From the Principal

Reasons To Be Cheerful/Fearful About Today’s School Education

Education can often be trend-driven, particularly when certain concepts gain traction in the media or in the training institutions that prepare teachers for their professional lives. Parents whose main point of reference was their own schooling can often find the changes that they see in their children’s education confusing, scary or exciting – or both of these.

To make things a little clearer to parents here are a few of the current educational trends and some opinions about how effective they are.

Eddie Woo Innovative Maths Teacher

Flipped Learning: Teachers deliver instructional content via video but the practice, skills and essays, often the hardest to learn, are conducted in class with face-to-face teacher supervision in collaboration with peers. The inverted model of teaching, best exemplified by the teachings of maths ”super teacher” Eddie Woo.

Cheerful: The flip learning model has been tested at Stanford, which found that video content was engaging to students – many of whom grew up on YouTube – and easy for instructors to produce.

Fearful: Both students and teachers think it is too time consuming. Some kids might not be able to view it because they do not have the technology for it. Some students think that the flip will be difficult to get used to.

STEAM: STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. The end results are students who take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem-solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process. These are the innovators, educators, leaders and learners of the 21st century! 

Cheerful: The benefits to students and the entire school community can be tremendous. Students and teachers engaged in STEAM make more real-life connections so that school is not a place where you go to learn but instead becomes the entire experience of learning itself. We are always learning, always growing, always experimenting. School doesn’t have to be a place, but rather a frame of mind that uses the Arts as a lever to explosive growth, social-emotional connections, and the foundation for the innovators of tomorrow…today!

Fearful: Last month, NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes described the preferencing of STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – as an ”educational fad” and warned education was more than preparing for employment.

21st Century Learning: The term “21st Century Skills” is generally used to refer to certain core competencies such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving that advocates the belief that schools need to teach to help students thrive in today’s world.

Cheerful: 21st Century Skills are the set of skills students need to succeed in learning, work and life in this century. To ensure success, students need both deep understanding of the major principles and facts in core subjects (such as math, language, arts, science, history, etc.) and also be able to apply this knowledge to important contemporary themes (such as global awareness, financial, health and environmental literacy, etc.) using a variety of skills. These skills are vital for everyone’s success in our times, and global competition, increased access to technology, digital information and tools are only increasing the importance of these 21st century knowledge and skills. Today, every student requires 21st century skills to succeed. Employers the world over say that recently hired workers, including post-secondary graduates, are ill-prepared in a number of basic knowledge areas and in many of the key skills for successful work in the 21st century.

Fearful: Educators make bad prognosticators of the future. When school “reformers” try to reorder education based on “21st Century Skills,” or what some describe as “teaching tomorrow’s skills to today’s students,” they show not only lack of prescience, but also ignorance of the past. History suggests that schools are abysmal failures at teaching skills needed for the future. 

Collaborative Learning:
An educational approach that involves groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product. It is based on the idea that learning is a naturally social act. Learning occurs through active engagement among peers, either face-to-face or online. The main characteristics of collaborative learning are: a common task or activity; small group learning, co-operative behaviour; interdependence; and individual responsibility and accountability.

Cheerful: Collaborative learning activities create opportunities for students to:

  • Engage in subject specific discussions with peers
  • Learn how to work cooperatively and support each other
  • Develop effective teamwork and communication (including interpersonal and cross cultural awareness) skills
  • Assimilate multiple views to deepen knowledge and promote critical thinking
  • Foster individual accountability to the team
  • Develop independent learning strategies
  • Structure out-of-class learning

Fearful: ”The Education Establishment does not seem focused on creating independent, strong willed, knowledgeable citizens. The real focus appears to be on creating the appearance of education taking place, so the schools can say, oh, we’re doing a great job. We’re teaching 21st Century Skills!!! Such as Collaborative Learning!!!…But at the end of the day nobody knows much.”

Direct Instruction: Direct Instruction is the use of straightforward, explicit teaching techniques, usually to teach a specific skill. It is a teacher-directed method, meaning that the teacher stands in front of a classroom and presents the information. Teachers follow a step-by-step, lesson-by-lesson approach to teaching that has already been written for them. What the teachers say and do is prescribed and scripted, and accompanied by a pre-specified system of rewards. Following a strict program of teaching as operant conditioning, teachers teach uniform content in scripted and monitored patterns.

Cheerful: John Hattie reviewed over 300 research studies exploring the impact that Direct Instruction has on student results. He found that Direct Instruction brought about above-average gains in both surface and deep learning for kids of all ages and all abilities. Other research has shown that the benefits of Direct Instruction are long lasting.

Fearful: Direct Instruction focuses on teacher control of lesson pacing and content and does not encourage the engagement with student cultural resources, background knowledge and community context. It de-skills teachers by routinising their work and downplaying their professional capacity to vary instructional pace and curriculum content depending on the student cohort and context. It places the teacher and child in a rigid relationship where the teacher is always the one with the power and knowledge, with limited allowance or recognition of individual and cultural difference. This relationship is not conducive to local adaptation of lessons or content to accommodate community, cultural or individual differences, creativity and innovation in teaching and learning.

Almost all educational movements, theories and trends have some value. What schools need to do is identify what will work for their students in their context and adapt it to the classroom. The danger comes when an organisation determines that there is only one way of doing things and welds itself to this approach.

The luxury of an independent school is that it can adapt, adopt, review and determine what is best for its students, relatively free from interference of “head office”.

For SCAS parents the best way of finding out what your child is doing at school and whether it works is through communication – with your children, your children’s teacher and the school.

Ask questions, listen closely, and remember that you are the single most important factor in your child’s educational success and knowing what is actually happening is the key to leveraging that power for future success.

Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School


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