Wednesday, July 27, 2005

'The Unfinished Revolution'

By John Abbott and Terry Ryan. An ascd publication Posted by Picasa

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The point they make is that the way traditional schools are structured are more to suit an outdated 'industrial mass aged education' rather than for the 'information age'.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!


Anonymous said...

Are you sure it isn't the wrong people as well as wrong system? Is there any real desire amongst secondary teachers to change schools as they are currenty structured; or are they part of the problem? Isn't it time for them to look at the learning environments they present to the students, and their lack of productive pedagogies, rather than blaming the students for their poor behaviour or lack of interst?

Bruce said...

I guess there is a bit of both but it is harder to transform a traditional high school than a primary school due to the subject centred mindset.If you ask a primary teacher what they teach they will say, 'chidren'; if you ask a secondary teacher they will reply, 'history' ( or whatever their expertise is).This makes a change to an integrated team project curriculum difficult.

Anonymous said...

Although the general public lump us all as teachers the difference between a primary and secondary 'mindset' is wide; 'they' are like aliens to each other - aliens who speak a foreign language. No wonder many students do not survive the transition.There is nothing 'seamless' about our 'non system'.

Bruce said...

This 'gap' between primary and secondary mindsets is little mentioned openly but so important to face up to.

Tanya said...

I believe that most teachers really mean well and want to do the best job they can teaching students. But they are under a lot of pressure to do things a certain way. Teachers are products of the school system. They are the kind of people that do well in the hierarchy of the education system. They also are good at following rules and rote learning. So it shouldn't be surprising that some teachers would resist change. They have to turn their thinking about school completely upside down. This is not easy for most people to do.

The more education that you have, the harder it is to accept what "The Unfinished Revolution" says. But it certainly can be done.

Bruce said...

Thanks for your comment Tanya. I wrote that blog a long time ago and it was great to re read it.

I agree with you that most teachers want to do well but thay have to face up to the reality of working in a school sysdem that is restrictive.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts about drug education/problem.

Great to know someone from Canada reads my blogs.