Category Archives: CPD Library

The Liberation of Learning

We all have a view about what education should be like – and we know what it looks like in reality. In the currently dominant model of education, the focus is on learning prescribed syllabus content, determined by what can be easily assessed by written examination, namely, factual recall, divorced from much consideration of relevance or interest and driven by a remorseless concern for successful examination results. The watchwords of traditional education are rigour, knowledge, examined assessment and opposition to student control over the learning process.

This is, of course, not the only way to think about education. By way of contrast, the educational progressive favours independent learning, arguing with Dewey that the centre of gravity must be nearer the child: their interests, concerns and questions matter when we are determining what is to be learned. Progressivism draws on simple but often neglected insights into the learning process, such that students learn better if they are interested in what they are studying, are able to make significant choices about the learning process and the form in which they exhibit their knowledge, and have time to develop a deep understanding rather than simply memorising facts for short term recall.

Progressive education embraces the realms of the unknown, the imaginative, the evaluative and the creative. Learning is connected much more directly to life itself. It is an active process of inquiry and exploration, involving the individual construction of meaning within the domains of study. Skillful exploration of such domains is often not susceptible to assessment by means of a written examination, not least because the choice of question lies with the student. It can however be assessed, and rigorously so, by means of extended projects, a form of assessment which is for many purposes more valid than an examination, not least because students have many skills other than those which lead to success in short, sharp written tests.

Amongst these polarized views of education, where should we stand? For some years now, I have believed that we need a new movement of educational liberation. The processes of teaching and learning have been shackled by an approach which values only what can be measured and which sees only examinations as a valid form of assessment. Education, which should be about the examination of life, is reduced to a life of examination. As for teaching, since the goal is to succeed in the next round of tests, the dominant method is that of direct instruction. ‘Tell us what we need to know’, the student insists, taking for granted that the ‘need to know’ is determined by what is on the test, and that the best way of learning is for the teacher to provide the ‘right answers’ (meaning, once again, those to be written in the exam).

The effect of this process of the reduction of education to test preparation is to lock education into a matrix which is stifling, uninspiring, ineffectual (much of what is learned for tests is thereafter forgotten), psychologically damaging, pedagogically shallow, economically misguided (for the workplace needs creative critical thinkers, not well-trained sheep) and destructive of the roots of liberal democracy.

Despite the ubiquity of this scheme, it is not difficult to describe a better alternative, and some of us have dedicated much of our professional lives to building it. My book, Bloomsbury CPD Library: Independent Learning, offers a practical guide to independent learning, representing the fruits of a quest to find a new way ahead, whilst recognising the inevitable need, as things stand, to work within a framework where a traditional conception of the curriculum remains dominant.

What is manifestly the case is that we need more radical measures to find a way ahead and to give progressive educational methods space to feed into the educational mix. In my book, I review some of the research evidence which shows clearly that the best education combines the core insight of a traditional approach (some things need to be taught directly) with the insight of progressivism (deep learning begins with the learner’s own questions). We need what I would call ‘directed independence’: a process in which we teach students the skills and knowledge they need in order to be able to go on to learn for themselves.

This approach requires space and time for open discussion and debate in the classroom and for students to be able to work on extended projects of their own choosing. In my experience, and the experience of many teachers, it is when we give students freedom to choose and think for themselves, within a carefully structured learning environment, that they do their very best work. Currently, though, this type of rich, deep learning is confined to small pockets and the margins of the syllabus. It should be at the heart.

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Dr John Taylor is Assistant Head (Director of Learning, Teaching and Innovation) at Cranleigh School and is responsible for the development of independent learning across the three schools in the Cranleigh Foundation.

Bloomsbury CPD Library: Independent Learning is out now.

 

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Marking and Feedback: Strategies for Success

Series editor of the new Bloomsbury CPD Library and author of Marking and Feedback, Sarah Findlater, shares her surefire strategies for success in marking and feedback (as first featured at Bloomsbury’s April 2016 TeachMeet).

Launching our new CPD Library

Series editor and author of Marking and Feedback, Sarah Findlater, explains how designing a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme can be daunting…but whether you are looking to better your own practice or coach your colleagues, the Bloomsbury CPD Library is here to help!

This series is such a exciting project for me to be involved in. When we were sitting down as a team to plan out what the books would look like and how they would work it was clear to me that this was going to be something quite special.  The books in this series are written by teachers for teachers. Everything in them is designed to be practical and help teachers reflect and to improve their practice.

The teaching and learning titles in the series are split into two sections. Section one takes you through the essentials of the topic and gives you tools to improve and reflect upon your own practice. There is all that you need to secure your knowledge in the teaching and learning area and feel confident that you have fully developed your knowledge and practice. The second section is designed to help you train others. Whether that is your departmental team, a group of teachers across different areas or on a whole school level.  This section provides pick up and use now CPD plans and resources and guidance. There are free electronic resources that you can download and adapt for your CPD sessions. Such a time saver!

The first book to be released in the series is Marking and Feedback.  The train yourself section in this book takes you through assessing your own marking and feedback practices and secures your knowledge on the topic.  I take you through all the different types of marking out there.  Then I explore all the big theories and ideas in terms of marking and feedback and give you practical ways you can apply these in your everyday practice.  I then show you a practical and research based approach to cyclical marking and feedback and how it can be used for impact in the classroom. There are a number of self-reflection tools that allow you to deeply analyse your own practice. After all it is essential to know yourself in order to guide others.

The second section of the book guides you through best approaches to planning and running your own CPD. It also provides you with pick up and use now fully resourced and detailed plans for CPD sessions on marking and feedback. There are full plans and resources covering full day training, extended twilight sessions, action research sessions and a full term’s worth of weekly after school training sessions. All plans have downloadable, editable power points and supporting resources on the website to go with the plans – so you really can just pick it up and use it if you so wish, or you can adapt it for your setting very easily.

CPD is so important and we have too little time in schools to do it well.  This resource really will support you to get more out of your in school CPD provision as it does a lot of the research and ground work for you.

Resources and more information can be found on the series website.

Marking and Feedback by Sarah Findlater and Middle Leadership by Paul K. Ainsworth are now available to purchase on www.bloomsbury.com . Use #BloomsCPD @BloomsburyEd