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Intelligence Brief - Interviews with Teachers


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Over the last few days, Longbow and Swan conducted a series of interviews with teachers from the U.S. as well as Scandinavia and the U.K..

Working at all levels of education, we sincerely thank these teachers who volunteered their time and insights to the ongoing development of our work.

We hope that their experiences will offer valuable insights to the other teams who are currently putting together their proposals.

We're therefore very pleased to share our findings.

Published in: Education, Technology
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Intelligence Brief - Interviews with Teachers

  1. 1. Longbow & Swan __________________________________________Interview with TeachersAs part of its research for the No Right Brain Left Behind Challenge, Longbow and Swan conducted aseries of interviews with teachers from across the U.S. as well as Scandinavia and the U.K.The group of interviewees consisted of two current teachers of first graders in New York City, anelementary school teacher who has worked in Indiana and London, a recently retired high school teacherwho taught in California, a professor who currently teaches writing at a private university in New YorkCity, an art school teacher in Oslo, as well as an adjunct professor of design in Copenhagen.All of the teachers were briefed on the No Right Brain Left Behind Challenge. As such, they wereintroduced to the premise that the U.S. educational system currently does not produce enough creativethinkers and were asked to consider their responses in light of this creativity crisis.QUESTIONS(1) If you could change one thing about the educational system in the U.S., what would that be? Itcan be anything, from something philosophical to something very concrete."In my decade as a teacher, primarily of first-year college students, I have seen creativity plummet, and Ibelieve that it is because test-taking drills/strategies have taken the place of real, open-endedthinking, projects that begin without knowing where they will end. Even the thesis-driven five-paragraphessay assumes a truth that it then "proves," without exploring other options; students seek only theevidence to support what they already believe. By the time they reach my classroom, they have no ideahow to ask meaningful questions about cultural or political issues; they are too invested in the idea of asingle right answer, and creativity simply doesnt work that way. They should have spent more timelearning through the arts, where it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.""Its important to remember that schools are both a reflection of the community as well as a part of theircommunity and that this community consists not only of parents, pupils, and teachers, but also the otherresidents who live and work nearby, as well as peer support programs such as Big Sister and BigBrother. We need to have a conversation about our education that takes place across the many levels ofour community. We really need to have a dialogue about these issues where we can openlydebate what works and what doesnt work.""Give the children more rights - let the children have a say in what they would like to learn about.Encourage new dialogues. Collaborative learning!""I was trained in New York City, and then began teaching in Bloomington, Indiana. My greatestsurprise was the disparity between the world I was educated in, in New York, and the world Itaught in, in Indiana. The flexibility of my professors, their willingness to try new ideas and techniques,and to revisit older techniques from new angles... this was absent in Indiana. If I could change one thingabout the educational system in the US, it would be to institute a National Review System to explore thereasons that certain schools were successful and others werent. To be able to compare an LA inner cityschool with a Boston one seems elementary, but Im afraid it isnt. I know that many fear a societalhomogenization if the state-to-state differences inherent in the US are broken down, but I think in thisarea we cant afford to ignore the advances, and defeats, of our neighbors.""To be truly creative, you have to be creative about something in particular. It is the developmentof knowledge through experience. I would therefore make sure that every student creates something
  2. 2. Longbow & Swan __________________________________________tangible, an object, though not necessarily physical, but a finished piece of work, whether it is a self-made book on mathematics (if thats their field), a bicycle route explained with maps and facts along theway, a recipe - created and documented. It is important that the students object shows their specialty,their unique perspective, and not just a general specialty. Their object would have to be documented sothat it can be shared with others, also outside the school.... This is done, for instance, in the Steinerschools.""Students graduating from high school should understand practical monetary matters as an element ofteaching math. They need to know everything from how credit cards work; why we have taxes and theservices that are provided by taxes; what a mortgage is; how percentages are calculated; what incomeshould be allocated on living expenses, savings, etc; the cost of having, providing for, and educating achild; how insurance and stock markets operate; how to make a budget; how banks, mutual funds,monetary funds work; we teach basic math, algebra, geometry and calculus, but we gloss overthese very pertinent economic math concepts.""Focus more on individualism versus group exercises. What can you share of your own experience andwhat can one learn from the others?""Everyone should understand what programming is. Now, you dont need to know how to build a car inorder to drive a car, but you do need to know how to DRIVE a car, otherwise you are just a passenger.The same applies for programming."If you could change more than that?"I think that more interdisciplinary work needs to be done at the high school level -- classes thatcombine writing, researching, and discovery. The compartmentalization of these skill sets in a standardcurriculum means that students never experiment in writing, or create art or narratives about math orscience, that might yield new truths or ways of seeing the world. Students should be evaluated on theirprocess as much as their results, so that being "wrong" doesnt cost so much, academically. Much of theentire school industry, from teacher training to AP testing, is invested in standard curricular divisions.When the only carrot is a high score on a multiple choice test, kids stop imagining.""Make technology more widely available. When I see Dr. Negroponte distributing computers inIndia while the students in our own neighborhood schools wait in line at the library to haveaccess to one, I get a little riled. Charity should begin at home. We need to bridge the everwidening gap between the haves and the have-nots, and it is time that our politicians realizedthat poverty is not just an inner city problem. Our classrooms, especially in the area oftechnology, need more parity. Put more resources into the classroom!""Food is a real issue in schools. Teaching students not only how to make food, but also why good foodwill make them feel better, and then implementing this in the cafeterias. Perhaps most importantly:wages. Teachers are arguably just as important to society as politicians, and serve very muchthe same purpose. They should be paid accordingly, and this means increasing the allocation fromthe federal government to the state level education budget - but just increasing wages would be unfairwhen increasing the individual schools allowances for infrastructural improvement is important, too.""The days in K-12 schools are filled with ceaseless chatter, so there needs to be time each day forworking quietly. Some classes at my school have enacted silent times - and the children often request tohave it. "Lets have silent lunch!" (really!) Also, truly healthy snacks and meals and more time outside."
  3. 3. Longbow & Swan __________________________________________"Stop all dramatic changes! Every time a new wave sweeps into our educational system, it isaccompanied by enormous waste that usually benefits the textbook companies, testing facilities, and theever-present specialists.... "New Math" gave way to “Back to Basics.” "One Child Left Behind" and now,perhaps, "Race to the Top.""Involve the community, through projects based in the community, so that pupils can better relate to thethings that theyre learning. Encourage self-expression. Its only when kids form their OWN expression ofsomething that we can see that theyve learned it - in a right brain way. Foster a sense of collaboration:within the classroom so pupils can exercise critical thought when talking about other pupils work;between teachers so best practices are shared; in the local community so everyone has a stake in anysuccesses, while failures are a shared responsibility""Good food, proper meals."(2) Are school classrooms inadequately designed to cultivate creative thinking? If yes, howwould you redesign any aspect of the classroom?"Most classrooms are inadequately designed, yes! The school in which I work views the classroomenvironment as the "third teacher" and thinking about how our environments affect our childrenslearning is a conversation that we return to time and again. For example, in our school you will not findcommercial posters and plastic furniture bought from catalogs. Instead, you will find documentation of thelearning experiences and interactions of the children, teachers and families as well as evidence of theidentity of the community where the center or school is located. Classrooms can make subtle changesthat could do much to accommodate and inspire different ways of thinking and interacting.""All classrooms are different as there are so many variables that have to be taken into account in thedesign of a classroom set up (number of students, size of room, fire regulations, mainstreamed wheelchair bound students, various learning activities etc.)... In California, there is plenty of room in the limitedenrollment K-3 grades, so those rooms have space and fluid desk set-ups. The higher grades arepacked, so the set up is more structured. In a room where the teacher uses project-learning techniques,students may work in pods with lots of movement between groups. This was a hot idea a few yearsago, but parents generally dislike the group-learning concept and schools are dropping it. As faras designing something to cultivate creative thinking: letʼs have an on-line service that will provide textand graphics based on say, The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, so that students can change the bulletinboards at least 2x a month. There is nothing less stimulating than a boring, non-instructive bulletin boardthat stays up for months on end. Weʼve all seen them. Letʼs have some creative support in this area. Iwant students to take part in this activity so that they can have ownership of the room.""There are as many different kinds of classrooms as there are schools. Any room can serve as aclassroom if it has the right supplies and the right teacher. You dont necessarily need fancy desks,etc. Materials are more important.""I know that the art academies in Norway suffer from this idea of open seating plans, which is notworking at all.... People feel invaded, have trouble working, and all the teachers understand them, butadministrations seem to get these ideas from... I donʼt know where. The students would rather sit in asmall box, and then they could choose when to be open and when not to. In the new art academy inOslo, itʼs a very expensive disaster... So, I advocate freedom within a frame - solo, double, smallgroup, large group by organic choice or project necessity instead of a forced idea of opennesswhich makes everyone more protective, like they would behave in any other public space."
  4. 4. Longbow & Swan __________________________________________(3) When a class fails to deliver on its potential, what are the range of reasons why?"Potential is one thing. Confidence, motivation, goals, skills sets, full stomach, work ethic all have to be inplace for the potential of the individual student to be realized. Extended attention spans have to bedeveloped and this is becoming increasing difficult in a culture that values tweets and two-minute soundbites. Teachers have to be strong, knowledgeable, supportive, prepared, motivating, creative, confidentand HARD WORKING. Peer group has to be equally motivated without too many “issues” that hold theclass back. Administration has to be supportive and actually help when problems arise. Cooperative andsupportive parents are extremely important. In the absence of stable and encouraging family members, itis good to have a Boys and Girls Club or something like it to keep an eye on the studentsʼ after-schoolactivities and to provide them with support in study habits etc. Sports, dance, theater, glee clubs… Allthose wonderful after school activities are really important for building confidence,sportsmanship, creativity, self- expression, etc. Good communication among all the above isessential and so easy in this time of the computer.""There are millions of reasons why a class could fail to deliver. The teacher is ultimately responsible, butthe teacher can also be working against forces far more powerful than themselves.""More often than not, an areas wealth dictates the quality of its school. That said, sometimes a teachercan have a massive positive effect, and sometimes a certain neighborhood looks very unpromising buthas a great school."(4) What is the most undervalued resource of the U.S. educational system?"The Truly Dedicated Teacher.""Good and engaged teachers.""Time for an empty head(space) in a room of limited distractions. More than two hours, less than five. Anempty head, with less choice, is more likely to be creative.""The power of quality art education. Art education is not about creating the next Picasso, butgranting children the opportunities they deserve - to build confidence, to make connections, andto think flexibly.""I dont want to blow my own horn, but... well... yes I do. I introduced a program that combinednatural sciences and literature, using examples of metaphor use in description of nature. Itworked very well. I think that breaking down the barriers between the subjects can really free up theminds of the students. When they discover how interrelated everything is, they soon realize their ownrole within society - it is a lot easier for them to understand."(6) Last question. To better understand how to cultivate more creative thinkers, is there aquestion that we should be asking?"What positive effect do you get when children are trained to think creatively?"
  5. 5. Longbow & Swan __________________________________________One of our interviewees shared these insights from Elliot Eisners 10 Lessons the Arts Teach:1. The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. Unlike much of thecurriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules thatprevail.2. The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can havemore than one answer.3. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to seeand interpret the world.4. The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving, purposes are seldom fixed, butchange with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness tosurrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.5. The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we canknow. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.6. The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.7. The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some meansthrough which images become real.8. The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what awork of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do thejob.9. The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through suchexperience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.10. The arts position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important. -----------------Thanks to all of the teachers who have contributed to this brief.This brief was researched, compiled and edited by Christian Svanes Kolding and Ewan Adams.