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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Stephen Heppell in Melbourne

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 12, 2008

heppell2Today I was lucky enough to attend a Policy & Research Forum and hear Professor Stephen Heppell talk about 21st century learning.  Lucky, because I suspect that I was one of very few practising classroom teachers at the event.  I sat amongst a bunch of principals, and I think that most of the other people there were bureaucrats or consultants.  I am lucky that my principal thinks it’s important for teachers to attend things like this.  

Anyway, it was an inspiring opportunity to listen to a visionary.  He began with a proposition: he thinks that something has changed in the world, because everybody wants to learn.  I think he’s right.  In my 30 years of teaching, we have shifted from a situation where kids couldn’t wait to escape school, to kids who love it, and adults who choose to engage in education in formal and informal ways throughout their lives.

I liked the way he began with a question: what’s a literate teacher?  According to the kids, it’s being able to

  • Edit a Wikipedia entry
  • Choose a safe online payments site
  • Upload a video to YouTube and make a comment
  • Subscribe to a podcast
  • Manage groups in Flickr (and be able to spell Flickr)
  • Turn on or off predictive text on a phone

(I can do all of these except the last one.  My phone is a bit of a mystery to me…)

Prof Heppell is on a campaign for learning.  What’s the most common method of teaching reading?

  • Copying from books or the whiteboard ( 52% .
  • Listening to teacher talk (33%)
  • Taking notes (25%)

And how do students prefer to learn?

  • in groups (55%)
  • doing practical things(39%)
  • learning with friends (35%)
  • with computers (31%)

These preferences are not just what the kids (predictably) want, there are also all kinds of adult experts who confirm that these methods are the most effective for learning: World Bank recommendations, the Head Honcho of Education in Britain, Corporate types and so on. We know this already.  We’ve included some of these ideas in charters over the years, and Web 2.0 is in our new strategic plan because our in-school research showed us that the kids are way ahead of us with IT.  But, system-wide?  It’s all so slow to change!

heppellThe wishlist was long and I didn’t write it all down, but here’s some of it:

  • stage-based not age-based learning
  • 24 hour access to learning (Ten years ago I had an article about this – and 7 days a week schooling – published in The Canberra Times!)
  • more all-age schools
  • multi purpose spaces (no more long corridors)
  • learning by doing
  • assessment as a guide to learning strategies
  • creativity and entrepeneurial activities
  • collaboration not competition
  • assessing ICT using latest technologies (i.e. not essays that nobody does once they leave education – unless they write for The Monthly or Quarterly Essay!)

Already knowledge industries surpass manufacturing in the US, and if it isn’t the same here in Oz, it ought to be.  Exporting things in expensive carbon-emitting ships is not the way for our country to prosper in the 21st  century: we should be selling ideas and innovations on the net.

I also like Prof Heppell’s insistence that assessment practices in Oz should not follow the mistakes made in Britain.  Teaching kids to regurgitate knowledge they’ve ‘already met’ is silly when what we really want from our education system is to teach our kids to be able to respond to situations they’ve never met before.

And lest we felt gloomy about how far we have to go, he reminded us that we are very lucky here in Australia.  We have a culture of literacy here in Melbourne (We’re a City of Literature after all!) and we have the potential to be world leaders in education.

What would be my measure of success for an education system of the 21st century? A huge increase in the number of bright and brilliant young people wanting to take up teaching as a profession and join in the adventure.

Recommended sites to visit are ThinkQuest, NotSchool, Teachers TV and Prof Heppell’s own sites: Heppell and CEMP.

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