year, still is, but she has lost something nearly tangible and replaced it with a ghostly expression . . .

Jodie, Tina, Rita and Janet have joined the ranks of the disappeared. They used to come to school – they don't any more.”


And that's just the teachers.

Estelle Morris, as ever, writes a bland little column that's all sweetness and light and perfectly reasonable and inoffensive and useless. Should schools be prepared to spend some of their own budgets on providing artistic and cultural experiences both in and out of school for their pupils? Yes.


There's a whole page headed, “We Want the Wow Factor”. OK, OK – but let's force ourselves to read on.

“Is it possible for schools to shake off the constraints of the curriculum and be creative? Says Naomi Westland.”

Who she? Some sort of cub reporter on her first assignment? WHAT constraints? What do you mean by is it POSSIBLE to be creative? OF COURSE IT'S BLEEDING POSSIBLE YOU DIMWIT!

This is the kind of report that ought to be a beacon of hope and inspiration and is in fact utterly depressing in that we really shouldn't be thinking this is brand new and innovative and the answer to everything when it's no different to what good schools have been doing for decades, only now there are so few good Primary schools that offer children meaningful and stimulating ways of learning that's it's worth printing a whole page on the delights of thematic, integrated learning through creative first-hand learning experiences.


Now go away and write another page around those questions, Naomi dear.

For the record, here's some snippets, so you can see what I'm pissed off about:

“We wanted a 'wow factor' in our curriculum. We wanted the children to have lots of visitors, to go on lots of trips, and to have the chance to learn by doing rather than just by reading and watching videos.”

“We want the children to be outside as much as possible, doing hands-on activities and getting dirty . . .”

“The important thing is that children have deep and rich learning experiences, whether their school follows a creative curriculum or a more traditional one.”

“He believes teachers are at the heart of the creative curriculum and that the 'overly prescriptive' approach of the last 15 years has had a 'deprofessionalising' effect. “The lack of emphasis on creativity has turned teachers into technicians. If teachers are empowered and enthusiastic, that rubs off on the children. This is an exciting time if you have passion, vision and are prepared to take risks.”

“School leaders and teachers should be given time to work out what the needs of the children and the school are and respond to them – the benefits are that children achieve well and teachers enjoy teaching.”

“She maintains that that is the point of a creative curriculum – schools can teach all of the key skills but using the interests of children and teachers to make it fun and engaging for both, she says. “It has had a very positive impact on children's attitude and engagement because we are teaching with relevance and purpose. And my staff are happier.”

Well fucking hell. Just fancy that.

What I want to know is, why did these people ever do things any differently? Didn't they always know this stuff? Why did they allow or encourage their staff to work in any other way? What was stopping them doing the right things all these years?

I think we know the answers to these questions. As the article itself says:

“Tim Burgess, headteacher at Chandler Church of England school in Godalming, Surrey, and author of a report entitled Lifting the Lid on the Creative Curriculum, says schools are often reluctant because of "an oppressive data-police mentality and fear of the standards agenda". He explains that the Excellence and Enjoyment strategy for primary schools introduced in 2003 gave schools the green light to be more flexible with the curriculum, but at the same time they were "under huge pressure to meet targets and adhere to standards". "Moving to a creative curriculum involves taking risks - some schools don't believe it will improve results," he says.


Last Saturday Mike Baker wrote a column called “Benefits of Creative Classrooms” for the BBC website. This one is actually worth a read, since it deals with WHY the government-commissioned report “All Our Futures” was never actioned.

"Ten years ago this month a 243-page report on the importance of promoting creativity and culture in schools landed on ministers' desks.

It had been commissioned in the heady early days of the Blair government to recommend ways to make progress in the "creative and cultural development of young people" both in and out of school.

The review was led by Sir Ken Robinson and included leading scientists, business leaders, and key figures from the arts world.

It was widely acclaimed.

It argued that creativity was a skill that could be taught.

It was not about progressive teaching or loose discipline. Nor was it in any way an alternative to the essential skills of numeracy and literacy.

Rather it was about encouraging pupils to be innovative and to develop the ability to problem-solve in all areas of the curriculum, from maths to technology.

It argued that such skills were essential to individuals, employers and the whole economy.


But what has happened since?

There has certainly been cultural activity in schools but even the strongest champions of creative and cultural education would have to admit that the report - called All Our Futures - has not dominated schools policy.

That's because it came out just at a time when the new Labour government was investing its energy in boosting standards in the "three Rs".

Determined to show it was tough in standards, Labour's drive was focused on the Numeracy and Literacy Hours.

Ask a primary school pupil in England what numeracy or literacy is and they will have no hesitation in describing what they do in class for an hour each day.

But creativity? Even if All Our Futures had suggested a "creativity hour" it would probably have been seen as a distraction from the key message on standards.

Of course, it did not recommend anything as gimmicky, since the whole tenor of the report was that creativity and culture are not some sort of bolt-on activities, but are skills that should be developed throughout all aspects of teaching and learning, in science as much as in the arts.
In some ways the report was ahead of its time.

It called for a reduction in the burden of assessment and said the national curriculum should be reduced to take up no more than 80% of the timetable.

The latter recommendation probably now seems too modest, an indication of how far the call for greater freedom for schools has been reflected in subsequent reforms of the curriculum.

Results 'boost'

But any satisfaction the authors of All Our Futures may draw from subsequent events must, surely, be tempered by recognition that there is still a long way to go before creativity is seen as fundamental to teaching and learning in schools.

The current fierce debate about the national tests, or Sats, at age 11 hinges on whether they contribute to a narrowing of the curriculum, with many teachers and schools feeling they dominate the final years of primary school.

Indeed, the accountability criteria that determine success or failure for schools and teachers are overwhelmingly based on formal tests, particularly covering English and maths, not on indicators that reflect pupils' creativity.

So you could not blame head teachers if they felt it was more important to secure their school against league table failure - or the triggering of an Ofsted inspection - than to promote creativity.

However, a report published this week by the new charity Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE) highlights research suggesting that a focus on creativity in schools need not be at the expense of achievement in the basics.

Indeed, it claims the very opposite: that creativity boost exam results and attendance.

The report looks at the record of a programme called Creative Partnerships.


And so on.

The piece concludes by saying:

"The evidence so far seems to back the view that putting a real emphasis on creative and cultural education in schools has broad benefits.

However, getting all schools to take this route will continue to be difficult when the accountability measures that determine the success or failure of schools continue to emphasise short-term improvements in formal qualifications.

Perhaps the government's proposed new School Report Cards can find a way of indicating whether a school is successfully promoting creative and cultural education?"

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