Related News

Home » Feature » Education

Getting a real gauge of learning

SCHOOLS love to celebrate their test scores: benchmark scores, SAT scores, IB, AP, and so on down the line. If your scores are good, your school is great, right? Not so fast. Fieldwork Education, an educational service provider based in the United Kingdom, is challenging that premise, and in the process, is trying to put learning at the center of school culture.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending a course in London run by Fieldwork and the European Council of International Schools. The International Leadership and Management Program, or ILMP as the course is known, involves two-week-long training sessions and a yearlong research project. During this course, participants develop and implement personal leadership projects that work to enhance learning in their schools. After all, according to Fieldwork's website, they are "all about improving learning." In addition to professional development opportunities, Fieldwork offers learning-focused curricula and toolkits that can be utilized by schools.

Fieldwork's Co-founder, Martin Skelton opened our first week of training with a session entitled "Faking it and Making it." He argued that it's easy to "fake" learning in schools. Take test scores, for example. Yes, a school may achieve great scores, but if teachers have taught to a test, or given the same test to students multiple times to ensure mastery, how much learning has really taken place? Moreover, when students cram for a test, we know they generally retain only 10 percent of what they have learned over the long term. Hence, students may be testing well, but this does not always mean they are learning well. According to Skelton, we should seek more authentic ways of ensuring that students are learning, but herein is a challenge. What does learning look like?

There is no simple answer to this question, but for schools moving toward a learning-focused orientation, a starting point is defining learning. Once a definition is agreed on, the process of looking for learning can begin. Tell-tale signs that students are learning are active engagement and increased peer-to-peer and teacher-to-student interaction. According to brain research, children sitting and listening to the teacher are likely to be learning less than children whose senses are being stimulated in a variety of ways. Assessment in a learning-focused school is also likely to be varied. Oral tests, project work, creative responses, team-building challenges, solving real-world problems, a healthy dose of student reflection and a balance of traditional written tests make up the assessment for learning smorgasbord.

Yet the key to a learning-focused school's success is not summative assessment. Making every interaction an opportunity for learning is the trick. This means evaluating learning on a daily, much more formative basis, as opposed to waiting for the next round of exams. Creating a healthy culture of staff, student and parent leadership in the school is also important. School leadership is hard work, if not a delicate balancing act, as well as a great learning experience. The learning-focused manager distributes leadership so everyone can contribute and learn from the challenge of taking the school forward. Fieldwork also advocates for learning communities rich in staff professional development, in addition to increased opportunities for parents to gain deeper insights into the school's philosophy through hands-on workshops and school involvement. The bottom line is that everyone is constantly learning, not only students.

Having said this, perhaps the greatest indicator of a learning-driven school's success - even more so than the list of universities its graduates go on to, which is often linked to standardized test scores - are the accomplishments of its alumni. As a result, the importance of creating alumni networks and staying in touch with leaving students is critical to knowing how well a school is facilitating learning over the long run. This is why learning-focused schools also engage children in service work and the pursuit of good deeds outside the classroom. Such learning teaches pupils to give back to their community in an active and philanthropic way, and could be spoken of as the summit of all learning endeavors.

Sadly, Fieldwork's promise of "great learning, great teaching, great fun," doesn't always market well to families in parts of the world where communities still value high exam scores over all else. Walking by a colleague's office each day, however, and reading his mantra printed in bold letters on his notice board gives me hope: "ROME WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY." Change is coming, and for the time being, at the very least, those of us who embrace Fieldwork's ethos will find it harder to fake learning, if not compelled to look beyond test scores to validate our cause. At the end of the day, this may be enough.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend