TESS Article 12: Giving Up Control

I was chatting recently with a former colleague about “A Curriculum for Excellence“. He has responsibility for developing learning and teaching at his school and was telling me that they are going to give every pupil comprehensive course support materials for each of their certificated subjects – once the course has been completed. The teachers didn’t want to put it out before they taught the course as they wanted to “remain in control”. For me it was a timely reminder about how much work is still to be done in terms of changing our approach to learning.

In the past week I’ve come across three personal examples of how the delivery of learning is changing – firstly, my brother is taking a work related course at St Andrew’s University – he will be following the entire course on-line; secondly, I’ve just started a on-line course to improve my French; and thirdly, I was speaking to the one of my son’s friends who just got a an “A” in one of his Highers and had to teach himself two of the units, which had not been covered by the teacher, by accessing materials available on the web. If these examples seem anecdotal and hardly scientific then I plead guilty but perhaps it is their very ubiquity which lends them weight in supporting a growing realisation that “we” can no longer remain in control of the learning process.

The common arguments against such a phenomenon are that “children can’t learn by themselves” and “You can’t transfer university type learning to a school environment”. However, to accept such statements is to accept the status quo where the learning process is essentially controlled and governed by the teacher – especially in terms of the content, rate of progress and depth of content.

If we are going to change the way in which we work then perhaps we need to destabilise the status quo thereby freeing teachers to adopt different roles and engage learners in learning as opposed to absorbing information?

Keeping this in mind I wonder if David Eaglesham, the General Secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, perhaps provides the catalyst when he said he doubted whether A Curriculum for Excellence could live up to its aims without the provision of curricular resources.

I agree that there is a need to provide resources but I wouldn’t provide them in the form that they have come in the past. My alternative approach would be to create a virtual learning environment for every certificated course provided by the SQA. These course materials could be accessed by students at a place and time of their choosing – I’d like to think GLOW could play an important role here. The key point here is that the materials are for the student – not the teacher.

Over the course of the last year I’ve spoken to senior students from many schools and without exception they all said they would have welcomed the chance to access their entire course on-line. That’s not to say that they didn’t want a teacher but that they wanted their teacher to work in a different way.

So what would be the outcome of such a step – surely it will replace one form of spoon-feeding with another? Well not if we prepare for such a change in a gradual, well managed and progressive manner – the teacher would take on much more of a tutor’s role where students have to use their tutor to expand and deepen their knowledge. In so many ways this ties in with what Jerome Bruner spoke about recently at the Tapestry Conference in Glasgow when he said that educational systems were “too easily routinised” (sic) and that there were too few opportunities for students to “share hypotheses”, “reflect upon alternatives ” or “reflect upon controversy”.

Bruner wants teachers to seek out “inter-subjectivity” (I think I prefer this term to inter-disciplinary) by contextualising their subject within the wider world – but how often do teachers manage to do this in the pressure to get through the content of a course?

Such a shift in the model of certificated course delivery would also influence the type of learner that a young person would need to be before commencing such courses. The requirement for children to be ready to operate as independent, metacognitively aware, and technically able learners will in it’s own way provide further impetus for the radical changes that are required in the first three years of secondary education.

4 thoughts on “TESS Article 12: Giving Up Control

  1. “Over the course of the last year I’ve spoken to senior students from many schools and without exception they all said they would have welcomed the chance to access their entire course on-line. That’s not to say that they didn’t want a teacher but that they wanted their teacher to work in a different way.”

    Which is how I’ve been changing my style and use of resources including IT, paper and blogs etc as well for my senior pupils. Indeed I also use tutorials for some of my S3. It works and also encourages them to do more work to ensure they get the grades they deserve in return for their efforts not what they have been spoonfed.

    The way ahead once we get GLOW sorted out up here!

  2. I’ve done this for the courses I teach as well. And on a recent study visit to Finland, one of the schools I visited had also done this using Moodle. The students could choose to attend school, or just to access the course on-line. Now there’s a thought !!

  3. Lots to think about here! Re Jaye’s post I wondered if you had any empirical evidence of countries who had followed this model you are proposing. How successful was the school in Finland? How many chose not to attend school? Are we moving towards home-schooling, and a consequent loss of the social aspects of learning? (by which I mean debate, discussion, question and answer, group work, peer marking, etc). I know GLOW is new, but an existing online community of resources, such as BBC Bitesize, school and authority wide blogs, wikis has grown up in the last 5-10 years; do we know how effectively teachers and pupils use what is already out there? I suspect many pupils don’t yet make effective use of existing online support materials.
    Are we putting too much faith in GLOW and online learning as a substitute for the expertise and enthusiasm of teachers?

  4. Congratulations on such an interesting website. (Where do you find the time?!?)
    As part of Curriculum for Excellence, and as one of my own personal crusades, I am interested in Independent Learning. Whya wait till senior years? So, I have just started introducing Collaborative Learning where pupils work in groups to teach each other and/or to practise work. I am only feeling my way and have had mixed results in the little I have done so far BUT the pupils LIKE this style of learning (at least for the moment). Interestingly, some colleagues remarked to me that they were uncomfortable with the style of it since it would mean “giving up control”.
    Example of CL in French is writing a paragraph on a different aspect of The Simpsons family as a prelude to writing about their own.
    My S1 class today did various activities by themselves in their groups on numbers 1-20. Would they have learned more if I had stood in front of the class and run things? Probably, yes. But did they enjoy the experience, definitely. Part of the success of this approach lies in planning, clear instructions and Learning Intentions so that they can be independent in the way they complete a task.
    Concerning your point on LIs and context: Shirley CLarke makes some of this clear when she talks about, for example, the LI is to write an argumentative essay but the context could be many different topics or curriculum subjects.

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