BLOG PAGE: A View from the Bridge
By Mr. Clayton
By Mr. Clayton
Let’s start by getting you thinking. Of all the school courses you have taken which one would you say was of the most value to you? A class that was really practical, the contents of which you used in your job or one that stirred your imagination like a poetry lesson or a history or art lesson? What made those courses memorable? What made them life worthy? Now can you think of classes you have taken whose content you have long since forgotten. Why is that? You didn’t understand it, you have never used it, was it wholly relevant? Now ask yourself this. Could you still take the same set of exams that you took when you were say 18 or 21 and pass them with the same or better grades? I couldn’t. So it got me to thinking, what was the point of learning about the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 or learning about the Entente Cordiale of 1904? It seems that examinations test the absorption of knowledge close to its reception, not its use in life. This can lead us in schools to focus too much on ‘teaching to the test.’ That’s what crammers do, not educationalists.
Why do teachers and examiners ask questions to which they know all the answers? How far is it by air to fly to Singapore? We know the answer. Why might you fly to Singapore is an open and interesting question. It seems to me also that life is full of many open questions-what restaurant shall I eat at? What can we do to stop global warming? Why has ISIS become so powerful and what can be done to stop them? These are questions with no right answers. Maybe as educators we should be focusing on trying to answer them. I recently went to a lecture by Marc Prensky who first coined the term ‘digital natives’ to describe children who had been born and brought up in the digital age. He was talking about relevance and authenticity. He explained several projects across a number of schools in the USA where students were given real life problems to solve. The results were astonishing. They had helped solve, amongst other things, traffic flow problems, fresh water issues, law and order dilemmas, public building use, the use of leisure space, access to fresh food and affordable accommodation. Students’ ideas had actually been used and the students were solving problems for which there were no previous answers. They were solving real life problems which has an impact on their motivation.
Ron Berger has dome some interesting research and has found that motivation and engagement increases when tasks and projects are more authentic as the above diagram shows. At the moment I would argue lots of schools are good at fulfilling the bottom requirement, not so good at the higher ones. For a long time our education systems have been based on the premise of ‘just in case’ we learn something because we might, one day, need it. I think that our systems should be based on the premise of ‘just in time’ that learning is relevant, appropriate and needed for now.
So back to my original question what was your most life worthy course? Sit down one day and recall it and tell your children!