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After Covid-19 We Need A New Paradigm For Education

When I started writing my new book ‘The Complete Learner’s Toolkit’ I had no idea the world would shift on its axis and there would be a paradigm shift in the way we see education.

Who has thrived and who has suffered during the lockdown – did it just depend on circumstances or did some adults and children adapt more easily? The World Economic Forum skills that I based the lessons for KS2 and 3 on have never seemed more appropriate if we want our children to thrive in a more uncertain world with a whole new set of values and priorities. The skills below are from a range of skills identified as vital for the next decade in the working world but they are also essential for growing up in a changing world where the adults range from reckless to hyperalert.

Here is a brief explanation of each of the skills and why we need them:

Active learning and learning strategies

Aim: To help students understand more about how their brains work so that they become more effective learners.

We know that learning changes brains. Learning grows new neural pathways, enabling us to develop new skills and solve problems. If we want our learners to retain new knowledge long term, they need to embed these neural pathways by applying the knowledge in novel situations, using it to problem-solve whilst enjoying the process.. It is essential that we teach our students how to review their learning, maximise their memory and grow their neural pathways so that they can perform in these examinations and – beyond them – be prepared and able to tackle new challenges.

One of the most important research discoveries about knowledge and memory, according to Peter Brown et al. in Make It Stick, is that active retrieval is the most powerful way to strengthen learning.1 Making a determined effort to recall your knowledge and test yourself on it works. And the more challenging the test, the more beneficial the impact, so struggling to remember and working very hard at it really does grow your brain. By finding out more about how their brains work in these lessons, students will understand how important it is to persist in finding strategies that will increase their ability and potential.

‘When learning is harder, it’s stronger and lasts longer.’2

Discovering how their brains work will encourage our students to see that they need to use it or lose it! Latest research by Stanislas Dehaene, professor of experimental cognitive psychology at the Collège de France, suggests that a baby’s brain is far from a blank slate: it is, in fact, a sophisticated structure with its own innate language of thought.3 Education hones our abilities, and improvements in learning rely on attention, active engagement, error, feedback and sleep, among other things. These lessons encourage active learning and raise awareness of strategies that will help motivate students and stimulate brainpower. Dehaene suggests that ‘no dyslexia or dyscalculia is so strong as to be beyond the reach of rehabilitation’4 because of the amazing power of brain plasticity. This means we should never underestimate children’s ability to learn. The most important message for our students is that we all have truly amazing brains – and that learning grows our brains – so the harder we work, the smarter we become.

‘Metacognition – the ability to know oneself, to self-regulate, to mentally simulate what would happen if we acted this way or that way- plays a fundamental role in human learning. The opinions we form of ourselves help us progress or, in some cases, lock us into a vicious circle of failure’5

In addition, this section will help you to help develop students’ personal wellbeing by getting them to understand why they become emotional, frustrated, angry or excited. These lessons help students to develop metacognition as a habit that will create natural resilience.

Complex problem solving

Aim: To remind students that they are natural problem solvers and that there are many ways to tackle any problems they face in their learning.

According to Mike Berners-Lee, we have created an ever more complicated and complex world, demanding a challenging mix of interdependency and technical mastery.6 However, we are born problem solvers. Children are experts at solving problems. As infants, they solved the problem of how to get fed, talk, walk and adapt to life. They did it through playing, watching, listening, copying, practising and learning how to learn, showing that we – as a species – are natural problem solvers who can follow our instinct to work out what to do next.

What gets in the way of this innate ability later in life is getting stuck in our own thinking. We begin to feel uncomfortable when we start to compare our performance with that of others – and judge ourselves against them – instead of staying in the moment. Frustration, confusion and mistakes are an important part of problem solving but they will stop us making progress if we see encountering them as evidence of our limitations or weaknesses, rather than as a source of information that will help us make progress. These lessons remind us that solving complex problems is an adventure that involves improvisation, experimentation, repetition, feedback and, again, that to struggle is to grow.

In the foreseeable future, humanity’s challenges will include complex problems such as global warming, ocean acidification, mass migration, water shortages, nuclear proliferation, political instability, pandemic control, internet insecurity and an aging population (to name only a few!) – all of which will need to be tackled using a wealth of problem-solving skills.

Critical thinking

Aim: To help students realise and practise how to think and reflect objectively so that they can make good judgements.

Critical thinking is a crucial skill for achieving success at school and at work in later life. It involves observing, analysing, assessing and evaluating evidence in an objective, open-minded manner. It also asks that we cultivate a sense of curiosity that is always willing to ask questions. This skill will be developed in all the lessons in this book, but these particular lessons and activities will focus on sharpening children’s abilities in this area, so that they can recognise and use this powerful tool for learning.

Socratic questioning is at the heart of critical thinking. Using open questions in the classroom and for homework helps deepen students’ understanding and helps embed knowledge. In addition, developing the habit of critical thinking will help your students grow up to be open-minded and willing to listen to both sides of an argument before making up their minds. This could be a recipe for a less divisive society!

In There Is No Planet B, Mike Berners-Lee concludes that we need to develop new thinking to ensure our survival on planet Earth. This includes global empathy, which means becoming more aware of our wider impact on others as our ‘daily lives affect those on the other side of the world’.7 Developing a critical thinking perspective will help our future citizens to stand back from their personal needs and consider the wider implications of their lifestyles.

It is crucially important for our students to be able to discern who and what to trust in our current world of fake news and self-curated imagery. Critical thinking will give them the ability to discern fact from fiction in an ‘increasingly complex media and political sea of claim and counter claim.’8 If we can develop this skill in the next generation in schools, democracy stands more chance of remaining protected from corruption.

Creativity

Aim: To make students consider ways in which they can have the courage to take necessary risks to find new ways of thinking.

Creativity develops new thinking, leading to different approaches and novel ways of doing things, solving problems and finding new answers. It takes courage to be creative because as we grow older, we get used to doing things in ways that make us feel comfortable. We become creatures of habit, with the tendency to sit in the same places, read the same newspapers, listen to the same style of music and have similar friends with similar hobbies.

To step out of this comfort zone and become more creative involves taking a risk. Being creative means breaking the rules – innovating, finding new solutions and pushing back the boundaries. This takes courage and confidence as it could go wrong. These lessons encourage children to be brave and to create new experiences and new thinking – habitually.

If you don’t embrace the fact that you think about the world in different ways, you severely limit your chances of finding the person that you were meant to be.

Ken Robinson9

Creativity can be a risky business: that’s why it’s linked to resilience. We all have our comfort zones, and they mould our behaviours until they become habits. Students also like to stay in their comfort zones, but we can help them get comfortable with pushing the boundaries. They need to work with a variety of different people, enjoy the challenges and opportunities presented by new experiences and new thinking.

Creativity demands risk-taking and the inevitable failures it incurs should be seen as part of the iterative process. Becoming comfortable with experimenting with novel ideas, taking feedback and redrafting work enables our innate childlike creativity to grow. Developing in our students the

confidence to be as creative in their school lives, as they were when they played happily as toddlers, will insure them against personal stagnation and help ensure economic success for the enterprises and societies in which they work.

Leadership and social influence

Aim: To help students develop the skills to lead and communicate effectively.

The skills needed to get on with other people are key to success at school and in the workplace. Good interpersonal relationships and the confidence to be a leader can be developed and nurtured in school. In these lessons we will explore strategies that can help children develop empathy, communication and leadership skills. These strategies can be built on in every lesson, as students work on their curriculum tasks in groups or pairs.

Students are massively influenced by their peers, especially as they get older. These lessons will help them understand how to lead, rather than to follow, and understand how to work in harmony with their peers. When you develop a classroom culture that combines challenge and nurture, where children unconditionally support each other’s learning, as described by Carol Dweck, it develops the ultimate climate for good progress for all.10

Emotional intelligence

Aim: To help students develop the self-awareness and emotional regulation that will serve them well at school, at home and in their future workplace.

Emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), encompasses self-awareness and self-management skills which develop confidence, tolerance and success.11 Emotional intelligence combines interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence and leads to the development of expert communication skills. Becoming emotionally intelligent helps children to see ‘struggle’ as ‘growth’ because they can stand back from their automatic negative response to struggling and enjoy a challenge without self-judgment or comparison with others. This habit of metacognition, or stepping back from your thinking, helps creates that all-important growth mindset.

Emotional intelligence helps your students to manage their responses to the challenges of learning and of growing up. Employers value employees with high levels of emotional intelligence and this quality is set to remain an essential one, according to World Economic Forum predictions. Leadership training is often focused, for good reasons, on the development of thinking habits that encourage such self-awareness. These lessons will give your students a chance to understand the importance of EQ and how to grow this alongside their academic skills. For some children, school presents the only opportunity to develop the emotional intelligence that others may have the good fortune to have had nurtured in their home environment. For happiness and wellbeing, as well as for success at school and in their careers, we must help our students to value and evolve their emotional intelligence.

Judgement and decision making

Aim: To help students identify their values and encourage them to make conscious choices for their own benefit.

Having good judgement and being able to make sensible decisions is an essential skill for us all. So why is it that some children (and, indeed, some adults) make choices that endanger their health and happiness? These lessons help students to think purposefully about their personal values and how they can use them to make good choices and sensible decisions in life. When children become susceptible to peer pressure, it is often because they haven’t yet developed a clear set of their own values, which can act as an anchor in their tough formative years. The other purpose of these lessons is for students to practice standing back from their immediate, often automatic, responses and to think through the consequences of their decisions, so that they get in the habit of making good judgements.

Service orientation

Aim: To encourage students to want to help other people and to take pride in delivering high-quality outcomes.

The idea of being ‘in service’ could be seen as demeaning – perhaps slightly reminiscent of domestic duties or outmoded class hierarchies. However, adopting the mindset of serving others is a very powerful way to see the emergence of a generous spirit and the humility of true self-confidence. When we genuinely want others to be happy and satisfied with how we treat them and take pride in our work, whether we are leaders or not, we learn the dignity and self-esteem that can lead to our own peace and happiness. Helping children to understand how ‘helping others helps me’ will also build the thinking habits that will enable them to reap the rewards of learning from others in our diverse society, in which there are so many different perspectives.

Having a service orientation means actively looking for ways to help others – the pandemic has pulled this into sharp focus and often brought out the innate generosity in the human spirit. When adopting a ‘service to others’ outlook, there is a natural inclination to deliver high standards and to work hard to do the very best job possible. Ron Berger describes how nurturing a desire to deliver excellence can transform students’ confidence and motivation when they create real-life projects that serve a purpose in the world.12 This also creates a desire to seek out feedback – to improve and to maintain a courageous spirit of enterprise – helping students to improve their work ethic at school and, later, at work.

Negotiation

Aim: To practise good listening and communication skills that will empower students to develop healthy relationships.

Being able to negotiate involves effective communication and emotional resilience. To be able to stand back from your emotions so that you can take an objective view and see all aspects of a situation also requires metacognition and a growth mindset – qualities that these lessons will nurture. These lessons will also develop the gifts of patient listening and empathy that make great negotiators.

There is another reason why empathy is an important habit for negotiation – empathetic people are great at getting rapport. Getting rapport elicits wonderful states of cooperation and motivation and means that others can connect with you, which, in turn, enhances your negotiation skills and ability to be a powerful communicator. Teachers who have high levels of empathy can get kids on side and spread the culture of compassion that is an essential underpinning of an ‘outstanding’ school community. Those children who struggle to show empathy may find it harder to understand the impact of any bad behaviour and, as a result, be more likely to commit crimes.

These lessons will help those children who find it hard to understand others’ perspectives to deliberately develop the habit of empathy. This starts with a deliberate focus on listening with a clear mind. We can’t hear others if we are too full of our own thoughts and concerns. Mindfulness practice helps us all understand how to clear our minds, and regular practice to enhance wellbeing is recommended within a school setting – as well as within these lessons.

Cognitive flexibility

Aim: To help students be able to adapt to new situations and maximise their learning capacity.

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to change your mind and adapt to different circumstances. This will create resilience and confidence and, above all, a growth mindset that deals effectively with change.

[Our] unique human ability [is] to be able to turn our thoughts inwards and observe ourselves and our own mental life. This is an extraordinarily powerful observation because it is only through this ability that you can understand your own emotions and hence the emotions of others.

Our own individual day-to-day experiences of life are influenced by our conscious and unconscious thinking habits. We all sometimes suffer from cognitive biases: those sets of fixed beliefs about the way things are, or about our own attributes. For example, students may believe that they are poor learners or that maths is too difficult for them, that making friends is too hard or that singing in tune is too tricky. These beliefs may have been triggered by comments or comparisons with others, but once formed they can be hard to challenge. For example, if your ego is convinced that you can’t spell, it will always look for evidence that it is right about that. So, when you struggle with a word, it runs the mental commentary, ‘See, I can’t spell – I have never been able to spell.’

This type of fixed thinking can apply to any aspect of life and makes uncertainty harder to bear. The more inflexible our thinking becomes, the more we are stuck believing that we can never change – but change is inevitable and those who are adaptable will thrive.

Our minds are always processing a myriad of random thoughts at any one time – some say an average of 60,000–80,000 a day! If our habitual, default thinking is negative and self-doubting, then we will focus on the thoughts that fit with this perception and connect them together to create negative, sad or hopeless feelings. By noticing our feelings and becoming conscious of the thinking that is shaping them we become more self-reflective, slowing down our automatic emotional responses. We are then no longer being ‘driven blindly’ or trying to cling to past cognitive habits that

don’t serve us well. This quality is emphasised by Mike Berners-Lee as a key new way of thinking which is required for the 21st century.14

‘We have seen…how urgently we need to learn how to think in ways that let us deal more effectively with the situation we have created for ourselves. We need thinking skills and habits that fit in the twenty-first century context of enormous human power and technology on a now-fragile planet’15

The purpose of these lessons is to encourage more cognitive flexibility so that – via metacognition – we can stand back from our instinctive, fixed-mindset thoughts and challenge them. This way our students can maximise their ability to push the boundaries of their comfort zones and grow. The first stage is to become conscious of how thoughts impact on their everyday thinking and, therefore, on the feelings they have about themselves, their learning and their work. If we can integrate the skills in these lessons into the curriculum, we will be training our children to react to challenges the future throws at them with wisdom, empathy and grace. And they may do better than we have when faced with losing control of our lives and livelihoods.

Jackie Beere

‘The Complete Learners Toolkit’ 2020 Crown House publishing Follow this link https://t.co/8VFkoyZotJ?amp=1

jackieabeere@gmail.com

Trainer, Coach, Author.

References

  1. P. Brown, H. Roediger and M. McDaniel, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 59.
  2. Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, Make It Stick, p. 9.
  3. S. Dehaene, How We Learn: The New Science of Education and the Brain (London: Allen Lane, 2020) p82
  4. Ibid p.82
  5. Ibid p.22
  6. M. Berners-Lee, There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), p. 189.
  7. Berners-Lee, There Is No Planet B, p. 186.
  8. Berners-Lee, There Is No Planet B, p. 189.
  9. K. Robinson with L. Aronica, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (London: Penguin, 2009), p. 49.
  10. Dweck, Mindset, p. 198.
  11. D. Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (London: Bloomsbury, 1996).
  12. R. Berger, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003).
  13. A. Curran, The Little Book of Big Stuff About the Brain (Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing, 2008), p. 22.
  14. Berners-Lee, There Is No Planet B, p. 188.
  15. Ibid p185

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