Of Pendulums and Pedagogy

I have stumbled across two articles this week related to the role of computers in the classroom and it encouraged me to revisit an earlier post:

OECD Report on Ipads

Computers in Class a Waste!

It is a wonderfully unique time in history for education. Learning opportunities and the breadth/depth of information access is overwhelmingly delicious. Running the Teachers’ Lounge websites/pages has been a great vehicle to document some of my own exposure to this wonderful e-world and I run with arms out-flung to embrace the digital age!

I recently reflected with a friend that I recall my Dad having won a prize at his work (in the 1970s) – a hand-held calculator, with green lights! There was a huge controversy in schools about whether these devices should be allowed in mathematics classes. Similarly, the typewriter created controversy in its day, as it was seen as a ‘lazy writing tool’ ! We’ve come a long way in education.

It has been interesting to watch the evolution of the digital manifesto in our schools. Millions of dollars poured into 4 year turnaround devices (or less!) in order to ensure that schools are on the cusp of the education revolution – or at least – seen to be! Worse at times, is the competitive vying for digital one-upmanship which focuses little on the educational outcomes of the child, but rather the projected persona of the institution.

In 2011 I oversaw the roll out of iPads in our Year 6-12 classes (our focus was on portability to outside spaces, the role of the camera/video element, e-portfolio to “capture learning over time” and to enhance emerging digital skills). As a team we were cognizant that our responsibility did not end once students knew how to use the devices and commenced the interface with the virtual “www superstore”! I do see that this is a trap many educators (and leaders) fall into. The focus of time, energy and funding can be very much on getting the digital mammoth established for quick sale and the underlying pedagogy given little after-thought!

The momentum is continuing; with the development of funding (and curriculum) for coding and robotics in the upcoming “Innovation Nation” … Believe me; I’ll be on board, but with eyes-wide-open on the developmental needs of our children.

… even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.  (Click for full story)

My son is currently in Year 5 at a school where iPads have been rolled out – I hear and experience (!) the concerns addressed in Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. With the recent announcement that NAPLAN will now become a compulsory digital platform for “two to three years from 2017” (http://www.nap.edu.au/online-assessment/naplan-online/naplan-online.html ) – the proliferation of devices in schools for the purpose of “testing” may be a sad synergy!

In the big picture, do we want students to do better academically or find and pursue their passions? I do understand that many educators would argue for both. The current educational climate is so centered on academic achievement and standards-based curriculum, I believe we need to make proactive, concentrated attempts to get the pendulum to swing towards semi-structured, open-ended, process-oriented and student-driven learning environments. Read Full Article

Despite the genuine educational concerns about the use of devices in our community; I do believe the balance can be found and we can still embrace the opportunities at our fingertips! The engine of this opportunity is embedded in that last quote… Re-read that last sentence… NO – read it again. Do we do that? Do YOU do that? I like to think I’m an experienced educator and despite some amazing WINS in this area; I still feel I have only splashed in the pool of “… open-ended, process oriented and student-driven learning…”

My recent viewing of “Most Likely to Succeed” reaffirmed the directions we are taking and the voice we hope is heard in education… relationship, engagement, project-centric, real-world connectivity and the responsibility of exhibition (with the ultimate goal of “contribution” … in my opinion)! Yet; whilst this generation offers educators a spectrum of exciting choices; the truth is – it’s all about the LEARNER.. does their engagement with school make them want to learn more? Is it about their passions which are being foregrounded or ours? How valuable do we rate “our curriculum” over “their inquiry”?

There are deeper waters here! In our classrooms, technology must be the slave and not the master; a vehicle for deeper learning, an access for students to reach a real and engaged audience, an opportunity for deeper expression and enriched engagement… if not – we will suffer the consequences of a missed opportunity in education and deliver a generation of Candy-Crushed Kids.

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Learning from “The Dot”

I love this story. I hadn’t seen it before and it immediately struck me as a great encouragement to teachers. How do we manage the “little” moments that present themselves. It struck me that;

  • The teacher has this conversation “after class”.
  • The teacher asks Vashti to “own” her work by signing it.
  • The work is privileged for what the student is able to achieve “at the moment”.
  • Vashti mis-reads the teacher’s cues … is this from her experience with other teachers (e.g. Vashti’s reaction to “Polar bear in snow storm).
  • Vashti’s teacher invested in her “after class” – by framing the first picture.
  • Vashti had resources at her disposal to “explore” (her “never before opened paint box”)
  • Reflection is CRUCIAL to the next step of learning … AND teaching.
  • Most of Vashti’s learning happens without the teacher; her teacher is merely the CATALYST.
  • This teacher only has Vashti once a week. 🙂
  • The school “Art Show” … an opportunity for an authentic AUDIENCE.
  • Vashti honours her experience (and her teacher) by mentoring another.

International Mud Day

A Day for Kids to PLAY IN MUD? Is this just too KOOKY?

I promise after listening to Tim Vidler speak on ABC Radio – You’ll … “Get It”

6a00e0097e4e68883301a511d5b9d7970c-320wiBold Park Community School (BPCS), founder of the inaugural International Mud Day, were excited to join other schools and organisations to partner in an initiative to link with schools around the globe in enjoying the benefits and pleasure of playing in mud!
The intention of this event is to provide children with a symbolic opportunity to join with others around the world in connecting through the catalyst of mud.
This year BPCS “amped it up” with a dirty-big mud obstacle course (the Mudsticle Course); where children from ages 3 to 18 (and adults) interconnect with like-spirited children around the world by playing in mud together on Friday the 27th June, 2014.
Grown from its inception in 2009 with the connection of 80 Nepalese orphans and the children of Bold Park Community School, with the support of the Nature Action Collaborative for Children (NACC), this inspirational initiative has flourished into a multi-continental annual celebration.
As the participants of Bold Park Community School Mud Day since 2009 have discovered, there are children like our friends in Nepal who are prevented from enjoying nature-based play because they only have one set of clothes. One of the aims of International Mud Day is to raise global awareness of this sad reality and provide funds to meet this need to enable children to delight in the joys of mud play, and in the mean time, encouraging our own children (and parents) to overcome our fear of getting dirty!
Mud gratifies one of our first and basic instincts. We will be playing in and connecting in the same earth. “Mud – It’s universal”.
For more information, visit the World Forum Mud Day site at:

 

Secret Mums on “POSITIVE” Business … OR … Engaging Our Parents in the Learning Partnership

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I hope you don’t mind my indulgence. It has been a fantastic few weeks at our little school. We have been running an intimate and innovative program for our Middle School girls (aged between 11 and 14).

These are confronting years for our young ladies and we have identified the need to focus on our girls in this age range. Families are needing support to cope as their girls deal with the new pressures of adolescence; confidence issues, body image and representations of beauty, healthy attitudes to food and exercise, complicated relationships (parents, “other girls”, and attraction/s to others) as well as the stresses of school, building success and coping with the technological presence of social and electronic media. It is no surprise that anxiety and stress are a growing community issue.

If our young people don’t have the tools to deal with these issues, they are simply not in a position to be able to learn.

The Middle School team consulted and researched widely to target a program that would offer the girl’s the confidence to address these issues within the school environment. Staff worked to collate a library of POSITIVE centred readings, video clips, podcasts, songs, feature articles and short stories centred around the themes we had identified and addressed POSITIVE solutions to HELP Girls… Kaz Cooke, Maggie Dent (our patron), the “Dove” media packages offered some great provocations;  as well as best practice readings from Relationships Australia and other professional support organisations.

resourcesThese “readings” have been broken into five weekly reading packages which will be delivered as a “girls only” group in a fully integrated English program. We have secretly employed the mums who also completed the reading program, complete with homework for Mum AND daughter.

Mother and daughter study, discuss, read and reflect on the weekly readings TOGETHER before they come to school to share their thoughts with their “Reading Circles” group.  The package integrates perfectly with English, Health, Electives, Zentangles and our Girls group and is informed by the pastoral care focus we have throughout the school.

The series culminated today (Friday the 6th June) with a special surprise event! The girl’s arrived to find all their mothers AT SCHOOL accompanied by our special guest; Kate Wilson – our amazing “spoken Word Poet” – a passionate young lady who has much to say about the issues we are addressing. You can view a sample of her work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rK46nILY-rw – she was truly MAGICAL!

Most significantly – each mother shared about a moment from their own childhood where they had to face a challenge lead to a POSITIVE; something that was special to all of the girls – they were invited to present their snapshot through a medium of their choice; a dance, a song, a poem, a story but REAL and from the heart.

They also gave their daughter a handwritten letter in which they communicated and celebrated the BEAUTY they see in their daughter.

We are sold on the belief that schools must work with parents in partnership toward developing our young people – not JUST in an academic program but multi-elementally. We are excited that our school has been in an intimate position to RESPOND to the needs of our children in partnership with our wonderful community.

A Novel Approach?

Last year, I had the great pleasure of spending some quality time absorbing strategies and approaches through Ritchhart, Church and Morrison’s wonderful book, “Making Thinking Visible” (see previous post https://theteacherlounge.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/cultural-capital-or-culture-clash) … this was closely followed by the opportunity to spend a little bit of time with Mark Church during his visit to Perth, Western Australia.

This had a significant impact on my approach to teaching in the English classroom. I recently promised that I would post an overview of a project we commenced at the start of semester one (2013) – Writing A Class Novel.

I have the benefit of leading a team of secondary teachers who work collaboratively to integrate learning in a Year 6-12 context. We had decided on a broad focus for the semester which informed an array of learning experiences across curriculum disciplines; “Forensics”.

This allowed for a variety of explorative activities to unpack the complex world of forensics, criminology, the ethical implications of law making, detective fiction, exploration of anatomy and decomposition. Our investigation included creation of crime scenes, a visit from two forensic police officers, blood stains analysis, finger printing, “mug shots”, fibre analysis, handwriting analysis, utilisation of composite sketching, entomology (e.g. harvesting maggots) for recognition of time of death… students participated in an archeological dig to “resurrect” half a cow which was buried on school grounds at the start of the year. The “novel” task was delivered in a multi-age classroom for Years 9-12.

I have not ventured on this kind large-scale, corporate writing project (with a class group) before; I have no trouble with large projects with a more “dramatic” flair but a commitment to a large writing-based task was daunting; I remember the cold shiver that went down my spine when I announced to the class that we would be starting the novel project.

College students (Year 10-12) had comprehensively studied the detective genre through the works of various “famous” writers and were challenged to commence a three month project – to write a full 20 chapter detective novel (25,000 words). The task required that students work together as a class in the creation of plot, characters, crime, complication and resolution but also determine who would write each section / how they would establish “flow” between the chapters (since students decided that each student would work on an independent chapter).

As the teacher, I determined that the project would be “facilitated” by me, I would provide instruction and resources on novel composition and guide students in terms of the “structures” that would be required (pov, character, crime choice, genre “expectations”, etc.). Division of labour would be determined by the students. Even in the early stages, the task required the surrendering of fantastic ideas and tested the student’s resilience and abilities to respectfully reject their own and others ideas! As students become more committed to the task, it was harder to surrender long-held-on-to ideas; the process was often wild and frustrating and for some there were tears!

 “It was a difficult process, trying to choose and eliminate ideas, especially when people were passionate about them. It was frustrating to have to deal with people who weren’t listening properly; or who contributed ideas that weren’t realistic or constructive! My chapter was the climax of the novel. I wanted it to be good so as not to let down the rest of the people who had worked so hard on it!” (Student 1 Reflection)

The initial planning / plotting and character development took only 3 weeks, the process of writing / re-working / scrapping and editing took two months of solid and concentrated effort in and out of class.

The student’s decided that they needed to establish an editorial team who took responsibility for the overall “flow” of the novel and worked with individuals to polish and hone individual chapters. It was difficult to “let this happen” – as the “English” teacher – I wanted to jump in to rescue on many occasions.

 “I will never volunteer to be an editor again! It was too much pressure; I hated proof reading [my friends work] I felt like I was being really mean all the time – I tried to make it better by adding smiley faces [on their work] – I don’t think it made much of a difference!” (Student 2 Reflection)

And yet, from the OTHER side of the fence …

“I am not a confident writer. The fact there was an editing team to help out and to proof-read and edit my chapter made all of the difference. They told me if my chapter was ready for submission- it made me more confident to go up to the other people in my class (peers) and ask questions – I felt better organised as a result.”  (Student 3 Reflection)

The rich experiences provided by the whole teaching team gave students a genuine respect for the role of police and detectives – rather than the more “romantic” beliefs many of the students had, had; based on their home viewing of TV Police/Detective Drama. Students insisted on capturing “compassionate” and “real” investigative characters and to show special consideration to the “victims of crime” in their writing.

In order for the students to write authentically about the crime scenes from the novel, we integrated the reproduction of authentic “crime scenes” into the student’s Science investigation. Students closed off local streets to reconstruct the scenes they had “imagined” and “discussed” in English. Students used “evidence photo numbers” at the mock scenes. Students photographed all evidence, bagged mock evidence and created diorama “maps” of the scenes. These were used to write and present reports for their Science (and English) curriculum but also served to fully inform the credibility of the narrative for multiple writers.

As chapters were submitted to the editorial team, we finally had a “read through” together in April.

 “The pressure has started to build but we are now reading out all of the drafts for the first time and I must say I am pleasantly surprised by the quality of everyone’s work. … This has been an amazing experience and all of my doubts about this task have vanished!”  (Student 4 Reflection)

“My favourite part of the process was when we read the chapters in order. I wasn’t only amazed at the fact that we had written a [novel] … but also at the sheer quality of the writing from a young bunch of people” (Student 5 Reflection)

By June, students had completed the written portion of the novel and then moved to consult with a “publisher/printer” to explore packaging choices – paper choices / cover options / font / layout / recognition of authors / cost of commissioning art work for the cover / deciding on title / distribution options and ebook publication options.

We do not yet have a printed novel in hand but students are now in the final stages of pre-production and their “pre-release” of Chapter One was a great success at a local educational conference. I will post again when novels are available for purchase. J

The novel project has helped students to appreciate the depth of research, investigation and angst involved in developing a novel. Documenting the student’s learning journey has also reminded me of the confidence I can have in students – and to keep student expectations … higher!

What Makes a GREAT Teacher?

aYou're the bestI like Todd Whittaker’s book What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most. It asks, “What makes a great teacher?” and seeks to identify the operational features of “great” teachers and how they may differ from less effective teachers.

There has always been great debate about the secrets of teacher effectiveness; some focus on behaviour management, student expectation, hands-on engagement, environmental factors … the list goes on.

According to Whittaker; these are the “fourteen things” that “great” teachers DO that other teachers DON’T! (a paraphrased approach – forgive me Mr Whittaker!);

1. They keep PEOPLE first and PROGRAMS second.

2. They determine strong and clear expectation from the very start of the academic year; with a focus on consistency.

3. They determine to minimise the LIKELIHOOD of student misbehavior.

4. They take responsibility for student learning and maintain high expectation of student performance and engagement.

5. They take ownership of their role as the “variable” in classroom which matters the MOST.

6. They are great ambassadors for their classroom and their school. They create and promote safe, happy communities.

7. They look for the positive… always!

8. Relationship, relationship, relationship – they can rebuke caringly and can say sorry liberally.

9. Keep small “inconveniences” and “disruptions” SMALL.

10. No matter what – there is a reason they are doing what they are doing. They have a focus with purpose.

11. Their decision making is filtered by the outcomes for the students, not the outcomes for themselves.

12. They always believe the best of their students – every child is “good”.

13. They keep standardised testing/s in perspective.

14. They care, they care, they care.

I would like to add a few other observations, some from my own experience and some from others who have sought to investigate this question. What qualities would you add to the list?

15  They establish learning environments that are student-focused; not control focused (https://theteacherlounge.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/building-learning-environments/)

16  They build parental bridges EARLY.

17  They promote meta-cognition.

18. They complete the tasks they ask their students to complete – they DEMONSTRATE the literacy process (e.g. they write a paragraph with the class, they show HOW they construct sentences – not just the finished/polished version/s).

19. They link learning with student interests and abilities.

20. They embrace new technology.

21. They stay positively connected with other educators BOTH within and OUTSIDE of their discipline.

22.  They embrace a range of strategies for different learning styles, genders and the labyrinth of ‘special needs’. They allow multiple forms of “assessment”.

23. They build knowledge and understanding from what is ALREADY known.

24. They have an attitude of life-long learning; they know that THEY have not arrived. I would add “self reflection” as an integral part of this.

25. They look for mentors and are prepared TO BE mentors to others.

26. They understand that they can’t always do all 25 of these things … and they can NEARLY live with that!

“They Only Had An 8th Grade Education” … What that REALLY means!

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA . It is taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

The examination was 5 hours long and broken-up as follows;

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of ‘lie,’ ‘play,’ and ‘run’.
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 – 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet Long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs, what is it worth at 50 cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent per annum.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.
U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus .
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States .
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas ..
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.
Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u’.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.
Geography (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America ..
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver , Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon , St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco .
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U..S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Gives the saying ‘s/he only had an 8th grade education’ a whole new meaning!

What’s the Word on Building Learning Environments?

One of the great luxuries I have at my current workplace, is the freedom to “develop environment” with my colleagues and more importantly our Middle School and College students (admittedly with little/no budget :)).

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Historically, I have taught my classes in many … unique environments … including teaching Year 11/12 English in a staff room, a gym equipment room, a hot tin shed, a board room meeting space, a canteen (this was only a six-week stint which had “other” benefits – LOL) and under a tree for a year. I think they all had their special moments which we enjoyed together :).

There has been a lot of development and research based around the form and function of learning spaces for education and it is no surprise that in our modern, digitally rich contexts we need to experiment with the use of space. I think I was pretty lucky to have teachers in my Primary School who used space effectively, making it both aesthetically pleasing and functional but there was certainly no consultation with students on how the room should look / feel.

Secondary environments tend to be a different story – there has been little room for creative freedom; not because teachers don’t necessarily want to “own” a space, but because the general discourse in secondary timetabling accounts for teachers who move from classroom to classroom, multiple teachers who “visit” each “learning space” throughout the timetabled day and the growing trend toward lighter teacher loads (the part-time teacher).

A quick GOOGLE image search of “Classroom Environments” will reveal some amazing looking class spaces. They range from traditional desk-centric rooms with creativity directed to the windows and doors; to rooms/spaces which look as though they were designed by supermarket architects! What is ALSO interesting to note is the few learning spaces which represent secondary (Year/Grade 7-12) learning environments.

Whether intended or not, all learning spaces do sell a message about learning WITHIN that space to our students. Whether the educator is “influenced by the historical lab school movement of John Dewey, the innovative early childhood work of Maria Montessori, or more modern theorists such as Howard Gardner, one thing is certain: classroom environment has been a subject of teacher consciousness.”. The recent trend has been to focus on our digital environmental priorities and it would be great to re-strike the balance.

I am also learning the value of “building and CAPTURING memories” from outside the classroom environment that are “projected” back into our class-home. It’s not a foreign concept, we do it all the time in our own families; for the learning environment it is about trying to capture where we have been; camps, incursions, excursions, activities, “shared” moments, capturing “fun learning” on film to frame and display … not just for Parent Nights! I am also learning the value of having a stack of old cushions available to maximise the use of the outdoors – which students love.

Whilst most of us don’t have access to master architects; we do have some control over the shape and sensory elements of our classrooms; even if this requires some form of strategic alliance with those we share our classrooms with. These include; practical resourcing, choice of furnishing, consideration of “traffic” routes, maximising natural light, the “student’s stamp” (displayed production, evidence of visible learning (see earlier entry)), sensory considerations (e.g. access to music, multi-visuals, comfort, heating/cooling/ventilation, storage, ability for the environment to accommodate multiple “groupings”, aromatherapy (hey – why not?), use of all “levels” within the space… not just a floor plan?

Environmental considerations do not only focus on room aesthetics but on the functional operation of the classroom. A recent Washington study  (2011) focused on the role of basic resourcing (paper, pencils, room heating/cooling, ventilation, child-friendly furnishings, access to computers, musical instruments, art supplies) as a contributor to student (and teacher) mental health! The study concluded that use of space and availability of resource was a crucial factor in contributing to positive mental health in the classroom; this was defined by four components:

  • learning (e.g., attentiveness),
  • externalising problems (e.g., fights),
  • interpersonal behavior (e.g., forming friendships), and
  • internalising problems (e.g., anxiety and sadness).

I was particularly impressed with the following incidental remark;

“I think parents care a lot about their children’s mental health (their emotional and behavioral well-being) but we, as a society, don’t tend to focus on that as an important educational outcome nearly as much as we talk about and think about academic outcomes.”

A great challenge for us all.

Why Studio Schools Might Be Worth a Look!

Over the past year I have had the privilege to work in a small school in the Western Suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. It models a unique teaching and learning environment with a constructivist/nature based philosophy operating in a multi-age/multi teacher classroom. The school has ensured that all College students have opportunity to pursue their own path of academic excellence which has included WACE Courses, Nationally Accredited Certificate Courses through TAFE, Endorsed Programs and a partnership with Distance Education.

Our Workplace Learning (Careers) has been through significant change; over the past year we have sought to find the best model for authentic vocational partnerships. Last year, we stumbled across a pocket of educational brilliance that inspired us to reconsider many portions of the traditional workplace program we offered.

In 2011, STUDIO SCHOOLS were launched in Great Britain – schools (initially three) which focused around engaging students into “authentic partnerships with local businesses”. The school had an immediate and significant impact on student outcomes and in just 12 months has grown from 3 schools to over 60 with plans for the project to be available as a mainstream model for education in the UK and the full endorsement and funding of the British Government.

The more we examined this model, the more excited we became; because many of the unique features of the Studio School were already imbedded in our teaching and learning practices – Accredited Academic Excellence, Personalised curriculum, Practical based learning, Focus on Employability & Job-Readiness, Requirements for an intimate Small school setting and Student cohorts of mixed abilities.

The piece that has been missing (for many WPL programs) is the relationship with the business community. We have established some fantastic workplace learning experiences for students with some big name operators; however, the focus of these partnerships has been to meet the criteria for the accredited Workplace Learning Course. We were inspired to trial a model which gave the work placement a more “central role” by which there is a richer and more INFORMED, inter-relationship with the rest of the school curriculum.

Workplace Partnerships have GREAT potential; especially in a post compulsory education setting. They could/should offer;

  • Employer Projects that are integrated with at-school learning in partnership with the teaching staff.
  • Ongoing Mentorship and Coaching (INTER-RELATED not INDEPENDENT OF the child’s school goals).
  • Like-any-other-employee expectation (though this isn’t a unique property – it is foregrounded)
  • Paid work placements! Because payment is also an authentic part of our working life.

For example: Angela is a local business owner who runs a large furniture import & distribution business. She has expressed interest in partnering on a project with a student (Mary).

Angela prepares a brief “advertisement” for the position. Let’s say “Import Researcher”.

Mary’s first task is to apply for the position; Her Cover Letter, Resume and Selection Criteria are authentically seeking the position but also double as an assessment item for her English Course. Ideally, Mary could be interviewed and “appointed”. Mary works on her first day in the storeroom with Gavin and Doreen. Her assignment for the week is to profile the range of furniture pieces that the import company offer for distribution (these could be photographed and added to Mary’s portfolio).

Back at school, Mary researches where some of these pieces are sold in Perth and for what price. Mary is also asked to identify five places which offer similar stock pieces to Angela’s. Mary is required to produce a written report of her findings and present it to Angela and a member of her Sales team by week five.

I believe that this kind of unique partnership allows a shift in our focus from merely delivering a workplace learning ENCOUNTER to an integrated and comprehensive work-readiness program that is unique in delivery and function. A curriculum that allows us to broaden our skill development to include Communication, Relate-ability, Enterprise Planning and execution, Critical Thinking Skills and the development of Emotional Intelligence. Isn’t this what the business community SAY they want from young people emerging from the education system?

Employers have consistently raised concerns that young people are leaving education without key employability skills and a general awareness of the world of work. Many are frustrated by the failings of the traditional two-week ‘work experience’ block, and share the view that more must be done to improve the authenticity of work experience and the quality of employer engagement in education. Strong links with local employers lie at the heart of these ideas. Employability skills need to run through most aspects of our vocational curriculum, from the way students learn to the qualification and accreditation they achieve.

VET can’t remain an independent, extra-curricular consideration of our schools if we are to fairly service this growing school market. Thanks for showing us another option STUDIO SCHOOLS!