Sunday, March 23, 2014

Approaches to teaching and learning

So often I've been asked what it is that I really love about the IB programmes that I've taught for so much of my career.  What is it that makes them so different from national educational programmes or "regular" methods of teaching?  It's hard to put my finger on just one thing, but I think that I really like the fact that the IB pulls on best practice and pedagogy from around the world, I like the way that it is forward thinking and takes account of the important future trends in education.

Around the world we are seeing a movement away from a knowledge-based, exam-driven educational system to one that is more performance-driven and student-centred.  I've just read back over that last sentence and now I'm not sure if that is really true.  I do hear a lot of talk and read a lot about the movement towards more critical thinking, creativity, metacognition and so on as important goals for education - but is it really happening?  Let's examine some of these trends:
  • Multiple intelligences:  I first came across this theory when teaching at ISA when we had a guest, Dr Thomas Armstrong, who introduced us to Howard Gardner theories.  Later, when doing the Harvard Project Zero summer school I had the chance to revisit this theory.  I think it is true to say that this has had an impact around the world, and that as a result education has become more student-centred to take account of the different learning styles of students.
  • Critical thinking:  regarded as a 21st century skill, the ability to pay attention to details, select relevant information, analyze and evaluate it and then reflect on it are all regarded as higher order thinking skills that are the goal of many different education systems.
  • Creativity:  another 21st century skill as we want students to be able to look at problems in new ways in order to come up with different ideas and original solutions.  Research tells us that constructivist approaches are more likely to help learners to become creative thinkers.
  • Metacognition:  when I first saw this term as a PYP thinking skill I was surprised - could primary school children really be aware of their own thinking?  Now I have come to see that in fact they can - and as a result they can take control of their own learning.
  • Social skills:  another area that is becoming increasingly important in education along with becoming a self-directed lifelong learner.
  • Constructivism:  the idea that knowledge is constructed rather than transmitted/received.  This perspective has the teacher moving more to the role of a facilitator and emphasises the social aspect in the construction of knowledge.
  • Student-centred/differentiated/individualized/personalized learning: which highlights the importance of inquiry and project based learning in a collaborative environment with students working in small groups to solve authentic problems.
  • Technology:  is becoming increasingly important around the world in the design of learning environments and curriculum.
The above ideas have been taken from an IBO publication by Na Li about Approaches to Learning.  I'm interested to read on about curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

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