Tapestry showcases the best of Harvard

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
The explosion of knowledge has forced educators worldwide to grapple with curriculum content and the function and future of schools.

Several strong themes have emerged. These include teaching for understanding and multiple intelligences, both of which owe their origins to Harvard Graduate School of Education professors.

Through Tapestry, the pioneering Scottish educational partnership, 83 teachers were able to engage with the work of one of these educational innovators, David Perkins, last year by taking part in an online course on Teaching for Understanding. Understanding is richer and far more useful than what is taught in most schools, he says. "In a phrase, understanding is the ability to think and act flexibly with what one knows."

Harvard will offer the course again this year, and another on Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.

"Teaching for Understanding had been running for a few years for American teachers," says Brian Boyd, professor of education at Strathclyde University and co-founder of Learning Tapestry. "So we got talking to David Perkins about offering it to Scottish teachers and launched it last September."

The teachers were given sets of articles, points for reflection and tasks to tackle, a new set being made available every fortnight during the 12-week course. They worked on the tasks in small groups - primary and secondary - then posted their results online for others to discuss and a team of coaches at Harvard to provide feedback, explains Professor Boyd.

Previous experience of teachers' preference for online content supplemented by face-to-face sessions led Tapestry to organise a day to set the course in the context of A Curriculum for Excellence, mid-way sessions in the seven authorities involved and another day of discussions at the end.

Issues included the strong American style, language and examples and a surprising discrepancy between the teachers' opinions of their work and the Harvard team's assessments.

"Our teachers were harder on themselves than the coaches," says Professor Boyd. "The coaches were giving lots of positive feedback, while the teachers were saying 'It wasn't really that good.' "

Too many assignments and not enough time to do them justice was the grievance.

Tapestry was able to negotiate revisions to suit Scottish teachers. "The Harvard team was receptive but a bit surprised, I think," says Professor Boyd. "I explained that we like constructive criticism." They also reviewed and revised the Multiple Intelligences course for Scottish teachers.

Interest in becoming a course coach is now being explored, says Professor Boyd. Harvard runs a five-week preparatory course, then participants work alongside an experienced coach for a while before becoming certified, he explains. "It would be good to grow our own coaches."

Wide World, Harvard's online college, http:wideworld.pz.harvard.eduCourses on Teaching for Understanding and Multiple Intelligences start in September and again in February and take about 35 hours' work. Contact lynn.priestley@tapestrypartnership.com; tel 0141 282 5276www.learningtapestry.com

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