Thursday, January 07, 2010

Students need to play whole games

David Perkins ( Harvard Graduate School of Education) is aways worth reading and I have written earlier about his books. His ideas contribute to seeing education in a fresh way - and supports those creative teachers who have always believed in an holistic approach to learning.

It is unfortunate that most teachers, even primary teachers who think they are child centred, still work from traditional teacher determined approach; literacy and numeracy reign supreme. Implementing National Standards will further reinforce outdated approaches. To make it worse over the past decades schools have become obsessed with endless testing that changes little the learning experiences of the students.

Back to Perkins. Perkins writes about developing learning around the ideas of playing whole games based on the metaphor of playing baseball.Not that he was any good himself at baseball but when young he learnt to play the 'junior' game and during this playing was happy enough to get extra help at thing he wasn't so good at.

His message is for teachers to play 'whole games' with the students, so that they see the point of their learning and then to provide special help to those who need it to play as well as they can.

Most students lose interest in maths ( and other areas of learning ) because they can make no connection with their own lives. It is as if they spend all their times practicing isolated skills without ever playing the game.

For most students the only time the play the 'whole game' in school is in athletics, art, music and drama where skills are introduce as required.

Introducing 'real learning', requiring appropriate skills in any area of learning, is the challenge for a 21stC teacher. The traditional approach where teachers teach 'bits and pieces' of learning, where students are expected to put them together later, might be sensible for the teachers but is confusing for too many students. As students move through the school system the 'bits and pieces' are taught as separate subjects and more students 'fall through the cracks' as a result.

Such teaching, Perkins states, is a failure of imagination and he calls the approach 'elementitis' or 'aboutitis'; learning 'elements' of things and learning 'about' things. Breaking down the topic or skill into elements and then to teach them separately. Learning for students becomes a game of solving puzzles without any big picture to guide them as a result students are unable to use the skills taught in real situations.

As for 'aboutitis' this where we teach information, say about science concepts, rather than teaching students how to look at the world around them with those concepts, which supposedly comes later.Once again information is meaningless with out realistic content and later never happens.

'Elementitis' and 'aboutitis' might make learning superficially easier ( for teachers) but young learners find it dull and don't develop the active understandings they need.

Perkin's sports metaphor offers an answer.

Most people , he says,have an early sports learning experience they enjoyed and can relate to and it aways involves learning the whole game at some level. For difficult areas of learning, or for young children, Perkins suggests teachers develop 'Junior' or 'backyard' games. Such games have the advantage of involving all students.

The sports metaphor can be transferred to learning experiences in the arts, music, drama, maths and the sciences. Many 'rich' experiences will involve using skills from a variety of learning areas. Even going fishing could involve a wide variety of rich learning across a range of learning areas!

Simple ideas but if implemented would develop the critical thinking and creativity of all our students and, in the process, develop their gifts and talents.

Isn't this what schooling ought to be about?

The trouble is our school weren't designed for such integrated and creative teaching and too many of our teachers are 'trapped' with faulty 'default mindsets'.

1 comment:

Bruce Hammonds said...

It would be great if only whole games were played in school - all applied maths, language, reading, art and science.If this were the case then kids would see the point in being taught skills to do things well. It is all about tapping kids' sense of curiosity and purpose.