Kicking off LearnFest 2

Having answered the call for open-minded free thinkers able to reimagine schools we are interested to hear from you in the blog.

Throughout the LearnFest we will post articles and ask provocative questions to inspire and guide our journey

To start this process this we offer you something recent from Yong Zhao.

Our opening provocation:

After reading Zhao, and listening to Conrad Hughes during the LAHC Octoberfest, which ideas resonate most strongly with you when reimagining schools and not going back to the same education?

Be brave and make an opening comment and others will develop the conversation by commenting. If you have other inspirational resources start a new post and initiate a new thread.

34 thoughts on “Kicking off LearnFest 2”

  1. “… Global and digital competencies have long been advocated as important capabilities for the 21st Century (…) But schools have rarely seriously devoted much effort to these two competencies, despite the wide acceptance of their importance in theory…”

    I agree with this statement 100%, ad lately I find myself trying to figure out WHY. WHYYYY?!

    To convince people to change, they need to be sure that it is worth the effort… why is it, then, that people aren’t convinced?

    Has it got to do with the fact that it is hard to show proof of the acquisition of these competencies? Are we lacking evidence? Or is it something else?

    • A good question Sol. I wonder if the main reason is that cultural practices have an enormous inertia. Schools everywhere invested in computers but nothing changed. In our public systems the computers often remained in their boxes. I think it is a mixture of not knowing how a new technology can transform things, and the pervasive feeling that what I have always done worked for me and that these new toys do not seem to ‘improve’ things, so why bother…

      • Agree…
        I wish we would stop thinking of “what has always worked for us teachers” and start focusing on what might work best for learners today…

        • I agree; I think is the fear of letting things go and working out of your comfort zone. But not only for teachers but also with parents, change can be scary. We have an opportunity to prove them wrong.

          • Hello Dear Fellows.
            Yes they need to overcome the fear of change. Moving from confort zone to learning zone will be a great step in the long way of lifelong learning.
            Thank you for sharing!

          • Exactly! We should be the agents of change. We are the professionals in this matter and parents should trust us. Also, as teachers, we can not be afraid of trying new things and never stop learning.

          • We have to be careful here, Claudia. We are the professionals, but we need to have parents with us. The children belong to them, and they know their children better than us.

            In a one size fits all system then sure, the system and the professionals employed by that system will tell parents what has to be learnt by their child, when and how and then what evidence will be used to assess whether it was learnt (or remembered). Then the same professionals will run quality control measures against a pre determined rubric, give a grade, filter out the excellent and average products and fix the defects.

            If we reimagine learning, then parents become a vital part of the narrative.

            Within this reimagination, we can consider the extent to which society has subcontracted out learning to teachers and with it to what extent parents are customers and schools service providers. In this scenario, parents will never be satisfied, and schools will always have dissatisfied customers. All sectors of our communities face the same issues. The health system is not responsible for our health, we are. The police are not responsible for our security; we in our communities are. In the same way, families are responsible for bringing up their children, and school supports them in partnership. These relationships will only change if we get the right people in the room, value what they bring, listen and work towards a more inclusive version of our community.

    • Hi Sol, John and Pia. I think what you have said Sol is echoed in Yong Zhao’s blog post concerning the fragmenting of school into individual disciplines. If we still have a ‘computer science’ subject, it is easy for teachers to think that certain skills are covered in that subject and that subsequently there is not the need to utilize technology to its fullest in their own classrooms.

      • Good comment Rachel.
        Are we giving the chance by including those moments in our teaching so students make connections between transferable skills from one subject to the other?
        Maybe we can also redefine the boundaries between disciplines we teach and make bigger connections.

    • I feel so identified with your impotence of not being able to explain the Why? Why are some schools and educators afraid of moving away from timetables, subjects and student grouping? Evidence is out there (if oy look for it) and acquisition of competencies and the proof that a cross curricular approach develops them is also out there. Wow totally agree is it something else?

  2. Teaching in a new environment online has brought to light, in a very tangible way, the construct that is education. Once we view it as a construct, which has been developed over time based on the socio- economic needs of societies we can then evaluate its efficacy in terms of dealing with the needs of today´s youth. It calls to mind a graduate school teacher of mine who basically described our current form of modern education as a slow process of deadening individual thought and stultifying the intense creativity we all initially possess. I don´t fully agree with his condemnation but there is some truth in his idea which I see in Zhao´s reflection, suggesting that the basic framework of education as we know it , “standardized organizational practices in dividing time and space, classifying students and allocating them to classrooms, and splintering knowledge into subjects” does not always promote real learning.
    Our new teaching platform has no walls, is geographically limitless and has the potential to do away with the divisions Zhao cites. As educators, we are finding ourselves probing the landscape for meaningful experiences for our students in order to reach them, new methods we perhaps have never been so desperate to find before. This situation has propelled us to re-imagine and re-design our teaching and learning space. I have found virtual class to be a powerful tool to unite new communities through service learning, invigorate the accessing of global content, heighten the engagement of students with course content and real life applications and even re-think priorities in terms of the utility of assessments and meaningful takeaways from activities. Strange that a new landscape has appeared considering we are in quarantine and supposedly in confinement. It is a telling illustration of the space we now occupy as educators; seemingly limited but perhaps if approached in the correct way, limitless.

  3. I like the idea of a ‘grammar’ of schooling, so pervasive and invisible that it seems natural to us… We all have frustrations with what we call traditional learning, as opposed to inquiry-based or project-based learning, and those of us who have started down the latter road have had our work cut out for us in terms of matching those objectives to the designing of appropriate timetables, not to mention appropriate forms of assessment of student work, etc. I look forward to discussing ways in which we might reconsider how schooling (or education) is organised!

  4. I think there were several interesting ideas in the article. For example, I think that how we divide learning into lessons, units, years is problematic. Each individual learner’s experience and progress is different, and there needs to be a great deal of awareness of this.

    Similarly, we tend to treat learning as subject specific. Often this is appropriate, as a students progression is always underpinned by knowledge. However, there are times when different subjects may be closely aligned and could better cooperate.

    • Hi Luke! Controversially maybe, I am looking at Yong Zhao’s post with a critical eye and comparing it to some training that we received at our school from Chris Quigley, whereby he talked about how we cannot ask students to be creative if they do not possess certain skills and knowledge which they then combine to allow creative thought further down the line. Before CQ came to our school, I was all for a cross-curricular approach for example, but his explanation of cognitive overload really resonated with me. I see you state that often subject specific learning is appropriate and I have to say that I agree; I do think it is important for students to learn knowledge and skills in isolation first so that they can lay down the foundations, then they can apply these skills to different contexts, which is where the cross-curricular and PBL approaches then come into play.

    • John, I love this and use it all the times with kids, and the right adults. I generally link it with David Perkins (there is a 2 minute version) and there could not be a greater contrast in approach to the same message. With adults we can also go to Dewey (anything) and then we have all the bases loaded.

  5. Kevin Bartlett just suggested that he does the same at CGC workshops. Perkins is so good and is in the background of all the changes we have been introducing in our schools. Lifeworthy learning sums it all up, but there is also the balancing act of national curriculum requirements, etc.

  6. This year has brought us many important and deep reflections to our lives both personally and professionally. Focusing on the latter, it is interesting to see exploration on how we can reimagine our schools without schools themselves. Regarding Zhao’s view on this topic, “Instead of speaking schooling, let’s speak education. What the public wants, and the society needs is not schooling; it is education” which is tightly connected to this witty rap ‘Don’t stay in school’, many queries come to my mind about how we could reinvent the system. Nevertheless, I understand it is not an easy thing, otherwise we (the system) could have done it long before. We have received training to make our lessons livelier and inquiry-based, however, we cannot forget the national curricula, in which we devote much time. So how could we make this happen? Focusing more on developing those personal and academic skills and concepts that are worth for life, especially now that we have brought the schools to our homes… I think this is something that still needs to be inquired and reflected on.

  7. I really enjoyed the tofu analogy at the start! I have always wondered why people would want to eat a vegan chicken nugget when it is well known that an actual chicken nugget is a pretty unhealthy and unsustainable food source that happens to taste nice and be a quick an easy meal. Why replace that with a tofu nugget, which may be a little more healthy but most likely be flavorless, still sustainable questionable because of mass production but convenient for quick meals. Why not replace the chicken nugget with a colorful meal made with fresh natural ingredients, It might take longer to prepare, and some people may have to learn to enjoy that food but in the long run it is healthier, tastier and more sustainable. Thanks for bearing with this analogy so far! This is what I believe we are doing with education, we know that our educational model isn´t working but we are looking for a quick cheap alternative to improve it. Let´s not replace our education system with a vegan nugget. Let´s completely reconstruct it with new and better ingredients.

    It is essential to put the learners at the heart of this and to remember that our aim is to prepare our students for their futures (not for the next grade, not for secondary or for the IB diploma etc but their futures in general). As others have said, I believe compartmentalized subjects etc does not do this. We need to prepare students for a rapidly changing world.

    I would like to see SDGs at the centre of learning with a classroom without walls approach that allows us to address well being, personal development, service learning, knowledge and understanding etc at the same time.

    • Totally agree! the SDGs should be what the curriculum centers around as these have the most significant future implications. As with the splintered subjects debate, ESD should not be an elective or a volunteer post, it should be embedded in each and every interaction.

      • I actually think it is important that ESD has its own place in the curriculum to provide the depth needed to address its many levels of application. Perhaps we should view aspects of it similar to other core subjects, for example English and the acquisition of vocabulary and literacy as an element in all classes. Could aspects of ESD be incorporated in all classes in a a similar way? On another note, I am enjoying the new guide in IB English which incorporates SDGs into the curriculum.

  8. I agree that the foundation of school as we know it for centuries now lies in the act of dividing, be it dividing time up into slots and creating timetables or dividing the student body into groups. It is scary to think about the learning opportunities we forgo in the name of order organization. But at the same time, these are the two things that were challenged at the beginning of the pandemic. We were all forced to reimagine the way we organize our lives, businesses had to reorganize their activities and governments had to try and regulate everything with very little evidence to work with and no background experience to draw from.

    Now that we are many months into process, the thing people are longing for the most is being back to normal. Many are rushing into that causing a second wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths in their countries/communities. When it comes to school, year groups, subjects and timetables are the norm. They are the ways through which different stakeholders understand school. Breaking with that norm would represent an undertaking that would have to be signed off by students, teachers, administrators, families, policy makers, etc.. The social disruption caused by the pandemic could certainly be as good as an opportunity as any. However, at the beginning of this global crisis school was not a priority and neither was learning. And now we all prepare for a new normal that resembles the old one, but with masks and social distancing. That window of opportunity is closing.

    Transforming education by challenging the very notion of school will not happen organically. The chance to make it happen just happen, it will never fall from a tree once it is ripe. Just like any other revolution, we don’t wait for the apple to fall down from the tree. We got to make it fall.

  9. Is it a thing of having everything “under control”? I feel that many educators feel this way, they need to have everything under control, and now that I think about it, there is a whole lot of parents that have the need to control everything also. This pandemic has definitely taught us that there is nothing that we can control. It is time to move forward, hand in the magic wand and trust our students. They are capable human beings and will learn self-control when we stop controlling them. I love the idea of giving schools a different name, change the “basic grammar of schools”, move away from timetables and student grouping by ages. As I write this new terms they seem so exciting but unreachable…thoughts?

    • Yes, and I think that is why in order to make that change successfully we need everybody on board. More than a bunch of passionate teachers, we need passionate school administrators, parents, etc.

      • Yes, Elizabeth, I do agree that we need everyone on board, but how do we do this? How do we make some educators change the way they judge learners and even colleagues? Are we all ready to start from the bottom up? I certainly am!

    • Hi Ana,
      I totally agree that we need to trust our students. They are definitely capable of doing more things that we can imagine. We (teachers and parents) tend to keep them safe and not push them too much, but this situation had shown us how much they are capable of doing and achieving. One of my concerns, are students who need learning support. How can we make things better for them? How can we redesign education to meet their needs?

  10. Interesting reading that shows how the circumstances of this year have highlighted our strengths and weaknesses in many respects. I fully agree with the idea of taking this moment as a great opportunity to reflect and rethink education, defining the learner as the core of all our efforts and developing adaptability in our systems.

    • It is incredible how sometimes we forget to ask ourselves what are we doing and what can we do differently.

      When I was in university when we talked about Educational trends, the first comment I always heard was that “we have to change everything”, but that’s not true. In the text, they mention several aspects that are part of education that have had to change due to COVID19 and when we return, they may as well. So, what can we rescue from our experience in the classroom and virtual classes?

      So, YES, I look forward to tomorrow’s ideas.

  11. “Typically, these innovations have not lasted for long.”
    We are these innovators now. We are standing in front of this new path that takes us to a different kind of education. All of us have learned something new and useful, applied different tech tools in their lessons, as it has not been possible not to do it. It has been a MUST for all of us over this year. What do we need to continue improving our education in future? CONSISTENCY! These innovations they talk about in the article didn’t work just because of lack of consistency. This new knowledge and skills that we acquired can not disappear when we come back to school. We need to keep developing and applying it in our sessions. Units, subjects, timetables? Doesn’t matter. If we are consistent in making at least 1 change at a time, it will be a new school in a hundred years.

  12. Reimagining education

    It strikes me that in order to change what we have we need to go back to understanding the basic reasons and requirements of the education system that we inherited and understand its shortcomings in relation to our current needs and realities.

    As we are all aware the great educational ideas of latter days were stuffed into an industrially tailored suit that bore similar hallmarks across the globe. Sure allowances were made to accommodate slight variations in form but on the whole it was a system designed to meet some very basic and specific purposes, purposes that were not always in the best interests of learning.

    Today that suit is looking tattered and torn. Initially society was at a loss without the child care function that schools once fulfilled, parents were unsure how to cope and employers, the self-employed and the unemployed have had to come to terms with having children at home. And whilst this has been difficult and even disastrous for some, it has been an enlightening experience for others.

    The great advances towards universal literacy and numeracy now seem to be overshadowed by an increasingly apparent technological illiteracy that is expanding the divides within our societies. Technological literacy, once perhaps seen as an elusive and exclusive educational privilege, overnight has become an essential basic need. In Mexico online learning was so unrealistic for the compulsory education sector (educación basica) the authorities have had to explore TV and radio broadcast alternatives whilst privileged international schools zoom on.

    Let’s also not forget the social norms and values that schools were expected to uphold to varying degrees and forms depending on the prevailing dominant religious or political authorities of the day. During these times schools had to deal with sanctioned and unsanctioned knowledge (Thatcher’s Clause 28 for instance) whereas today we face a need for digital global citizenship skills and an ability to self-regulate and filter information.

    And then of course, once we had dealt with child care, basic literacy and numeracy, upholding, or more often than not counterbalancing, social and political tendencies, there was of course the combine-harvester of education, the external examination industry. An industry that today seems to show the same level of adaptability to disruptive change as was demonstrated by the Kodak Company at the turn of this century.

    If we are to change this tired and tattered suit then we will need to be part of a more holistic movement to rethink what we really value and see as important in the current global context. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2018, that by 2030 almost 40% of current manual labour positions will become automated, resulting in a shift of 42% from harder to softer human skills requirements, with 68% of current primary students destined to start work in newly emerging employment areas. This disruptive change cannot be addressed without a more flexible, adaptable and responsive education system, otherwise our schools will become COVID Kodaks.

    The novelty factor of online learning is waning and student interest will soon start declining with differences in opportunity and privilege continuing to widen unless we rethink our approach to education and schooling and make a radical switch to meaningful learning.

    Companies and businesses are waking up to the obvious benefits of allowing employees to work from home and we are likely to see this becoming an increasing work style phenomena. With the massive disruption that COVID has brought to the employment sector in general we may well see an increase in shared jobs and a rethinking of hours and the 5 day / 6 day working week. Perhaps an opportunity to work less and relax more may well be one essential route to taking some of the pressures off our increasingly overstretched planet, as long as we can find a balance between personal expectations and workable realities.

    Can we really afford the environmental costs of sending our children to school everyday? And how can we balance this with the need to give our children the opportunity to develop the essential social and emotional skills that they learn from being in the physical presence of one another? How do we redefine compulsory basic education and what it means in terms of rights, time, space and meaningful knowledge, skills and content?

    Can we take concepts such as Thornberg’s ideas on creative learning spaces and adapt them to a more flexible post COVID educational model? Can we combine virtual and presencial campfires and watering holes and be flexible enough to allow children to spend a little more time in their caves? Listening to UNICEF’s needs for online tutors to assist with national basic education programmes to bridge the learning opportunities divide, does this not open up the opportunity for life changing learning experiences for older, privileged students to take action? And surely with technology and connectivity there has never been such an accessible mountain top for publication, exhibition and sharing our creative successes in a way that is far more meaningful than a Kodak Grade B.

  13. A very interesting article and I am certainly looking forward to seeing how we can shift and innovate the educational model; learning from our online experiences. It does pose for me, certain queries. For example, previous unsuccessful innovations which someone in the comments questioned consistency. I for one, wonder whether we are forced to return to previous practices when we find that some innovations do not allow us to meet the needs outlined to us by national curricula or examining bodies. Having previously taught in the UK, I remember a drive for cross-curricular, play-based work across key stage 1. This was necessary and at the time innovative but curricula needs and expectations forced teachers into formal teaching within subjects again. Mixed age groups have been found to be highly successful and as the article says- why do we insist on grouping children according to age? However, again this can have the effect of teachers feeling ‘stretched’ depending on what the ‘end of year’ expectations are- complying to 2 or 3 sets rather than 1. These are things which are beyond the control to some extent of those who deliver education as they are set by the ministry of education in each country. And so, I wonder what can we do to think outside the box, innovate etc whilst acknowledging those constraints that we all have.

    • A lot of your points really resonate with me and I do agree about the reality of constraints placed that exist which can limit whether we can action some desires.
      Yes for years many schools have pushed towards cross curricular teaching so it is not a new thing. What I am excited for now, is being online is giving limited contact time with the learners and the new reality, that, ok, I don’t have time for 4 hours of English,4 hours of Maths, 4 hours of Science etc. , how can we be creative and link these together? so they can still learn the essential skills to apply elsewhere? Obviously this takes thinking and good communication with learners and parents who will be looking towards the traditional clear units of discipline, but this is a great time to start. Let’s see where we go.

  14. Reading the article pushed me to consider what moved me when I was a student. I immediately thought of a 10th grade history teacher, who used historical fiction and a unit on mercantilism, in 8th grade, which employed what we’d call today Project Based Learning. These units stood out because they shook the status quo, even gently. They popped, because they subverted the quotidian experience that was “school.” Now, even more than back then, I think it is imperative that we add dynamism to learning. This probably means trusting the students more than we feel comfortable; this probably means stepping out of our comfort zones. and giving up some semblance of control What better moment, then during this pandemic-shock to the routine, in which everyone must relinquish any thought of control, to experiment with new ideas like these. I don’t know where we are going, but I’m excited to find out.


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