Archive for September, 2014

3rd Millennium Learning isn’t rocket science.

September 29, 2014

The Naace 3rd Millennium Learning Guides (3ML Guides) gathered a week ago for our annual meeting, to review the standard of the 3rd Millennium Learning Award and to discuss what we are seeing in schools that are taking education to the next level. It’s getting ever clearer that we have two kinds of schools, those fully capitalising on all the educational opportunities of the connected world and technology and those not doing so. Of course it’s not the technology that causes 3rd millennium schools to have such a considerably better educational offering for their pupils, it’s how the school leaders take advantage of it.

Today saw research released by BESA that shows what a divide in the use of technology has developed in our schools. The real picture is actually a bit worse than the research shows, because not every school that has loads of technology and good networks gets the impact on learning that they could. Naace has a small failure rate amongst schools going for the 3rd Millennium Learning Award though we try hard to advise schools not to go for the Award until they really are getting the impact. Some schools just use the technology to support didactic teacher-led 20th century approaches and the engagement they get from pupils is transient; they soon realise they are not being enabled to get the full benefits because the schools and teachers try to control how the pupils use technology and the Internet, instead of letting them fly (safely!).

The evidence base the 3rd Millennium Learning Award has created is fabulous, videos from over 80 schools showing what they are doing and talking about why and how. It is patently clear from these videos that the reason these schools are providing such a better education and getting higher achievements of all kinds is actually very simple. The pupils are considerably more engaged in their learning than pupils in most schools. And that leads directly to significantly more time learning; more concentration in class and more time spent talking about their learning with friends and working on things themselves. We have known at least since I went through teacher training in the 1970s, and read books by the likes of John Holt (How Children Learn, How Children Fail), that when children become engaged in learning their achievements can streak ahead in very short periods of time. It’s quite a rare pupil who concentrates properly in class, as we have seen on TV in the Educating Essex/Educating Yorkshire TV series.

What is slightly rocket science, though it makes perfect sense when you think about it, is how these 3rd millennium schools are getting this much higher engagement. They take a really rather psychological approach. For example, we know from lots of research that providing better and more feedback to pupils on their learning is one of the key ways to help them raise their achievement. In the Award videos we see lots of examples of how the schools use audiences to radically increase both the stimulation to try harder and the amount and quality of feedback. But children have to be ready and happy to put their work in front of an audience knowing it may be criticised. So the schools put lots of effort into creating a culture of collaborative learning, where the ‘game’ is to help each other learn, and failure is the first step on the route to success, and brains are like muscles that get stronger and grow when exercised. And the schools make sure this is a culture that ALL the pupils take ownership of, even if this starts with success in non-curriculum learning and personal qualities that are praised, while they gain the strength and confidence to expose their weak academic prowess to comment by peers and parents.

This is just one example of this psychological approach taken by the schools. One of my jobs following the 3ML Guides meeting is to refine the diagram we have developed to explain to other schools how they too can take education to the next level. Somehow we have to get the message through to all schools that the way to achieve the next level is to first and foremost ignite pupils’ thirst for learning. Putting pressure on pupils to learn and on teachers to get them to hit pupil achievement targets is a small part of the mix, but it is destructive if pupils are not ready to accept the challenge. Far better to first establish the culture where the pressure to achieve becomes intrinsic, part of the collaborative competition between growing children, where as much kudos and status can come from helping someone else learn as from one’s own achievements.