Posts filed under ‘individualised learning’
Monday 30th July 2012 – Day one of my peripatetic journey.
If you don’t know what this is all about, and why would you, I shall explain as succinctly as I can.
For the last 10 years (at least) the Vivid office has overlooked the splendour of the Royal Pavilion here in Brighton. On a daily basis I have strolled from my house, by Queens Park, down Edward Street to the office on the Old Steine to attend to Vivid business around this bustling centre of the city.
Last week we, Vivid staff, moved out of that office with no new office to replace it. We moved out because the owners of the building are seeking vacant possession so that they can sell it. In some ways it suited us because in, any case, most of the people who work with us do so remotely maintaining contact through digital communications, getting face to face only periodically. This is the reality of the increasingly mobile digital world we live in, a reality that actually renders our office with it’s splendid views a luxury rather than a necessity.
Functionally the office had become a means of getting me out of the house, a place where others could occasionally work when we needed them, a mailing address, an anchor. But latterly none of this has been essential to the work we undertake. Indeed our recent award winning (winner of the British Council ELTon award for innovation in learning resources) development of the Sounds app for Macmillan Publishers was undertaken virtually (ha,ha) wholly remotely by the complete team.
So we have complete confidence in our ability to maintain the very highest of standards of the work we undertake whilst operating remotely, and indeed save a bit of cash by ridding ourselves of the permanent physical office overhead.
But there is another important reason for the decision to become mobile. I spend a significant amount of my time describing my vision of the education ‘system’ of the future, a vision that has personalisation, in which each individual can undertake their own unique lifelong learning journey which feeds their individual talents and aspirations, at its core. This is made possible because of digital technology with mobile technology an important component of this.
In essence digital technology rids us of the necessity for a single teacher to teach 30 pupils the same thing, in the same place, at the same time. Now 30 people can be learning 30 different things at any one time. This means that ‘place’ takes on a different aspect. The school building was designed to coral pupils into one place for the purpose of being taught. Now there is a growing recognition that the role of teacher is changing from one of teaching to one of enabling learning, and that learning takes place in a variety of ways, individually and collaboratively.
With mobile technology people can be undertaking learning activities, digitally, individually or collaboratively anytime, anywhere. This doesn’t mean that physical presence, getting together, is not important, or indeed essential, but that such events do not have to be undertaken in the one place called school, between the hours of 9.00am and 3.00pm, during term time.
Thus education itself becomes peripatetic, weaved into our lives, as part of our lives, a combination of individual and collective effort, on-line and off-line, digital and physical, here and there.
In this 21st century, with ‘always with, always on’ technology in most of our hands, the boundaries between learning, working and playing are diminishing. The way that place defines our lives is shifting, the need to delineate the places to learn, to work, and to play is becoming redundant. Whilst my vision for education is of a more dispersed environment, so my vision for the workplace is the same, indeed they are inter related.
Our decision to explore the reality of this, by going mobile is us ‘putting our money where our mouths are’, saying that the future we foresee is happening now. For me it is living my life within the philosphies I profess to.
This ‘diary’ is a device to track progress, to document the highs and lows of this journey, to establish what works and what doesn’t.
My first act is to sit amongst the washing up in my kitchen at home and write this. More later….
So holidays have faded into the background, kids are back at school grinding their way through a new term, I’m trying to make sense of the ‘system’.
To do this I thought it might be useful to review the current state of the various government schemes for education that have been developed over the last few years. As a specialist in digital media for education I consider that I have a reasonable grasp of these.
As a starting point I made a list of acronyms of these schemes with their actual definitions with the intention of reviewing the current state of play with each one. Initially I came up with about a dozen or so of these including things like bsf (Building Schools for the Future), ECM (Ever Child Matters), AfL (Assessment for Learning), HTG (Harnessing Technology Grants) etc..
Then I read the ‘National Strategies Annual Plan Summary’ for 2009-2010 which at 45 pages is a helluva summary and lists in an annex 65 acronyms that are used within it. This makes the ‘summary’ virtually incomprehensible. Here is a typical example:
‘A significant number of LA’s are struggling to mainstream NPSLBA within their school improvement services and their CPD offer and need to target recruitment of priority schools and with PRU leaders and staff to NPSLBA.’
Even when you decode this it doesn’t make any sense. It is little wonder that our education system is in a state of apparent disarray when such a plethora of acronyms abound.
One of the difficulties, I think, is the attempt to force uniformity on an education system that actually needs diversity if it is to be appropriate for the 21st century. As a useful report about barriers to innovation in education produced by Futurelab puts it:
“…(education policy) should be committed to promoting, encouraging, archiving and sharing the development of widely diverse educational responses in order to ensure that there is diversity in the system to allow adaptation whatever changes emerge, rather than seeking out and disseminating universal and uniform solutions.”
The attempt to impose uniformity, and the failure of that attempt, can be aptly illustrated with the framework of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). This framework neatly divides the essential skills ‘that will enable young people to enter work and adult life as confident and capable individuals’, into the six categories of, independent enquirers, creative thinkers, reflective learners, team workers, self-managers, and effective participators. Having made these divisions the framework then helpfully points out that:
“The groups are interconnected. Young people are likely to encounter skills from several groups in any one learning experience.”
In other words every child is an individual. Any teacher worth their salt already knows this and, within the constraints of class numbers, will respond to each child appropriately. Unfortunately the PLTS framework simply panders to the misconceived desire to package every child according to a single set of rules, ‘universal and uniform solutions’.
I do understand the temptation to think this way. With an average class of 30 kids it seems to make things so much more manageable but it does not allow individual talents and aspirations to flourish.
Back in the dark industrialist days there didn’t seem any other way to manage things. But now in the 21st century we have different aspirations and we have technology to help us.
So we don’t actually need to try and package things in a neat ‘PLTS’ way. We just have to loosen up a bit, ditch the acronyms, trust the kids, support them, and let them get on with it. That is true personalised learning.
As I look around different educational initiatives that are aimed at helping our young people learn I am struck by the fact that some of the most interesting initiatives are aimed at ‘disaffected’ students who for one reason or another are not doing well.
An example is Winchmore School who are piloting a scheme called ‘Study Plus Maths’ aimed very specifically at disaffected students who are not doing well in the subject ( http://www.teachers.tv/video/5466)
The scheme involves what they describe as studying maths through context. This might mean working out the figures involved in discounting the price, say, of an MP3 player. Or simply integrating maths activities into other subject lessons.
It also involves a degree of ‘personalisation’ in that the teacher will gather information about an individual pupil’s interests and hobbies and aim maths activities at that.
So this is setting maths into a real life context and in my view is a good and positive thing.
However, looking into this more deeply I find some rather more disturbing aspects of this.
There seems to be a feeling amongst pupils who are taking this that learning maths in this way is more fun and more interesting than the normal maths classes. So I would ask the question if that is the case why is this more enlightened way of teaching not available to everybody learning maths. Why make this false distinction between normal and disaffected pupils.
In a sense it is a way of rewarding those who for whatever reasons haven’t found the normal lessons particularly compelling. Their reward is to get interesting Maths lessons. Why is that not available to all pupils?
More disturbing is the headteachers comment that if pupils do get grade C in Maths then the options for the future are very limited. I find this astounding.
How good was David Beckham at Maths, I wonder, or Paul McCartney?
Incidentally, mathematics professor Jason Brown claims to have solved the mystery of what chord is used at the start of ‘It’s a Hard Days Night’ by using a mathematical calculation called Fourier Transform. There is also evidence that children that listen to music do better at math, because math and music both use the brain in similar ways.
In furtherance of the headteachers false statement suggesting ‘no maths, no future’, some of the pupils have foregone other subject options in order to undertake this ‘StudyPlus Maths’ scheme. In the words of one parent, ‘Better to give up an option in order to ensure she (her daughter) did well in a core subject than use another option that wouldn’t benefit her really’. And in the words of another parent his son was ‘disappointed to give up geography which he was interested in’.
Even as I write this I can feel my hackles rising.
I know it is a long time gone but just reflecting on the controversy over school closures due to the recent snow I note an article in this weeks TES in which a headmaster of a primary school in London is quoted as saying;
‘…..children all over the country stayed at home, had a wonderful time playing in the snow, and probably learned twice as much as they would have done at school.’
This is in stark contrast to Ann Widdicombe’s comment that the closure of schools just showed how lily livered we had all become, no stiff upper lip and all that.
I’m sure the concept that young people can have fun whilst learning is somewhat alien to her as indeed it is to many of the teachers and parents I talk to. The view that somehow education has to have some stern aspects to it if it is to be considered serious can be very deep rooted.
In turn this leads to rejection of the idea of games based learning regardless of any evidence of its potential effectiveness. By games I mean any type of game, whether technology based, or simply building a snowman.
Yet, almost all people I talk to who have endured our education system have a tale about a particular subject they enjoyed because the teacher ‘brought it to life’, made it fun, and subjects that have been rejected because their teacher made it boring.
This dependence on the vagaries of different teachers introduces an unacceptable inconsistency into the classroom.
Better an individualised approach where the learner is able to take advantage of a variety of learning resources, including teachers, to learn according to their own proclivities. This does mean that the teacher is a resource amongst other resources to be called upon, or not.
The natural progression of this is that those teachers who are most fun will be in demand with those who are no fun eventually redundant – a sort of self regulating environment.
I wonder how long Ann Widdicombe would last then.