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Opening minds

Today I attended the Opening minds conference at the RSA in London.

Opening Minds is the RSA's integrated curricular approach to Key Stage 3 (ages 11-13), although it has been applied successfully to other age groups. It is based on five sets of competences related to learning, citizenship, people, managing information and systems. The first pilots were launched in 2001 so the first cohorts are about to take their A levels.

The conference opened with a short film made by pupils at the Bemrose Community School. School. It was clear that pupils and teachers thoroughly enjoyed the approach. The consensus was that the approach teaches pupils how to learn. Students appreciated having fewer teachers, particularly teachers who admit when they don't know things. The liked “having our own room”and not having to carry stuff around all the time. They also like setting their own timescale with time to complete work without being rushed and being able to carry on work in breaks or lunchtime. Working in groups, having fun, and doing presentations to parents and others, and “learning important things for life” were also valued..

Jonathan Scott, one of the first cohort, addressed the conference in an assured and focused way. He asserted that we need good teaching, good learning, and good assessment. The best teachers are those that break the mould; to be better than average, a teacher must teach in a way other than that which s/he was taught to teach. Good learning flows from pupil's passion for learning. Passion comes from engagement in selecting the learning process. Current assessment methods favour those with textual leanings and disadvantages the rest. Scott and his peers have proposed an approach to individualised assessment. They fielded penetrating questions with aplomb.

The six students on the panel ranged from years 6 to 13. They were articulate, enthusiastic, open, and challenging. Indeed, they were very much more articulate than the teachers that followed them onto the dais.

After the formal programme I spoke with a group of three teachers from an Essex upper school who seek to build an integrated curriculum for one day a fortnight. They seemed eager and engaged.


teachers from an Essex upper school who seek to build an integrated curriculum for one day a fortnight

I don't quite understand that statement. Do you mean teach an integrated curriculum one day each fortnight because their curriculum is otherwise not integrated? Could you elaborate on that?

Re: individual assessment - I'd be interested to know how Scott and his peers have proposed to implement an individual approach to assessment and how they will ensure that students are all being tested at the same level. Different types of assessments might cover the same material but at different levels - basic recall v. compare and contrast v. synthesising material.
In this context, an integrated curriculum is one in which it is difficult to identify the different subject areas as separate time slots. For example, if the students create a play about a furniture business, are they learning drama or business? In an integrated curriculum, the students combine the various subject areas into a programme that weaves those areas together. By contrast, the conventional school curriculum is divided into separate lessons for English, Mathematics, History, and so on.

As I understand it, the students are proposing an assessment by viva. They advocate the creation of assessment reports that describe a candidate's strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, they appear to seek a statement of an individual's learning styles and potential, and the extent to which that potential has been realised.
Integrated curriculum: ah, that's what I thought it was. The big thing when I was at university was "integrated thematic units" where you'd teach a whole unit that way, usually lasting about 2 weeks. I had write a couple of these units. One was on falconry and I forget what the other one was on, the Middle Ages or something like that. I liked integrating subjects but it was hard when you had to quanitify the time spent on each subject per day, i.e. 1.5 hours on language arts, 1 hour on math, 30 mins on science, etc.

Why only one day per fortnight for the integrated subjects?

By viva? I don't think we use that term here in the US. I think what you are describing is what we call a "rubric". http://www.middleweb.com/CSLB2rubric.html
One day per fortnight because that is all they can find without compromising their National Curriculum delivery.

Viva is a contraction of viva voce, an interview.
Ugh, National Curriculum. State curricula that have been enacted because of the dreadful "No Child Left Behind" laws have killed a lot of good teaching in the US.

Viva isn't typically used here in the US unless it is in conjunction with Las Vegas. ;)

September 2015



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