Archive for the ‘barriers’ tag
This is the final of four posts (for now) looking at various barriers to learning inherent in the current education system.
Once upon a time, exams were like currency. They were a short hand for your ability, and they were used both by ‘centres of higher learning’ (as my old VC used to say) and out there, in the ‘real world’,usually for the purposes of getting a job. Unfortunately, that system is now bankrupt.
University entrance is based either on predicted outcomes, interviews, or university set exams. More worryingly successive governments have been told by employers that students aren’t leaving school with the skills they need them to have. Now until recently, perhaps the obvious response to those complaints was to make changes to the exam system. However, I would argue that is no longer the case. The time has come to be gone of the blessed things once and for all.
If we get rid of exams, we free up teachers, schools and learners to engage in some genuninely useful and enriching learning. As a result of those students will gain:
- Time, to learn deeper and learn in more appropriate ways
- A portfolio that reflects their ability, both academically and in terms of skills particular employers may be seeking.
- Real world experience, from which they can make better informed decisions bout their futures
- Contacts and a network of people to call on when they do come to seek employment, either for references or perhaps a job.
Of all the changes I’ve mentioned (here, here and here) this would be the biggest obstacle, party because of the history of the system, and partly because they can still be used to sort the wheat from the chaff, which does seem to still be an unwritten aspect of current government policy.
Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start trying though!
I recently added two posts on ‘barriers to learning’ – the year group and the timetable . This post and tomorrow’s post will extend that idea to look at two larger scale problems – the nature of the ‘education system’ and the exams system.
Our secondary schools are like factories. In fact, perhaps battery farms would be a better analogy. Some ‘forward thinking’ schools might have a metaphorical window open, or the cages in the sun, but ultimately pupils have to come in, learn with in rigidly defined boxes and regularly lay eggs (pass tests). If we look as education as a system, with things to be moved around and where students need to ‘get an education’ this might make sense. But not from the point of view of the learners.
To stretch a metaphor to breaking point, we need free range schools. Where pupils are free to wander off to explore learning within some broadly defined limits. This is increasingly happening in primary, and to some extent Key Stage 3. The big question now is how do you square the circle of free range learners, who need to get qualifications from a factory system?
Just like the timetable, arranging students into groups based on when they were born makes sense from an organisational point of view. But not from a learning one. So, what are the alternatives?
For some subjects, perhaps grouping by understanding / progress would be appropriate. I’ve heard arguments from both Maths and Science teachers against mixed ability teaching in these subjects, so that would be something to consider
If we start handing over control to students, some things might get grouped by interest. We currently run and enrichment programme in Key Stage 4 to get students to try something new for one afternoon a fortnight. The groups are made up of students who wanted to have a go at a particular thing. If these ideas of self-directed learning take off, so might self-selecting groups (regardless of their age)
Or how about mixed age groups? I am hearing of a growing number of schools creating mixed age group forms with often positive results. If project based learning becomes a greater part of what schools do then (within reason) these vertical groupings could play a part in encouraging younger students to learn from older students, and older students to develop a role both teaching and mentoring younger members of the group
I’ve been doing a lot of pondering recently about the barriers that exist to genuine project led learning of the sort that I think we need to be moving to. The often quoted one is exams, but something more practical, that schools can control is the way the school day is structured.
Most people agree that while arranging teaching in hour long blocks after which everyone shuffles around the building may be an efficient of organising people, it isn’t a very effective way system for learning. Some schools have played around with themed days for various things, but I’d like to go even further. Why not make the basic building block the week?
You could take an Opening Minds / Project based learning approach and bring together various subject expertise around a particular theme or enquiry. You could even try delivering a discrete subject in that block if you wanted (although I think you might be missing the bigger picture if you did). But by changing one thing, you force those in education to rethink everything else, and hopefully provide a much more effective learning experience.
So who’s brave enough to go first