What is learning?
Schools and those who design and deliver the curriculum need to have the answer to this question. The current reality must link learning to the learner and how they are coping and able to absorb learning especially where remote learning is a new experience.
“Learning….that reflective activity which enables the learner to draw upon previous experience to understand and evaluate the present, so as to shape future action and formulate new knowledge.” John Abbott 2000
OFSTEDs most recent briefing in their COVID 19 series describes how schools are delivering the curriculum now and when schools were closed. There are no judgements, opinions or suggestions just observations as to what is happening. However, the examples that are included here do reveal how some schools have made the decision to abandon the planned curriculum in order to deliver more appropriate content that is accessible to the learner.
“For instance, one school had taught a poetry unit during the summer because it was more accessible for pupils who were learning at home than a Shakespeare unit which would be revisited in the autumn term.
Some primary schools had decided to focus on skills….and were teaching historical enquiry skills or mapping skills in place of some new historical or geographical content.”
Research from the Education Endowment Foundation emphatically suggests the focusing on developing skills in this new and challenging world of blended learning is by far the best way to ensure that learning does indeed take place. School leaders, subject specialists and all those who have a hand in delivering the curriculum should stand back and look closely at the potential for experiential and conceptual learning to take place.
A paper from the National School Improvement Network from 2002 describes the outcomes of effective learning as:
- more connected knowledge
- use of a wide range of learning strategies
- greater complexity of understanding
- enhanced action appropriate to goals and context
- increased engagement and self-direction
- a more reflective approach
- having more positive emotions and affiliation to learning
- defining one’s future self as a learner
- greater facility for learning with others
- more of a sense of participation in a knowledge community
The messages in the list above mirror those of EEF, UNESCO and OFSTED writing today about how to ensure positive learning outcomes for all. The curriculum is only useful to the learner if they see that its content is appropriate to their experience, their future aspirations and connects with what they already know and can do. The curriculum must ignite and motivate the learner to want to find out more. This is not possible if the content is inaccessible, the learner can’t read or can’t make sense of what is in front of them. If the subject is irrelevant or out of kilter with their current adversity learning is unlikely to take place.
Focus on the learner and the current reality, re-define the learning goals to be much more about the skills learners need to learn such as reading for meaning, listening actively, enquiry, sharing learning with peers or parents, teachers or siblings, making connections with their own experiences, using their interests as starting points for conceptual learning or subject content. Much of the current commentary and research evidence points to the need to focus on the learning and not simply on the curriculum content. Where learners have the metacognition that allows them to think, reflect and learn the content is far easier to access.
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We have a range of other online off the shelf courses, live webinars and In a Nutshell sips of training that cover a wide range of relevant and essential CPD for schools and colleges. Remember that the research also makes very clear the absolute importance of ensuring all staff have access to professional development.