Conformity and sameness are bad for you

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
Classrooms are organised in a way that leads to conformity, sameness and fragmentation, a leading curriculum expert says. Margaret McGhie, assistant director of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, says organisational weaknesses prevent links across the curriculum and compartmentalise individual subjects.

"Maths is as much about patterns as calculations, modern languages is as much about other environments and cultures as it is about language, communication is as much about the expressive arts as it is about reading and writing," Ms McGhie told the eco-school conference in Giffnock last week.

She urged schools to "make connections" so that all significant learning experiences are taken into account and are given equal value, including those encountered out of school. Teachers are learners too, Ms McGhie said.

Connections between learning and what happens in the playground, staffroom and headteacher's study were also an important factor in pupils' learning.

Ms McGhie listed the essential experiences to which pupils should be exposed in all classes and subjects: feeling valued, sharing responsibility, working co-operatively and independently, and experiencing a sense of achievement. Staff, from janitors to heads, also require these experiences.

Schools should see themselves as engaged in a moral endeavour, Ms McGhie suggested. This involves the promotion of fairness, justice, caring and respect for self-worth as well as the worth of others. But, she said, this required schools to move from being organised as networks rather than hierarchies.

Ian Smith, development fellow at the curriculum council, urged schools to tackle the gaps between what is known about how people learn and what is done in practice, and between what teachers want young people to learn and what they absorb.

Mr Smith, the man behind the council's acclaimed guide on Teaching for Effective Learning, called on teachers to be more aware of recent develoments in neurology. Among other benefits, this would help identify pupils' potential for learning.

He said: "School improvement requires to start where schools are, which means creating the right conditions and dropping the anti-teacher mentality of recent years. Teachers certainly need to be challenged. But they also badly need to be supported."

The key principles in Teaching for Effective Learning are:

* Teachers are important and make a difference.

* There is considerable agreement about what constitutes effective teaching, and it is practised by people who can be very different from one another.

* The ability to establish and maintain good quality relationships is central to effective teaching.

* Knowing what kind of people your learners are, and having some understanding of what they are thinking.

* Effective teaching involves talking regularly with learners about their learning, and listening to them.

* Teachers' own preferred ways of learning tend to affect the ways in which they teach.

* Teachers have both the right and the responsibility to develop a climate in the classroom which supports effective learning, (which) involves maintaining order without undermining learners' self-esteem.

* Effective teaching involves effective organisation and management, but no single style of approach to classroom organisation is best.

* Effective teaching involves being knowledgeable about what you are teaching but also looking for links across topics and subjects.

* Successful schools have a culture which encourages and supports teachers to reflect on their purposes and principles as well as their practices, and helps them to work together to improve these practices.

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