My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Monday, 24 February 2014

What should school "experiences" be like?

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn. CS Lewis.

A study of formative experiences in medical school is a revealing insight to what makes a good educational experience, after all it is good enough to prepare those in whom we trust our lives. As part of the curriculum students should be taught and have a wide range of rich formative experiences. So what might they need to be like?

The conclusions drawn from this study resonated with me and have been summarised as 

Specific formative experiences have especially strong impacts on medical students. Whereas the intrinsic value of such experiences should continue to drive educational design, increased awareness of the diversity and range of formative experiences will prepare educators to more effectively guide positive emotional development, enhancing personal and professional growth during medical school." and that " emotional development is an important part of nascent professional competence."

I have paraphrased the outcomes of the most important experiences and added my own annotations to make a link to why this is relevant to schooling.  These are the top ten scoring “experiences” from the research, they are more or less in order, although I have grouped similar ideas together.

What might this mean for schooling?
Meeting a truly exceptional role model.
Where in your teaching do you get to show your subject based knowledge? Remember that  your teaching is a demonstration of your pedagogical content knowledge and not necessarily a showing of your “expert” knowledge as a Scientist or an Historian or a Writer. The opportunities will be when you are doing something. Demonstrating a technique, being metacognitive and sharing the how’s and the why’s.
Alternatively consider when if you let students meet the professionals that use the information in their job that the students are currently studying? So University and industrial visits, trips  and speakers may do this on one occasion, but this does not allow them to become role models as such.
So how do you have “experts” working with students over a period of time? Project Based Learning can do this.
Discovering an area of medicine that is perfect for you.
This appears to be a dream, nay fantasy scenario for teachers? How could we have lesson that students love so much that they want to spend 70 hours per week working at in their adult lives? And work in a prescribed curriculum?
Answers may lie in how we balance breadth of study and depth of study. We are unlikely to become obsessed and passionate about something if we just have a surface understanding or a recall of a fact.
Larry Rosenstock of High Tech High in San Diego “What is adolescence but when you try on new roles and trying on new identities?". So by providing experience of what potential the knowledge being studied has when it is applied should be part of the student experience. The relevance revealed by doing that can only motivate when studying the basic building blocks.  Project Based Learning can do this.
Being inspired by a special patient –care experience.
Seeing a patient life be saved by a medical intervention.
Both of these are inspiring and aspiring experiences, they are look “what we can achieve” moments. We can do this by modelling good work. Clearly not a “that’s a well underlined title” or “great, you got t o number 20” kind of way, but, with work that has an impact beyond the classroom. How do you design “work” for children that has a positive impact on other people? Project Based Learning can do this.
Working well with a team.
Remember this study is not about the skills of team working. It’s about the formative experiences that have the biggest impact on their emotional development and professional competence as young professionals. The study categorises this as an inspiration. So how do we design activities that allow students to be inspired by being part of team. It may be excessive to define a team, but I feel worthwhile. A group of people working towards a shared goal or purpose So, how do we design “work” that is purposeful?    Project Based Learning can do this.
Seeing a patient die,
Seeing a patient in much pain,
Seeing a medical procedure go wrong.
I don’t want to sound glib about this, but failure despite your best efforts is sometimes going to happen. I think it is significant that this happens during training. Not all experiences have to be positive. The difference here is that the medics are robust enough to take these experiences and use them in a positive way? How can we help students build their resilience to take the failures and then perform when it really matters.
All of these are classified as mortality related experience which clearly has no schooling equivalent. They do however have commonalities. They all have impact on other people they are therefore important. They all require much reflection and may involve some problem solving before they next encounter a similar situation.
How do we give students safe, yet meaningful experiences that will allow them to reflect on how they acted or how to overcome the problems faced? How do we help them consider next time? Project Based Learning can do this.
Realising that you are not as idealistic as you once were.
Again this is a difficult one for education, do student really have “ideals” about the subjects that study? I doubt it, and will probably never know as it is such a personal experience. However, I’m sure we have all come across an indigent teenager before?  They do have ideals and they do have an opinion about themselves and the world, and it matters. These “opinions” may not be based on facts that they have not accrued and they may not be right. The obligation for education is to allow children to work out their ideals, with all the information available (let’s call this knowledge). Ideals, however, do not exist without the context. How do provide context for student learning and experiences? How do we help students work out what ideals they have? Project Based Learning can do this.
Receiving genuinely inappropriate feedback.
How can school work ever provide genuinely inappropriate feedback? Please correct your spellings; add an adjective to describe how you think George felt when Curly shouted at him; add the units to your speed calculations.
It can easily if the person who is giving the feedback does not have a good relationship with you. This may be the teacher, but, it may be someone in your team or class. Nuthall’s research on the three worlds within a classroom suggests that this is a powerful influence on classroom dynamics and who will take criticism from who.
You are more likely to be defensive of feedback if you have put a lot of effort into a task. You are going to care if the feedback you get is rubbish, you may even perceive it has inappropriate. I would hope that this would not be an issue for an already well qualified and maturing medical student, but for younger students the relationships and the perception matter.
However, both groups need understood and shared success criteria before feedback is given.
 How do we do this so that it is clear to students? How do we make them care enough about the feedback? Well, working on something that they see as worthwhile or that they see has an impact beyond the classroom. Choice of task and choice of assessment may also provide added motivation.
The feedback provided also needs to be good. How do we make sure that all feedback is good within a classroom?  Remember that a large amount of the feedback does not come from a teacher, but from other students. The work of Berger on Critique and Critiquing culture provide many solutions to this. Although Berger acknowledges that Project Based Learning alone is no magic bullet but they do provide a core that can provide experience that help these thing happen.