High Performance Learning - why how we learn is as important as what we learn
Kate Latham, Director of Teaching and Learning, explains that how we learn is as important as what we learn.
‘In a world where the kind of things that are easy to teach and test have also become easy to digitise and automate, it will be our imagination, our awareness and our sense of responsibility that will enable us to harness the opportunities of the 21st century to shape the world for the better. Tomorrow’s schools will need to help students think for themselves and join others, with empathy, in work and citizenship. They will need to help students develop a strong sense of right and wrong, and sensitivity to the claims that others make’.
These are the words of Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from his recent book, ‘World Class’ advocating a change of mindset in education. He suggests that schools must urgently shift from the transmission of knowledge as an end in itself to the development of what have become known as 21st Century skills.
As a High-Performance Learning school St Mary’s is already fully on board with Schliecher’s vision. Whereas many parents of children in many schools today would recognise a model in which the teacher leads from the front while the children await instruction and generally do as they are told, we are confident that adult visitors to our classrooms will encounter an approach that is quite different to their own school days. At St Mary’s, as in the world beyond, how we learn is as important as what we learn.
As Paulo Freire, the great 20th century Brazilian educationalist so aptly put it: "What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
We have moved away from an instructional approach to learning towards the model put forward by Schleicher. Here students are ’taught’ how to think through Advanced Cognitive Characteristics and how to behave through Values Attitudes and Attributes; not so that they can be passive recipients of information or instructions but so that they can access the toolkit of learning skills that will serve them for life. In a graduate employment market where, first-class degrees are earned by 25% of students, it is more important than ever to be able to collaborate effectively and confidently understand and demonstrate skills like adaptability, reflection and resourcefulness.
That is not to say that what we learn no longer matters because it can always be googled. We all need to carry a certain amount of knowledge in our working memory to make it through the day, to discern right from wrong and to support a point of view. Having knowledge at one’s fingertips to do these things is a crucial. Indeed, in the era of social media and fake news, it is particularly important that we all carry enough knowledge to allow us critically to evaluate our ever-changing news feeds. It is also a basic truth that there is a genuine joy in learning new things; that “well I never!” moment which can stop us in our tracks. It’s because of this that we have developed an approach at St Mary’s which is enquiry based, stimulates natural intellectual curiosity and sets students on a path of discovery to find pleasure in knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
We are just two years into our High-Performance Learning journey and are convinced that the approach rooted by a 120-year tradition of embedding Mary Ward characteristics unlocks intellectual curiosity and builds the confident, collaborative, resilient and compassionate young women that the modern global workplace needs. Or, as Paulo Freire, the great 20th century Brazilian educationalist so aptly put it: “The teacher is of course an artist but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”