What the resource is:
This Teachers TV programme explores an approach to learning and teaching at one school which encourages pupils and staff to work together, with a view to developing their school's transformation away from a ‘one size fits all' curriculum. An important component of this is the introduction of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Opening Minds curriculum with Year 7.
The aims of the resource:
The main focus of the programme is to report on an innovative approach to learning and teaching within a school context. The principal of Waingels College reports that the intention is to implement a curriculum which is more personalised, and which, through fluid and open learning, encourages life-long learners "fit for the 21st Century". The outset of the programme provides contextual detail, with teachers seen meeting on a weekly basis, during the school day, to discuss developing practice in view of the school's transformation. There are examples of personalised learning in two different lessons, where there is a focus on the young people taking ownership of their own learning. There are discussions amongst pupils and staff evaluating the Opening Minds innovations in the school.
Key findings or focus:
At the beginning of the programme, attention is drawn to the learning and teaching of the five Opening Minds competences (‘CLIPS'): Being a good Citizen; Learning to Learn; Managing Information; Relating to People; Managing Situations. Using cross-curricular project work, CLIPS is taught at Waingels College for one third of the week throughout Year 7, replacing some discrete subjects (history and geography are given as examples). The project was first piloted with the top set of year 7 pupils; positive results were demonstrated in their learning, providing the foundations to develop this approach more widely, although the principal feels it will take another three years to embed this change across the curriculum. Presently, from Year 8, the pupils do return to a more content-based curricular approach.
The impact of the innovation is being monitored through ongoing reflection and dialogue with staff and pupils. During the programme, Year 8 pupils are seen being interviewed about how they feel they have changed as learners as a result of the Year 7 intervention. Teachers are seen discussing pupils' enhanced awareness of their own strengths, including personal learning styles, visual representation of thoughts, researching and evaluation skills. However, other issues are identified, with respect to pupils' ability to use mapping skills in geography, a dislike for answering structured questions and essay writing, for example. One teacher comments that the pupils just want to, "whizz around, do research and put down key words". It is also recognised by some teachers that, because there was more time given to working collaboratively in Year 7, this can present difficulties in Year 8 in terms of individual learning. Also, some teachers may find it hard that the pupils were becoming more questioning. It is suggested by one of the teachers that a balance may have to be struck between the two approaches. However, the acknowledged difficulties of transferring skills from one subject to another when the secondary curriculum is compartmentalised into (content-based) subjects prompts one teacher to suggest that the school should continue the Opening Minds approach across the curriculum through to Year 13, and another that the emphasis should remain on process rather than knowledge/content beyond Year 7.
Peer mentoring during lunchtime vertical learning groups is also said to assist in breaking down age boundaries, and developing a notion of co-learners, thus creating a different way of learning and teaching which they intend to bring into the academic curriculum over another two or three years.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource:
The programme does focus on an innovative curriculum design where the pupil is at the centre of learning and teaching, based upon the RSA Opening Minds: A competency-based curriculum for the 21st century (DfES, 2006) document. The programme identifies an approach to teaching and learning which is particularly important to be aware of. Despite the inherent challenges and difficulties outlined in the programme, as teachers "create new types of learners", it does encourage young people to think about research and evaluate outcomes in many different subjects, gives young people ownership and encourages them to have a responsibility for their own attainment, and can cater for all learners. The issues that arise from the programme do need to be reviewed with reference to the teachers' individual styles of teaching and the benefit to the recipients of that teaching.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
This programme reinforces the availability of different learning and teaching approaches to motivate and include young people. The more varied skills that trainee teachers and teachers can be equipped with, the greater the opportunities that can be afforded young people. The very nature of this way of teaching, and the questions which might arise, for example, in the way young people might challenge the teacher, do present issues which some teachers and trainee teachers might not feel comfortable with. There is a need to be confident and knowledgeable about a subject and be prepared to open up discussion and encourage young people to question and evaluate for themselves, to encourage their future as lifelong learners.
The relevance to ITE students:
For ITE students it is important, for their own development, to be aware of the differing styles, strategies and approaches which can be adopted when promoting learning. The philosophical underpinning of the Opening Minds curriculum can be threatening to some, as it relies a great deal upon the confidence and willingness of the teacher, although it would be a school-wide decision whether to implement this. Of importance to teaching and where there is evidence of success, is when learners feel ownership of what they learn, within the parameters of the teachers' work. Then there is the possibility of considerable achievement and attainment for all, including those who are gifted and talented and those who are hard to reach.
Dr John Connell