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Reflections on #TLAB13 6 of 6: Final keynote from Bill Rankin [@rankinw ]

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This is the final post of six reflecting upon the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference held at Berkhamsted School.   This post will provide an overview the closing keynote session by Bill Rankin.

The session definately came away with the prize for most entertaining, and in the graveyard slot this was needed.  Especially for people like me who have trouble concentrating at the best of times!  I’m going to focus on some of the main themes that I took away from the session, and my thoughts about them.  I’m not certain about the scientific basis for some of this as I’m still following them up, however the points have created some interesting discussion.

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The first thing that got me thinking was this slide.  In a nutshell, young people’s brains are inactive during class.  I tried to link this to my own experience.  Of course, the immediate reaction is to dash the notion on the rocks of sillyness.  However, think beyond my own class room and department and to some of the other lessons I’ve observed this year and there is a ring of truth.  Furthermore, talking to students this week about this and they can relate to it.  Now, this may be anecdotal but does confirm something that I believe in strongly and that is students shouldn't be allowed to be passive within lessons.  They should be doing.  Don’t confuse this with being practical.

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The next feature that stuck out was the analogy made between classrooms and corn fields.  I found this useful as food for thought.  My interpretation is that a corn field is devoid of most life and doesn’t encourage relationships to form between different organic elements.  The ultimate reason for this is that the end process (harvesting) needs to be mechanised to maximise profit.  Schools in the UK at the moment could be seen to be trying to maximise classrooms for increased attainment (not achievement).  This narrow focus on assessment outcomes means that many of the rich experiences needed to survive and earn in the world at the moment are not developed.  Yes, there are relationships in nature that are harmful as well as beneficial, the same as in schools and classrooms.

Rankin offered two models on which to pin education:

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The first to encourage learning interactions, aiming to create experiences that will develop the whole young person.  How for example do we measure compassion?

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The second is a process that teachers could use in designing learning experiences.  To me, this is similar to the outdoor education world’s ‘Plan-Do-Review’ process.  Bill offered two examples of this in action and also linked it to working with young children:

  • What do you feel should change in your school?
  • Imagine what the school would be like if that was changed?
  • How could we do something about it?
  • How do we share this?

I’m using this idea at the moment with Year 8 when we are investigating the sustainability of our school.

There were a couple of points that didn’t sit too well with me:

  • The well-worn ‘world in their pocket’ view that young people have lots of technology.  Yes, the majority may well have access to recording studios and the like, but do they have the maturity to use them to greatest effect?   The danger with using examples like the one below to illustrate what children could do is that these individuals (in my view) would be doing amazing things whatever their technological context.  They aren’t creative and successful because of technology, they are just creative. Having said this, I subscribe to the view of building real audience into tasks and doing things because you can!
  • The second is that I remember exploring diversity and the effect of disability by having to stay in a wheelchair.  A similar thread is embedded in the our curriculum where children have to wear glasses that force them to act like someone with no hearing or a different language.  Could be done by wearing hats too. 

Anyway – it’s getting late!


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