My classroom

9 September 2016

The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards; and curiosity itself can be vivid and wholesome only in proportion as the mind is contented and happy. ” (France, cited in Richards, 2006:14) This ethos is imperative to a successful learning environment and will be the philosophical foundation on which all learning and administrative functions within my school will be structured. Teaching is an art and every artist needs good tools and an open environment in which to work.

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A dynamic socially interactive environment which nurtures curiosity and inquisitiveness blended with support and appreciation for the needs and goals of the individuals within the school and the school community itself. Exploration and investigation will be facilitated and encouraged by teachers so that students are given the opportunity to think critically and become individual, successful autonomous learners and collaborators. The classroom is not only the core center for learning but also a source of inspiration, research and reflection on curriculum development.

All subjects will be given an equal level of importance; problem and design based projects will play a role in blending the boundaries between subjects to achieve a more fluid learning environment. There will be links with the global community as a resource that plays a practical role in the educational process. As we move forward into the 21st century new skills such as problem-solving, cultural awareness and digital fluency are crucial in order for the next generation to succeed in life and be happy which is essentially the purpose and aim of education.

The Ideal We live in an expanding multi-cultural digital age; as a result how we think, learn, communicate, process and source information has changed drastically in recent times. This rapid technological advancement is set to continue and for that reason it is vital to incorporate it into our educational system. Digital media has infiltrated almost every part of daily life and schools should embrace this digital world which is a source of limitless information and a valuable resource.

Changes in curriculum are necessary to adapt the process of learning so that it meets the needs of our digital society and students who have become accustomed to interactive technologies as a way of life. There is a huge gap between how we embrace and use technology in society and within our educational system that needs to be addressed (Strommen and Lincoln, 1992:467). The school will aim to produce students with digital fluency, awareness of global citizenship, interpersonal and cross cultural communication skills that all support and complement a foundation of core knowledge.

The combination of these competences in conjunction with a focus on emotional intelligence and a flexible approach to learning will empower students and prepare them for success in life. The development of all different aspects of the self will be adopted in order to foster positive emotional qualities and develop practical life skills. “institutions of the future need to dedicate themselves much more intensely to emotional and social capabilities and convey a more extensive, value-orientated education concept.

The importance of acquiring factual knowledge will decline significantly, in favour of the ability to orientate yourself within complex systems and find, access and creatively utilize relevant information. ” (Clouder, 2007:1) The Classroom The meaning of the word educate is derived from the Latin word educe “to draw out, to develop from within” (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989) therefore helping students learn how to think independently and create their own path through discovery based learning is the focus of the classroom. “creative thinking is itself a way of learning something new.

You are not quite sure where your trail of thought will lead you. So there is a connection between thinking and learning or rather trying to teach oneself” (Adair, 2009:52) Classrooms will be fully digitized with individual computers, digital whiteboards and most importantly an area for discourse and group interaction. The teacher’s desk will be located near to the group interaction area and not the focal point of the room in order to create a communicative class environment placing importance on student participation and using the space as a pedagogical resource.

The classroom is the core center for student learning and development, with teachers playing a key role in the process of developing self-directed learning as advisors and facilitators providing support through guided cognitive and constructivism methods. The internet will be utilized with a pedagogical purpose. Creating an environment in which students are exposed to technology as an infinite provider of information, an aid and resource to learning that needs to be filtered and analyzed.

Students construct knowledge based on previous understanding and connections made between new information and old information. Sourcing and selecting new material and integrating it with what they already know in a logical structure (Mayer, 2003:17). This is a complex balance to accomplish that requires active student driven involvement and self-motivation in order to develop self-organized learning capabilities through discovery based learning.

Sugata Mitra (2013) has shown in his recent studies that groups of children have the potential to learn almost anything when given access to relevant information in an open an engaging environment thus arousing curiosity and encouraging children to inquire and learn for themselves. However, if students only focus on personal interests without being aware of societal issues this will limit their development (Bottery, 1990:12). Children actively build and develop their ideas and the teachers’ constructivist role is to facilitate and accelerate this process by encouraging students and providing guidance.

Students require freedom to become active independent learners but simultaneously need some guidance in order that their learning process results in the construction of knowledge (Bruner, 1961 cited in Mayer, 2004). Skills need to be developed so that students can identify, synthesize and analyze useful information (Trilling and Hood, 2001:9). Incorporating the use of innovative computer software systems has the potential to personalize learning so that students can develop at their own pace.

Students can progress at a pace that not only challenges them but also ensures conceptual understanding of a topic before advancing forward. Software systems, like Khan Academy, provide students with this ground-breaking opportunity. The software is developed so that failure is not penalized but looked at as a challenge to get to the next level, similar to a computer game, which fosters a different mentality towards learning (Khan Academy, 2013).

Students are given more responsibility to monitor their own development and have a sense of what they have achieved and the time to fully comprehend complex topics without the pressure of having to perform in exams, keep up with a group, or in the case of high achievers be bored within a group. It cultivates students who “assume a greater responsibility over their own learning” (Barron and Darling-Hammond, 2008:4). It also provides teachers with automatic diagnostic data about student development so that they can fully utilize class time for productive interaction and personalized guidance.

This supports Vygotsky’s concept of the ‘zone of proximal development’, in that it highlights actual development and fast tracks the teacher’s ability to offer support and guidance in areas of difficulty and therefore advance potential development (Vygotsky, cited in Pollard, 2002:113). By using new technologies teachers can quickly avail of data to determine the students who need extra assistance and speak to individuals or create groups so that peers can support each other.

It provides teachers with tools so they can utilize their time more efficiently and supportively furthermore creating time for interactive project based work that complements core learning knowledge, applying it to real life situations and engaging the students collaboratively. Collaborative learning methods have a positive effect on student relationships, attitudes towards learning and sharing ideas and as a whole it improves the process of learning (Barron and Darling-Hammond, 2008:12).

The student is an active member of the class community and the teacher is a member of this community providing resources and activities. Students can contribute to their learning content using tools such as podcasts, screencasts, and blogs monitored by the teacher and accessible to both the class and the global community (November, 2012). With the use of technology it is possible to create educational links with school communities and experts from around the world with the objective of learning from each other and improving global communication skills (Hew and Brush, 2006:224).

Creating multimedia resources and social media links integrates technology by using it as a means to support and further learning as opposed to learning about technology independently. In conjunction with this a focus on multi-cultural studies will provide students with a broader cultural understanding of the world, learning from other cultures and connecting this with their own interpersonal relationships (Trilling and Hood, 2001:10). Learning how to find, interpret, analyze, synthesize, and share information enhances the development of the knowledge age competence skills as defined by Trilling and Hood (2001).

Working in collaboration on problem-based activities guided by the teacher, structured in a way that combines a variety of core based knowledge alongside interpersonal skills, project management and cultural understanding leads to creative thinking and the development of innovative ideas. This active collaborative social interaction creates an environment in which the group developmental level is higher than the sum of each individual’s personal level of achievement (Tharp and Gallimore, 1988 cited in Polard, 2002:256).

In theory this is a valid learning model however as Bottery (1990:13) argues this places a huge level of responsibility on the teacher with regard to constructing the appropriate teaching materials and selecting the issues to be discussed. The role of the teacher is complex in more ways as it is “difficult to conceive of pedagogically sound ways to apply a technology when you are not familiar with it” (Strommen and Lincoln, 1992:473).

Training and support are crucial to the integration of technology with a pedagogical purpose, as an inadequate utilization of these resources will result in computers being “little more than ‘electronic workbooks’, bearing an awkward and peripheral relationship to an otherwise unchanged curriculum” (ibid. , p. 473). Technology and project based learning can only fully support self-directed learning in so far as the paradigm of academic testing and adherence to curriculum is changed.

Introducing a flexible curriculum is imperative to the process of constructivist learning in a technological environment and is required so that relevant criteria and engaging projects can support child driven learning. A new form of assessment that reflects this epistemology alongside a change in curriculum is inherent to its success. Importance placed on standardized testing not only discourages student engagement and collaboration but also hinders the learning progress together with consuming a large amount of teacher time and attention (Hout and Elliot, 2011).

Assessment Assessment and curriculum are interlinked in that assessment dictates both the content of a subject and how it is taught (Hew and Bush, 2006:232). As assessment is “the activity of measuring student learning”, (Reeves, 2000 as citied in Hew and Bush, 2006:230) portfolios of work can be generated by tracking the natural progression of students’ critical understanding, use of knowledge, construction of ideas and how they synthesis information to problem solve (Papert, 2004).

Project and problem based group work that is displayed and presented can form the basis of formative assessment as students and teachers evaluate through discourse. Prominent display of student work shares ideas, recognizes student achievement, motivates the class and encourages a strong work ethic. (Kress et al. , 2003:39). This uses visual space and assessment as a pedagogical resource to guide students in their educational development and self-directed learning whilst providing teachers with data that supports a more diagnostic and reflective method of teaching.

This type of assessment is challenging but it supports a curriculum that focuses on the knowledge age competences and places value on the inquiry based learning aims of the school. We are in an age of growth and development and in order to grow we must explore and experiment. Where this will fail though is if we continue “to test within the framework of traditional curriculum” (Papert, 2004:2). To avoid this teachers and administration need to work together in unity to develop both a curriculum and an assessment strategy.

Organizations like the Pearson Research & Innovation Network are producing technologies that can potentially change the classroom, the teacher’s role and the curriculum structure. This is the future of education and we need to embrace it (McKnight, 2013). “new tools alone do not create educational change. The power is not in the tool but in the community that can be brought together and the collective vision that they share for redefining classroom learning” (Riel, 2000 cited in Strommen and Lincoln, 1992:472) Curriculum

In my opinion a school, much like an organism is a multifaceted and interactive entity that is constantly changing and adapting to effectively support its growth. It is necessary to have a system in place that enables this growth to flourish and a trust and flexibility within the community to allow it to develop (Coppieters, 2005:129). Teachers and administrators will work together to design a flexible inquiry based curriculum, with objectives and guidelines, that recognize and serve the needs of the student, incorporate the values of the school community, and embrace innovative ideas

within the school framework. Key to the functioning of this system is trust for and amongst teachers. An efficient and supportive administration team is vital for this to be accomplished as there needs to be distinct channels of communication between teachers and administration. This cooperative, democratic structure creates a clear path to the collaborative goal of continually improving teaching methods and learning processes. “Teachers creativity is a powerful force for positive educational change, but it can thrive only if it is unleashed and supported by strong institutional commitments”

Ongoing teaching training within the school will be provided so that teachers understand technology-supported-pedagogy, improve research methods so they can contribute to curriculum development and the inquiry based learning process. Value placed on the development of teaching skills motivates teachers and enriches the school community (Sahlberg, 2007:156). This is limited by the policy makers, political and religious, that enforce a strict curriculum and subject based syllabus that hinders the power of individual schools and teachers to make decisions that promote pragmatic change.

A struggle incurs that paralyzes the school as it is subjected to rigorous testing under present educational policies, which leave little time or freedom to introduce alternative teaching methods, adapt curriculum or change assessment modes. However, a national curriculum does have qualities such as measuring progression and continuity, providing a clear structure and monitoring standards (Pollard et al. , cited in Pollard, 2002:375) in contrast though the “prescriptive, outdated content specific national syllabus” (Pollard, 2002:158) available at the moment advocates a stagnant uniformity.

It is restrictive and conflicts with the aims of a dynamic, organic view of the school and therefore I think it is important that individual schools be given more freedom to devise a curriculum that meets the needs of the student as adherence to and repetition of strict textbook packages results in a lack of teacher and consequently curriculum development (Apple, 1986, cited in Marsh 2004:34). A fluid movement between subjects will be supported and encouraged as a dichotomy between disciplines is unproductive as art has the potential to complement science and vice-versa, “somebody whose interest is in graphic arts can use mathematics as an instrument to produce shapes” (Papert, 2004:2).

Design and problem based projects blend analytical and intuitive thought processes which broadens understanding using subject based knowledge more freely to advance ideas in other disciplines and create a dynamic learning environment. Health and Emotional Intelligence Another important aspect which will be incorporated into the curriculum is a humanistic view to the development of all different aspects of the self which will be adopted in order to foster positive personal qualities and develop life skills and emotional intelligence.

White identified personal fulfillment and practical wisdom as two of the key curriculum aims in his curriculum proposal (White, 2007). Both aims reflect what I believe to be some of the new challenges presented by modern society but are quite often overlooked and not given sufficient status in the education system. Developing a sense of self-confidence and the ability to voice emotions and opinion leads to an improvement in communication, collaboration and aids successful project based learning.

Finding purpose sustains motivation and leads to creativity (Robinson, 2010). Lifestyle has a huge impact on educational development and there are increasingly more elements in modern society that affect a student’s ability to learn. Social skills are not developed through critical thought but on the basis of example. Though, this is essentially a natural and interactive development I feel students would benefit from a more informative and critical understanding of how personal behaviour and emotions effect how they feel, perform and communicate with each other.

Providing students with relevant cognitive behavioral skills to deal with barriers to learning and promote healthy student development is very important. Programs, such as COPE (Creating Opportunities for Personal Empowerment), have shown that the inclusion of health and emotional development programs have a positive outcome on both learning and personal development (Caldwell, 2013). Challenging the stigma attached to mental health is another aspect that needs to be dealt with in schools. Depression and anxiety disorders among young people are prevalent in society (Green et.

Reducing this stigma will allow for a more open development of emotional understanding and support a curriculum that teaches emotional intelligence alongside creating social awareness and empathy towards mental health issues. Practical life skills and an understanding of emotional intelligence are not only vital to successful functioning in our modern society but also learning how to utilize this skill based knowledge will complement and further deepen students understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses throughout their educational journey.

Featuring a prominent life skill module of this caliber within the curriculum largely requires freedom to adapt and include relevant modules on an independent school level as “school health programs do not have high status in the educational hierarchy and in current health and education policy initiatives” (Adelman and Taylor, 1999:147). The decentralization of authority with regard to curriculum is necessary to develop and integrate modules that reflect the social, cultural and economic factors within a community.

Placing importance and value on personal growth and understanding to support learning development as opposed to viewing it as a separate supplementary activity is a challenge in itself (ibid. , p. 153). Conclusion To achieve an effective amalgam of technological integration and a humanistic approach necessitates a delicate balance. It will require innovation, determination and exploration on the part of both teachers and administration to carve a path towards the educational practice of the future which is not without obstacles and challenges.

The aim is that students will possess the tools needed to effectively engage with the process of learning, the skills and knowledge required to function in the 21st century and the ability to achieve personal fulfillment. Optimal student development is valued and a flexible curriculum that can be continually adapted will support this. Assessment will be used for the benefit of accelerating the learning process, maximizing the quality of class time and providing support for both students and teachers so that a system can be developed that empowers and motivates educators and students.

This will ultimately arm future generations with valuable skills and qualities and a sense of social responsibility that can improve the world in which we live. If we want the next generation to be critical, problem-solving innovative thinkers then it is our duty to lead by example. In order to succeed you need to create the opportunity to evolve as it is radical change that makes a difference and inspires others.

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