Month: December 2014

We don’t know what we don’t know… 21st century skills

We don’t know what we don’t know…


So we have to teach children not the knowledge base that is current, actually we only would ever teach a tiny, tiny fraction of the sum of knowledge, but we must prepare them for a world that does not yet exist.


I am trying to encapsulate those who proclaim against teaching children knowledge and would have us teach children skills, to learn usually.


This is an example of association by juxtaposition. One says one, or more, correct thing(s) and then places next to that a statement. The second statement then becomes true by association. You may want to get the logic of the correctness, or not, of the second statement.


The transistor was invented in 1948 in the Bell Labs in America. This functioned in a similar way to the valves that were used in radios and other electronic apparatus. It is unlikely that the explosion that occurred over the next few years would have been predicted by many around that time. The transistor led onto the integrated circuit, invented about ten years later. This led to the development of the electronic computer in, well it really depends what we mean. Valve computers, Colossus were doing sums in the 1940s. It was then not much of a jump to the large computers that were run using integrated circuits that we would recognise as the modern version of computers. In the 1970s the Altair, probably the first personal computer came into existence. In the 1980s IPM invented the PC, a portable personal computer. Apple 1 on 1976. And so on.


This is not a history of computers. It simply says that future developments come from current developments. If you understand how a triode valve operates it is not too much of a jump to understanding how a transistor and then an integrated circuit works.


Mobile apps for phones appeared in 2008. No one predicted that in 2000! But apps are simply developments from the types of programming that were going on ever since the computer had been invented. The job of ‘appwriter did not exist before 2007. Did our education system beat itself up because we had not prepared children to enter this brand new job market? No it did not. The knowledge we need to write apps is simply a development from existing skills. Were those entering this job market able to cope? Of course they were.


We are fine to just develop the curriculum as time progresses. Stuff we know now will merge into stuff we need to know in the future. Just like it always has.


Sure the future will be different but just because the calendar changed from 1999 to 2000 it does not mean we have to change the way we teach children. We certainly should not think that one day they will wake up and their brains have suddenly become inadequate for the world they are now in.

Stop this silly 21st century skills nonsense now.

Who is responsible for engagement, teachers or children?


Whenever I bring this topic up I get an anti response which is based around the idea that some children, because of some feature of the child, can’t be held responsible for engaging. I don’t believe, even if this were true, that the few should determine what we do for the majority. My work with EBD schools has further convinced me that nearly all children can behave properly in class and can learn effectively. The numbers that seem unable are a very tiny fraction and it might be that we need to work even harder on that tiny number.


What I am going to propose is based on the view that we lose something by thinking the teacher is responsible for generating lessons that are engaging. Let me deal with the opposite end of that spectrum. I am not saying that teachers should try to plan lesson that are devoid of engaging stuff. I don’t want lessons to be planned to be boring. Give me a little more credit than that.


Let’s think about what lessons might be like of children can be expected to engage rather than the current, widely held view that teachers provide the engagement. How would the planning teachers did change? How would misbehaviour now appear to the teacher, other children and school leaders if a child was responsible for engaging in the learning?


My thoughts are that we lose the opportunity to teach children how to engage if we hold teachers responsible for providing engagement.


So what would we need to teach children?


Listening skills: Children know how to listen but do they know how to listen carefully and how to begin to place what they hear into their thought processes so that learning can take place. I guess the title would be ‘Listening for Thinking’ to try to define what I mean.


Trust: Children should trust the teacher to provide appropriate learning opportunities. They should be willing to listen for as long as is needed. I can hear the sharp intakes of breath from some. This does not mean that the teacher should simply talk for England (or Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland). I would be very critical of a teacher who was continuing to talk when children were clearly not in learning need of the talk. I also would be very supportive of a teacher who was talking a lot if that was what was needed. Perhaps I hold teachers in too high regard? Perhaps I trust them to do what is best for their children in terms of learning? I think not.


Whenever I said to my mother that I was bored she told me to go and read something. She made it very clear that my feeling bored was a consequence of my own action/inaction. I was very rarely bored as a child and that was when the telly began sometime in the afternoon and never seemed to even begin on a Sunday. It was also black and white. Bored is a feeling the child needs to act on not something that the teacher needs to feel responsible for.


Learning is hard: It is. It needs hard work. We need to think and we are not primarily built for thinking. We have to put aside our genetic dispositions for scanning the environment for possible threats and focus for a long time so that we can learn. Children need to be told it is ok to feel lost, as though they are not understanding but with continued focus and application learning will happen. Teacher also need to ensure that they understand learning and how it is most likely to happen.


I think there are other things we would need but, for the moment, that is enough.


Perhaps more, later.