Posts Tagged ‘secondary school’

Students “mapping out their own futures”

November 10th, 2010

I’ve neglected to check my pigeonhole at work for a while, and hence I almost missed seeing this  Education Gazette article about learning pathways at Hauraki Plains College.

This is a pretty exciting article for me, partly because the the school’s approach was “significantly influenced” by a book Jane Gilbert and I wrote, Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning?

The article describes how the school has taken some of the ideas we talked about in the book (and talk about often on Shifting Thinking), combined with their own analysis of their students’ needs, and re-created the way they think about timetabling, coursework, pathways, and student support. This quote illustrates the school’s vision for its students.

As students understand their strengths and abilities they are supported in shaping a purposeful direction through their learning which fits with their aspirations for a life beyond the school gates. They see their time at school as relevant to their future and they can plan for it.

How, precisely, do they do it? Read the whole article here.

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Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning?

March 25th, 2009

In most developed countries over the last couple of decades we’ve seen a lot of different pressures that have resulted in certain kinds of changes and shifts in the ways secondary education is organised.  Here is one quick example:  in the past, only the minority of students stayed til the final years of secondary school, and they were almost all planning to go onto higher education. Today, a much larger proportion of students stay on til the end of high school, and there are now many more pathways and possibilities for further education and work once students do leave school. In New Zealand and other countries, these kinds of pressures have lead to changes  designed with the hope of  better meeting the needs and demands of present-day students in the present-day world. Examples include: the development of new subjects or cross-disciplinary areas for learning that weren’t part of the secondary curriculum in the past (like education for sustainability, for example), or  changes to assessment and qualification regimes designed to recognise and accredit a much broader range of learning (like New Zealand’s introduction of the NCEA, for example).

There have been lots of other pressures  too – like economic and social changes, technological changes, and so on -  and secondary school systems have changed in various ways in response.

In 2008,  a book Jane Gilbert and I wrote  called Disciplining and drafting, or 21st Century Learning? Rethinking the New Zealand Senior Secondary Curriculum for the Future was published. One of our goals in this book was to look back at the way secondary education has changed over time, and to provoke people to think about whether we’ve yet reached a point where our system really promotes and supports the kinds of learning that we think are going to be important for life in the 21st century world.

In the book we drew a series of pictures to think help us about some of the shifts that have happened to secondary education over time. We call them our river metaphors:

The Forked River

The Forked River

The Forked River is our metaphor for the traditional senior secondary system. Here we have students paddling along through their senior secondary years, navigating through the “rapids” of exams and qualifications, and gradually getting sorted towards one of two pathways – the academic, and the vocational. If a student has been heading towards one fork of the river but decides they want to change to another, this can be difficult (though not impossible).  Indeed, in decades past, students were often told which pathway they were best suited for, usually based on how well they did (or didn’t) perform in their academic subjects.

The Braided River

The Braided River

The next metaphor, the Braided River,  is  is quite similar to a lot of senior secondary education systems around the world today. This  braided river metaphor acknowledges that people will take different pathways when they leave school, but the ‘rapids’ (i.e. qualification structures) are organised so that people’s options are not closed down early by early subject choices, and to allow people to change courses. Students can follow their interests, but also change their minds and work towards a different post-school pathway, all the while continuing to move down the secondary school river. They can mix academic and vocational learning throughout their secondary education, whatever they think they will do after secondary school.

Our third metaphor is similar to the braided river one, but it adds in a stop-off point—or safe haven—for students who are having trouble navigating or even staying afloat. These could be students with learning difficulties, or students with other difficulties in their lives that have meant that school has either not been a priority or has not met their needs. To avoid allowing these students to drown, or be washed up on an uninhabited part of the riverbank, a camping ground area is set up to give these students a different, non-‘mainstream’ senior secondary experience, the eventual aim being that they have the skills and confidence to go back into the river. The camping ground teachers are more like mentors and the students spend time learning together as a group, mixing work experience learning with programmes designed to develop life skills, personal development skills, and the educational basics.

Campground for "drowning" students

Campground for "drowning" students

In countries with these types of systems, educationalists are asking questions, like:  is it desirable to separate these students off in ways that are likely to limit their future options? Alternatively, aren’t there aspects of these non-mainstream programmes that all students would benefit from—like the focus on learning work skills, working and learning together in teams, different studentteacher relationships, and so on? Are the students in the river going to miss out on these?  Metaphors One, Two and Three maintain the traditional screening and sorting function of senior secondary education, but you can see how each new change is designed  in ways that genuinely attempt to better meet the needs of all students. With minimal disturbance to the traditional university-bound pathway, they broaden the choices and pathways available to everyone else, and provide more support for students who are struggling. However the traditional secondary subjects are maintained, as is the traditional notion of senior secondary assessment as a key adolescent rite of passage.

However in Disciplining and Drafting Jane and I explain why we don’t think Metaphors One, Two, and Three allow us to make the shift to the 21st century educational aim of building everyone’s capacity to learn.

The Networked Camping Ground metaphor below is our very beginning effort to represent quite a different idea about how we might think about organising our schooling systems (including the senior secondary system) to truly promote learning for 21st century for all students.

In Metaphors One, Two, and Three the river was central. It represented ‘the system’: a one-size/one-speed-for-all system that students must fit into and keep up with if they want to ‘get anywhere’. However, in Metaphor Four the river’s importance is greatly reduced. Its only role really is to bring students to the camping ground, and maybe carry them away later, when they are ready to move into the world beyond school.


The Networked Camping Ground

Metaphor Four represents a more personalised approach to learning in which it is possible to get somewhere by a variety of different routes, at a speed that suits the individual. Because, in the 21st century, we are less sure that we know exactly where that somewhere is (and what it looks like), we can no longer be so sharply focused on the one best way. Metaphor Four thus refocuses the traditional educational landscape. The river system moves into the background, as do the old hurdles and the old emphasis on subjects. Lifting everyone’s game is in the foreground. The central goal is to develop certain key competencies in everyone, to use—and build on—people’s strengths and interests, while also ensuring that everyone has the basics, via a system that allows people to follow personalised learning pathways.

The centre of the campground picture is the place where students and their teacher/mentors plan their learning personal programmes. The camping ground could have several different ‘loop tracks’ that lead to a variety of different learning experiences. Some of these could resemble traditional work experience programmes; or they could involve researching the skills and knowledge required for different kinds of jobs. Other experiences could involve designing, setting up, and carrying out a research project that investigates and recommends solutions to a real local issue or problem.  The purpose of these experiences, together with others, is to provide contexts which will develop students’ overall capacity to learn: to do things with knowledge, to be curious and questioning, to think and learn independently, and to evaluate—and improve—their own thinking and learning.

There is lots more we could say about our metaphors – but really the idea here is to use them as a stepping-off point for discussion. What do you think?

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O! She doth teach the torches to burn bright!*

February 26th, 2009

I’ve just read two shifting thinking blogposts about Shakespeare, one by Jane and one by Jim, and it’s inspired me to segue to a favourite topic of mine: Television.

From Shakespeare to Television? That’s a bit of a plummet isn’t it, from the heights of Western literary culture, to the morass of mass stupefication?

Not so! At least not the way I’d like to approach it. Here’s what I’m interested in – looking at fictional stories from television (or books, or film) and deconstructing these to examine some ideas about:
- how they represent how schooling/education “is”
- what they say about how we think schooling/education “should be”
- and (if I can find some good examples) what kinds of possible futures they can help us to imagine for schooling, learning, and education.

I’ve chosen my first television show/character to discuss: Loretta West from the utterly brilliant New Zealand TV series Outrageous Fortune. The show is a refreshingly original comedy/drama that is unashamedly grounded in kiwi (or perhaps more accurately, the mythological “Westie” – West Auckland) culture, language, and humour.

When Outrageous Fortune begins (season 1 started in 2005), Loretta is 15 years old and a student at Shadbolt High. The youngest child of Cheryl and Wolfgang West, Loretta has grown up in a family that makes a living on the wrong side of the law – through burglaries, break-ins, car conversions, robberies, and otherwise dodgy deals orchestrated by her father, usually aided and abetted by at least one of her older twin brothers. However, at the beginning of season 1, all this starts to change when Wolf is sentenced to prison for his last “job”, and Cheryl decides to turn the family around and go straight. Cheryl doesn’t receive rousing support or enthusiasm from her offspring. Yet she battles on, doing her best to carry the family through the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Naturally, enormously entertaining complications ensue.

Anyway, back to Loretta. What does she have to tell us about schooling, learning, and education? (And where is the connection to Shakespeare?)

During season 1 we learn that Loretta has been frequently truant from school. The reason for this is pretty clear: Loretta finds school boring, pointless, and an utter waste of time. What makes Loretta’s attitude towards school interesting is that she is obviously extremely intelligent. She’s a talented writer, she’s articulate, can speak confidently and argue her opinions. She’s no slacker; she has big goals for herself. Her single-minded goal at age 15 is to become a film-maker, and she’s already working on a screenplay with her teenage friend and fellow video store employee, Kurt.

Yes, Loretta is highly intelligent. However, she is also rather devious .

She discovers the perfect way to avoid her mum finding out that she’s not going to school: blackmail. Several years earlier  young Loretta took some incriminating photos of her young female teacher in “compromising” positions with Loretta’s older brother, and now years later is using them to keep her teacher quiet on her truancy. However, through a series of plot twists and turns this plan eventually falls through and Loretta has no choice but to go back to school.

In season 2, Loretta turns 16. This is both the legal school-leaving age in NZ, and the age at which each of her three elder siblings has left Shadbolt High. She is momentarily overjoyed – only to be foiled by her parents’ insistence that she remain at school to develop her full potential. So Loretta tries get herself expelled. But even this backfires, as her parents decide that she will have to attend a private Catholic Girls’ school instead. Finally, in a stroke of genius, Loretta cuts a deal with a young homeless woman of a similar age and appearance. The homeless girl will attend the school as “Loretta West”. In return, she receives a free education, a place to sleep, and payment. This frees the real Loretta to get on with her “real” life – managing her video business, and working towards her first film. As you can imagine, things don’t work out exactly as she planned, but again, I can’t give too much away….

In a truly digital-age convergence of television and the internet, you can read Loretta’s view of school in own words, right here on Loretta’s Blog. (Hint: that’s where you’ll find our first connection to Shakespeare….)

So what can Loretta West of Outrageous Fortune tell us about how schooling is? I know that Loretta is a highly fictionalised character, and many elements of her life have been exaggerated for dramatic and comic effect. But I think there’s something interesting simmering underneath this portrayal of a student’s deep antipathy towards school. In representing secondary school, Outrageous Fortune has played on a stereotype or cliche not uncommon in television or filmic portrayals of school: The disaffected student, who finds teachers boring and uninspiring, doesn’t do what she is told, and eventually goes on to become so disruptive that the school is happy to see the back of her. These kinds of students are rife in the film world – although usually they’re often set up to be saved by a charismatic teacher who “won’t give up on them” even when every other teacher has. Thus re-engaged, the delinquents become stars, show the world not to dismiss them while they’re at it. Think Dangerous Minds, Sister Act 2, Take the Lead, etc. These cliches about students “work” partly because they are grounded in truth. Plenty of kids are disengaged by school by the time they reach secondary classrooms. Plenty of kids, like Loretta, have extremely complicated lifeworlds that sit at odds with the culture and practice of the secondary classroom. Plenty of them leave early, as soon as they are legally entitled to, with few or no qualifications. And not all of them are as resourceful and resilient as Loretta West. The question is, do we think this is just “part of life”, “the way things are”, “the way they are always going to be”? Or can we imagine something different?

*The title of this posting is a line from Romeo and Juliet. In case it’s not obvious, this is an homage to the writers of Outrageous Fortune (the television series) who have borrowed both their show’s title, and the titles of each episode, from William Shakepeare.

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