I haven’t posted on here for a while; a rather hectic end to my last term as an NQT (that ended with a promotion to a Head of Year position) and the desire to rest, re-charge and recuperate in the first week of the holidays led to a self-imposed exile from my twitter feed (https://twitter.com/anAtoZofNQT) and blogging too.
However, after some well-earned rest I flew to Ghana just over a week ago. I am staying in Ghana for just under four weeks whilst volunteering for an educational development charity called the Sabre Charitable Trust that looks to improve Kindergarten education (ages 4-6, although often much older) across the central and western regions of the country.
The work this charity is doing is incredible. The team which I am working with runs a program called ‘Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training’. The aim of this program is to promote pupil-centered discovery learning using concrete resources to develop Kindergarten education (which has only been compulsory since 2007-2008) . On my very first day of volunteering I visited some of the program’s partner schools and was amazed at the enthusiasm and energy that the students had for learning. On top of this, the variety and creativity of the tasks which the pupils were completing had clear academic objectives whilst also promoting crucial life-long skills as well e.g. problem solving, responsibility, communication and teamwork.
Following on from these study visits I began to reflect on what I had learnt and how I could implement some of this knowledge into my own teaching practice. From my own perspective I think developing activities which combine rigorous academic objectives with outcomes that promote life-long skills is an area that I would love to explore further.
For example, at different points in the school-day pupils spend time completing ‘table-top activities’ – of which there are three different activities running simultaneously. These activities are set up in a way that limits teacher instruction to a minimum whilst being completely pupil-run – leaving the teacher free to observe and adopt the appropriate intervention strategies if necessary. Ultimately on completion of these tasks pupils were not only meeting their academic objectives but they were also developing their own personal communication, teamwork and problem solving skills.
After a while I began to think about how different this Kindergarten class was to my Year Twelve class from the previous academic year. The demands of external exams and a learning environment that more-often than not rewards the regurgitation of facts rather than individual arguments constructed by deep independent thinking has meant that my pupils (who are roughly eleven years older than the Kindergarten pupils I had observed) are fed a diet of lecture-driven lessons interspersed with the odd practice exam question that is completed under timed conditions. Yet, when I try and engage them in a discussion about a key historical issue I end up becoming deeply frustrated and their inability to argue independently and ‘solve’ the problematic nature of the question I am posing.
This really got me thinking about the way that I teach all of my students and the pedagogy I implement within the classroom. Certainly, with Key Stage Three classes there is an element of flexibility which enables me to plan enquiry led schemes of work that challenge pupils to develop life-long skills like teamwork, communication and responsibility to construct arguments about complex historical issues. However even then the demand for assessment and data to enable progress tracking means that time is limited to the few lessons at the start of each half-term before we must start ‘planning’ and ‘preparing’ for the next box-ticking assessment.
Further up the academic ladder, with GCSE’s and A levels the situation is even worse. Independent thought and all of the other skills that come with the construction of critical arguments about an issue are sacrificed at the expense of learning information to regurgitate in whatever form the questions ask of you.
It is only when students reach undergraduate level that the promotion of life-long skills such as responsibility, effective communication and independent thinking are re-visited and here-in lies the problem. Students and teachers alike operate within an educational system where life-long skills are taught less and less as students progress through the years before expecting them to suddenly utilize these skills effectively for undergraduate study.
In essence, in search of more ‘rigorous’ means of testing pupils and monitoring their progress we are leaving important life-long skills by the way-side. This is something I am desperate to address going into my second year as a qualified teacher but until changes at a policy-making level allow us to promote life-long skills effectively within classrooms up and down the country perhaps my experience of table-top activities will have to stay in Ghana for now.