Sunday, January 14, 2007

Crossing the Ideological divide

Combining structured basic skills and integrated learning approaches at the Middle School lower Secondary rather than either/or.

The organisational structures determined by traditional subject specialism, where teachers 'deliver' learning to students, is seen by many 'innovative' educators as the issue that limits the educational potential of many students.

The trouble is that the alternative of integrated cross- curricular problem based education, where students are 'advised' by team of teachers who work collaboratively to 'design' learning experiences, is just too big a leap for many schools to make.

To add support to the status quo, even if the teachers were willing to innovate, conservative parents support traditional secondary schooling . As a result school are loath to experiment for fear of losing this parental or community support. As well many schools lack the leadership to introduce more innovative practices even if they had staff who are willing to try.

Where schools have made such a shift it is usually when new schools have been established with leadership and a hand picked staff all aligned behind a clearly thought out philosophy. Such schools have the added advantage of not having to confront conservative traditions and, as well, have specially designed building suitable for new approaches.

So it is not easy to make such changes even though too many students lack 'engagement' in their education in years 9 and 10 age groups. The transitions from full primary or middle schools to the more specialist and fragmented teaching of a secondary school is a difficult one, particularity for the 'non academic' learner.

As a result secondary schools are left in an 'either/or' position. Either stick with traditional approaches and please the conservative elements in the community ( and let students do the best they can) or develop new approaches that might result in losing parental support ( and students).

One idea that might help solve this dilemma, combining the best of innovation and traditionalism, has been tried successfully in a couple of High Schools in the USA. This dual approach provides a solution worth considering for schools with year 7 to 10 students

In these schools students spent time in ability grouped classes to ensure agreed 'foundation skills' are in place and, as well, spend blocks of time working with groups of multi skilled teachers working depth on integrated problem based learning; developing in the process 'future learning attributes' or 'key competencies'.

Teachers with skills in the 'foundation skills', however they are defined by the school, can be assigned to teach ( or lead) in this area, working with groups determined by need, while the more progressive, or creative teachers, will be happier 'teaching' in the extended integrated block timetable.

The two approaches need to work together. Those in the 'foundation skill' area need to ensure that students master the 'agreed' research, literacy, numeracy skills , ICT and study skills required to take advantage of the thematic learning. Those in the thematic area will need to have a range of skills to contribute to assist students develop their particular talents and gifts.

This dual approach of 'innovative traditionalism' crosses the ideological divide that all too often separates primary and secondary teachers and, if implemented, would develop the professional understanding of both groups.

Subject knowledge of specialist teachers would be needed more than ever to develop integrated projects while those with greater pedagogical expertise will be needed to help 'designing' tasks with students to ensure all students are 'engaged'. Teachers from both areas would need to collaborate within and across areas to determine which skills need to be in place and which students need particular assistance to take advantage of the more student centred learning.

If schools were to embark along this journey the teaching philosophy and beliefs of the school need to be well thought out and the parents informed of the advantages of such a dual approach.

As confidence grow, and increased collaboration develops, the conflict between traditional and innovative learning would fall away to the advantage of the learners, the teachers and the success of the school.

The best thing is that we now know enough how to do this, the pedagogy required is not new, all schools need to do is to develop the structures to allow it to happen.


Anonymous said...

What you write makes real sense to me - a chance to innovate while still taking advantage of the skills of both primary and secondary 'orientated' teachers; a 'win win' situation

Anonymous said...

Why don't secondary schools do something like this? It seems timetables and bells ( and the 'mindsets' behind them) determine what happens too much! The old education factory mentality!

Anonymous said...

Why is it that no one seems very worried about this very real 'gap' in approaches between primary and secondary schools?