New Year’s Resolutions

So it’s the 28th December and as I sit watching mindless Christmas television I turn over the channel and am faced with a 16-year-old boy who is trying to raise his three sisters and brother in an African slum. They are living next to an overflowing communal toilet and struggling to get by. His mother died of aids and his father was killed during the 2007 elections – that’s democracy for you!

It’s at this point that Lenny Henry breaks down and a tear comes to my eye. You can always rely on Comic relief to bring you back to earth with a bump. Then just before depression starts to kick in you are shown the effects of our donations and the 16 yr old in a new house that is clean and the sight of him and his siblings receiving an education. The education they receive is delivered in a breezeblock building with minimal resources, no computers or flash resources. The greatest resource they have is a desire to learn and the passion of their teachers.

This makes me think about what it is we are doing in our own classrooms. All too often we get caught up in the negativity of diminishing budgets, poor resourcing and the need to deliver a new curriculum that is progressive, inclusive and owned by the learner. The basic reality is that what is really important is the way in which we engage our learners.

Are they as passionate as their African peers? Are they as engaged and grateful to be receiving an education? Do we hold our own learners in high enough regard?

If I am being truly honest I have to admit that the pressures of running a department and changes to management structures and budgets does at times overshadow the real reason I joined this profession. As a result I do not fully engage with the learners I work for and with. Instead of engaging learners I become a lecturer and all to often exam focused rather than learner focused. As many people make their New Years Resolutions how many will reflect upon where they truly are and if they need to make changes to attitude and pedagogy rather than the usual giving up smoking or losing a few pounds.

What’s really important in your classroom? What will be your New Years Resolution?

11 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolutions

  1. PhysicsNick

    Perhaps I’m just getting old….
    As an “older” teacher, I really don’t understand some of the language being used today. What, really, does “owned by the learner” mean to me? I must say I haven’t a clue.
    I passionately agree with the concept of engagement and want my pupils to be enthralled by the concepts of Physics and how it shapes their world.
    A progressive and inclusive curriculum? What defines this? The exam board? Or what I make of it?
    If I were to ask my exam focused pupils (and they really are exam focused) what is important to them in the new year – they would all tell me one thing – the upcoming prelims and final exams.
    I’m engaged with what they want – success on their terms.

  2. Calum Stewart

    The exam focussed pupils are the product of our flawed system of “education”. The system is inclusive for those who are motivated to pass exams – usually the mist able. Too many others leave school feeling they have failed and most disturbingly

  3. Fearghal

    This is a fascinating discussion. It just shows how seemingly straightforward terms such as ‘engagement’ can be become incredibly complex!

    On this particular issue I love the following paper by Lois Harris:
    Secondary teachers’ conceptions of student engagement: Engagement in learning or in schooling?

    Unfortunately most teachers will not have access to such a paper, so here’s a snippet of perhaps the most relevant section. It’s a table which shows a continuum of engagement (what) and how these levels of engagement can be achieved (how). Click here to have a look.

    I personally think that it is possible for many young people to achieve success in terms of qualifications with a level of engagement which is relatively low on this continuum. However, this unfortunately leaves those who are not by the wayside all too often – and even for those who do attain their qualifications, can we be satisfied with this alone as a product of their education? I wish I’d left school a lot higher up that continuum as well has having my qualifications.

  4. Frank Crawford

    As a very old teacher (first teaching job in the 60s), I want to share a depressing experience going round some schools in the UK for a secondary science and art project very recently. Like Nick, I found many young people questioning the worth of the project because there was no exam and it did not appear to link to their future exams. What I found depressing was their inability to cope with the flexibility needed in a multi-disciplinary approach. Effectively their brains were hard-wired to recall, imitate and regurgitate. That spells doom for their future and the future of the country. BTW, the curriculum belongs to our young people, if turning things on their head helps the ownership debate.

  5. clintlanyon Post author

    “hard-wired to recall, imitate and regurgitate” pretty much sums up the state of exam focused learning. The problem however is the number of students who have the inability to perform such tasks or at least perform them to a high level and as a result are failed by the system.

    In too many subject areas we teach subject matter that has no context in the modern world. Gone are the days of a job for life where you worked your way through an apprenticeship and got the proverbial gold watch after 40 years good service. In todays world we need to develop thinking skills and enterprising attitudes.

    Young people need to be able to adapt to a changing world on not just a technological platform but also one of changing attitudes socially, economically and politically. If the youth of today are to be the innovators of tomorrow we need to look to some our European neighbours where exams are secondary and learning for life is primary in the thinking of educators.

    1. Frank Crawford

      Good points, Clint, though I fundamentally disagree with the point re …. “The problem however is the number of students who have the inability to perform such tasks or at least perform them to a high level ….”. Don’t blame customers when the service being provided is flawed.

      1. clintlanyon Post author

        It is a well known fact that we all learn in different ways. For those that are able to rote learn and regurgitate information a high level of success is achievable. I don’t blame the learner I blame the system for only having one style of assessment that does not fit all learners. If we learn in different ways should we not be assessed in different ways? My point is that we are too focused on written exams that require ‘recall and regurgitation of facts’ and this is not looking to change as we constantly find that we need to be measured by a standard. It is this that often hinders creativity. I definitely do not blame the customer.

  6. Ruairidh Nicolson

    Very pertinent point Clint has made there in regard to enterprise and thinking skills. We definitely need to encourage and foster enterprising attitudes within our learners.

  7. Calum Stewart

    This time with a keyboard.
    The exam focussed pupils are the product of our flawed system of “education”. The system is inclusive for those who are motivated to pass exams – usually the most able. Too many others leave school feeling they have failed but more disturbingly they have been switched off to learning. The examination focus of our system is a significant factor in turning young people off to learning.
    Why would you want to return to learning if your memories from school are those of failure?
    The examination system is fine for those who do well and/or have a learning style or interests which fit well within the system. For others who learn differently or who have interests in areas outwith those on offer in most schools it can cause lifelong aversion to learning.
    Many schools recognise that the fodder offered is not for all pupils and are trying to do something to change this. I believe that these changes are always going to be superficial while we put so much emphasis on the results of examinations.
    Are teachers part of the problem? We are generally “successful” products of the system and perhaps have a vested interest in the continuation of the system.

    “Sometimes I wonder what some of us would do if we did not Teach, given the fairly narrow focus of our “knowledge”.

    How well do we empathise with young people who feel outside the system?

  8. George Gilchrist

    Consider this. I have two daughters, one 21 and one 25. They both did well at school. Both did well at Standard Grades and Highers and both went on to University. Both achieved 2.1s with honours.
    They said to me they could not remember anything about the facts and information they learned to pass their Highers by the time they had completed their first year in Uni.
    Unfortunately a lot of this experience was also repeated going through Uni. They were asked to remember facts and info to get through their exams..
    But both have a feeling that there should have been more to their education and success than the regurgitating of soon to be forgotten facts, figures and information to pass different exams, at different stages.
    They feel there should have been more to it and more depth,more creativity and more thinking, which they now believe perhaps only happens at doctorate level.
    Something is wrong.
    I would suggest this is not an uncommon experience or feeling by ‘successful’ travellers through our education system. So how must the ones who are not seen to be successful feel and how easily will it be for them to feel disengaged and un-catered for?

  9. PhysicsNick

    For the vast majority of the pupils I teach, their focus is University. And that is also the focus of their parents. I know this as I live in our catchment area and see and talk to parents and pupils all the time.
    Flawed or not, this is what our society seems to want and I, for one, am happy to supply it. I really enjoy working with pupils who have a firm idea of what they want and where they are going.
    I am also proud to teach a subject that is absolutely not rooted in regurgitation and recall. An analysis of the Higher Physics paper and curriculum that we are teaching clearly shows that a mere 10% is recall. The remaining vast majority is skills and problem based along with other core skills such as data analysis and written explanations. Plus group investigative work with a variety of free presentation styles chosen by the pupils.
    Apparently Unis don’t want recall. But they do want a yardstick for success criteria.

    A couple of years ago, we asked pupils what they wanted to do in their 3rd year. We offered a broad range of exam and non examinable courses in the Sciences with a completely free choice. Out of a year group of about 120, only 1 pupil opted for a non examinable course.
    Now you have to ask, is this the result of a flawed exam system or of a flawed society not wanting what we, as teachers, feel is best for them?

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