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What Should Children Be Learning At School?

Discussion in 'Secondary' started by seniorjoel95, May 26, 2019.

  1. seniorjoel95

    seniorjoel95 New commenter

    What Should Children Be Learning At School - 26th May 2019

    Written By Joel Senior, Trainee Secondary School Teacher

    This article has been written to give an impactful understanding of why the school system is outdated, unimpactful, and why children now are not being given the necessary tools to succeed later in life.

    While the society we live in today is changing at an increasingly rapid pace, the foundations of education have not changed much since the start of the industrial revolution, roughly 200 years ago now. For instance, to work in the industrial sector requires a regimented personality designed to follow orders, a cohesive structure, and very few creative ideas to complete the work at hand. Children go to school to be told what to do, to follow instructions, to work at the same pace as everyone else, to have strict timing structure throughout the day, to absorb information and remember it all until a final series of test papers judge how much you’ve remembered, not how you can think or perform as an individual. Children are still being prepared in schools for work in the industrial environment, a field of work which is nowhere near as prominent in today’s society. A lot of workplaces now require critical thinking, creative approaches to solutions, and good communication skills. The largest industries in the UK currently are financial and banking, information technology, healthcare, logistics, and education. The 3 C’s (critical, creative, communication) are essential tools to become successful in these work environments, so why are they being overlooked so much in schools?

    The arts in school nowadays have recently come under scrutiny, which for me, as a music teacher, is quite disheartening. But taking emotions out of it, the arts are great ways to learn the 3 C’s mentioned earlier. The arts is a very broad subject which includes elements such as drama, music, art, dance, media studies, and I’m sure many more. These subjects all promote critical thinking in a way which encourages students to form their own opinions of different works in the respective fields, to analyse controversial topics and have a say on why they may or not be impactful in society then and now, and to have independent thoughts on others work. Creativity is inevitable in the arts, honing in on your own ideas and producing a piece of work which is unlike no-one else’s. To provide a sense of individuality and to develop potential and talent. Communication comes where children have the chance to work together, to fuse a range of ideas into a single performance or study, and giving feedback to others.

    These skills are not exclusive to the arts though. Core subjects like Maths, English, Science, Geography, Languages, History (the Ebacc subjects which will be discussed later) can develop to become more accustoming to learning about individual thought as opposed to facts and figures.

    For instance, maths has a huge focus on learning algebraic formulas, area and perimeter, transformation, reflection, and plotting graphs, if Mary has 8 apples and Tom has 5, when will the train from London arrive in Manchester. All jokes aside, I am writing whilst looking through a year 11 mock GCSE exam paper, and all of the questions require one single answer and whether it is right or wrong, and if you use the wrong method to get to that answer then you are losing marks. This is not helpful for each individual student, but more so for the collective achievement of the school. Mathematics should promote different solutions to get to the same result. I understand that there are some methods that work better or worse, but to teach every student the same method is not viable, since as we know each individual learns in different ways. To offer different solutions and to encourage students to think openly about how they would reach these solutions, seems much more inspiring. Any maths teachers reading this, please feel free to comment and let me know if I am talking nonsense.

    Now for English, this subject seems to already encourage free thinking and individuality, which of course is fantastic. However, it is a subject where I have seen more students than ever get tired of and lose interest quickly. Reading and writing is essential to any work profession I can think of, so how can we inspire children more to get involved? Learning about Shakespearean plays in nonsensical and boring and highly outdated. Current literature with a good plot, interesting characters, and relevant today would be much more sensible. A few examples would be 1984 by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Much like I do with my music lessons, I introduce modern music and technology into the classroom since it is more relatable to this generation. Again, any English teachers reading this and want to have a discussion, leave me a comment.

    Science, a world of discovery, wonder, and imagination. Or, memorising chemical formulas… Science perhaps offers the most potential for critical thinking and promoting creative ideas. I am all for learning about the basics of physics and how the forces of earth are apparent, the biology of humans and animals, and how different chemicals can react to one-another, but there is a big hole in the subject which is causing students to lose interest quickly. From my own observations in various schools, behaviour in science lessons is much worse than in any other, simply because the content of the lesson is either too boring or too complicated. There are too many facts involved with science which makes the subject both boring and complicated, where as I said before there is so much potential for critical thinking. Instead of asking what the temperature of the sun is, ask more open questions like what would happen if the earth lost its gravity for the day? This is just an example, I’m sure more qualified scientologists could do better, but the idea is to educate children about the universe and provide questions to get them thinking about how this force of nature could impact us in different ways. This would in turn help students to think for themselves and to get creative with their responses, further developing their own understanding and why some of their answers are either completely illogical or downright brilliant. This article is already too long, so if anyone is interested in this topic them let me know I can offer some more of my thoughts

    I’m going to move onto the English Baccalaureate certificate ( Ebacc for short). This is a measurement for schools based on performance in the subject I mentioned earlier; English, Science, Maths, Geography or History, and a Modern Foreign Language. The way that all of these subjects are being taught offer very little to the 3 C’s, which is having a hand in cutting arts classes and discouraging schools to promote arts as a GCSE option. The Ebacc was introduced in 2012 by Michael Gove as a way of seeing which schools would rank higher based on qualifications in these subjects. Students are further being secluded from their individual development by taking subjects just for the certificate as opposed to nurturing their own talents and fulfilling their own desires. I fell victim to this trap during my GCSE years and as a result, I failed to study the subjects that were more desirable to me and I even failed to pass MFL, so didn’t even get the certificate. This system is completely bogus and is not helping anything other than a the school’s ego. It is proof that some schools care only about their own progression than seeing their students fulfil their own destiny and to pursue a field that they could potentially do great in. If schools were run more like schools as opposed to businesses, then I think we might see a progression in UK education. The Ebacc should be scrapped and I sincerely hope that Damien Hinds acts accordingly.

    If you are reading this last paragraph, then I appreciate you taking the time to listen to my thoughts. I am currently a trainee teacher at a secondary school in the district of Surrey, so of course I am still learning. This article was just to offer some of my ideas of how the educational system could evolve to be more relevant to today’s society, and how individuality and nurturing the individual is a more effective way of seeing success in the future. I know I went off on a tangent during the middle section, but I hope to offer some more ideas that swirl around this playground of a brain that I have, so watch this space!

    Catgirl1964 and Dodros like this.
  2. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    A very interesting piece and I was reminded of my own thoughts when I made my début in the teaching profession back in the early 1970s. My academic background then was in MFL (French and German) and during my GradCertEd year (as it was known back then) enabled me to reflect on educational issues before embarking on classroom practice.

    One of the subjects I enjoyed most of all on that course was Comparative Education, the study of what schools and other educational institutions abroad do to prepare their charges for life, work and further study in a variety of different countries with the ultimate purpose of comparing their theory and practice with our own in the UK. My passion for comparative education led me eventually to do a part-time research Masters on the teaching of MFL in East Germany (GDR) while working full-time as a French and German teacher here in a North East secondary school. My choice of research topic not only gave my brain a proper workout but also changed some of my attitudes and assumptions about the teaching of MFL and while studying the GDR's English and French school textbooks

    I grew to appreciate how much the culture and politics of a country influences and shapes how MFLs are taught. There are no absolutes in subject pedagogy, just priorities determined by governments, universities, employers set against a background of national tradition. In my case, it was clear that what the GDR wanted to be done in MFL lessons wasn't the same as what was done elsewhere, including the UK, and the differences weren't only to do with politics but also with the geographical context of the country.

    What I am getting at here is that I wish there was more recognition of what happens in school classrooms abroad, and I don't mean English-speaking "international schools" following UK curricula in foreign countries. Our leaders give the impreession that they know next to nothing about the way subjects are taught in ordinary schools in mainland Europe, let alone in other continents.

    There is so much excellent practice abroad, particularly in Eastern Europe when it comes to teaching MFL to school students with sensory impairments. MFL in general, and the teaching of English as a foreign language in particular, has been much more successful elsewhere and yet few of us have bothered to find out why and to determine whether examples of good classroom practice can be imported from abroad. Getting better informed about what is happening in other countries' schools would benefit teachers of all subjects in our own country, not just MFL, but the full gamut from Art & Design through Maths to Science. So what about it?
    seniorjoel95 likes this.
  3. harsh-but-fair

    harsh-but-fair Star commenter

    As a music teacher how do you feel about all the children in your school orchestra playing the notes that they have arrived at using their own method and to playing the piece at a pace that is right for them?
  4. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    It's great to see that idealism is still alive and well in trainee teachers...we need their rose-tinted views to counter the jaded whinging of old fogies like me.
    We use the 5Cs:
    • Collaboration.
    • Communication.
    • Critical Thinking
    • Creativity
    • Compassion.
    I feel sure this should be scientists!
  5. seniorjoel95

    seniorjoel95 New commenter

    I teach jazz, and when it comes to certain pieces, different students learn best by reading the music, others by listening. I would always encourage listening though. Listening to a note and finding it on their instruments is a great skill to develop as it generally improves musicianship and aural skills. And guess what, it involves "finding it for themselves".
  6. seniorjoel95

    seniorjoel95 New commenter

    Collaboration and compassion are great elements to include also, I will research this further. If it wasn't for us young guys trying to get it fresh then the system would be controlled by outdated ideologies ;) And yes you're right, that should've said scientists.
  7. border_walker

    border_walker Lead commenter

    plants? why have you dismissed them?
    Stiltskin likes this.
  8. Stiltskin

    Stiltskin Star commenter

    I'm guessing @seniorjoel95 has listened to/read Ken Robinson?
    A_Million_Posts and seniorjoel95 like this.
  9. seniorjoel95

    seniorjoel95 New commenter

    I was generalising, of course the plants deserve a shout out too :L
  10. dunnocks

    dunnocks Star commenter

    how much wonder, discovery and imagination do you imagine is possible without chemical formula?

    I think you are being totally unrealistic. We teach the foundations for each subject, Creativity is of no value unless if is underpinned by academic understanding of the topic you are being creative with.

    Absolutely the best scientists have imagination. But they need the facts first. Or they have nothing to exercise their imagination on.

    Would you enter a building by an architect that has used their "creativity" without any understanding of the properties of the materials he has built with? Or have an operation performed by an "imaginative" doctor who doesn't understand human biology?

    I admit I didn't read every word of your opening post, but you started of saying we are supposed to be preparing students for the working world. That requires academic rigor. Not ancy fancy flights of wild idealism

    Yes, you have a LOT to learn
  11. seniorjoel95

    seniorjoel95 New commenter

    I think you have misinterpreted what I have said slightly. I do think it it is important to learn the basics, the foundations on which we can apply creative thinking, and that was mentioned in the same paragraph.

    If we are skipping over learning the basics then of course that is not viable. The whole point was to apply these basics in a way that can promote children to think independently. It's about what the basics are, and HOW and WHY the basics are too. People who get to the top of their profession don't just rely on academic rigor, they also have unique view points and question everything that is put in front of them. Great academic minds are also critical thinking minds.

    Thank you for the feedback though.
  12. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    I assumed the OP was merely giving some examples, not an exhaustive list. But this stood out for me too.
    A few quotes from Einstein, the last being exactly the problem with our school system.
    "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
    This quote perfectly captures the power of imagination, and the limitations of knowledge. In many ways, knowledge is easy to acquire; but imagination takes bravery and persistence.

    "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."
    One of Einstein's greatest sources of inspiration was nature. He reminds us of its power to inspire, inform and ground us in solutions with a broader planetary impact.

    "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
    Einstein calls on us to create our problems rationally, and solve them creatively. To do so requires changing established thinking patterns, and switching into a creative state of mind. This means leaving the office, taking a walk, listening to music, embracing your inner child and seeing in terms of what could be, not what is.

    "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
    This quote brilliantly reminds us of our unique talents and what we alone can offer the world. Find what you're good at, hone in on it and own it without apology.

    The main thing we old folks need to do is not zap the enthusiasm and idealism of trainee teachers. The profession needs teachers keen to challenge and argue for something better.
    Piranha and phlogiston like this.
  13. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    For most questions at GCSE, any valid method of getting to the answer will gain method marks, unless there's been a radical change since I last looked at markschemes. There isn't an exhaustive list of all possible (and sometimes inefficient) methods in the markscheme, but that doesn't mean they can't be used.

    (This is not, however, true for multiplication/division in the KS2 tests, where if it is wrong, then it has to be the standard method to get the method mark. I think that's a pity, and I'm with you there. But as far as I know, that has not been imposed at GCSE.)

    Where there are multiple ways of tackling a question, that's something that's well worth discussing in lessons, and exploring which works best. For some things, there is more than one way to think about it, and different students will click with different explanations - and that's something that should happen in good teaching. But there's also a place for "this is the best way to tackle this situation".

    Do you have examples of the sorts of questions where you think students are railroaded into a particular method when there are others available?
    phlogiston likes this.
  14. seniorjoel95

    seniorjoel95 New commenter

    27 (a) Show that the lines y = 3x + 7 and 2y – 6x = 8 are parallel. Do not use a graphical method. [3 marks]

    The above was taken from an AQA paper last summer. It is also more that teachers tend to discourage new methods (from my own personal experience as a classroom assistant). Though of course, I may be wrong...
  15. gainly

    gainly Star commenter

    The example you've given is not a very good one. The point of the question is to see whether the students understand the equation of a straight line. A graphical solution would not show this. Also some kids may have graphical calculators which would give them an unfair advantage. For most maths questions any valid method should receive marks but generally teachers would try to show them the easiest method.

    To go to your more general point, unfortunately the system is very much dominated by exams. It's not so much a matter of what should they learn, but what do they need to learn to pass the exams. The Gove reforms have put more emphasis on memorising facts and learning formulas. If we'd had Einstein as Education Secretary instead of the appalling Gove I'm sure we'd have a much more enlightened curriculum.
  16. gainly

    gainly Star commenter

    p.s. Please don't confuse scientists with a weird cult which kidnaps people.
  17. border_walker

    border_walker Lead commenter

    Then plants and animals would make more sense, as humans are animals.
  18. border_walker

    border_walker Lead commenter

    [QUOTE="caterpillartobutterfly, post: 12833513, member: 2999026"

    The main thing we old folks need to do is not zap the enthusiasm and idealism of trainee teachers. The profession needs teachers keen to challenge and argue for something better.[/QUOTE]
    From my observations, this happens when they start teaching real students, certainly in secondary.
  19. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    You have an interesting set of ideas.
    I have some disagreements.
    There's a lot to be said for understanding the present world by following the instructions of those who know more than you.
    Only one you have shown mastery of another person's business can you be creative with it.
    I think you'll soon appreciate the pupils who follow instructions as opposed to those who do not.

    Creative accountancy is another expression for embezzlement.
    IT requires an appreciation of logic and the ability to relate it to the real world.
    If I take myself to the doctor with an illness, I want a rational analysis of my symptoms and an evidence based treatment.

    Critical thinking is different in different places. Critical analysis of a music performance is different to critical analysis of experimental data.

    ..because these techniques are very often the means to solve mathematical problems.

    Funnily enough this is a question many many science teachers ask.

    was devised by a politician that many teachers detest. Most teachers do not believe in it. Schools follow it because essentially they are compelled to by the Government.

    Good luck in your new career.
  20. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    Well that's a refreshing idea for a new poster...
    Maybe the OP met a couple of my chemistry lecturers at university...it would be easy to think of one or two as members of any weird cult!
    LOL indeed! Given them a few years and they'll be as cynical and negative as the rest of us...no need for us to help the process along!
    border_walker likes this.

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