In the UK, we also know about the proliferation of 'standards-based reform', and how it dominates the measurement not only of pupil attainment but also of teacher performance and of teacher education. Standards emphasise what is measurable; they are less good with what is immeasurably (= more) important: personal witness, and the complexity of now. But, under pressure from 'standards-based reform', teaching to the test - and hence a standardised and reduced curriculum - has become almost inevitable. Graham cites an Australian headteacher who said in 2016: 'If we can't measure it, we won't be doing it.' Such views pose a professional challenge, and Graham underscores this by drawing attention to the 2016 Australian NAPLAN research which shows that although test scores in spelling and grammar have risen, scores in writing at years 5, 7 and 9 have gone down.
This oppressively rigid application of standards is counterproductive: it restricts learning rather than fostering it. Each talent needs freedom, as well as structure, to grow; it doesn't thrive when it is buried by imperatives. Effective learning - and, eventually, effective earning - requires the different dynamic of dialogue. We have to make sure that, in responding to a hostile agenda, we don't forget to pursue our own. We have that responsibility to ourselves - and sometimes it is useful to have the support of others in a group.
Free-thinking teachers’ writing projects - such as NWP (UK) and Stella2.0 - celebrate cultural diversity, and the dynamic power of experiential and collaborative learning. Storying our world is how we learn – but, pace the standards agenda, it does not help anyone - least of all learners - if governments trot out the same old standards story without listening to anyone else's.
I chose Michael Palin’s ‘Safari’ which gave me: ‘ ... a box like a wagon with circular holes in its side that looks suspiciously like a recycling container.’ From this stimulus, I riffed about cat-boxes, cattle trucks, pomanders and - yes - toilets.
Others found themselves writing about
- disturbing wave dreams (evoked from a memory of sitting on the velour seats of Whitstable cinema and watching the film ‘Deep Impact’ )
- a barman in an isolated pub on Hadrian’s wall who uses the objects and dimensions of his bar as the reference point for everything
- a village ‘character’ referred to by the locals as ‘harmless’ for whom the world around him is ‘invisible’
- an old woman surrounded by memorabilia and trapped in her own circular narratives – a woman who has ‘lived’
What we all remarked on was not just what we had written but the dialogue that surrounded the writing –
- the playful excursions which opened us up to a range of our own memories, stories and concerns
- our ownership of the shared and interwoven narratives that emerged as a result
- the sense of a community of enquiry into the 'affordances' of writing – using our own experiences as a critique of the kinds and purposes of writing encouraged and discouraged in schools, as well as their creative classroom applications in the classroom
- how writing and talking together was a way of learning about ourselves, each other and the world
‘Truth is not to be found inside the head of an individual person; it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of dialogic interaction.’
We look forward to having a good dialogue with Graham in 2018. The truth is, we are not alone.
NWP outreach director