‘C’ is for…. Continued

It’s been a long time coming, but here from All Change Please!’s Absolutely Absurd Alternative A to Z of Educashun is the rest of ‘C’ is for…

Just in case you’ve been living in an alternative reality and have missed ‘A’ is for…, ‘B’ is for… and ‘C’ is for… (Part Duh), then this is All Change Please!‘s report on its recent visit to Planet Urth. Being a parallel universe, their world of teaching and learning bears a striking resemblance to our own: many things are exactly the same, but due to their particular fractured timeline, some things are rather different in an interesting way.

Comparative Pears

Comparative Judgement involves comparing series of ‘pairs’ of school work with each other and deciding which is of higher quality. When applied across a range of pieces of work and compared by a team of judges a measurement scale, from best to worst, emerges. It has been found that this process is quicker and more reliable than the traditional method in which each piece of work is assessed separately by one judge.

On Planet Urth, this process was developed centuries ago and is known as ‘Comparative Pears Assessment’ and was derived from the fruit industry where the technique was developed to produce a reliable grading scale for pears.

 

 

 

Creativity and collaboration

On our planet, most people seem to have a very limited understanding of creativity that just involves being able to reproduce pretty pictures in the style of a famous artist, play a classical musical instrument, perform in the school play or be able to think of more than one possible use for a brick. At the same time, teachers who have simply told pupils to ‘work in groups’ quickly, and not surprisingly, decide that it’s an approach that isn’t going to work.

The fact that our current cohort of predominantly privately-educated, academic Russell Group University alumni politicians seem quite incapable of any creative collaborative problem-solving is a powerful indictment of what’s missing in our current education system: these days, knowledge on its own isn’t power.

On Planet Urth everybody understands that creativity and collaboration involve a great deal more. There learning about creativity is seen as acquiring a state of mind that is curious, persistently looking for and open to new ideas, searching for different ways of doing things, taking risks and transforming and combining things in original ways. Teachers have also realised that team work doesn’t just happen, and that learners need to be systematically taught how to analyse and improve the performance of their team. As such both creativity and collaboration are highly valued, planned across the curriculum and each year group, properly monitored and rigorously assessed – and not by writing an essay in the school hall.

Cognitive Load Theory

On Planet Urth ‘Cognitive Truck Overload Theory’ sensibly states that there’s only so much stuff you can pile on to a lorry before it won’t be able to move very far. Thus it becomes necessary to reduce the load – but how do you decide what to take off and what to leave on? The obvious answer for the supplier to simply take all the lightest items off and just deliver all the heaviest components, without realising that whoever is due to receive them needs them all to be able to assemble the product they are manufacturing. Thus a much better approach might be to take some of the lightest items off and some of the heaviest ones as well to achieve a balanced delivery.

Unfortunately in education on our Planet Earth the knowledge merchants don’t see it quite like that, because they are convinced that removing absolutely any of their facts and figures is out of the question. “We can’t do everything” they cry, so off come all what they consider to be the heavier creative problem-solving skills, critical analysis and collaborative work that they believe only adults should be allowed to manage, and on instead goes even more knowledge, all neatly and conveniently packaged into self-contained regular-sized and easily measurable subject boxes. Apparently in extreme cases it can even include removing things like classroom displays, experimental modelling activities, discussion – anything that gets in the way of those pure, unadulterated quickly-testable nuggets of knowledge, delivered from the front of the class.

In real life we face a constant process of deciding how to allocate our time between absorbing, responding to and exploring new material and deciding how and when to best apply it. Loading and off-loading what we are trying to remember according to its importance at a given moment is in itself a high-level skill children need to be learning and developing as they grow up, rather than just having it decided for them by so-called grown-ups.

Commuter Studies

Commuting was first introduced into schools during the 1980s. Commuters in schools are often to be found crowded together in special rooms that contain workstations, and discussing the timetable and which platforms to use. They are staffed by special teachers known as servers, presumably because they spend their time serving tea and coffee to everyone.

The lights in these commuter rooms are always flickering as they are constantly being turned off and on again.

Cross-curricular

Cross-curricular work happens in schools where teachers use an interdisciplinary approach to learning that involves exploring the connections that exist naturally between subjects, just as it does in the real world children will encounter when they leave school. However, as it involves taking considerable risks and teachers need to step outside their specialisms, many of them get very agitated and upset when trying cross-curricular approaches.

Hence their belief that the opposite to a cross curricular approach is a happy curricular approach.

Constantinople

“Constantinople is a very long word. Can you spell it?”
This sums up the level of popular grammar schoolboy humour in the 1960s – the unfortunate victim proceeds to spell ‘C – o – n.., before being informed with mock astonishment that he doesn’t know how to spell the word ‘it’. What a laugh! Even more extraordinary is that at the time Constantinople was still thought of as being the capital of Turkey, even though it had officially become Istanbul in 1923, so the joke probably dates back to to an even earlier time. So much for the non-existent coverage of current affairs at the time. Generally speaking, if it happened after 1900, it wasn’t on the curriculum.

Cursive writing

A lot of people are concerned that children are no longer being taught cursive writing. However, on Planet Urth more progressive teachers are now discouraging children from learning how to write curses as it is generally considered to be anti-social, there’s quite enough of it on TV already, and anyway these days it’s difficult to find regular employment as a witch.

Along with learning how to write spells (known as ‘Spelling’), it’s seen as yet another example of children being taught things that are out-of-date ‘just in case’ they ever need them at some point in the future.

 

 

So that’s it for the letter C, but watch out there’s a letter D on its way soon…

 

Photo credits:  Carol Mitchell/Flickr , Pixabay.

One small step

6634355899_76d2fb0da2_o

If teachers can’t agree on what schools of the future should be like, someone else is going to decide for them

In All Change Please!‘s recent “You Say Right and I Say Left, Oh No…” post, it concluded by suggesting:

“At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.”

This sentence was picked up and re-tweeted a number of times, so to extend this thought, here are some extreme examples of good and bad traditional and progressive approaches to lessons that All Change Please! has at some point had the fortune, or misfortune, to observe. Although they didn’t all occur in the same school at the same time, they are things that actually happened in real lessons.

A ’traditional’ teacher is sitting at his desk at the front of the class. He addresses the class, who have learnt to sit still and face the front in fear of being individually demeaned by the teacher’s penchant for sarcasm or informing them they are both stupid and failures. After pouring his considerable knowledge into the empty vessels before him, he writes some notes on the whiteboard (while still lamenting the removal of his blackboard) and tells the students to make some notes about what he has just said, which they do, in silence. He then asks a question and the children slowly begin to put their hands up, cautiously responding to his ‘Guess what I’m thinking’ game. Eventually he reveals the correct answer which, they are informed, is the one they will need to give in their final examination. Without variation, this approach continues to the end of the lesson, and homework – to ‘read the next chapter of the textbook for a test next period’ is set.

In an adjoining classroom is another ‘traditional’ teacher, standing at the front of a class. She has smilingly welcomed the students in and starts by re-capping the last lesson with them. A number of keywords have been written on the board, which are particularly checked for recall and understanding. By using more open-ended question and answers she is able to judge how much knowledge has been retained, and by whom. While she challenges those who have obviously not been listening or have not completed the set homework, she is positive and encouraging, and clearly has a good rapport with the class. Her explanation of the lesson content is enlivened by a PowerPoint presentation that highlights the key points with some strong, memorable images. She uses analogies and metaphors to help the students relate the concepts she is explaining to situations they will be more familiar with, and tellingly she draws on her own experiences of life outside school. During the lesson, the children are asked to briefly discuss an issue, either with a partner or in a small group, before making their own notes. To keep the pace of the lesson moving, there is a strict time-limit imposed. At the end of the lesson there’s a re-cap, as at the start, and she explains how today’s lesson has informed the next. Clear learning objectives have been set, and met. She sets the homework which is to study the next chapter and compare its content and presentation with a given web page on the same topic, ready to present during this next lesson.

Meanwhile in another part of the school a ‘progressive’ teacher is working with a class who are mid-way through a term-long project. They are working in groups. At the start of the lesson the teacher told them to get on with their work, and she is now circulating, becoming absorbed in sorting out in each group’s projects and problems one at a time. The rest of the class sit are round chatting and have little idea what they are supposed to be doing, and find working together difficult. They have done some research, mainly printing out pages from Wikipedia. Some students have decided what they are going to do, while others are still unsure, or claim they have finished. The teacher has no idea as to the extent and level of the problem-solving skills they have already developed in previous work, and as a result few children manage to extend their capabilities. During the lesson the teacher makes no whole-class input, or seeks to break-up the long double-lesson time. The room is noisy, with some minor instances of misbehaviour occurring, which the teacher ignores. The bell rings and the children dash off to their next lesson.

But next door, it’s a different story. Another ‘progressive’ teacher, working with a different class on the same project topic has started the lesson with a class review of progress to date from each group. He introduces some new content that he wants the class to consider and incorporate during the first part of the lesson, which they do while he goes round and quickly checks what each child has done for homework. He then asks the class to break off from their on-going work to reflect on how well their group is working and to establish some clear targets for the next fortnight. One group learns that one of their members is likely to be off sick for some time, so they re-allocate their roles amongst themselves accordingly. Back on their project, everyone is working and there is a busy, lively, purposeful atmosphere. Many of the children are talking, but the conversation is about their work. The teacher is circulating, but generally observing rather than directing, and being available as and when needed. Well before the end of the lesson the teacher stops everyone working and sets an individual research task, informing the class that simply printing off a page from Wikipedia will not be acceptable, and that they need to consult a variety of sources, evaluate the reliability of each and state their own conclusion. At the end of the lesson he asks one group to share an account of their progress with the whole class and uses what they say to ask some searching questions and highlight both positive achievements and where greater application is needed if they are to progress further.

In both the successful traditional and progressive teachers’ classes, there are some children who clearly shine and prefer either the more knowledge-based or more process/skill-based approach. What’s important is that children get the chance to experience both types of teaching and learning, and that they are properly supported in the approach they feel least comfortable with.

Meanwhile a striking feature of the two ‘good’ lesson examples is that they are not actually that different. As the new ‘academic’ (as opposed to practical?) year gets underway, isn’t it about time we stopped arguing amongst ourselves about whether traditional or modern educational methods are best, and start to develop a broader, more consensual approach to teaching and learning? We need to take the best of both approaches, and not be afraid to mix them up and make them nice. And in reality of course that’s what already happening in a lot of schools.

Meanwhile teachers are certainly are going to need to be singing from the same song-sheet if they are to successfully rise to the real challenge of the next few years and ensure that low-cost, second-rate, multiple-choice assessed computer-based teaching and learning systems do not become accepted as an adequate substitute for the real thing.

Why replacing teachers with automated education lacks imagination

or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s:

‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’

 

Image credit: Flickr/bsfinhull