While we teach, we learn. – Seneca, Roman philosopher

At St Columba we are dedicated to offering an education that prepares our students for success in the “real” world after school. We don’t just talk about it, we do it!

We are aware that the world that will face our graduates is very different in its form and demands than that of previous decades. Some of the skills needed for success in this new world will be different to the skills that have been so important in the past. As a result, parents may find our classrooms, the activities our teachers design, and the experiences the students have, are very different to those of their parents.

Please do not worry, this makes sense!

We need to improve education…because of the profound changes that are taking place in society and work. Professor Dylan Wiliam

Over the last decade SCAS has made it a part of its educational “DNA” to be aware of what is important in an excellent education, what works now and for the future, and what has ceased to work, and we have used this knowledge to fine-tune our priorities, practices and professional development.

A recent book released by Dr Michael Anderson, Professor of Education at The University of Sydney, and Dr Miranda Jefferson, gives us comfort in our efforts and a further insight into the type of education that will be needed for our current and future students to be competitive in the world.

“As the political battle over school funding rumbles on, we run the risk of neglecting a glaring question: how can we prepare kids for a coming world where almost half of jobs will be displaced by technology?….Imagine a school where the students have the agency to know how to learn. Where students have the curiosity and confidence to engage with the world as active citizens in small and big ways. This is what we call 4C schools.

The 4Cs are creativity, critical reflection, collaboration and communication and these 4C schools are transforming learning and teaching through this quartet.

The 4Cs are creativity, critical reflection, collaboration and communication. In their classrooms and staffrooms, 4C schools are transforming learning and teaching through this quartet. But in these schools it takes will, energy, inquiry, courage and determination. The 4C evolution is only just beginning in certain schools but it is always characterised by a climate of re-invigoration, excitement, challenge, difficulty, uncertainty and possibility.”  Transforming Schools: Creativity, Critical Reflection, Communication, Collaboration.

Not only are these skills different to the rote learning skills of past educational constructs, the ways they are taught and experienced by our students are different to those of the “industrial age” schooling of the past.

Parents who visit our school on any given day could find small groups of children working on a project or groups of children working as part of a ‘superclass’.

If the parent’s experience of education was the traditional teacher-centric one, he/she might be concerned that the teaching going on here is a waste of time.  I can assure you this is far from the case. What he/she is seeing here is called “peer-teaching” i.e. the members of the group are working with each other, developing communication skills and teaching each other.

It works. In fact it works so well that studies have shown that the students helping the others in the group not only enhance their learning but almost certainly increase his/her chance of gaining higher marks. In what scientists have dubbed “the protégé effect,” it has been found that student “teachers” score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake.

Research: Group projects can help students develop a host of skills that are increasingly important in the professional world (Caruso & Woolley, 2008; Mannix & Neale, 2005). Positive group experiences, moreover, have been shown to contribute to student learning, retention and overall college success. (Astin, 1997; Tinto, 1998; National Survey of Student Engagement, 2006)

As an eldest child, I also liked the fact that the studies also showed that first-born children are more intelligent than their later-born brothers and sisters and the suggested reason for their higher IQs result from the time they spend showing their younger siblings “the ropes”.

Not only does group learning increase engagement, provide multiple views of problems/challenges and develop the important inter-personal skills needed for life but it actually enhances the performance of those who are generous enough to share their knowledge.

Win-Win!

These group activities provide preparation for the way our students will work in their post school lives and the more experience they have in working as part of a team, being able to communicate their ideas, adapt to input from others etc, the more likely they are to be successful.

What Group work Does For Students

Properly structured, group projects can reinforce skills that are relevant to both group and individual work, including the ability to:

  • Break complex tasks into parts and steps
  • Plan and manage time
  • Refine understanding through discussion and explanation
  • Give and receive feedback on performance
  • Challenge assumptions
  • Develop stronger communication skills.

Group projects can also help students develop skills specific to collaborative efforts, allowing students to:

    • Tackle more complex problems than they could on their own.
    • Delegate roles and responsibilities.
    • Share diverse perspectives.
    • Pool knowledge and skills.
    • Hold one another (and be held) accountable.
    • Receive social support and encouragement to take risks.
    • Develop new approaches to resolving differences.
    • Establish a shared identity with other group members.
    • Find effective peers to emulate.
    • Develop their own voice and perspectives in relation to peers.

So, do not be surprised if you find your son/daughter’s homework sheet contains ideas like:

Last Time:
What I liked most about the group was…
What I liked least about the group was…
The most effective things about the way the group worked was…
The least effective things about the group worked were…
The most important things I contributed to the group were…
The things I need to do more to help the group are…

Next Time:
The types of people I work best with are…
The best role I can play in a group is…
I believe groups work best when…
The best way groups are led is…

As we move towards the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, it is good to see that we are not just talking about 21st Century Learning but making it happen!