I'm launching a new course for our Year 7 students from September. It's an initial pilot, but will extend throughout the whole of Key Stage 3, possibly further. The intention is to use project based learning as a means to transform learning opportunities where our students are switched on to the process of learning, in what I hope is not only relevant to their lives, but fun and exciting.
I don't want to go into a lengthy rationale full self-righteous rhetoric just now. I've done it enough myself and a quick Google search of school vision statements will provide you with enough 21st century learning ethos statements to last us into the 22nd century. (I must have a look at school statements from the beginning of the 20th century. I wonder how different they were in sentiment?)
My reason for trying to develop a different way to provide learning experiences is based on a worry that in my limited experience of schools I have visited in recent years, (with the odd exception give me examples please) I haven't really observed schools preparing students for a future that doesn't exist yet, despite these well thought out 21st century stated values. Will a student who moves between a diet of individual subjects, taught within well fortified, self contained castles, ever feel the need to transfer what they have learned from one castle to another. Why bring along a bed or food when you have ample provisions in every castle. There have been lots of attempts to break down the walls in the past; so often when I mention project based learning or cross curricular, collaborative projects to someone, I get a reply which goes something along the lines of: "Oh we did that in the late '70s. It didn't work then why do it now".
It didn't work then because we didn't have the pedagogical research we have now. Trouble is, we have loads of it now. We're drowning in it. Thinking Skills, Learning Styles, Brain Gym, Accelerated Learning, Emotional intelligence and so on. We have lists of skills and competencies a mile long outlining what we should be developing in our students. In recent years we've been bombarded with the pop stars of the educational sphere, telling us how to do it properly.
And so we have countless 'Learn to Learn' programmes springing up all over the country. We have programmes designed to develop competencies (The RSA's "Opening Minds" Project is an excellent example) and skills. On one level I really welcome these programmes; I've traveled down their paths myself, but on another level I've begun to worry that we have just created different castles; places where students learn new skills and competencies, but still don't really have the chance to transfer them to other situations. I worry that the skills are simply learned to please teachers and forgotten quickly down the line. These programmes look good, but to what extent will they create a self-sustaining learner?
That's where I think, the work of Guy Claxton (Guy Claxton) comes in. With a company called TLO (Building Learning Power ) Guy has developed the notion of habits of learning or dispositions. They talk about building learning muscles. (Please believe me at this point, I'm not trying to sell the company, I just think the concept they have come up with is far more radical than anything I've noticed out there.) Students develop the habits of learning they don't learn them in a taught fashion. Our job as educators is to facilitate this process.
So that's what we're going to attempt to do with this project - develop habits of learning.
In my next blog I'll talk about why I believe we've only been able to take Building Learning Power so far and why we need a paradigm shift if we are going to take things further.