A culture of documenting curriculum and stringent scope and sequences meant the staff were reluctant to stray from the often content-dry path. I saw this push towards documenting curriculum ingrained through the latter years.
This approach, though linked heavily to the Victorian Curriculum, saw an increase in student disengagement. The school was pushing literacy and numeracy in a very low socio-economic area with an SFO of .78. Classroom issues and teacher burnout were becoming more overt against the mirror of traditional academia.
Recent research highlights the worrying trends between screen time and the modern student's need for fast-paced information.
Forcing students to sit in a lecture-style lesson delivery is business-model pedagogy that goes hand in hand with HECS debt. Delivery has not kept up with societal changes. I often have to check in on disengaged students and am consistently met with Powerpoints and work sheets.
The push towards content can disillusion students who value practicality over data, and this is only reaffirmed when their environment echoes these sentiments. We often teach content that students see little relevance in and struggle to relate to. What we want and need are independent, resourceful learners; students that can apply skills to a number of areas, rather than students who can answer multiple-choice questions to a tee and repeat dates like a parrot.
I guess the salient question we need to ask ourselves is, 'do we want to teach skills or content?' Do we want classes to leave a bad taste in our students’ mouths? We want students to see relevance in education; we want them to see the point in classes rather than the ceiling fan.
Recent employment shifts highlight the importance of easily applicable and transferable skills. As a society we are constantly trying to find career footing in an unstable market. The shifting sands of employment opportunities and industry require skills that are both adaptable and pliable. Training students to fit a role in a structured system is no longer feasible. We now need to equip students with flexibility, a fluidity that is inherent in the ephemeral world of technology, social media and international trade.
Herein lies the strength of applied, diverse learning: adaptable, applicable skills rather than repetitive content.
We often hear the phrase “real world skills”, without truly understanding what this means. Collaboration, communication, literacy, productivity, creativity, communication technologies, problem solving and personal development are all prerequisites in our modern society. The term “real world skills” has evolved to mean transferable skills, skills that keep up with a fast paced modernism: no longer reliant on manual labor, but an ability to keep up with technology that replaces manual labor.
Deep engagement in learning needs to reflect skills, knowledge and dispositions fit for their present lives as well as the ones they aspire to have in future (Dunleavy and Milton, 2009). What has become increasingly obvious to me in recent times is the push towards Applied Learning, yet what is also intrinsically obvious is the misrepresentation of this term amongst many teachers.
I blame “hands on learning,” which is not only an archaic definition but one which is misleading and simplistic. I challenge teachers to teach English in a “hands-on” way whilst still developing literacy skills and reading comprehension for a HSC English exam. Australia, in lots of respects, is still playing catch-up in a very different and fast-paced world.
The Foundation for Young Australians recently released a report analysing more than 20 billion hours of work by 12 million Australians. This report highlighted the shift in skills required for the workforce by 2030. The future workforce will be required to house both foundational skills and technical skills, “but that they are able to deploy those skills in an increasingly enterprising way as active problem solvers and communicators of ideas, equipped with a more entrepreneurial mindset and appetite for ongoing learning.
The most progressive educational systems are offering immersive ‘real-world’ learning experiences that can go beyond the classroom.
Subject-specific lessons - an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon - are already being phased out in some parts of Finland. They are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon teaching” or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “hospitality” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages, writing skills and communication skills (Liisa Pohjolainen).
We see Finns adopting what would align with what we Victorians call a VCAL approach. I understand discussing European educational structures in Australia can be irrelevant due to the vast cultural and historical differences. We are not Finland but you can’t argue with the success of Finland’s principles when compared with our own education system, nor can you argue with globalisation.
There are other changes too, not least to the traditional format that sees rows of pupils sitting passively in front of their teacher, listening to lessons or waiting to be questioned. Instead, there will be a more collaborative approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills. Therefore, we have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.
A recent analysis of Secondary Dutch education clearly identified the strengths of teacher-led supervision and coaching rather than lecture-style content delivery (Bolhuis and Voeten). This ties in heavily with what should be our ultimate goal: creating independent learners.
Rosemary Hipkins clearly argues that legitimate inquiry learning maximises capabilities of students when the curriculum is changed rather than added too. Hipkins is well placed to comment as the chief researcher for the New Zealand Council for Education Research arguing further in favour of ‘real tasks’, where students choose and justify the best course of action, actively employing their new knowledge and skills (Hipkins, 2014).
When students have a voice in their own learning they invest more and this opens up a whole world of opportunity. For real learning to take place, learners must be both decision makers and the subjects, and agents, of their own learning (Calvert 2016). Relevance is key and for the adolescent brain, interest can be paramount.
If a teenager sees the relevance in something, half the battle is won. If a student can choose a topic of their interest then a real connection to learning is there.
Student achievement and engagement will increase when students have more ownership (Palmer, 2013). An engaged student is an attentive student, one who comes to school with a positive relationship with education, an enthusiasm and willingness to learn.
Classroom issues, attendance issues fall by the wayside, along with perfunctory attitudes and Facebook. Catering to their interests and their strengths leads to student driven outcomes. Constantly adding to a curriculum creates a content heavy system, which drowns students and teachers, alike. Teachers are forced to skim over topics that have little to no relevance for students. The developing adolescent brain struggles to remember who presided over an ancient Chinese dynasty 2000 years ago because it isn’t relevant to their world.
I understand these subjects are important but I ask, why can’t students develop real-world skills on topics of their choosing, boosting engagement and diminishing other behavioural issues? More onus on students frees up the teacher’s time and allows for more differentiation. It also helps students cut their own paths within a plethora of options. Students are engaged and experience more success because they have the opportunity to explore pathways at their own pace, interests and their personal viability.