What’s worth learning in school? #learning2

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of discussion online in response to two talks at Learning2 Asia. The first, Breaking Traditional Moulds by @sherrattsam is a call for schools to reclaim their rightful place as a force social change society. The second, What Gets Cut, by @wayfaringpath argues that we need to start looking at what we need to abandon in schools to put us on the path.

Both talks are important provocations. However I’d argue that much like Ken Robertson’s seminal TED talk on schools as educators – educators will nod our heads in agreement and schools will go back to doing what they’ve always done. For a simple reason, demolition is so much easier in than construction.

We spend an awful amount of time in education talking about what isn’t working and not much thinking about what needs to work. As if by design one item on my holiday reading list was Future Wise by Project Zero researcher David Perkins.

Perkins’ book starts by exploring the idea that education doesn’t suffer from an achievement gap – it suffers from a relevancy gap which rears its head in the opening chapter where he asks the question that educators shudder to hear ‘why do we need to know this?” He proposes that we need to conceptualise school curricula as being lifeworthy – learning that is “likely to matter in the lives learners are likely to live.”

So what is worth learning in school? Perkins doesn’t give the answer but instead gives us 6 themes to look beyond the current moulds:

  1. Beyond the basic skills – the 4Cs (creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration) and developing other dispositions that enable children to live and thrive in this era
  2. Beyond the traditional disciplines – a focus on themes such as bioethics, ecology that address challenges and opportunities in contemporary society
  3. Beyond discrete disciplines – interdisciplinary topics and problems
  4. Beyond regional perspectives – global perspective, problems, and studies
  5. Beyond mastering content – learning to think about where content connects with life situations
  6. Beyond prescribed content – much more choice of what to learn

Of course those who teach the PYP programme will argue we’re already supposed to be ‘looking beyond’ when we design our units of inquiry!

One of the problems Perkins identifies is that the organisation of our schools is inherently hierarchal in nature  offering both simplicity and a top-down control to keep order. He argues that schools need to look beyond the hierarchy to a networked approach where teachers and students are interacting between themselves, sources of information and different disciplines.

Perkins suggests that that learning would be more meaningful if it was organised around ‘big understandings’ filtered through four

  1. Big in insight – helps reveal how our physical, social, artistic, or other worlds work
  2. Big in action  – empowers us to take effective action professionally, socially, politically, or in other ways
  3. Big in ethics  – urges us toward more ethical, humane, caring mindsets and conduct
  4. Big in opportunity  – likely to come up in significant ways in varied circumstances

Throughout the book Perkins offers questions for the reader to ponder or challenge their own assumptions about learning. His book is also peppered with classroom examples  and also gives suggestions on how to tweak learning experiences and existing coverage of existing content to make learning more meaningful for learners.  As a result, Future Wise is meaningful both to those charged with designing curriculum and teachers who have the responsibility of making it happen.

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