Living and Learning

The Hall-Dennis Report

“The truth shall make you free”

These are the opening words of what is still considered the most influential document addressing the aims of education in the history of Ontario.  Living and Learning (more commonly referred to as the Hall-Dennis report) set the standard for education that planted the seed in 1968 for student directed education that saw the light of day in 1971 with the creation of ALPHA.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, Article 26

    1. “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  1. “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

In 1968, that which would become the core of traditional ALPHA methodology was first layed out as the principle to guide all education offered in Ontario.  According to the recommendations on page 208:

Establish, as fundamental principles governing school education in Ontario, the right of every individual to have equal access to the learning experience best suited to his needs, and the responsibility of every school authority to provide a child-centered learning continuum that invites learning by individual discovery and inquiry.

These words may appear to define a very broad spectrum of learning styles, allowing many types of education to fit the bill.  However, the Hall-Dennis report was very specific regarding how child-centered learning should take place.  The Alpha form of education is alone in Ontario in still successfully fulfilling this vision.  Below are some quotations from the report on various aspects of what was intended for education in Ontario.

Page 52—The Curriculum

The curriculum of the future must be child-oriented and must provide opportunities for choice within broadly defined limits. Teachers at every level, supported by qualified counselors, will be required to guide each child along his own critically determined path, far more flexible than a computer guide, but critical in the sense that the learning programs initiated and developed will best meet the needs of each child at the time best suited to his development. Teachers will have to rely upon both their general knowledge of child development and on detailed observation of individuals to match teaching to the demands of children’s various stages of development. The signs of readiness will have to be discovered and learned for all aspects of learning, so that each child’s progress will be observed, recognized, stimulated, and assisted in the next stage of learning.


Page 56—The Learning Environment

There is increasing evidence that children are often better taught in groups centered around interests, and as individuals, than in classes consisting of 30 or 40 pupils. Group teaching and individual learning programs break down the old formal class organization. But despite advocacy of clustering children around interests, supported by appropriate resource teachers, children, particularly young children, seem more relaxed and at ease when identified with at least one home teacher. Such a teacher should spend a greater proportion of her time with a particular child, supervising him, counseling him, talking and listening to him, so that she may be aware of the child’s changing moods and responses.


Page 71—The Relationship between the Curriculum and Young People

A good curriculum must meet the needs and expressed desires of pupils. It creates in the school a pleasant and friendly environment in which young children know that they are appreciated and accepted; in which maturing young people will find that they and their ideas are respected; and in which all pupils find interest and satisfaction in learning. It gives a realistic and objective exposition of society and its institutions. It encourages pupils to ask questions, to contribute further information, and to express their opinions freely, and it encourages teachers to answer pupils’ questions truthfully as often and as fully as possible. At the same time, such a curriculum provides for studies related to institutions of higher or further education or which are needed to obtain specific qualifications.


Page 72—Grading

The obvious corollary is that the curriculum must provide for the individual progress of pupils. To make this possible, two major innovations are indicated: complete abolition of the graded system throughout the school; and the use of individual timetables at the senior level. The introduction of graded textbooks and the placing of pupils in ‘books’ or grades undoubtedly improved education in Ryerson’s day. By the end of the 19th Century, the graded system in Ontario’s urban schools demonstrated its efficiency for instructing pupils in the fixed and limited schedule of facts and skills prescribed at the time. But during the last fifty years, as it has become increasingly difficult to retard and eliminate pupils at an early age by failure, the graded system has become an anomaly.

Related to grading is the use of formal examinations as the means of transition from grade to grade. Such arbitrary measures of achievement and the concepts of promotion and failure should be removed from the schools not to reduce standards, but to improve the quality of learning. The evaluation of pupils’ progress should be a continuous part of the learning process, not a separate periodic exercise. It should be a co-operative endeavor of teacher and pupil. There are, of course, other uses for tests and examinations. Short preliminary tests may be essential when teachers and pupils are planning individual programs. Pupils at the senior level may wish to take standardized tests to help them make a wise choice of options, and teachers may use diagnostic tests for the analysis of pupils’ difficulties. Again, at the senior level, formal admission tests set by institutions of higher learning might be available to students.


Page 93—Developing a Sense of Responsibility

Teachers can take definite steps to develop a sense of responsibility in children, and the Committee offers the following by way of example:
Have pupils plan and manage their own routines of study.
Encourage pupils to suggest ventures in learning which they would like to undertake.
Encourage joint or group undertakings.
Provide for pupil management of certain school affairs
Reduce assigned homework in favor of pupil-planned study or practice.
Provide adequate guidance programs to enable pupils to set more remote vocational goals and to plan their own educational progress.
Apply only those rules that are necessary for the maintenance of a healthy, invigorating and pleasant learning atmosphere.
Give pupils practice in making decisions of a personal and social nature.


Page 136—The Teacher

The modern professional teacher is a person who guides the learning process. He places the pupil in the center of the learning activity and encourages and assists him in learning how to inquire, organize, and discuss, and to discover answers to problems of interest to him. The emphasis is on the process of inquiry as well as on the concepts discovered.


Page 139-140—Learning Environments

In the future a school will contain various kinds and sizes of learning areas, including classrooms, small study centers, and large open areas. In a well-organized schoolroom efficient, flexible use is made of available resources, and routines proceed with a minimum of confusion and interference. In many classrooms, rows of fixed desks and the single bookshelf have been replaced by movable furniture and shelves, magazine racks, tables and cupboards, designed for displaying and storing books and other aids to learning. In a well-organized teaching area, the furniture is arranged or grouped as the needs demand, for art activities, interest areas, discussion groups, individual study, and other purposes.

The organization of schoolroom routines should be regarded as a co-operative activity of teachers and pupils, operating within the general organization of the school. The establishment of routines should be an exercise in democracy in which pupils establish and maintain as many as possible of their own ‘rules,’ evaluating and revising them as conditions demand. This exercise provides for the development of self-discipline and responsibility.

As stated earlier, the spotlight in the school is shifting from methods of teaching to experiences for learning, and the truly professional teacher now employs in each situation the methods that will enhance the quality of the learning experience of the pupils in his care. He creates the situation that most effectively involves the pupils. He recognizes the need to capture or arouse interest, to provide opportunities for inquiry, discussion, discovery, organization, review, and evaluation, to ask a searching question or make a useful suggestion at the right time, and to guide pupils in the selection and use of a variety of resources. The forming and understanding of ideas and the development of skills and attitudes find their place within many learning experiences, and are not treated separately in formal or ‘type’ lessons.

In establishing the atmosphere for learning the professional teacher remains sensitive to the interests and problems of pupils, and allows the direction or pace of the lesson to change as the situation demands. He realizes that for an individual child the sequence of steps in the lesson may be less important than a word of praise or kindness, or a sign of recognition or reassurance; indeed, such actions are themselves part of teaching ‘method.’

A teacher may actually be teaching very well when he is apparently doing little more than observing pupils at work; he does not believe that effective teaching demands constant activity on his part.


Page 142—Evaluation

Traditionally, evaluation of pupils’ progress has been carried out by the use of periodic formal tests, chiefly in order to establish the level of achievement for parents and school authorities. With the introduction of a child-centered program, evaluation is changing in both function and form: its function is to determine the effectiveness of the program in the pupil’s development; it takes the form of day-by-day observations of the pupil’s interests and activities, difficulties and achievements. Evaluation is part of the learning program, is often planned jointly by the pupils and the teacher, and provides for self-evaluation as well as for diagnosis. The process may involve a discussion of the effectiveness of a learning situation, of the degree of participation of the pupils, and of suggestions for improvement of study habits, research and discussion procedures, and use of reference materials.


Page 157—The Structure of the System

The structure of the system and of the school itself should be a democratic one-one where the teacher has freedom, not one that is so rigidly bound by rules and regulations that he feels his freedom is being questioned. The teacher’s loyalty to the system will be conditional upon the degree to which the system and the individual school serve to make it possible for him to do his best work. The system that meets the professional needs of its teachers will usually have the highest teacher morale.


Page 170—The Principal

The principal who sees himself as the curriculum leader of the school acts as a consultant, adviser, and co-ordinator, and spends most of his time with children and teachers in psychological, sociological, and curricula activities. He subscribes to the theory that the aims of education are determined philosophically, and he realizes that striving for uniformity through standardized tests, external examinations, and other devices and controls has little to do with the attainment of objectives in education. Subjectivity is his accepted mode for educational endeavor; objectivity is desirable only in specific instances, subordinate to the major purposes of education.

The values expressed in the Hall-Dennis report have not gone out of style.  ALPHA continues to represent what education can be like if the passions of the students serve to direct the education they receive.

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