Monday, April 28, 2014

Challenging the perception of what school looks like and what learning is in 2014

There's some old sayings that talk about beauty being only skin deep and that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover when we meet or interact with new people throughout our lives. Well, the same applies to making assumptions about institutions or industry's that have been around for a long time. Primary School is one of these. It gets easy to presume that because most school pretty much look like they did when we went there what happens inside school will be the same. However, inside 'the cover' of each schools buildings different schools either reinforce this perception, or in our case, turn it upside down.

Modern-learning-practice from EDtalks on Vimeo.

This framework of collaboration across our school has 're-poured' our foundation from which our teaching team is further enabling the learning capabilities of all our learners. We want every child to be an active learner, to take responsibility appropriate to their age and stage in the learning process for developing their thinking and problem solving abilities. It's about trying to get that mix of surface and deep learning about right. So what does this look like?

Developing-active-learners from EDtalks on Vimeo.

All this may seem like quite a shift in how we as a primary school are approaching learning and some of the methods that we are pursuing in our classroom structure and programmes might look very different to how we as parents have historically seen learning. Some of those traditional elements that we remember from our own school days may have looked organised and busy but actually didn't do much to deepen our thinking. What do you remember your primary school day being like? I remember thinking how good you were at maths was about how many pages of exercises you could do in a day!

Do any of the following points make sense - not just for school but actually for learning in life (and work) as an adult?

- The more structured we make the environment, the more structure the learner needs.
- The more we decide for learners, the more they expect us to decide.
- The more motivation we provide, the less they find within themselves.
- The more responsibility for learning we try to assume, the less they accept on their own.
- The more control we exert, the more restive their response 

Learners feel engagement with purpose when they feel they have made a choice. It is important to note that this is not proposing, or saying, that the classroom has suddenly become all 'free choice'. Indeed, children themselves do not seek this. Children can gain value from what adults choose as important. So even when a child's choice is extended, it will be alongside another important aspect of learning - how they get themselves to do things they have not chosen.

Plenty of research demonstrates that when learners drive the learning it leads to:
- greater engagement and intrinsic motivation 
- students setting higher challenges 
- students evaluating their work 
- better problem-solving

So our school is about planning for what learners do rather than for what teachers do or what our perspective makes us think what learning looks like. This is a challenge for all of us and there may be some 'ah, buts' which may need to be addressed - such as:

-"They haven't got the skills." Rather than talk about our learners in terms of deficits, can we think about their experiences to date and whether we have helped them master it yet?
- "They're not mature enough yet!" So will we stand by and wait? Or will we offer the experiences that help them mature? 
- "It's unrealistic to give kids absolute freedom!" That seems like an extreme suggestion - is there anything between the extremes?
- "They just need to be told what to do!" So what shall we do with the finding that learners who plan and reflect the most get up to 30% better scores in public examination tasks?

What we are pursuing is not radical, its not a new fangled way of handling classrooms. As a reflection from nearly 400 years ago by Jan Amos Comenius (1632), The Great Didactic says:

"Let the beginning and the end of our didactics be: seek and find the methods where the teacher teaches less but they who sit in the desks learn more. Let schools have less rush, less antipathy and less vain effort, but more well-being, convenience and permanent gain."

'Learners in the driving seat' Chris Watkins, Institute of Education, University of London; Vol 1.2 p28-31

No comments:

Post a Comment