A. has just turned 6. His parents have told him not to talk about the fact that he was selected to participate in a group for gifted kids in the local area, as it could be seen as showing off. He missed starting school in September because his birthday was a little too late and his kindergarten teacher doesn’t believe in pushing kids ahead.
His mother is thinking a little anxiously about what will happen when he starts school next year. Based on the experience of her older children, she tells me the class will be big and she doubts there will be individual attention. She wonders what he will do while the teacher teaches the whole class the letters of the alphabet, when he is already now reading books. I tell her that hopefully he will learn and flourish in spite of school and not because of it! It’s a picture that bothers me.
I know I’m lucky to work in a private school in a country with an advanced education system, but this can happen in Australia too. The more I think about it, the more incongruous it seems that the education system dictates what you can learn and when you can learn it, based on your chronological age. It’s equally bizarre that schooling is often a one-size-fits-all affair, which often doesn’t take into account the uniqueness of every learner. One size can never fit all…
Our new flexible learning space at my school’s K-3 campus has an open-plan layout that provides opportunities for specialised, personalised learning. It’s a setting that could facilitate teaching and learning in mixed age groups, in ability groups or in interest groups. Yet it’s proving challenging for many of the teachers. Have we done things in certain ways for so long, it’s difficult to even see other possibilities?
In the end it should come down to what we believe about teaching and learning. Last year, we worked together to articulate our school’s learning principles…
- We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
- Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
- Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts.
- Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.
- Learners need to feel secure, valued and able to take risks.
- Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
- Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.
If we really believe the things we say we do, we surely can’t still be teaching the way we used to teach…