If the Three Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic are still important (and they are), but they are not enough, and if “new” skills like emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility are increasingly important, and if an understanding of the arts, scientific literacy, technological literacy, fitness, wellness, (and so on) are also important, what are we to do? Certainly there is not enough time in a school day to address all of these really well. There are only so many hours in a day. In reality, there is not enough time in the typical 180 day school year to “cover” all the standards of most curriculum content documents. This is part of the reason many students can pass exams and get grades in schools all over the world without truly understanding the concepts underpinning these subjects. So if we are already short on time for traditional content, how do we make time for all of these other important goals? The answer is less about making time for what we teach, but more about how we teach and how students learn.
In a nutshell, we need to identify those dispositions we want to inculcate in students and use methods to teach even traditional subjects in ways that empower students to develop these dispositions. The ASH staff already spent considerable time last year working out a lengthy list of these dispositions. They are dispositions like resilience, open-mindedness, self-determination, and positivity, among others. Combined with guidance from outside organizations and thinkers, plus the input from students and parents through our recent input gathering exercises, we are ready to start forging a new way forward.
Teaching for deep understanding that goes beyond the final exam and growing the dispositions we want to see requires approaches that look very different from what we may have known as kids when the teacher stood at the front of the room lecturing, and we took earnest notes. This kind of learning still works, but it is not always the best method and does not necessarily build the kinds of dispositions we seek.
Try this thought experiment. Think about one thing you do in your daily life - something you learned recently and that is important for your success. How did you learn to do this? Maybe this is negotiation, managing a team of people to achieve an important task, preparing a healthy and appealing meal, planning an intricate family holiday, motivating others to want to work with or for you, and so on. To develop this skill, did you read something, watch others do these things, listen to a lecture or a speaker? Did you try various ideas until you found what worked for you? Odds are there are as many answers to this question as there are people reading it at this moment. In other words, when we are in charge of our own learning, looking for ways that work for us, we do not always use the same methods as others around us. And yet we learn and we probably learn more thoroughly than when we use a method imposed on us by others. We need to find ways to replicate this real-world learning even while our students are still in school. This is important work ahead for us all if we want our young people to take this most important skill - learning to learn - with them when they move on from schooling.
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