Today we’re presenting a concise summary of some very fundamental and some very practical ideas about teaching, learning and schooling in the 21st Century. Soon, apparently in the new year, England’s Minister for Education, who happens to be a Scot, is unveiling his newest masterpiece – the New National Curriculum. Hurrah!
Will this become a key document in the history of education? Of course not. National Curriculums/Curricula come and go every few years, depending on the whims of the minister and of the party that happens to be in power. Teachers assign real importance to them at their children’s peril, as well as their own.
The fundamental ideas that we’re considering today have been around for a very long time in some form or another, and they’re unchanging, although developing for the modern age. Some would say that in essence they go back to the ancient Chinese or Greeks. Some would associate them more strongly with John Dewey or the early English and indeed British proponents of ‘progressive education’. Francophiles would also recognise the spirit of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose novel, “Émile: or, On Education”, is ‘a treatise on the education of the whole person for citizenship’.
During the 12 months we’ve been writing this blog we’ve considered these ideas in the context of the world’s most successful education system, which happens to be Finland. They crop up in several of our posts about the Finnish system, which we’ll link to at the end of this piece. They also appear in our report on the new approach to education in Singapore – ‘Teach Less, Learn More’ – which is also based on the Finnish model, and indeed on those much older models.
These concepts are also laid out in an important book called The New Learning Revolution, which we’ve mentioned several times, and have urged people to read. Its authors, Gordon Dryden and Jeanette Vos, did a brilliant job in summing up the practice that leading progressive educationalists advocate in the age of science and technology. Sir Ken Robinson also endorses these ideas about active and creative learning.
In a recent article in Powerful Learning Practice, which styles itself as “Voices From The Learning Revolution”, teacher Shelley Wright, who is a doctoral student, has also written a wonderful summary of these key ideas. Her article is called, “I Used To Think . . . ” – and we would urge all of our readers to click on this link and read it in full:
For those of you who don’t have time to follow these links, here’s the essence of what Shelley Wright so brilliantly and elegantly says in her excellent summary:
* “Self regulation” is the process of taking control of and evaluating one’s own learning and behavior. Self-regulated students are learners who can reflect critically and accurately about their own thinking and learning. [We would add that this applies across all six intelligences, which we propose in our 3Di model.]
* Self-regulated learners are cognizant of their academic strengths and weaknesses, and they have a repertoire of strategies they appropriately apply to tackle the day-to-day challenges of academic tasks.
* Students who are self-regulated learners believe that opportunities to take on challenging tasks, practice their learning, develop a deep understanding of subject matter, and exert effort will give rise to academic success. [Engagement with challenging tasks and daily practice is essential for the development of all of our six intelligences.]
* Many researchers have linked these characteristics to success in and beyond school.
* An inquiry classroom is both empowering and liberating. The most important skill we can model for students is how to learn and how to talk about learning. Instead of seeing students as empty vessels we should see them as reflective learners, capable of change, who have much to offer our own learning.
* We should see students as co-designers of our learning environment — from choosing which curriculum objectives we will work on, to unit and assignment creation, to co-constructing the criteria for the assessment of learning.
* In a Google world, most of the content we once valued so highly can be accessed in seconds, making the role of content provider obsolete. Skills, such as collaboration, critical thinking, and being able to locate rich, reliable information are much more important. We should use content to teach skills. Teachers are skills providers.
* If you’re learning about and working on a project that is worthy of your time and attention, you don’t have to be cajoled. Students will devote everything to worthy work, in ways you can’t even imagine at the outset.
* Most homework tasks do very little to enrich students’ learning.
* The essay is one of the least useful forms of communication. It’s important for students to be able to persuasively argue, but now they learn how to do it via blogging, social media, and using visual and audio formats.
* We should get rid of all marking and grading, and move solely to feedback – and the more often this feedback can be verbal dialogue the better. When students receive lots of formative feedback they know where they stand as learners. Then it’s about learning, not marks and grades.
* Technology needs to be infused, authentically, into every step of the learning process.
* Deep learning is much too complex to capture well in the format of timed tests and exams. Learning needs to be expressed in multiple formats, over a period of time.
* Every teacher in every school needs to see themself as a teacher of reading, writing and literacy, as well as someone who helps students to learn how to learn.
The best conclusion for this piece is what Shelley herself writes -
I’m afraid for the kids who think that scoring 90% actually means something in the real world. I’m afraid for the kids who believe the academic hoops they jump through so effortlessly guarantee that they will be successful at life. I’ve come to believe that being good at school might mean you’d make a decent academic, but it isn’t a guarantee of much else.
I used to think I knew what good teaching was . . .
I used to think I was a pretty good teacher. Now I realize that I did the best I could with the knowledge I had, but my classroom was woefully inadequate for many of my students. I failed to equip them with what they needed.
During the past 6 months, working in multiple schools, I’ve learned so much from modified & alternative education students. These are the kids at the margins, the ones who don’t jump the hoops properly. Many of them, by the time they reach high school, don’t feel good about school, about themselves, or about learning.
Unfortunately, many drop out. As much as the so-called “regular” kids need our schools to be better, these kids need schools to change even more.
I’ve come to realize that every student deserves to be in an environment that helps them grow and learn, and makes them feel good about themselves. All kids want to succeed. It’s my job to help them find ways to do that. I now believe my students are competent to show me what they need, if only I take the time to listen and ask authentic questions.
I’m becoming a better teacher by giving up a lot of what I used to think.
Shelley Wright is a teacher and education blogger living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in Canada. She teaches high school English, science and technology and works with other teachers interested in connected, inquiry-driven learning. Her passion is social justice and helping her students make the world a better place. She blogs at Wright’s Room. Follow her on Twitter at @wrightsroom
- It Takes a Whole School to Raise a Child (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- Gove’s centralism is not so much socialist as Soviet | Simon Jenkins (guardian.co.uk)