Sunday, January 31, 2016

Thinking Big

I'm about to start facilitating another online workshop for the IB, and because of this I've been doing a lot of reading around transdisciplinary learning.  One article I've looked at recently is Thinking Big: a conceptual framework for the study of everything by Marion Brady.  Brady writes:
Our current fervor for highly specified standards for each academic discipline requires students to view reality as composed of fragmented and unrelated bits of information.
In fact this is a view that the PYP tries to get away from - with it's emphasis on transdisciplinary teaching and learning.   As I was reading this article I started to think about the difference between teaching elementary students and teaching secondary (I've done both - I think I've probably taught elementary for slightly longer).  Often secondary teachers are seen as "specialists" and elementary as "generalists" and many schools seem to think that specialists are more valuable.  Once I even worked at a school that paid secondary teachers more!

Over the past 2 weeks we've also had school visits by the teachers who are part of the TTP (Teacher Training Programme that ASB runs for local teachers who work in NGOs in Mumbai and beyond).  I like seeing our school through their eyes, and I like listening to how seeing what we do challenges their beliefs about teaching.  Brady writes about two theories:  Theory T and Theory R.

  • In Theory T, the T stands for "transfer".  People who support this theory believe that knowledge is contained in the teacher and other resources such as books or maybe the Internet. The challenge for educators in this theory is to transfer this knowledge to the students.  The success of this is measured through some sort of a test that checks to see if students can recall what they have learned - in its most simple form (multiple choice) it requires students to recognise a correct answer amid 3 incorrect ones.  I'm thinking that many of our TTP-ers have come through this education system, and many of them are working in schools where this is still the norm.  It must be a huge task for them to change this culture.
  • In Theory R, the R stands for "reorganise".  This theory does not assume that students are empty vessels waiting to be filled, but that their brains are already full of prior knowledge that can combine with new learning and be reorganised to become more useful.  Students in these schools are not expected to passively absorb information, but instead are expected to actively process it through higher level thinking.
Bearing these 2 theories in mind, Brady calls for educational leaders to "create a true general education curriculum, a curriculum that respects human nature and the brain's holistic approach to making sense of experience."  He ends his Thinking Big article with a quote from Buckminster Fuller:
Schools are in the knowledge business. Any school that does not send its graduates off with a thorough understanding of the seamless, systemic nature of knowledge - and the ability to use that understanding to live life more fully and intelligently - is failing.
Photo Credit: krystian_o via Compfight cc

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