The Modern School – Adaptive Education Beyond 4 walls

The Journey

I read much about the industrial model of school still dominating school thinking and design today for many school systems around the world. But times have changed and many teachers working in schools know that our response to guiding the learning process for our students needs to change as well.  The industrial model was for another time and another generation that will not continue to serve the current generation of students.

Photo reprinted with permission by Unsplash. Photo by Sonja Langford

There is an old joke about three professions, a Doctor, an Engineer and a Teacher, that get transported ahead in time 100 years from 1900 to the year 2000.  The Doctor walks into a surgery and cannot believe the modern equipment, let alone how to use it.  The Engineer sees the modern buildings and architecture and is totally a-gasp.  Meanwhile the teacher walks into the classroom, picks up a piece of chalk and starts talking! There is an element of humour but I think also truth about this joke. There would be many teachers, possibly younger or older than me, who would have not modified their approach to teaching and learning in their entire career.  Why is this so and how can it be allowed to exist in a world that has been rapidly changing due to the technology revolution occurring in the past twenty to thirty years?

I was recently watching a TEDx talk that engaged me greatly and got me thinking about the state of education, not only in the world, but in my own country of Australia and more specifically about my own school and students.  Grant Lichtman made some outstanding summary points that were sublime and resonated with me. Across 30 years of experience he found:

  • Students need to be taught CRITICAL THINKING and PROBLEM SOLVING today.
  • Students should be ASKING QUESTIONS more than giving answers today.
  • Schools should be thinking across systems rather than teaching SINGLE subjects today.

Grant also travelled across the USA visiting over 60 schools and found that:

  1. Schools are not good at INNOVATION – in essence they are risk averse.
  2. For every one school that had a problem there was another school that had solved that problem
  3. CHANGE in education is REALLY HARD. Why?
  4. REFLECTION for students on their learning is as important as the time schools devote to traditional “learning time.

Barriers to Change in the Modern Era

Lichtman reflects on John Dewey’s model of Progressive Education and argues schools need to forgo the industrial model of schooling and return to the progressive era of essentially learning by doing.

How John Dewey Reformed Education

Dewey’s pragmatic and democratic approach to schooling may not stand out as radical today, but in the early and mid-1900s his view of education was in contradiction to much of the then-present system of schooling. Dewey’s approach was truly child-centered. A child-centered approach to education places the emphasis of learning on the needs and interests of the child. In Dewey’s view, children should be allowed to explore their environments.

He believed in an interdisciplinary curriculum, or a curriculum that focuses on connecting multiple subjects, where students are allowed to freely move in and out of classrooms as they pursue their interests and construct their own paths for acquiring and applying knowledge. The role of the teacher in this setting would be to serve more as a facilitator than an instructor. In Dewey’s view, the teacher should observe the interest of the students, observe the directions they naturally take, and then serve as someone who helps develop problem-solving skills. (taken from Adam Jordan).

Lichtman says schools need to INNOVATE to break down what he calls the “dams” and “silos” and open the doors to the learning environment that educational pioneers like Dewey and Montessori created. But this isn’t easy so suggests schools:

  1. Schools teach into the unknown – no good preparing them for our world;
  2. Help students become self-evolving learners
  3. Schools and school systems need to become self-evolving organisations that constantly embrace change

He says INNOVATION is all about the future not the past so schools should focus on this guiding imperative to build the MODERN SCHOOL that is constantly adapting to the needs of students now and into the future and this means rethinking schooling and how we teach.

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