Wednesday, July 27, 2005
'The Unfinished Revolution'
By John Abbott and Terry Ryan. An ascd publication
The more I visit secondary schools the more I think of Edward Deming’s saying: ‘good people wrong system’. It seems impossible to really do anything too different because of the constraints of timetables, building and curriculum expectations.
The need for real changes are expressed in Abbott and Ryan’s book ‘The Unfinished Revolution’. If anyone is interested in their ideas you can visit a related site.
The point they make is that the way traditional schools are structured are more to suit an outdated 'industrial mass aged education' rather than for the 'information age'.
The nature of learning in today’s schools, the authors believe, needs to be aligned with the dispositions students will be needed to thrive in the future. Abbott and Ryan share a fundamental view that there should be a constructivist and apprenticeship-based approach to learning- one that takes account new ideas about how the brain works so that students an take control of their own learning. The future will require learners to continually learn and adapt and to do this schools will have to keep up with the times.
All humans are born predisposed to learn and are equipped with brains that adapt in response to challenges. Thinking skills can be taught if imbedded in challenges that attract their attention.
The trouble is that secondary schools , rather than responding to the needs of their students, are more concerned with delivering curriculum that are a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’; and with the associated assessment that is required.
Humans are also born with a disposition to work together to solve problems and this is in conflict with schools that value individualism and fragmented subject teaching. If collaborative skills are to be developed the students need to work together on shared tasks.
Feeling in control of ones learning is felt vital by Abbott and Ryan. People, they believe, are most creative when they are motivated through interest, enjoyment and satisfaction and the challenge of the work itself, not by external pressures. This is direct contrast with the current schools requirements to deliver curriculums largely through fragmented subjects and imposed tasks. The true test of learning can only be measured by a student’s appetite and capacity to continue learning. Too many students, Abbot and Ryan state, are currently disengaged with learning and too many leave ‘turned off’.
More of the same cannot be the answer – we need new thinking.
Abbot and Ryan believe strongly in an approach based on constructivism and apprenticeship based around real tasks. Constructivism is an approach aligned with how the brain works as a flexible self adjusting organism. This is in conflict they say with a behavioral approach that prescribes and defines ends products of learning and teaching to set targets. Such teaching, they believe, does not support entrepreneurial and creative thinking.
Constructivist teaching does not preclude the teaching of skills but these must taught in meaningful real world situations that connect the various subject areas. This is problematic for teachers working in traditional secondary schools.
The see apprenticeship as an ideal model with students learning skills by working alongside those who have the skills they require. Modern apprenticeship requires that teachers make thinking visible and believe students ought to be able to articulate what, why and how they are doing anything. Students need to aquire the skills of designing their own problems.
The ideas that Abbott and Ryan outline are in direct conflict with the current expectations of our secondary schools which are still largely premised on an individual transmission approach.
There are schools that are trying ‘out of the box thinking’ but it is not easy working in outdated structures with imposed curriculums but if we want to develop the talent and creativity of all students we have no choice.
The book is called ‘The Unfinished Revolution’ because the ideas they are talking about are already in place in many primary schools even if they are under treat by imposed requirements.
They believe, that as students grow older, they should become more independent as learners, able to handle open ended challenges that will relate to the challenges that will mark their adult lives. Adult support and ‘scaffolds’, necessary for younger or ‘novice’ learners, need to be withdrawn as students develop the 'learning power' to work with minimal help. This ‘weaning’ process, Abbott and Ryan believe, should have happened by early adolescence.
To do this will mean turning the education system inside out.
That would be fun!