I don’t think schools work

I don’t think schools work.

It may be the summer term slump setting in, however the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that schools don’t work.

My questions

Why do we group students by age rather than achievement?

Why are lessons delivered in discrete one hour segments in different subject areas?

Why do students automatically progress to the next key stage when they have not mastered the previous one?

Why do we rely on poor proxies for learning like timed assessment to measure student’s understanding?

Why do we insist on giving students ‘important bits of paper’ then wonder why they lose them?

My dream school

Lessons would be a thing of the past. I spent most of my early teaching career working towards perfecting the one off hoop jumping ‘outstanding’ lesson. Reflecting on this, despite much feedback from observers over the years to the contrary, I don’t think ‘outstanding’ lessons lead to outstanding learning.

Learning is an abstract thing. Learning takes time and needs time to be forgotten and revisited before it becomes embedded. Bjork outlines this succinctly here

My dream school would base the curriculum each month on a series of themes with students grouped by prior attainment rather than age. The unit would be immersive, delivering skills and content holistically over the month. Rather than teacher time being used to supervise students completing tasks – there would be a menu of workshops signposted to the students to develop their understanding and provide targeted personalised intervention and enrichment, with a final project demonstrating their mastery of the skills and content related to the theme.

No student would move onto the next theme without demonstrating mastery of the previous one – and no student would be held back if they have achieved a level of mastery above their peers just because of their age.

Assessment would be in the form of a presentation of their final project to a team of teachers who would question the students to ensure they understand all of the topic rather than just the bit on the test paper. Gaps in knowledge would be identified and further workshops signposted to ensure when ‘re-interviewed’ the students have mastered the theme.

Each student would have a tablet that they used to complete each project – they would be encouraged to read around the subject and would have an online portfolio of work ready for revision in a much harder to lose format than ‘important bits of paper’.

My dream in reality

As I am not in a position to make such drastic and sweeping changes to the timetable and curriculum, there are some small changes I intend to implement in my own teaching.

1. At least one assessment a term will be in the format of an interview and presentation to check student’s learning

2. At least one ‘workshop’ week, working with colleagues timetabled at the same time to provide specific and targeted intervention

3. Not moving onto the next unit just because there is a data deadline. I will submit an assessment grade for the unit on time, but if it is not to standard we will revisit and relearn the required material until it sticks before moving onto the next unit.

What do you think?

As ever a critical friend would be appreciated and comments are welcomed.

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